During the summer months of June, July and August, London is transformed into a whole new city. The rooftop bars open, the parks get packed with sunbathers, and you can eat, drink and play outdoors all day, late into the evening. So when it’s hot in London and the thermometer starts rising, here are our top ways to chill out, relax and make the most out of the warmer weather in 2017.
1. Go to the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Summer in London means watching plays, musicals and films (along with a few comedy performances) at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in their 1,250 seat outdoor auditorium. This year, shows include Jesus Christ Superstar, On The Town and Oliver Twist.
The show goes on whatever the weather: so pack a picnic, grab a Pimm’s at the bar and enjoy.
2. See a street performance
Covent Garden’s array of jugglers, musicians, acrobats and comedians perform live in the Piazza throughout the summer. To avoid the crowds, head up to the Punch and Judy pub. You can then watch from above with a drink in hand.
3. Watch a film on a rooftop
The Rooftop Film Club has venues in Peckham, Shoreditch, Stratford and Kensington and comes with comfy chairs, wireless headphones and blankets in case the air gets a little nippy.
Alternatively, try Luna Cinema. There are pop-up events happening all over London in places like Victoria Embankment Gardens, Brockwell Lido and even Westminster Abbey throughout May, June, July and August.
4. Listen to live jazz in the park
The Pavilion Café in Greenwich Park hosts evenings of live jazz every summer (June through August). This cafe is next to the Royal Observatory, and has a large garden with great views. Better yet, there’s a licensed bar, as well as a barbecue and children’s activities on offer.
5. Dance at gigs in the sunshine
British Summer Time Hyde Park has become a London summer institution, with global stars performing in front of huge crowds. In 2017 Phil Collins, Green Day, Justin Bieber, Kings of Leon, The Killers and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers headline, with Blondie, Tears for Fears and Stevie Nicks among those lining up as the support acts to these mini-one day festivals.
6. Enjoy the music at Somerset House
Few open air gigs have a backdrop to rival the Summer Series at Somerset House. Established artists and upcoming acts take the spotlight each night in the 18th century courtyard, which gives these series of gigs a more intimate feel. Tickets always sell out, so grab them early.
7. See a Shakespeare play at the Globe
In the open-air Globe Theatre, you’ll experience Shakespeare’s plays in the way they were first staged (April to October). Plays being performed this summer include King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet and more. The roof is open to the elements during the evening and you can opt to stand in the yard to make it as authentic as possible. Tickets start from a bargain £5.95.
8. Watch outdoor opera in Holland Park
Only staging performances in the summer, Opera Holland Park is under a canopy, but its location gives it an unstuffy feel. They usually show six operas of different levels, so experts and novices will find something that appeals.
9. Get into the carnival spirit
Every year the August Bank Holiday heralds the return of Notting Hill Carnival. So if you like vibrant colours, Caribbean flavours and dancing, add London’s biggest annual street party to your calendar.
10. Spend a summer day on the Southbank
Take a riverside walk, browse the book market or spend a balmy evening paddling in the fountains outside the Southbank Centre.
Two of London’s biggest festivals – Underbelly and London Wonderground – have teamed up together this year for the Underbelly Festival, where fringe-type events include circus acts, cabaret and cutting-edge comedy. The festival grounds also include one of the city’s longest outdoor bars along with street food stalls.
The Southbank Centre Market also runs every weekend during the warmer months, selling street food and farmers’ market produce from the stalls.
11. Go to a one-day festival
London’s parks have a line up of festivals catering to most musical genres – without needing to camp out.
The South West Four Weekender is usually held on the August Bank Holiday on Clapham Common and offers two days of dance music and club classics.
Victoria Park hosts the Lovebox Festival which has the biggest names in R&B, electronic dance and rap. The park is also home to Field Day, which is where to find the best alternative acts in London playing.
Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park is another established summer session, with dance, rap and R&B acts taking to the stage.
Eating and drinking
12. Take a trip to Trafalgar Square
Since it was part pedestrianised, Trafalgar Square has become the centrepoint for free open-air events in London (like the Eid festival as well as Pride in London). Even if nothing’s on, you can still get a picture of The Fourth Plinth or listen to some live music in the square by the licensed street performers.
13. Fire up the ‘barbie in a park (where it’s allowed)
Many councils ban barbecuing in public to prevent scorched earth, so make sure you check before lighting up in a park or open space. London Fields in Hackney have specially designated areas for you to barbecue, and Wandsworth Park has metal barbecue stations set up. Burgess Park in Southwark also has purpose built ones – just bring charcoal.
14. Find the best gelato in London
The summer is the time to buy Italian speciality ice cream and gelato. We’ve put together a guide to where to find the best ice cream in London to give you the inside scoop.
