6 Best Things to Do When it Actually *Feels* Like Summer in London
Nothing (I mean literally nothing) looks better on London than a bit of sunshine. As a heat-haze casts its magical spell on the horizon, the city goes suddenly technicolour. Lively pub crowds overflow the city’s streets with their laughter. Each and every pint goes down a treat, as Londoners do their best to stay cool in the urban heat. Parks fill with picnic blankets, baskets, sunbathers in skimpy bikinis and barbecues. Strangers on the tube (thrilled to be out of hibernation) even smile and say hello.
Mark my words. If you make a summer trip to London and it just so happens to coincide with a London heatwave, you’re in a for a real travel treat. Especially if you love nothing more than getting under the skin of a destination. Because London’s best bits truly come to the fore in the summertime.
Of course, as one of the biggest cities in the world, there’s no shortage of things to do in summer in London. In fact, there’s no shortage of things to do in a lifetime. But after spending more than a decade of my summers in the city, I’ve slimmed the selection down to my top six London summer activities. So pack your sunscreen, throw on your oversized sunglasses and let’s go make the most of London when it’s sizzling so hard, you could quite literally fry an on egg on it. Here are the very best things to do and places to visit in summer in London.
1) Soak in the sun at an off-the-tourist-track London park: I’m sure you’re familiar with the classic London parks. And - too be fair - they’re all pretty epic, come rain or shine. There’s Hyde Park, with it’s Serpentine Lake (where you can hire a paddleboat), Rose Garden and quirky annual Serpentine Pavilion outdoor architecture exhibition. There’s Hampstead Heath, that lush North London beauty that - if you wander far enough - makes you feel like you’ve stepped right into the British countryside.
If you’re a London virgin, then you’ll definitely want to explore these London staples. But if you after a few unique things to do in London, may I suggest a few other options. If you’re around on a weekday, head to Lincoln Inn Fields, near Holborn station. Found in the heart of the legal district, you’ll catch the workday hustle-bustle and likely spot a barrister or two. If you’re exploring East London (and if you’re not, then you should be), don’t miss Victoria Park and / or London Fields. Both are hipster hotspots and absolutely prime for people-watching.
Each also has some exquisite food and drink establishments nearby. Head to Lauriston Road near Victoria Park and visit one of my favourite London pubs, The Lauriston. And don’t miss browsing Broadway Market before spending an afternoon in London Fields. If you’re out exploring West London, then spend at least one of your evenings in Holland Park. Near both Earl’s Court and High Street Kensington tube stations, this absolute stunner is not to be missed. There’s a secret Japanese zen garden, there are peacocks (yes, peacocks) roaming the grounds and you can even attend nightly opera at the height of summer. If you’re lucky, you might even spot Kate Middleton on an afternoon stroll with her little ones.
2) Book yourself onto a London party boat: I’ve had two grand boat party London experiences, both to be forever etched in my memory banks. The first, I had that magic “moment” with a man I would go on date for four years, and another (just a few weeks back) I danced off one too many vodka sodas with epic 90s hip-hop, reggae and soka tunes. I also tried my first ever Trinidadian Doubles. And oh my word. Google them and go try one immediately.
But I digress. Book yourself onto a London party boat so you too can have a London summer experience to remember. You’ll not only see London’s best landmarks as you drift along the Thames, you’ll also be able to tan and have a little boogie whilst you’re at it.
Check out this list of London boat parties. Of course, if you want the boat - but without the party - there are plenty of more subdued London boat tour options too. Check out Get Your Guide for some great options.
3) Go wild swimming in Hampstead Heath ponds or try a local London lido: Probably one of the coolest things to do in London come high summer is to spend a day at the Hampstead Heath swimming ponds. Even if you don’t actually go for a swim, this London summer activity is one for the (travel) books. Found in the heart of the park, there are a couple swimming ponds: one male, one female and two mixed gender. I’ve only tried the female ponds (as I was keen to have the option to sunbathe topless because why not?) but you can choose whichever tickles your fancy.
Admission is only £2 and you can visit from 7am to 8.30pm. The water might be chilly (even in August) but there’s something special about swimming in the wild. Dive off the docks and enjoy the water’s bite. But even if wild swimming’s not your thing, London has something else on offer, the hip and trés retro London lidos, which are all the rage among the locals. Try Parliament Hill Lido (not far from Hampstead’s swimming ponds), London Fields Lido or the Brockwell Lido.
4) Catch a Wimbledon tennis match - or any other London sporting event: Nothing says London summer more than a bowl of strawberries and cream and London’s tennis classic, Wimbledon. So why not make your London summer trip extra special and plan it around a London summer event? If you can’t get your hands on one of those coveted tickets to catch a once-in-a-lifetime match and experience that renowned Wimbledon hospitality, then have a look at the year’s sporting calendar and take your pick from the countless options that pass through London every year. Consider the cricket, rugby, polo or another British classic. Whatever you choose, you won’t be disappointed by one of these epic London summer experiences. But if attending firsthand is out of your travel budget, then just join the locals and watch them outdoors instead. You can find outdoor screens scattered all over the city, usually in London’s most popular parks and squares.
5) Sip some G&Ts in one of London’s best pub gardens: London would be nothing without its pubs. Nothing screams London more than popping into the pub for a pint of lager, snuggling up on a cozy Chesterfield sofa and not looking up again until last orders. But this gets so much better in the sunshine. And there is no better place to enjoy a drink in the sunshine that a classic London beer garden.
There are countless options throughout the city but some of my favourites are The Albion in Islington and The Pub on the Park in London Fields. Just go early. It means you’ll be day drinking - but it also means you will actually get a seat. And this is your chance to get acquainted with the locals. Londoners on a sunny day, drinking in a London beer garden, are probably the friendliest bunch around.
6) Watch the sunset from a London rooftop bar: God, I love a rooftop bar. So much so that I make an effort to find one in most cities I visit. I love a good aerial view - and just watching the world go by from above. And London is not short of excellent options. If you want rooftop glam, head to the Shangri-La’s Gong Bar (which I wrote all about in my London Bridge post) or to Aqua at the top of the Shard.
If you want more hot and steamy, then head to the top of Netil 360, not far from London Fields, where the crowds will entertain you more than the views. Or head to Peckham, with it’s famed Frank’s Cafe, beloved by Instagrammers. And if that’s too rammed, head to nearby Bussy Rooftop Bar, where you can have a few drinks or even watch a good film with the Rooftop Film Club.
Collaborative Post: I partnered with Keith Prowse, but all words, photography and views are my own.
PIN IT, SAVE IT, SHARE IT!
Other posts you might love: