Summers come as a boon to both the locals and the tourists as London celebrates the sunshine with open-air events, fairs and festivals.
Visited by thousands of tourist all-year round, London embraces a special mood during summer, when one can enjoy its countless open-air events, terraces and promenades during the long days of the season. Explore London under a different sky, have a pint, indulge yourself in shopping and play royalsspotting, but don’t forget to bring an umbrella… you never know with British rainy weather!
Discover London on foot
During July and August, one of the key pleasures in London is being able cover it on foot without being cold or having days shortened by early sunsets. If you are not in the mood for walking, do not hesitate to take one of the famous double-decker red buses or, if you prefer, the very well connected tube net that will take you to any point in the city.
From any emblematic landmark on the map, or from your own hotel, you can create innumerable walking tours or taking public transport to enjoy monuments, historic buildings, streets and hideouts that the city offers.
As Hyde Park is well located and surrounded by key attractions with numerous activities such as enjoying a morning walk, glancing at Diana – Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain or even riding a horse, to entertain yourself. This park is also home to Serpentine River and its beach Lido that welcomes the Londoners and tourists too have a safe swim and sunbath during summers. The Lido is open from 10 to 6 during the day every summer and offers to rent sun loungers for the whole day. Something curious not to miss while walking through the park is the Speakers Corner, one of the most popular places for free speech in the world. Existing since 1872, you can publicly make a speech as long as the content is not against the law.
From Hyde Park Corner, a nice walk down the Constitution Hill directs you to Buckingham Palace, residence of the Queen of England. Be prepared for a hustle-bustle surrounding the palace as scholars pay a visit during summers. Afternoon is a good time to stopover, to avoid the crowd. An important fact to take into account is that during summer months, the guards change every day that encompasses colourful spectacle and British pageantry. It suffices to check on the internet to ensure it does take place as expected and be in advance to assure a good spot. When you are in front of the palace, don’t forget to pay attention to its roof: if a flag is waving, the Queen is home!
Continuing down to the river, a short stroll along the Birdcage Walk or through the magnificent St. James Park leads to one of the marvels in London: the Palace of Westminster. Meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, it is commonly known as the Houses of Parliament. West of it lies Westminster Abbey, a Gothic abbey church where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were married. From across the bridge you get an impeccable view of this colossal building together with the Big Ben, the mythical clock that experienced numerous special effects in films like Peter Pan, Mary Poppins or the world famous series Doctor Who.
If you have some time and want to take a rest, continue the walk to reach London Eye, from where you will be able to admire the beauty of the British capital, especially on a clear day. Another activity you will relish at this time of year, and even more if you come with kids, is a nice boat trip on the Thames. From the Westminster pier you may notice numerous boat companies that offer this service with a range of different tours: circular tours, up to the Tower of London and back or even to Greenwich, the neighborhood where the Greenwich meridian is located. Get down the boat to experience the unique sensation of placing a foot on each side of the hemisphere for a few minutes!
If you take the spacious Whitehall street from Westminster, you will be walking towards another non-fiction celebrity’s home: Downing Street Prime Minister’s residence. Tall fences and guards wearing traditional suits protect the entrance so you won’t get too close, but it is worth discovering where the leader lives anyway.
Going further you’ll find Trafalgar Square, the most famous square in the city that besides hosting a variety of events houses the National Gallery. The museum shows paintings from 13th to 19th centuries and is open almost every day of the year, free of charge.
Located at a close proximity is another big hit of London: Piccadilly Circus. Be ready to discover Europe’s Times Square and experience a fun moment trying to capture the ideal picture with the famous billboards! Once there, two different parts of the city open up. On one side you could enter a combination of narrow streets and big avenues to the Soho neighbourhood, very in style right now. With countless English pubs to sit and savour pints or typical Fish and Chips, it also offers a wide range of cafés and restaurants of all kinds. Soho is also the area where all major theaters are located, therefore it is advisable to book in advance a musical show or play for one of your nights in town. If you are lucky enough you could maybe coincide with some celebrity in Leicester Square, as it is here that some film premieres are held.
We all know that going shopping in summers is more fun than during winters: we don’t carry our coats, trying on clothes is easier and hopping from shop to shop is a pleasure. So, if you take Regent Street from Piccadilly you will enter the dream world of any shopaholic: this long street offers a huge selection of the best high-street boutiques on both sidewalks. You will find here some of the world’s first brands for clothes, fashion accessories or even food, and if you continue until Oxford Circus, you will walk on a perpendicular road among famous department stores such as Marks & Spencer (do not miss the food hall) or Selfridges Shopping Center, where you will find anything from home decor, state of the art technology and of course, all the fashion you want. For a youthful style, two mandatory stops on the route are Topshop and Primark, temples of design at more than affordable prices. If you want to take a break from big avenues, try to find the adorable Carnaby Street, a charming and colorful pedestrian street perpendicular to Regent Street and flanked by typical British brick wall buildings.
This shopping area can keep you busy for a while, but if you are looking for supreme luxury, take the tube to Knightsbridge and discover Harrods, the famous shopping center whose former owner was Mohamed Al-Fayed, father of the late Dodi Al-Fayed, Diana of Wales’ partner at the time they both were killed in a tragic traffic accident under the Pont de l’Alma bridge in Paris.
