Sensible bedtimes, nights slouched in front of the telly, a life lived in comfortable clothes; if the plague resembled anything, it was a depressing dry-run for late middle age. To redress the balance, the summer must be dedicated to an unending run of fun. This needn’t mean a descent into the chapped-lips depths of a little light alcoholism; instead, it’s time to get your kicks being a big kid. Here’s how.
Licensed to thrill
While Covid’s taken thrills and put the training wheels back on — bungee jumping and indoor sky-diving both remain postponed — daredevils can still get that satiating slap of adrenaline across town. Take to the water: the Thames Rib Experience (WC2, EC3, thamesribexperience.com) sees London’s fastest (and loudest, and biggest) power boats tear through the Thames from Embankment or Tower pier, with journeys from a 20-minute “blast” to a full hour’s “Ultimate Spy” experience, a nod to their work on the Bond film Spectre. Similarly, the Thames Rockets (SE1, thamesrockets.com) do sight-seeing from the London Eye, or a waterborne drag race from Tower Bridge.
A little too high octane? There’s fun to be had on the self-drive electric, BYOB GoBoat cruisers (W2, E14, KT1, goboat.co.uk), which boozily potter about Canary Wharf and Kingston, or up the Paddington basin (though this site is, for shame, alcohol free). Similarly, Skuna Boats (E14, skunaboats.com) let you steer yourself; the fun part, though, is instead of being boat boats, they’re actually floating hot tubs.
Elsewhere, splash about with the London Kayak Company (londonkayakcompany.com), which usually runs sessions every week, often from Greenwich to Battersea, for a chance to paddle past London’s most famous landmarks. Alternatively, get wetter and arguably wilder at the LeeValley White Water Centre (EN9, visitleevalley.org.uk), known for its white water rafting.
Still, if getting within falling-in distance of the Thames doesn’t do it for you, go the other way and head up among the clouds — well, almost — at Spurs’ stadium. Some 154ft above the pitch, the Dare Skywalk (N17, tottenhamhotspur.com) offers a chance to don a harness and gently totter the length of their glass walkway, or try the new Skywalk Edge for what they call a “controlled drop” — you step into the abyss, only there’s a rope attached — which, just to knot the stomach that little bit tighter, can be done in the dark.
Should your inner child have a more active imagination, trek to Docklands to test your mettle against the undead. At the Zombie Apocalypse Experience (SE7, theactivitypeople.co.uk), a virus threatening mankind’s very existence is wildly out of control — far fetched, no? — and it’s your job to wipe out the gruesome super-spreaders, with the help of an airsoft gun, paintball marker and a laser-tag zapper.
Book a game of archery tag, which they dub ‘dodgeball with arrows’. Soft tips keep the deaths to a minimum
Need a little training before tackling the souls from the other side? Survival courses have sprung up in Barnes, Dulwich and Croydon (survivethis.co.uk), with training in everything from sparking a fire from nothing but twigs to getting handy with a knife. Fortunately, foraging for berries to garnish a day-capping G&T is offered too. If the gun’s the draw, though, the West London Shooting School (UB5, shootingschool.co.uk) is worth a shot; lessons will get beginners and old hands fired up, and it’s all a jolly lovely time. Tweed is encouraged but not mandatory.
Those without Barbours but still a burning desire to relieve their stress should instead take to Bermondsey for a round of Combat Archery (SE1, 2020archery.co.uk). Once the bowmanship is up to par — full training is offered — book a game of archery tag, which they dub “dodgeball with arrows”. Soft tips keep the deaths to a minimum.
If your competitive side doesn’t come with a desire to send your mates to an early grave, BubbleBoys (londonbubblefootball.co.uk) have five sites across town for a game of bubble football; your legs are free, but your torso squeezes into a zorb. Having an inflatable top half means headlong collisions are a must; it also makes social distancing a breeze.
A bit on the side
There is, of course, no need to abandon restaurants and bars altogether — they’ve already had enough of that. If embracing the sweet joy of reopened pubs is doing a number on the old liver, break up the rounds with a game or two. At Between the Bridges (SE1, betweenthebridges.co.uk), the South Bank’s recently opened beer garden, street food, drag brunches and mini-golf are joined with a literal bang by this country’s first Tejo pitch. Colombia’s national sport, Tejo is a throwing game — only the targets are filled with gunpowder. It is, they say, a blast.
