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What can you actually do now in the UK?

Your ultimate guide to what is now open - and what yet isn't

As we are all well aware, the biggest ease in restrictions kicked off last week in England on the infamously named “Super Saturday.” But celebratory openings were perhaps more muted than expected. So what can you actually do now around the UK? And what will it be like once you get there? By Sarah Bradbury.

Back at the pub

First off, what’s it like to go to the pub post-lockdown? My very first venture back into a drinking establishment since early March happened on Monday. Taking our usual ramble round the block, we stumbled past Bermondsey Bar & Kitchen. It’s huge, flower-decorated “we are open” sign and sprawling spacious outside space seemed like it was calling to us.

As I’m preggers, I’ve perhaps been more tentative in planning a return to a boozer than those who were living it up all day from 6am (!) on Super Saturday. I wasn’t sure I was ready – or it was worth the risk. But seeing the wide expanse of open air tables, spread metres apart, offered some reassurance this was a pretty safe bet. So we decided to duck in.

On entry we were greeted by a waiter who led us to a table and gave us little rundown of their “new normal” – it was all table service, with servers placing our order and taking payment straight away on handheld devices, we were not to approach the bar and should kindly follow their one-way system marked out on the floor to go to the loo or exit.

In the end it all seemed very straightforward, if not an improvement on the usual experience of a slightly bouji Bermondsey pub – the staff were falling over themselves with friendliness and helpfulness, there was no hellish jostling for attention at the bar and the alfresco vibes made us feel oh so continental.

There’s no avoiding it makes it a bit harder to chat with the staff wearing masks (I can’t imagine how impossible it might get in a noisy bar…) but you quickly get used to it.

It might not have been the most wild of evenings, as I supped on a ginger beer and my partner, a coke, over a bowl of fries (oh the exciting life of parents-to-be), but as the closest I’ve been to a full on pub visit in months it was pure delight.

It might still be some time before I head to an indoor bar or restaurant – and I totally empathise with those who feel this is all “unlocking” is happening too soon – but sitting in a pub garden of an evening in this case felt pretty low risk.

Pricey drinks also felt less painful on the purse, knowing we were putting some money back into a local business after months of closure. Oh and having someone else bring me stuff and do the washing up was pretty great. As was being around other people. Almost a bit like…normal life?

So what can we actually do now around England?

Walking along London’s South Bank this week, I had expected to see almost all the restaurants and bars, at least open, if not overflowing with customers. Surely after months with zero income, they’d have jumped at the chance to finally get some rolling in? And customers must be desperate to part with their cash to be anywhere other than within their own four walls?

But at rough guess, at least half remained firmly shut. Were they not planning to reopen at all? Still prepping their COVID-safe spaces? Or maybe they simply wanted to avoid the potential anarchy of Super Saturday? Regardless, it seems the grand “unlocking” was not as widespread as we imagined.

Let’s break down what you can actually do from now…

Pubs

Although pubs in England could reopen from last Saturday, many still remain closed, with smaller independents finding it particularly difficult to to navigate new social distancing guidelines. For those that are open, you might have to book ahead or give the names and addresses of you and your mates when you arrive. Expect to find table service or app-based ordering, staff in masks, one-ways systems and hand sanitiser pit stops aplenty.

If you’re still not feeling quite brave enough to be inside, hunt down a rooftop bar or pub garden (ideally with some form of coverage in case the heavens open) or stick with take-away pints in the park. We’ve got our eyes on Bussey Rooftop in Peckham and Bar Elba in Waterloo. If it’s your thing, 750 Wetherspoons are now open…

Restaurants

With restaurants, it’s a bit of a similar story. While they could open from Saturday, some are still holding back before they can be sure they can be COVID-safe and be financially viable when taking into account staff costs and a reduced capacity. You might already be used to booking ahead to go to your fav restaurant so that won’t come as too much of a surprise but it will certainly become the default from now on.

