We’re heading into the chillier months, but it’s never too soon to plan your summer adventure! As if there wasn’t enough to do in London, the long days of summer here mean more hours to fill with fun. After a few weeks of June gloom, London settles into a balmy summer when everyone is in a good mood and you can still see the sun’s rays at 11 p.m. With so many hours of daylight at your disposal, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy what’s arguably London’s best time of year. Here are 10 activities or events to plan for on your summer trip to take full advantage of the season.
1. Borough Market
So the first item on the list actually takes place every weekend throughout the year, but nice weather allows for a more enjoyable experience at this open-air food market. True, the summer holiday will attract large crowds of locals and tourists alike, although that only adds to the bustling atmosphere. Here you’ll find quality fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, and baked goods as well as specialty foods and ready-to-eat meals. Don’t miss out on the best-grilled cheese you’ll ever have from the raclette stall!
2. Picnic in Holland Park
One thing you’ll notice about London is the abundance of open green spaces in the city (they’re almost as ubiquitous as pubs!). Parks of every size dot the map, which is where locals head to enjoy the outdoors on a splendid day. Be a pro and bring a full picnic spread complete with blankets to sit on and a frisbee or ball to toss around. Don’t be shy and wear a swimsuit to sunbathe if you like—plenty of others will be doing the same! Holland Park is special because it’s home to Kyoto Gardens, a beautiful Japanese-style garden with colorful plants and water features, but any park will do.
3. Underbelly Festival Southbank
Make your way across the river and you’ll come across Underbelly Festival on the Southbank, a pop-up festival that features live circus, comedy, cabaret and family entertainment. In addition to the countless live performances (most of which are under £20), you can also grab some international street food or a pint from an outdoor bar and enjoy the summer alongside the Thames.
4. Chestertons Polo in the Park
While not as prestigious as the Royal Ascot, Chestertons Polo in the Park is located within the city limits—plus it’s a whole lot easier to get tickets for. Like other events in the British social calendar, you’ll want to look your best (strictly no shorts or sneakers), and for ladies, hats or fascinators are definitely encouraged. Whether or not you follow the polo, it’s always fun to get dressed up!
5. Notting Hill Carnival
This is a celebration of Black British culture like no other. For two days out of the year, the posh residential streets of Notting Hill shut down to host one of the most cantankerous street festivals in the world. Roughly one million people flock to northwest London each year to dance in front of sound systems, catch sight of paraders in magnificent costume, and sink their teeth into Jamaican jerk chicken or curry goat. Don’t miss out on this totally free, boisterous event!
6. Feed parakeets and ride bikes in Kensington Gardens
You may or may not notice bright green, exotic-looking birds all over the city. Despite looking like escapees of an aviary, these ring-necked parakeets are a wild species in London. Stock up on nuts or apples and rent a Santander bike (commonly known as Boris bikes) from any one of the many docks in and around Hyde Park. Enjoy a breezy ride over to Kensington Gardens near the Serpentine and look for the Peter Pan statue. Pick a lush tree anywhere in the area to stand beneath and hold your offerings out on full display. You’ll have an arm full of feathery green friends in no time.
7. Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and Bartlett School of Architecture Summer Show
London boasts a number of free galleries and exhibitions, and these ones are specially curated for the summer season. The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is open to all artists and features paintings, drawings, sculptures and models, and it draws the biggest crowd of any open exhibition in the UK. The Bartlett Summer Show is the largest student architecture show in the world, where students of the prestigious school intersect art and design.
8. British Summer Time Hyde Park (or any other summer festival)
BST Hyde Park has garnered performances from top billing headliners, from Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars to the Strokes and Florence + the Machine. In addition to paid concerts on the weekends, festival-goers can come during the week to catch movie nights in the park or screenings of Wimbledon and enjoy live music, food trucks, and outdoor bars—all for free. But BST isn’t the only summer festival in the city; do a little research and you’ll certainly find a scene to suit your taste.
9. Boat Race
Rowing crew is a pretty big deal in the UK, and the ultimate showdown between the country’s most notable schools—Oxford and Cambridge—happens each year on the Thames. With the first men’s race in 1829 and the first women’s race almost 100 years later in 1927, the event has become an honored British institution. Come out and support the women who row just as hard as the men (but have only received television coverage since 2015).
10. Chelsea Flower Show
You will never conceive of a garden so wondrous until you attend the Chelsea Flower Show. Here you’ll discover the plants, arrangements and floral displays of another reality. Featuring displays from the movers and shakers of garden design and horticulture, tickets to the Chelsea Flower Show come at a hefty price (£37-65) and sell out quickly, so it’s definitely worth booking in advance if you’re interested. If you’re late to the game, you can still enjoy the bloom on a stroll around the streets of Chelsea.