It’s been 11 years in the making, but the opening date for Crossrail has finally been confirmed. From 24 May, you’ll be able to make the east-west train journey from Shenfield in the suburbs of Essex or southeast London’s Abbey Wood all the way across London, and on to Heathrow Airport and Reading. (And back again, if you fancy it.)
There might be some mucking about with your contactless payment at Paddington and Liverpool Street where transfers still need to be made until the full through-route opens in May 2023, but that’s just part of the haphazard charm we’ve come to expect from London’s constantly evolving transport network.
Short of the endless travel possibilities that Heathrow offers, we look at what else is going on along the route, from gorgeous green escapes to historic tours of ancient sites. Here are the best things to do along the Elizabeth Line.
Soak beside the Thames in Reading
A short walk from Reading station brings you to the Thames Lido, a Grade-II-listed Edwardian swimming bath that has been converted into a heated outdoor swimming pool right on the edge of the Thames. Non-members are welcome – book a two-hour session giving you access to the pool, sauna and hot tub. If you’re still craving the water, take a stroll along the Thames Path here or cross the river at Caversham Lock to View Island, a peaceful wildlife haven right in the centre of the Thames.
Get active on the ice in Slough
The dreary, grey business parks depicted in the TV series The Office might have you giving the commuter town of Slough a wide berth, but it could be the perfect outing for a rainy day. Head here for Slough Ice Arena, where you can slip on some skates and let your inner Brian Boitano or Jayne Torvill loose on the ice. You can also experience ice-karting here – these modified go-karts are an even more thrilling way to whizz around the rink. Across the road is Salt Hill Activity Centre, where you can bowl, climb, bounce or hit the soft play.
Have a family day out in Hanwell
“Zoo” might be a bit strong for the sweet little animal conservation centre at Hanwell Zoo – locally known as Bunny Park – but it does have a small collection of exotic creatures including lemurs, capybara, porcupines and margay (South American jungle cats), as well as birds and reptiles. With adult tickets at just £4.50 and kids £2.50, it’s great value. Challenge yourself afterwards with a visit to the adjacent Millennium Maze.
Admire art and architecture at Pitzhanger Manor
Beyond the cafes and fast food joints outside Ealing Broadway station is Walpole Park, a vast space once the estate of Pitzhanger Manor House. This Regency mansion, designed, built and lived in by British architect Sir John Soane, reopened in 2019 restored to its former glory after a three-year-long conservation project. The library building has been converted into Pitzhanger Gallery, showcasing work by contemporary artists, designers and architects.
Learn local history in Farringdon
Smithfield’s historic meat market, minutes from Farringdon station, is one for early-risers – it’s best visited before 7am when the stalls are still open and trading is in action. Monthly 90-minute guided tours dive into the history of the site dating back around 1,000 years. Pause nearby at 12th-century church St Bartholomew the Great, which somehow survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz. If you crave a bit more local history, visit Postman’s Park where plaques on the Watt’s Memorial honour the sacrifices of ordinary people who died while trying to save the life of someone else.
Olympic memories and big brands at Stratford
Relive those heady days of London’s 2012 Olympic glory by letting gravity do its thing in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Artist Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit is an unusual combination of sculpture, cliff-face and fairground ride, comprising not only the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide, but also an 80m abseiling experience. Calm yourself down afterwards with a cuppa and some retail therapy in the vast Westfield shopping centre.
Celebrate community in Romford
Romford’s volunteer-led Havering Museum celebrates all things from the local area with artefacts dating back to prehistory. Through its roots as a community project – and with support of a Heritage Lottery Grant – it also indirectly honours the achievements of the local historians and librarians who created this little treasure trove in the old Romford Brewery building. Round out your trip to Romford at the greyhound track, which has six race meets a week. The handy betting guide can help you get to grips with what it all means.
Dig for fossils near Abbey Wood
Alight at the end of the southeastern branch of the Elizabeth Line to visit Lesnes Abbey Woods, home to – surprise! – ancient woodland and a ruined abbey. Amateur geologists of all ages will love digging around (no deeper than 2ft, thanks) at the fossil pit that forms part of this Site of Special Scientific Interest. You might find ancient shells or even a shark’s tooth. Failing that, the paths around ponds, through gardens and past sculptures will have you forgetting you’re in London (until you stumble upon the viewpoint of the city skyline, that is).