Got a long weekend ahead of you and looking for things to do in London to fill the bank holiday? Take a look at our suggestions below for activities in the capital and beyond, whatever the weather and whatever your budget.
Note: it's worth checking the opening hours of places mentioned here, as they sometimes do odd things (or close completely) over bank holiday weekends — and check public transport too, as bank holidays are a favourite time for engineering works.
Cultural days out
WALKING TOURS: Stretch your legs while learning something new about London on a walking tour. They're not just for tourists, y'know, and can cover extremely niche and little-known areas of London's geography and history. Our favourite organisations include Look Up London, Black History Walks and Footprints of London.
MUSEUM AND GALLERIES: Find out about the latest exhibitions in London's museums and galleries, and read our latest reviews, here. Been to all the well-known museums and galleries, and looking for somewhere new to explore? This handy chart helps you discover smaller and lesser-known venues.
LIVE MUSIC: Feel all kinds of sophisticated by going to a concert at one of London's top classical music venues. Classical music not your thing? Try some jazz instead. These joints offer jazz on a budget.
CINEMA: Whether you're in the mood for the latest blockbuster, or something a little more arthouse, London's independent cinemas are flourishing. These are our favourite indy cinemas to kick back in.
COMEDY: London's one of the funniest places in the world: have a giggle at these comedy venues.
London walking routes
POCKET PARKS: The City of London tends to be fairly quiet at weekends, making it an excellent time to follow this walking route through the Square Mile's pocket parks — small, green spaces squeezed in between the buildings, bristling with nature and history.
WEEKEND WALKS: Our weekend walks are aimed at both casual strollers and super-keen hikers, ranging from two to 10 miles in length, and taking in parks, rivers, canals, windmills and more. From Hayes, to Richmond, to Hampstead to the Lea Valley, as well as Royal Parks, we've got all corners of London covered. See the full list and pick a route.
A STROLL TO KENT: You can walk all the way from London to Kent coast on this walking route, which passes nature reserves and marshes, forts and wartime pillboxes — and the gargantuan QEII Bridge at Dartford. Just a warning before you set off — it's 47 miles long. Maybe spread it out across the whole of the bank holiday weekend.
GREEN SPACES: Looking for somewhere to kick back in the sun with a book, meet friends for a picnic, or just be around nature for a while? You need our guide to London's parks and green spaces. It covers parks and commons across the capital — make this bank holiday weekend the one you discover your new favourite green space.
BOATING: If splashing about on London's waterways tickles your oar, get yourself down to your nearest boating lake. Parks across the capital have rowboats and pedalos available to hire — just pick your co-sailor carefully, or you'll be doing all the work yourself.
COUNTRY PARK: Mere metres from the Overground terminus at Cheshunt, River Lee Country Park is a 1,000 acre oasis, ideal for immersing yourself firmly in nature. Fish, dragonflies and butterflies are among the wildlife to be spotted at various times of year, with lakes, marshland and mature trees to navigate around, plus sculptures and artworks. Admission is free.
BOTANICAL GARDEN: No, not Kew. Not event Chelsea Physic Garden. We're talking about Myddelton House Gardens, one of London's most northerly attractions, with eight acres to explore. It's become something of an architectural salvage ground — and we mean that in the best way — with parts of old London Bridge, rubble from the Victoria line excavations, and the former Enfield Market Cross all ending up here at one time or another. A truly fascinating place.
CYCLE ROUTES: If you want to get a bit further under your own steam, why not try one of these cycle routes?
SECRET GARDENS: Want to see a little corner of London you've never seen before? These little gardens should give you some inspiration. Take your book, pack a picnic and bask in the greenery.
SWIMMING: Looking for somewhere to get a few laps in? Have a look at our pick of London's best indoor swimming pools, from an Olympic pool to a former church.
OUTDOOR SWIMMING: If the weather's on your side, splash your way into one of London's refreshing lidos and outdoor swimming pools. On particularly warm bank holiday weekends, you might need to book in advance.
ICE SKATING: Ice skating's not just for Christmas you know — the capital has a few indoor ice rinks which offer public sessions all year round, from Ally Pally up north to Streatham down south — plus one slap-bang in central London.
CLIMBING: The only way is up — at London's best climbing centres. Bouldering, top-rope climbing and lead climbing are all possible in the capital, with routes available for absolute beginners and more advanced climbers.
WINTER SPORTS: Fancy giving skiing, snowboarding, ice skating or curling a go? You'll be needing our guide to trying out winter sports in London — just be aware that they may not all be available year round.
ROLLER SKATING: Whether you're a keen skater — or roller skating is on your bucket list — why not have a go this bank holiday! We've written a guide to roller skating in London featuring the best places to skate, where to buy skates, and plenty more.
Where to eat and drink
PUB: We flippin' love a pub, which is why we've pulled together many of our favourite London boozers into this pub guide. Search for pubs by area or by what it does best — fireplace, pub quiz, pool table, dog-friendly — you name it.
