The Best Things To Do In London This Summer

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 8 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

The Best Things To Do In London This Summer

With so many events going on in London each summer, it's hard to pick what to do and where to go. To help you out, we've picked out favourite things to do in the capital in the summer, whether you want to watch films under the stars, rock out at music festivals, or just eat and drink your way round the capital.

Cinema and theatre

When the sun comes out, London takes the roof off. If it rains, you get wet — it's all part of the British summertime fun. Here's where you can get your culture fix in the open air:

OPEN AIR CINEMA: From watching Jaws in a lido to Dunkirk in Greenwich Park, and all manner or classics and new releases on the rooftops, take a look at Londonist's guide to 2018 outdoor cinema events, and get booking.

Movie screenings with a view at Rooftop Film Club

OPEN AIR THEATRE: The season at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre runs from May-September. It kicks off this year with family favourite Peter Pan, followed by The Turn Of The Screw, As You Like It, Little Shop Of Horrors and Dinosaur World Live. The theatre is tucked away in the centre of Regent's Park, and feels like a secret.

OPERA HOLLAND PARK: Opera Holland Park's summer season is a brief one, lasting just two months, but it manages to pack in four operas in this time, plus performances by the Royal Ballet. A temporary canopied auditorium is built next to Holland House — and yes, canopied means a covered auditorium, which is a relief on wet evenings. Get booking for La traviata, Così fan tutte, Isabeau and Ariadne auf Naxos.

UNDERBELLY: Circus, comedy, cabaret and kids' shows can all be found in one location for the duration of the summer; Underbelly Festival. Even better, the shows take place inside a giant upturned purple cow, surrounded by bars and food stalls, making for a pretty decent festival atmosphere. 6 April-30 September

See West End stars for free at West End Live.

WEST END LIVE: Cast members from some of the best shows in the West End put on free, open air performances in Trafalgar Square. This year's West End Live line-up has yet to be announced, but past years have featured casts from Lion King, Matilda and Stomp. 16-17 June

GREENWICH & DOCKLANDS INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL: Hip-hop dance, soundscapes, puppet shows, acrobatics and a pedal-powered musical are just some of the genres featured in the programme of Greenwich + Docklands International Festival. The free theatre and performing arts festival takes place at various locations including Cutty Sark, Old Royal Naval College and Eltham High Street. 21 June-7 July

Family events

Looking for things to do with the kids on sunny days? Here are some ideas:

URBAN BEACHES: Plenty of temporary beaches pop-up around London throughout the summer. Here's our guide to 2018's sandy offerings. We'll be updating it soon, so keep an eye on it.

MAY HALF TERM: Looking for ways to keep the kids entertained while they're off school? There are plenty of ideas in our May half term event listings, including puppet shows, crafts activities and film screenings. You'll find something to do, whatever their age and whatever your budget.

BRITISH SUMMER TIME: The rock and roll concerts in Hyde Park may not scream 'family fun', but did you know about the weekday events? Between the two big weekends of music, the festival site hosts free events including film screenings, a food market, Wimbledon screenings and children's theatre, all under the Open House banner. 9-12 July

There's plenty going on at the Lambeth Country Show

LAMBETH COUNTRY SHOW: A children's funfair, bouncy castles, farmyard animals, sheep dog and owl displays, food stalls, live music, and crafts stalls are just some of the activities at the huge — and free entry — Lambeth Country Show in Brockwell Park. 21-22 July

KIDS' WEEK: Keep the kids busy in the summer holidays with free tickets to West End shows. Kids' Week is an annual event — which actually lasts for the month of August — giving 5-16 year olds free tickets to selected West End shows, provided they're with a full-paying adult. Past shows have included Lion King, Matilda, and Aladdin. Kids' Week tickets are normally released sometime in June, so watch this space. August

TOTALLY THAMES: Just when you think London's winding down after the summer, along comes a month-long festival on the river. Totally Thames celebrates London's river through exhibitions, art installations, talks, walks, quizzes and more. Some events are usually free, and a high proportion of them are family-friendly. The full programme will be announced soon. 1-30 September

Sport events

Whether you want to kick back and watch with a cool drink and a bowl of strawberries, or want to get involved with active pursuits yourself, here are the biggest sports events gracing London this summer.