On the plus side, some places that didn’t used to take bookings now will be – we’ve got our eye on Dishoom and Padella for sure!

Cafes

You might not have been felt so deprived of your premium caffeine fix over lockdown as many cafes pivoted to takeaway. The queue to our local artisan coffee house seemed to be the place to be seen over a lockdown weekend in Bermondsey. Since the 4th though now most are open to sit down in as well. I hate to be millennial cliche but a flat white and avo on toast in a cafe window seat with a book would go down a storm right now…

Galleries & cultural sites

Although galleries were given the green light to open, the National Gallery is one of the first major UK galleries to take the plunge after reopening it’s doors on Wednesday. Two-metre social distancing measures are in place and you need to book your visit in advance so they can manage numbers. Face coverings are likely to be recommended. The two big exhibitions you can catch are Titian: Love, Desire, Death and Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age.

You can also visit the Barbican from 13th July, the Royal Academy from 16th July and all the Tate galleries, including in Liverpool and St Ives, as well as London, from 27th July. If that doesn’t take your fancy a bunch of the commercial galleries have also been open since mid-June such as David Zwirner and Thomas Dane Gallery.

A lovely walk around Kew Gardens, London Zoo, Hampton Court Palace Gardens or one of the National Trust sites could be great if you’re not keen on being inside. They’re all now open as well.

Hairdressers & beauty salons

Though DIY hairdos provided some great social media material to boost our moods during lockdown, I think it was about time many of us got a professional to see to our locks. There were queues round the block for barbers across the country on Saturday, though for most a booking is a must. Expect a few less of the trimmings of a cuppa or glass of bubbly (if you can afford that kind of salon!), or trashy mags to flick through as that’ll all be cut back in the name of safety.

Staff will likely be in visors and even the obligatory chitchat may be kept to minimum to get you in and out without delay. Regardless, the thought of someone else washing my hair and making me look less like I’ve been living in a mirrorless basement these last months will still be well worth it.

Frustratingly, both for my eyebrows and for the businesses and (mostly female) workers in the beauty industry, beauty salons had lagged behind. It’s now been announced they can open from Monday, along with tanning shops and tattooists, but any treatments to the face will still not be allowed. That mono-brow may need to linger a little longer, dear lord…

Cinemas

If you’re a bit tired of the now nightly Netflix and chill, despair not as some of the big multiplex cinemas are now back in business as well as handful of independents.

While you won’t be expected to wear a mask (they of course need to flog some over-priced popcorn), staff probably will be, sanitiser stations will have been installed and capacity will be cut to about 75% with seats spread out. You may have to queue a bit longer as well to get in and out. And be warned: pick ‘n’ mix is no more! Never was that hygienic in the first place now we think about it…

Cineworld and Picturehouse plan to reopen 10th July, Vue and Odeon in mid-July and most indie cinemas might wait till summer’s end. The big movies set to dominate the summer are Mulan out on 24th July and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in August plus cinemas can also show movies from a list of 450 revived classics, Oscar-winners and old favourites!

If you’re not quite ready you can get your fix at one of the Drive-In cinemas that are opening up around the country. Check out our recommendations and insight into a Drive-In experience here.

Theme parks

If a roller coaster-induced adrenaline rush is what you’ve really been craving all these months then you’re in luck – Thorpe Park, Chessington, Alton Towers and Legoland have all gone full steam ahead and opened their gates last Saturday. They’ve also been following new safety measures, including visitors having their temperatures checked on arrival and masks advised or even mandatory on some rides.

Some seats will be left empty on rides, and others might not even open yet, markers will set out social distancing and hand sanitiser made available throughout the parks. You might also need to book so check in advance! Just be glad we’re not in Japan where screaming is banned and instead guests are asked to “please scream inside your heart…” 😱.

