These are the best times to visit London
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Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19, a number of major events described in this guide have been postponed until 2021. Check with the venue’s website before making plans.
Do you hear the cry of London Calling? Whether it’s Big Ben, Royal fever, Premier League football or Harry Potter drawing you in, London is a city full of sights, history, pubs and places to explore.
As an American who moved to London in 2005 as a student and now explores it regularly with small children in tow, I’ve spent more than 50 seasons in the city and will let you in on some local secrets of when to visit, how to save some money and how to maximize your stay.
Cheapest time to visit
According to Skyscanner data, November is the cheapest time to fly to London from internationally. The most significant event in early November is Guy Fawkes night (also known Bonfire Night), and many parks of London put on a fireworks display, most notably being Alexander Palace in north London. Early November is also the Lord Mayor’s Show, a London street parade dating back to the 16th century. Marking the annual change over of the Lord Mayor of London, the event is an ornate parade with floats followed by fireworks on the river.
The truth about November in London, though, is that without the backstop holiday of U.S. Thanksgiving, Christmas season starts in early November. So, you can come and see many of the holiday sights in the cheapest month to visit.
The Christmas lights are usually switched on by 14 November so coming then can be a great time to visit and take advantage of a few holiday days. Christmas markets in the capital all open around the first week of November too, including the epic Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
Best time to visit to avoid crowds
In January and February, it may get dark around 4 p.m., but you can get tickets to the best shows and restaurants in the evening after seeing the empty sights during the day. These months are when you can walk right on to the London Eye, stroll up to Buckingham Palace at 11 a.m. to watch the Changing of the Guards or go for an Instagram-able afternoon tea at Sketch or a classic one at the Ritz. You can walk up to a theatre the day of a performance and score very cheap “day seats” as in these months, the theatres are not full.
There’s also the hope that your hotel will be at low capacity and that free upgrades to a suite might await you.
Watch out for British school half-term, usually the third week of February. Many Brits use that time to head to Europe to ski, but you will notice more people on the tube and in the museums that week.
Best time to visit for art lovers
September and early October can be better weather than in the summer, with the leaves turning and ample sunshine. It is also a time for art, film and fireworks. The leader of the art fairs in London is the Frieze Art Festival, that reigns over Regent’s Park every October, focusing on contemporary art. There’s alternative programming for all art enthusiasts with Moniker Art Fair in various locations and The Other Art Fair in east London where you get a chance to buy directly from the artist.
The BFI London Film Festival is in early October and is easy to get tickets to if you book ahead of time. I snagged regular tickets for around £20 in 2014 thinking it was just a screening, but the event was a full red carpet affair where I met Reese Witherspoon at the premiere of “Wild”.
Best time to visit for peak gardens and flowers
While the Chelsea Flower Show at the end of May brings people from around the world to see why the British rule the gardening world, you can see lots of gorgeous gardens all spring long in London. Forget cherry blossoms at Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., magnolia and wisteria seasons in London are what you should be chasing.
There are entire Instagram accounts devoted to the pink and purple flowers that sprout up all over London in April and May.
Make a trip out to Kew Gardens in west London to see the best in British floral. Kew Gardens is the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world” so a definite must-see for the whole family.
Best time to visit for posh events and Royals spotting
June is a great month to get outside in London, and there’s plenty of pomp and ceremony going on around the capital. You can catch a polo match at Hurlingham Park or watch the Queen’s Birthday Parade called Trooping the Colour (even though her actual birthday is 21 April).
During Open Garden Weekends, you can nosy around many of London’s typically restricted, private green spaces attached to stately homes and privately owned buildings. Then get your tux and hat ready because Royal Ascot is towards the end of the month, where you can place a bet on a horse, spot some celebrities and be in the shadow of Windsor Castle in Berkshire.
Related: How does the Royal Family fly?
Best time to visit for sports fans
July is when the ordinarily sleepy neighbourhood in London called Wimbledon becomes the centre of the world for tennis. If you haven’t got a ticket, then you can camp out and civilly queue for one overnight with others for a chance to spend the day on Centre Court.
For Premier League football fans, you’ll want to visit during the season that runs from late August to late May. Rugby Union takes place between September and May, while Rugby League season runs from February to October, usually at Twickenham stadium. You can watch the traditional summer game of cricket from April to September at Lord’s Cricket Ground or at the Oval.
Summer in London
Summer in London can certainly see prices rise, but you will benefit from the long days with sunsets after 10 p.m. London really comes alive in summer — with so many months of weather that is not ideal for some, Londoners take to the parks and the streets and you’ll find people outside at concerts, films standing in the streets with their pints or Pimms. Pimms is the summer British tipple of choice consisting of a gin-based liqueur mixed with sparkling lemonade and served with ice, assorted fruits, and mint.
Summer is when you can spend hours outside on the Southbank or take the train out to Oxford or Cambridge to try your hand at punting on the river. There are rooftop pools and open-air lidos dotted across London for when the inevitable heatwave strikes. It’s best to stay somewhere central or on a good bus line because the London Underground notoriously does not have air conditioning and inside the carriages can be uncomfortably hot.
London is an easily attainable holiday, especially if you’re considering a staycation. Adding in a day trip or more on the Eurostar could turn it into an extended adventure. It’s true the weather is a bit unpredictable in London but there’s so much happening right throughout the year that there’s plenty of fantastic times to visit.
Featured photo by TSPhotography00 via Twenty20
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