WESTMINSTER MILE: You've got until 18 May to enter your family into the Vitality Westminster Mile, a mile-long run along The Mall by Buckingham Palace. Not a runner yourself? Why not head long and cheer them on? 27 May

VITALITY LONDON 10,000: If the Westminster Mile wasn't challenging enough for you, enter the Vitality London 10,ooo for a 1ok run through London's streets. Find details for spectators here. 28 May

WORLD CUP: Yep, as soon as the football season finishes, the Beautiful Games is back on our screens, courtesy of the World Cup. Plenty of pubs, bars and public places will be screening the matches — at least, as far as England get. We'll be bringing you Londonist's guide to watching the World Cup shortly, so stay tuned. 14 June-15 July

WIMBLEDON: No tickets to Centre Court? No problem. Loads of London venues screen the matches on huge TV screens in bars, squares and on rooftops. Check out our full guide to this year's screenings. 2-15 July

ATHLETICS WORLD CUP: If watching the Commonwealth Games gave you a taste for athletics, you'll be pleased to know the Athletics World Cup is coming to the London Stadium, with 34 track and field events, and 102 medals up for grabs. Ticketing is done by ballot, and details are hazy, but you can sign up here for further updates. 14-15 July

PRUDENTIAL RIDELONDON: You'll either be pleased or disappointed to learn that you're too late to enter Prudential RideLondon this year. A 100 mile and a 46 mile bike race in and around London brings 100,000 cyclists to the streets. Why not head out there to cheer them on? Find information on the route here. 28-29 July

LONDON TRIATHLON: Can't pick a sport? Mix three up by taking part in the London Triathlon. The swimming takes place in the docks at ExCel, followed by a run to Canning Town, and then a cycle to Westminster. You can also cheer participants on along the route. 4-5 August

GREAT RIVER RACE: It's the 30th year of The Great River Race, AKA London's River Marathon, this year. Fancy cheering the teams on from the river bank? Check out details of the course here. 8 September

Music festivals

... because it's not summer without a festival or two.

The Arcadia spider is coming to London

ARCADIA: Glastonbury's taking a year off, but that doesn't mean the epic Arcadia spider won't be around. It's pitching up at the Olympic Park. If you're into spectacle and thumping dance music, this is your pick. 5-6 May

WE ARE FSTVL: A rare camping festival within London, WE ARE FSTVL — who knows what happened to those errant vowels — brings big house, techno and garage acts to Upminster. 25-27 May

ALL POINTS EAST: New kid on the block All Points East takes over Victoria Park, former stomping ground of Field Day and Lovebox. The lineup is an impressive array of acts from across the alternative music scene, and in LCD Soundsystem, The XX, and Björk, they've bagged three top-notch headliners. 25 May-3 June

FIELD DAY: Not without controversy, Field Day heads south of the river to Brockwell Park for the first time. It's a much smaller area, so there might be a few teething issues. However, the chance to see Erykah Badu perform live should make up for all of that. 1-2 June

HAMPTON COURT PALACE FESTIVAL: A series of concerts befitting the surroundings, Hampton Court Palace Festival has shows from Lionel Richie, Tom Jones, Gary Barlow, Paloma Faith, and The Beach Boys (unfortunately the Mike Love incarnation). Perhaps one for a slightly more mature crowd. 9-22 June

Live music at Hampton Court Palace.

WIRELESS: Wireless is the prime grime, hip-hop and everything in between festival in the UK. It's heartening to see one of London's own, Stormzy, headlining Saturday night, and the whole weekend is littered with local talent. 6-8 July

BRITISH SUMMER TIME: Hyde Park's British Summer Time is a staple among London's epic summer concerts. This year the big hitters performing are Roger Waters, The Cure, Eric Clapton, Michael Bublé, Bruno Mars and Paul Simon — though there are only tickets left for the latter three. 6-14 July

KEW THE MUSIC: Steps. Boyzone. The Human League. Wait, what year is it? Kew The Music's lineup might lean a little heavily on nostalgia, but it's sure to deliver. 10-15 July

BBC PROMS: The world's largest classic music festival. There's really very little left to be said about this one. If you're a classical music fan, and you can't find anything in this humongous lineup that interests you, you're doing something wrong. From 13 July

LOVEBOX: The other exile from Victoria Park, Lovebox heads out west to Gunnersbury Park instead. Another London headliner here, Skepta, who is sure to get the crowd absolutely popping. Think Wireless, but a bit groovier. 13-14 July

CITADEL: Bagging psych-rock group Tame Impala's only UK festival appearance is a big get for Citadel. The rest of the bountiful lineup is just a bonus. 15 July