While there are no actual explosions, there’s still the thrill of, say, a severed hand at Whistle Punks (SW8, whistlepunks.com), where they’ll teach the Viking skill of throwing an axe. Afterwards (and definitely, definitely not before), grab a pint at the Vauxhall Food and Beer Garden (SW8, vauxhallfoodbeergarden.com), all of a three-minute walk away.
That winning combo of alcohol and pointy edges is also combined at the four Flight Club bars (N1, EC2, SW1, WC1, flightclubdarts.com), which specialise in party cocktails and rounds of darts. They’re always a laugh. The formula is much the same — albeit with ping pong in place of triple twenties — at Bounce (two in EC1, bouncepingpong.com) and the Bat and Ball (E20, thebatandball.com).
Bigger bats are offered at the two new Sixes (W1, SW6, sixescricket.com) which is — bear with me — sexing up cricket. It is, not entirely surprisingly, the world’s first cricket-and-dining concept, but it comes from the team behind Scottish restaurants Mac & Wild, so it’s been pulled off rather well. Or, head to the London Shuffleboard Club (E1, londonshuffle.com) where the equally unsexy shuffleboard has had a glam makeover. It’s tons of fun and, handily, totally weatherproof inside and out.
If you’re brimming with Euros energy, Café Kick (EC1, cafekick.co.uk), Bar Kick (E1, barkicklondon.com) and Foosball Club (N7, foosballclub.co.uk) are the best for a game of table football; no matter how it goes, it’ll still be more exciting than the England-Scotland wash out.
That said, if all this sounds uncomfortably like heading out for a night spent reliving PE, a rather gentler time can be had at Baranis (WC2, baranis.co.uk): the smart, Riviera-hailing wine bar in the cellars of an old auction house. Between glasses of good rosé, head to the sandy lanes for a game of pétanque. Thirteen, unlucky for some, is the winning score in this game. If shouting about numbers is your thing, try the new, neon palace Hijingo (EC2, hijingo.com); it’s bingo, but re-imagined for the TikTok age. No more Two Fat Ladies.
Should this not quite get your motor running, look out for the soon-to-open bar and restaurant, Gravity in Wandsworth (SW18, gravity-uk.com). Over three storeys — it used to be a department store — there’s 14 lanes of bowling, crazy golf, darts and shuffleboard promised; the best bit, though, will surely be the electric go-karting, with a track that lurches across all three floors. Racetrack fanatics should also keep an eye open for Chaos Karts (E1, chaoskarts.com). Opening later in the summer, it’s one for those raised on a diet of Mario. The karts are real but the track is virtual — no overalls, no helmet, but the added boon of lots of VR weapons to knock the competition off course; think laser guns and bombs.
Still, those with a need for speed needn’t wait. At Clapham pub the Four Thieves (SW11, fourthieves.pub), the pedal can be pressed to the metal at Moonshine Raceway — a 10-man jobbie where the seats are static but the screen flies by — but there’s probably more of a laugh to be had at the nearby VR shoot-’em-up.
Games are big at the moment: Four Quarters opens a flagship spot in Elephant and Castle this August, with 30 vintage arcade machines — get ready to hammer out an evening on Street Fighter II (SE15, SE17, E20, fourquarters.bar). Meanwhile, Queens (W2, queens.london) has the likes of Donkey Kong alongside its bowling lanes, but the real draw is the ice-rink, open year round.
Of course, what we’re all holding out for is a chance to dance. The city’s best clubs will soon be back but make note of a newcomer: in Finsbury Park, the Night Owl (N4, @thenightowlfp) is due to open in early July. It promises themed brunches, plenty of cocktails but the big thing is the music — it’s dedicated to Northern Soul and Motown, and will be blasting both, but expect a few bits of 90s Britpop, some ska and a sprinkling of roots to make it onto the playlists too.
That said, if in doubt, hold out for Ballie Ballerson (EC2, ballieballerson.com). The Insta-famous ballpit is launching its return with a “Balliepalooza” from July 19: expect a week of fire breathers, drag acts, free fizz and parties till 2am. Let the good times roll.