15. Pick your own fruit
Head out to Cockfosters in Zone 5 and the rural retreat of Parkside Farm between June and October. They have 20 different fruits and vegetables to pick, including raspberries and sweetcorn. If you don’t fancy any bending or crouching, they even have special table-top strawberries to pick.
16. Blue sky drinking on a rooftop bar
There are loads of rooftop bars all over London, and we’ve compiled a list of London’s rooftop bars. That way, you can escape the heat of the pavements and get a birds eye view of the city.
17. Settle into a beer garden
Alfresco drinking options are rife in London, if you know where to look. Head to a pub with a country garden feel like The Albion in N1, or head south and get the added bonus of riverside views at The Ship. We’ve put together a guide to 35 London beer gardens.
If you’ve got your four-legged friend in tow – here’s some dog friendly places in London to eat, drink and sleep at.
18. Try a pedal pub crawl
You and up to 11 others can take a Pedibus round some of London’s landmarks, and drink while you cycle. It’ll also stop off at a pre-arranged pub – we recommend the London Bridge route.
19. Drink on the deck of a floating bar
The Tattershall Castle is one of the Thames’ permanently moored boats, and is long established as a place to go for an evening tipple near Embankment. It’s just undergone a major refurbishment to be ready for the long summer nights.
20. Eat lunch outside
Escape your desk when the sun comes out and take your lunch to one of London’s squares and gardens.
Postman’s Park near St Pauls was originally a popular lunch spot for nearby postal workers, and is now home to the Watts memorial, commemorating those who have given their lives to save others.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Holborn once held duels. Nowadays, you’re more likely to see picnicking lawyers in the largest square in London.
21. Do fine dining outdoors
The River Cafe in Hammersmith has a Michelin star to go with the Mediterranean style outdoor terrace and food. (booking is advised).
22. Have street food for dinner
London’s street food scene really comes alive during the summer, with vans, caravans and food bikes congregating together for night-time residencies.
Street Feast has weekend nocturnal food festivals across London, with Dalston Yard and the Model Market at Lewisham two of its larger venues. Elsewhere, chicken wings continue to be popular and the annual London Wing Fest pits the best against each other.
Sport and outdoor activities
23. Anyone for tennis?
In smaller parks, you can play tennis for free on a first come, first served basis; at the bigger parks you might have to pay and / or book in advance.
The Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre hosted the 2012 Wheelchair Tennis, and has six outdoor courts which can be booked. Greenwich Park have also had their six hard courts refurbished for 2015. You’ll also find courts in local parks like Hackney Downs – check the local council websites for details.
24. Saddle up and go for a horse ride
25. Go for a swim
London has a mix of pools, ponds, and lidos to choose from, with the Serpentine Lido and Hampstead Heath Ponds being the most well-known. The Telegraph have put together a handy list of their best outdoor swimming pools in London.
26. Paddle up the Thames
Kayaking London run both day and night paddling experiences, which is a novel way to see London Bridge and the Houses of Parliament from the water. If the river isn’t your thing, visit some of London’s more sheltered areas, like Shadwell Basin or Surrey Docks, where you can hire canoes and kayaks.
27. Try a spot of sailing
Across from Canary Wharf, Surrey Docks Watersports Centre offers sailing for all ages and experience.
The Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre provides Dinghy lessons, and if you visit during their Twilight sessions, you can also get involved in the barbecue and bar with views over the water.
The West Reservoir Water Sports Centre near Stoke Newington also has a very picturesque backdrop to learn the ropes.
28. Have a game of ping pong
The English Ping Pong Association has a list of outdoor table locations should you fancy an impromptu game with your mates.
29. Play a round of (mini) golf
Visit Putt In The Park for an outdoor round of mini golf in London. Based in Wandsworth Park it also has a licensed cafe so you can celebrate your score with a beer at the end (you can get a head start with their 360 tour).
Alexandra Palace also has a ten hole pitch and putt if you want to try something a bit more expansive.
30. Get fit for free
Hot weather doesn’t make the gym very appealing, but you can still keep in shape for the summer at one of London’s outdoor gyms.
Fitness trainers Muddy Plimsolls have put together a map of the outdoor gym locations, along with some tips on how to get the most out of the equipment. Primrose Hill also has a recently refurbished Trim Trail to try.
31. Swing around in an adventure park
If you have a head for heights, book a trip to Go Ape in Trent Park. They have zip wires, Tarzan swings and high ropes to negotiate, all in the tree tops of this country park in Zone 5.
32. Mess about on the water
Ally Pally even has boats shaped like dragons, swans or cars if you want to unleash your inner child.