HERITAGE LIVE CONCERTS AT KENWOOD HOUSE: It would be very easy for Kenwood to play it safe with its lineups, but these concerts always throw a solid curveball out there. This year that somewhat quirky choice is Haçienda Classical, which is sure to be fantastic. 15-24 July

SOUTH WEST FOUR: Here's a festival that intends to get its punters dancing late into the night across Clapham Common, with its lineup focused on DJs who really know their way around a banger. 25-26 August

Quirky London events

Trooping the Colour at Horse Guards Parade

London's long history means some quirky events have popped up over the years:

MAY FAYRE AND PUPPET FESTIVAL: St Paul's Church hosts the Covent Garden May Fayre and Puppet Festival, which brings together Punch & Judy fans from all over the country to celebrate the duo's 'birthday'. It actually marks the anniversary of the first record of a Punch & Judy show being witnessed, as written in Samuel Pepys' diary. 13 May

NAKED BIKE RIDE: If the thought of cycling naked makes you wince, watch out for the London contingency of the World Naked Bike Ride, which sees packs of cyclists riding through the streets, sans clothes. The event aims to curb car culture and raise awareness for cyclists' rights. Everyone's welcome to take part, or simply watch. 9 June

TROOPING THE COLOUR: Get your dose of pomp and pageantry at this parade celebrating the Queen's (official) birthday. The Household Division —the Queen's personal troops — are on show at Horse Guards Parade, including 200 horses and 400 musicians, and the Queen herself overseeing proceedings. 9 June

SOHO WAITERS' RACE: Look out for waiters sprinting around Soho with a tray of drinks — it'll be the annual Soho Waiter's Race taking place. Around 30 participants normally take part, the aim being to cross the finish line first without spilling any of the drinks on the tray. One of London's wackier events that has to be seen to be believed. 1 July

Eccentricity rules at the Chap Olympiad

CHAP OLYMPIAD: Well-dressed eccentrics gather in Bedford Square Gardens once a year for the Chap Olympiad. Think garden party meets tamest sports day ever, with participants rewarded for the sports that require the least physical exertion. Dress code is elegant finery and dandy wear — except to see plenty of tweed and plenty of cravats. Tickets for this year are available now. 14 July

PEARLY KINGS AND QUEENS HARVEST FESTIVAL: Nothing signals the end of summer better than a harvest festival. The Pearly Kings and Queens will be out in their button-bedecked finery for this traditional festival at Guildhall Yard, with Morris and maypole dancing and marching bands. 30 September

All things floral

Belgravia in Bloom 2017

If you're lucky enough to have a garden, pick up some tips for it. No garden of your own? Get your fill of flowers and greenery at these events:

CHELSEA AND BELGRAVIA IN BLOOM: Two of London's wealthiest areas hold their own free flower festivals to coincide with the nearby Chelsea Flower Show. Look out for floral installations, special events, and offers in local shops and businesses. Chelsea in Bloom (21-26 May) takes on a Summer of Love theme this year, while a short walk away at Belgravia in Bloom (19-26 May) they're celebrating all things Frida Kahlo. There's even a Frida's Parlour pop-up opening on Elizabeth Street (19 May-16 June) with creative workshops and activities (booking required) inspired by Kahlo's work and her Mexican roots.

CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW: If you know your roses from your rhododendrons, the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower Show is the place to be. See special gardens created by the world's top gardeners and stock up on plants for your own garden. It's always fun seeing people battling to carry plants and trees home on the tube on the last day, when the majority of plants are sold off. 22-26 May

OPEN SQUARES: Open Garden Squares Weekend is a ticketed event giving access to gardens and green spaces which are usually off-limits to the public. Ballots run for some of the really popular venues, including the garden of 10 Downing Street, but most of the 200 gardens are open to anyone with a ticket. 9-10 June

HAMPTON COURT FLOWER SHOW: Green-fingered Londoners can stock up on plants for the garden, and get plenty of horticultural inspiration at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Workshops this year include flower arranging and calligraphy. 3-8 July

NATIONAL PARK CITY WEEK: London's first ever National Park City Week encourages Londoners to get outside and enjoy green spaces and waterways. The full programme hasn't yet been announced, but keep an eye on the website. 21-29 July

Special events

London Zoo stays open late for adults only.

BANK HOLIDAYS: Mondays 7 May, 28 May and 27 August are all bank holidays. If you're lucky enough to have a three-day weekend, take a look at our guide to spending bank holidays in London, including suggestions for interesting and unusual things to do, walk and cycle routes, restaurant ideas, and even things to do in the rain.