And what about…

Gyms, spas & swimming pools

Playgrounds and outdoor gyms could finally reopen from 4th and they’ve just announced outdoor pools can open on 11th July and indoor gyms, fitness studios and swimming pools on open 25th July, with stringent COVID-measures to prevent infection spreading ( you reckon we’ll be working out in pods like the Americans…?).

You’ll have to keep at the Joe Wicks vids and jogging habit for now – or maybe you’re pretty happy with your lockdown fitness regime? It’s certainly been a nice break from those hefty fees. Though I do strangely miss my £15-a-pop club-light-lit spin classes…can you ever push yourself as hard without a perfectly toned fitness instructor egging you on?!

Theatres, Live Music & Nightclubs 

Sadly we’re still yet to hear when we can get our rave on again or be fully immersed in performing arts. Clubs and music venues are certainly some of the trickier venues to imagine being able to implement effective social distancing. For theatres, there could be some light at the end of tunnel as outdoor performances will be allowed from 11th July (do you think a couple of days warning was pertussis ambitious for theatre to throw together a show or so?! and small pilots of indoor performances can go ahead to test how social distancing could work… We’re also still waiting to hear when bowling alleys and casinos can reopen.

Let’s hope our fav nightlife and arts venues can find a way to stay afloat before then…In the meantime check out virtual events, support crowdfunders, and dream of how great that first big party will be when clubs can finally return.

You can also hit a Drive-In gig or musical with the likes of Live Nation who’ve announced they’ll be launching drive-in gigs in cities across the country, with artists such as Mike Skinner and Dizzee Rascal on the line-up. Or how about a car rave? Electrikal Sound System are set to announce details of events in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Bristol. Sign up for more info here.

Transport

Technically there’s nothing stopping you from hopping on a bus, train or the tube at this point. It’s been generally discouraged up until now, though there have been calls for this advice to be lessened as ultimately the economy will struggle without people moving around the country more and plugging cash back into our transport system. Plus, it’s likely traffic will cause a spike in emissions and congestion if everyone turns to car usage to get around.

Ultimately it will be your call and you might decide still to avoid public transport or stick to walking or cycling. If you do go for it, remember masks are now mandatory and social distancing measures are in place to prevent overcrowding etc so you could be waiting a little longer for that bus.

What about elsewhere in the UK?

The devolved nations have been loosening restrictions on slightly different timetables.

In Scotland

Boozers were allowed to open outside seating areas and beer gardens from Monday with social distancing in place. As of 15th July, indoor cafe, bars, pubs and restaurants can also open indoors as well! Galleries, cinemas, museums and hotels can also welcome back visitors. Beauty salons can open from 22nd July with enhanced hygiene measures.

In Wales

Some pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants can reopen from 13th July but indoor services will remain closed for now.

Northern Ireland

Hotels, cafes, restaurants and pubs serving meals could open from 3rd July. Those with outside side space can serve alcohol without a requirement for customers to order food. Museums, galleries and bookmakers were also allowed to reopen.

Why not also check out our Ultimate UK Summer Staycation Guide for more inspo here.

Stuff to do if you’re still not sure about venturing out…

We get it, for some of you, it’s all simply too soon. Here’s how to stay entertained:

Online culture fix – check out the latest show from National Theatre Live. Since Thursday it’s The Deep Blue Sea currently playing starring Peaky Blinder’s Helen McCrory as Hester Collyer. Or visit a gallery virtually, such as the Tate Modern.

Get a home delivery – either from your fav restaurant, local brewery or bar. You can recreate that restaurant experience without the stress of worrying about COVID plus help support your local businesses.

Stay fit – hit a fitness class via Youtube (I love Fit by Larie) or get your mate to join you down the park for some improv circuits.

Stream away – check out our lists of what to binge-watch next from I May Destroy You to The Luminaries.

Rave on – recreate the party spirit from your living room. We love: Defected Records Livestream, Egg in London, United We Stream from Berlin.

Have you ventured out to any newly opened venues? Get in touch and share your experience with us!