Drinking, dining, museum-ing and even attending concerts are all things which can be done by candlelight in London. Whether you're looking for a romantic night out, or just fancy seeing London in a different light (literally), here's our guide to the candlelit capital.
Candlelit restaurants and bars in London
London's not short of romantic restaurants, but these days, romance more often translates as floral backdrops and opulent interiors, than it does into a good old-fashioned candlelit dinner à deux.
Andrew Edmunds, Soho
If it's that candlelit ambience you're craving though, you could a lot worse than Andrew Edmunds. This Soho stalwart serves European cuisine (and plenty of wine — they reuse the bottles as candle holders), to tables topped with white table cloths and individual flower posies. And candles, of course.
Gordon's Wine Bar, Charing Cross
A long-time Londonist favourite, Gordon's Wine Bar is an intimate and atmospheric drinking den between Charing Cross and Embankment stations. It's far from a secret, but the cavernous interior and low, arched ceiling of this subterranean bar is laden with history — and dust. Though candles aren't the only light source, they're plentiful, wedged into the top of empty wine bottles, wax dripping down the sides as if they've been there since the bar opened in 1890.
Here's a closer look inside Gordon's.
Dans Le Noir?, St John's Wood
If candlelight is still just too darn bright for your delicate peepers, fumble your way to St John's Wood restaurant Dans Le Noir?, where lunch and dinner are served in complete darkness. Though it makes for a quirky experience, the idea has culinary roots, based on the theory that not being able to see heightens your other senses, making the food taste that much more exquisite. You hand over phones, cameras and other light sources at the door, and meet your blind or partially-sighted guide or waiter, who helps you through the experience.
Visit museums by candlelight
Sir John Soane's Museum by candlelight
The former home of architect and collector Sir John Soane is now open to the public as a museum of his work. While impressive by day, it's especially enchanting during its monthly candlelit late openings. You're guided through the museum's various rooms, with fascinating objects linked to that month's theme pointed out as you go along. The nature of the museum — all quirky architectural features, statues and looming objects — makes for some fantastically atmospheric shadows. For an idea of what to expect, watch our video from when we visited in 2019.
Find details of the next Sir John Soane's Museum candlelit late.
The Charterhouse by candlelight
Similarly, Clerkenwell's Charterhouse has launched monthly evening candlelit tours. The former monastery stays open into the evening, inviting the public inside to peruse the Great Chamber and other historic rooms, all illuminated by flickering candlelight on a 45-minute tour.
Find details of the next Charterhouse by Candlelight event.
Dennis Severs' House, Spitalfields
One of London's most mysterious museums, Dennis Sever's House is the former home of American Dennis Severs, who arrived in London in 1967. He moved into this house in Folgate Street with just a chamber pot, a bedroll and, aptly, a candle. Until his death in 1999, he worked to recreate it as the home of a Huguenot family who would have lived there when it was built in the 18th century, opening it to the public as a museum.
It still operates as a museum today, with regular 'Silent Night' openings on Friday evenings, with the house illuminated by candlelight during twilight hours for silent exploration. Scents including perfume, wood smoke and oranges circulate as you wander through the house, heightening the experience further.
Find details of the next Silent Night at Dennis Severs' House.
Twilight tours at Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham
Though not specifically by candlelight, the Twilight Tours of Twickenham's Strawberry Hill House are a way to see a different side to Horace Walpole's Gothic mansion; these 90-minute tours take place as the light dips, and things take on a eerie atmosphere...
Find details of the next Twilight Tour at Strawberry Hill House.
Benjamin Franklin House, Charing Cross
The former home of US Founding Father Benjamin Franklin is now open as a museum, with some features such as the staircase left intact since he was in residence. As well as its day-to-day opening, the five-storey, Grade-I listed townhouse is very occasionally open for candlelit tours, which showcase the building as it would have been lit in the 18th century. These tours are somewhat infrequent, and usually take place in the run up to Christmas.
Find out about upcoming candlelit tours at Benjamin Franklin House.
Lamplit tours of Chislehurst Caves
By its very nature, this 22-mile long warren of caves beneath Chislehurst in south east London is dark, day or night — so lamps are provided at the entrance for visitors to take. Entry is by guided tour only, and you'll be grateful for the company (and guide) once you're down there, as well as the light and heat the lamp provides. The caves' history is a fascinating one, spanning first world war ammunition storage, second world war shelter — and a setting for Jimi Hendrix and Doctor Who.
Do note, if you're going for the romance end of the candlelit spectrum, this is probably not the one. Fascinating, yes. Original, yes. Slightly creepy, yes. But also smelly, noisy and a bit chilly. Gordon's Wine Bar it certainly isn't.
Find out about visiting Chislehurst Caves.
London cathedrals by candlelight
A few times a year, Southwark Cathedral stays open late and invites photographers (both amateur and professional) inside to take shots of the impressive building, illuminated by candlelight — just how it would have been when it was first built. Keep an eye on the cathedral's upcoming events page for the next candlelight evening.
Concerts and shows by candlelight in London
At Christmas, London is awash with candlelight carol concerts. But that doesn't mean they disappear the other 11 months of the year. Classical concerts — and increasingly, contemporary and pop performances — are held by candlelight at a range of venues:
- St Martin-in-the-Fields, the church next to Trafalgar Square, holds regular choral and orchestral concerts by candlelight, with works by the likes of Bach and Handel featuring heavily.
- St James Piccadilly regularly hosts performances of Vivaldi's Four Seasons performed by candlelight (in fact, if you see that piece on the programme anywhere, more often than not it's performed by candlelight). Other classical concerts by candlelight are held regularly too.
- Church-turned-music-concert St John's Smith Square has been known to host candlelit performances, particularly on its Christmas and Easter programmes.
- In addition to its candlelit photography evenings (above), Southwark Cathedral holds occasional candlelit concerts — and has been known to host candlelit ballet performances, too.
Keep an eye on the venues' events pages for details of upcoming candlelit happenings.