ROYAL WEDDING: You've probably noticed there's a big wedding coming up. Although it's taking place in Windsor, London hasn't escaped wedding fever. There are plenty of wedding-themed events taking place in the run-up and on the day, although there are plenty of opportunities to avoid the wedding entirely too. Oh, and don't forget your singing royal condoms. 19 May

ZIP WIRE: The world's longest inner-city zip line is coming back to London, but instead of returning to Vauxhall, it's at a new location on South Bank. That means views over the London Eye and Parliament while you travel 225m back to earth. Even better, up to three people can ride at the same time, so pick your friends wisely. 22 May-9 September

ZOO NIGHTS: For five Fridays, London Zoo stays open late for adults only, giving the public a chance to see the animals when some of them are at their most active. Special events also take place including a food market, live music, entertainment and special tours. 1-29 June

LONDON PRIDE: Pride is so much more than a parade of rainbow flags. The whole festival goes on for almost a month with all manner of events (to be announced). Of course, it all culminates in that parade on 7 July. 9 June-7 July

See inside the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace

BUCKINGHAM PALACE SUMMER OPENING: For a few weeks each summer, us commoners are invited to step inside Buckingham Palace and get an idea of what goes on in there. Visitors to the State Rooms summer opening can see inside the 19 rooms where the Royal family hosts important guests, including the Throne Room. 21 July-30 September

THE MONSTER: Kids, it's time to move over and let the adults have fun. The Monster is a giant inflatable obstacle course popping up at Alexandra Palace — and it's only for adults. The 300m long course is surrounded by bars, street food stalls and live DJ sets. 24-27 August

NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL: It wouldn't be an August bank holiday in London without Notting Hill Carnival. Dancers, drummers, musicians, sound systems. and all manner of other performers take to Notting Hill's streets for three days of festivities. It gets very crowded and lots of public transport in the area is disrupted, so do plan ahead if you're going along. Here's our guide to 2017's carnival, which we'll be updating for 2018 closer to the time. 26-27 August

OPEN HOUSE: Your annual chance to see behind the closed doors and bolted gates of London. Open House Weekend sees the public allowed inside buildings such as the BT Tower, The Gherkin and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Most buildings are free to visit at Open House, although some tours require booking (and the most popular ones do get booked up in advance, or involve long queues on the day). 22-23 September 2018

Food and drink

Refreshments with a view on London's rooftop bars

Will all this going on, you'll be needing to refuel. Here's our pick of summery food and drink options:

ROOFTOP BARS: It only takes a sliver of sunshine before Londoners are heading to the roofs to imbibe with a view. Here's Londonist's guide to the best rooftop bars in London this summer, while these rooftop bars are open all year round.

BEER GARDENS: If you're more of a feet-on-the-ground, pint-in-hand kinda person, head to London's best beer gardens, which we've mapped all the way from Uxbridge to Bexleyheath.

PUB CRAWL: If you like the best of both, these bar crawls take in beer gardens and rooftop bars — and there's one for whichever part of London you're in.

BARBECUING: Not all Londoners are blessed with gardens or outdoor space, but sometimes, you've just got to fire up the barbie. Here's a guide to where you are — and aren't — allowed to barbecue in parks and public spaces around the capital.

ICE CREAM AND GELATO: If you're into the sweet stuff, treat yourself to a scoop or two of London's best ice cream... or London's best gelato... or London's best soft serve ice cream. Or you could just go the whole hog and tuck into a delicious, sweet, cooling ice cream sundae.

PARK CAFES: From kid-friendly eateries to gourmet destinations, we reckon these are the best park cafes in London, ideal for when the kids need to let off steam.

STREATLIFE: Alexandra Palace's regular street food and craft beer festival is back for several weekends this summer, offering excellent nosh paired with impressive views over London. Streatlife also has some impressive headline DJs including Frank Turner and Foals. 26-27 May/23-24 June/28-29 July/18 August

FOODIES FESTIVAL: Syon Park hosts three days of foodie paradise over the late May bank holiday weekend. Foodies Festival has street food stalls, prosecco masterclasses, chocolate making and a cream pie throwing competition. Younger visitors are catered for with the kids' cooking theatre, and there's live music courtesy of The Hoosiers and Toploader. 26-28 May

TASTE OF LONDON: Five days of feasting come to Regent's Park in the form of Taste of London festival. Several London restaurants will be offering tasters from their menus, alongside celebrity chef appearances, wine tastings, food pairings and more. 13-17 June 2018

Last Updated 08 May 2018