33. Become a chess grandmaster
34. Take to two wheels… or four
Thanks to Boris Bikes you can spontaneously cycle round London whenever you want. The City is relatively traffic free at the weekend, and you cycle past sights like the Bank of England and St Paul’s Cathedral. The majority of the Royal Parks have cycle routes, and you can pick up maps to help you navigate, or hire bikes if you don’t have one.
For more wheely good fun, London has plenty of skate parks – perfect for upping your street cred by showing off your best tricks. And if you don’t know your heelflip from your hard flip, no problem. Adrenaline Hub offer lessons from semi-pro skaters in several parks around the city.
35. Take a summer stroll along the Thames Path.
You can walk as far as the Thames Barrier to the east, but make sure you don’t walk too far to the west – the path is 184 miles long and reaches the Cotswolds. We’ve also put together a list of 35 of the best riverside pubs – should you wish to stop off along the way.
36. Swap ten pin bowling for the real thing
Relax as you play a game of proper bowls on a summers evening. OpenPlay have a list of bowling greens for you to try, with Finsbury Square long being popular with city types.
See the best of summertime London
37. Buy fresh summer seasonal produce
Head to one of London’s markets and buy the best of the summer fruit and vegetables. Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries (summer fruits) are best bought now, and green beans and peas are fresh from the fields.
38. Spend a lazy day at the park
For an urban city, London is blessed with a huge amount of parks, gardens and open spaces – so if it’s hot, grab a picnic and the suntan lotion and see them in their full glory.
39. Cruise for a while
Bag a spot on the top deck of one of London’s river boats and relax with the wind in your hair . You can pick the main cruises up from Westminster Pier, Tower Bridge and Greenwich.
40. Float down the canal on a barge
Camden, Islington and Little Venice can all be discovered on a canal cruise. Hidden Depths will take you along Regent’s Canal and through Islington Tunnel, one of the oldest in Britain. They also hold special events during the summer. The London Waterbus Company even has a special gate to let you into London Zoo and cruise past some of the animal enclosures.
If you want to stay on dry land, the canal towpaths make for a romantic and scenic walk.
41. Smell the roses at Kew
From the end of spring to the start of autumn, you can enjoy England’s national flower at Kew Gardens. There, you’ll find one of the finest rose gardens in London before taking a stroll under their fragrant Rose Pergola.
42. Meet the animals on the farm
Charity and community-run Mudchute Farm on the Isle of Dogs is a taste of countryside in the middle of Docklands. This inner city working farm has stables, with horses and ponies, and has more than 100 different animals, along with some British rare breeds (nb. the animals go to bed around 4pm)
Hackney City Farm is a little smaller, but still has pigs, donkeys, goats and rabbits among other furry friends to meet.
43. Get clucky over the ducklings
Wild birds rear their young in the summer over at the London Wetland Centre in West London. Spend the day bird spotting and see if you can catch sight of Sand Martins, which migrate here during the warm season.
44. Sleep under the stars (sort of)
If you fancy pitching a tent for the night, Crystal Palace Caravan Club Site has the most accessible pitches for getting into the centre of the capital.
45. Camp out while you queue
The Wimbledon Queue has become a summer rite of passage for tennis fans.
Tickets are released on a first come, first served basis so you can join the hardy souls braving the night under canvas in the hope of seeing Andy Murray win another match. Alternatively, you could go on a tour of the All England Tennis Club and see what it’s like to walk onto Centre Court yourself.
46. Find a “beach”
Technically the Thames has a small beach near Tower Bridge and up until the 1940s families would play there (you can still see it at low tide). Ruislip Lido in Hillingdon has possibly the closest thing to a beach, with a sandy area next to the lake.
47. Cool down… with ice
If by random chance London happens to be hit by a heatwave, the ICEBAR London will soon have your temperature dropping. Also, Alexandra Palace offers ice skating all year round, so if you have a hankering for some winter sports, take a turn round the rink.
48. Go on a summer safari at London Zoo
Every year ZSL London Zoo hosts Lates, where you can wander round the zoo in the evening and see the animals as the sun sets. There’s usually a different theme, but you can expect tours, music, talks and plenty of refreshments.
49. Find out the city’s secrets on a walking tour
Take a walking tour and discover more about what the people, pubs and places of London’s past got up to during the holidays.
50. Sneak a peak at where the Queen lives
When our reigning monarch escapes the capital for Sandringham or Balmoral, it’s time for the annual Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace. After all, it’s not summer unless you’ve pretended to be a visiting dignitary in the State Rooms.
Have you got any favourite summer activities to add?
Let us know your favourite things to do in London by leaving a comment below.
And if you’re visiting London, we have plenty of places to stay in the capital to make the most out of your summer holidays.
To find out the latest London events – visit our weekly what’s on in London page this weekend.
Finally, if you fancy getting out of the capital and heading to the beach or somewhere new – check out our best days trips from London for further inspiration.