This department store is a complete opulence: from the magnificent food hall offering the best dishes of world’s gastronomy to the small Parisian tearoom Ladurée, to the clothing floors or cosmetics areas carrying the first luxury brands to meet the most demanding client’s needs. Even if you don’t buy anything, take a look at the souvenir shop. You will find there a variety of gifts with Harrods logos that will make excellent presents for your relatives back home.
Without any doubt, the stars of the London summers are markets. Even if they can, of course, be visited during winter, wandering through the streets and stalls without rain and cold is a luxury in the capital city. Saturday mornings are glorious for Portobello market. Maybe the name rings a bell, as it forms the backdrop many films. Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson landed here in their flying bed in Disney’s 1971 film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but the market is also located in Notting Hill, the place where lovely Julia Roberts met a handsome Hugh Grant in the romantic comedy of the same name.
This amusing market mixes regular and second-hand shops, crafts (toys, accessories, gadgets), music corners and nice little cafés. Explore its streets full of colourful façades and unique shops, and lose yourself to the festive atmosphere of the market.
Sunday, on the other hand, is the best day to visit Camden. When you arrive at this alternative neighborhood by metro, the first thing you observe is a wide avenue with peculiar building fronts where giant objects hang: shoes, bikes or even dragons! It is jaw dropping. Explore the street to find the first market along the road Camden Market, and go further down the road to notice Camden Lock bridge. Next to that is the stables market, famous for its old stables that are now used as small charming shops where sellers offer souvenirs, clothes and antiques.
There is something for everyone here, even if you find a splurge of punk style due to the alternative nature of the area. While walking around you can also find horse statues strategically placed. As in most markets, there is also an informal food area where you can grab a paper or plastic tray and fill it up with delicious food of your choice to eat along other people at the common tables. Before you leave, do not miss Cyberdog, a very peculiar shop with dancers and fluorescent clothing! While heading back, enjoy a nice promenade around the canals that cross the neighborhood, which is in fact located on the London canal network. If you are up for a challenge, further explore and try to find the houses of singer Amy Winehouse, actress Gwyneth Paltrow or even Charles Dickens!
British rainy weather is widely known, and because you are likely to experience it too, a good alternative for those days is visiting any of the numerous museums in the city. The choice is overwhelming, but among the best museums are the British Museum, one of the oldest in the world, the Victoria and Albert Museum, showing sculptures and ceramics among others, or the Natural History Museum, where you can marvel at around 70 million plants, fossils, rocks and incredible dinosaur’s skeletons.
Another very interesting option is the Tate Modern, a building of industrial architecture that holds modern art pieces that will leave you speechless. One of the best options to spend a fun afternoon, especially with children, is the Madame Tussauds museum to see your favourite celebrities made of wax as if they were real: from singers or actors to superheroes and even world leaders, historic personalities or the loved Queen of England herself. Of course, there are plenty of other museums of any kind, so the ideal thing is to take a look at a complete guide and chose your favorite ones!
Concerts and open-air events
However, if nice weather is predicted, the best way to enjoy both days and nights in London are the events reserved especially for summer.
During June, Queen’s Birthday Parade is one of the exciting activities to indulge into. Although it is not her actual birthday, you can enjoy marching maneuvers and royalty spotting while two hundred horses flank the Queen from Buckingham Palace.
For sports enthusiasts who are in in London late June-early July, Wimbledon is a must-see. Although it needs no introduction, make sure you get your tickets well in advance. If you are more of a night person, the Lovebox festival is made for you. From Djs, electronic music or big stars like Snoop Dog or Cypress Hill this year, the Lovebox at Victoria Park is the perfect excuse to party.
You can also rent a bike in London at any time, but during August the RideLondon event takes the streets, banishing buses, cars and motorbikes for a day and enabling cyclists of all ages and levels to cycle the roads along a 100-mile route.
For a more quiet activity, enjoy a gorgeous London summer night watching a movie under the stars as several art and film companies offer this possibility all around London, you just need to check the programme and choose your location and film.
Leaving the best for the end, the must see while in London in August is undoubtedly the Notting Hill Carnival. A two-day explosion of music, color and dance, this spectacle is Europe’s biggest street festival and it is very well prepared, including bars, with fun activities for kids and safety indications and staff all over the parade
How to reach
By air: The six international airports in London are well connected to the cities around the world.
By train: The underground tube is the quickest (but most expensive) form of public transport; trains run from 5.30am to 12.30am (7am to 11.30pm Sunday). Selected lines run all night Friday and Saturday.
By road: Buses are slow-going but cheap. Large number of night buses. Taxis are available everywhere and round-the-clock. Hail in the street (black cabs) or book ahead (mini-cabs).
Where to stay
Finding the right accommodation is integral to your London experience, and there’s no shortage of choice. The city has some stunning hotels and many are experiences in their own right, with numerous distinctive, luxurious boutique hotels on offer, dotted around town centre, from the historic heart of the City to leafy Richmond, and feature mood-lit pools, free-standing baths, Victorian fittings and cocktails bars. Rooms in popular hotels often need to be booked well in advance. There’s a bombardment of cheap, chain motels on the Wellington Road.