SUNDAY ROASTS: Because nothing says super-duper bank holiday weekend like a cracking Sunday roast — think fluffy spuds and towering Yorkshires. These are our favourites from venues all across town, and if you're veggie or vegan, we've got you covered too.
BEAUTIFUL RESTAURANTS: Treat your taste buds and your peepers (and whoever does the cooking...) by eating out at one of London's most beautiful restaurants, including one with a Starry Nights-inspired ceiling.
FAMILY-FRIENDLY PUB: Combine family time with a trip to the pub at London's best family-friendly pubs, chosen for their kid-friendly menus, and facilities for younger customers.
PLAYGROUNDS: "I want to go on the sliiiiide". If that's a refrain overly familiar to you, you'll be wanting to bookmark our map of playgrounds in central London. A multitude of swings, slides and roundabouts are tucked away in the city centre. We've even got our mini Londonists to test a few of them.
CRAZY GOLF: Tee off en famille at these family-friendly places to play crazy golf. Dinosaurs, dragons, whales and more dinosaurs (lots of dinosaurs) feature on the novelty nine- (and eighteen-) holers.
KING'S CROSS: Perhaps you're on your way to catch a train out of town, or to meet family or friends arriving here. Either way, if you find yourself in the King's Cross/St Pancras (or even Euston) area and need to keep the tiddlies happy, pick one of these 16 things to do with kids near King's Cross station.
FAIRY WOOD: I do believe in fairies, I do, I do. How could you not, when there's a fairy wood right here in London? Enough said.
RAINY DAY: This is England, and more often that not, bank holiday = rain. Doesn't mean you need to spend the day at home with Peppa Pig on repeat though — here are our tips for things to do with kids on a rainy day in London.
ANIMALS: From city farms to wildlife reserves, London is a great place to see animals — often for free. We've mapped London's best animal spotting locations.
CAVES: Deep below Chislehurst in southeast London, 22 miles of manmade caves wait to be explored. Even in the height of summer, it's worth wrapping up warm for a visit to the caves, as it gets nippy below ground.
Free and cheap things to do
102 OF THEM: London's expensive: fact. Or at least, it is if you don't know about these 102 free things to do in the city, from museums and galleries to gardens and kids' activities.
Particular favourites of ours for a budget-friendly bank holiday weekend include:
BARBICAN CONSERVATORY: A glasshouse bursting with tropical plants (and terrapins!) within a brutalist housing estate in the City of London. Rather special.
GOD'S OWN JUNKYARD: London's own answer to Las Vegas, a Walthamstow warehouse packed to the rafters with neon signs of all shapes, sizes and colours. Some are a bit... saucy. There's also a cafe-bar inside, if the trip to the end of the Victoria line has left you parched.
RIDE A BUS ROUTE: One of our favourite cheap things to do in the capital is to simply ride a bus route — ideally in the top front seat, from one end of the route to the other. Consider our picks of the best bus routes for tourists, because if you can't be a tourist on a bank holiday, when can you?
Escape Zone 1
SOUTH EAST LONDON: Caves, castles and topiary are all waiting to be explored in the south east of London.
SOUTH WEST LONDON: Did you know that London is home to windmills? And a gothic castle? Get out west and get exploring.
NORTH EAST LONDON: Parks, nature reserves and a manor house dominate north east London. Oh, and there's a pub crawl thrown in too.
NORTH WEST LONDON: Give your Oyster card a workout and take it out into the depths of north west London, where temples, museums and cemeteries await.
Easy day trips from London
We love London, but sometimes we need to get away for a while. That's why we've put together this epic (if we do say so ourselves) map of places that you can easily visit in a day trip from London. They range from quaint villages to seaside towns, little-known museums and lakeside walks. Click on the map above for more details on each one. Overwhelmed with choice? Let us help you out with some of our favourites:
CASTLES: Who doesn't love a castle? Turrets, battlements, suits of armour... the works. Pick from these 15 beautiful castles in Kent (hello, Hever), five historic castles in Essex, or eight charming castles in Sussex (including the Hogwarts-esque Herstmonceux). Yeah, we really, really like castles.
SEASIDE: The sun in your eyes, the sand between your toes, a cheeky seagull after your '99. Smashing. Pick between seaside towns in Kent, Essex or Sussex for your next seafaring escape from London. Brighton and Mersea Island are particular favourites.
QUIRKY MUSEUMS: They'll open a museum about anything these days... If you've visited the big-hitters and fancy something a little more off-piste, may we suggest one of these 19 fantastically niche and quirky museums near London. Teapots, sea shells, dog collars and Winnie the Pooh all feature.
MODEL VILLAGE: A mere hop outside the M25 is Bekonscot Model Village, an absolute gem of a place that's almost a century old. Pretend to be a giant as you stomp past replicas of tube stations and London Zoo. A more charming day out you'll struggle to find.
Got a few quid burning a hole in your pocket, or want to spend your extra bank holiday free time having a mooch around the shops? These are some of our favourites:
CRAFTS: Knitting, sewing, jewellery-making, calligraphy and paper crafts are among the hobbies covered by our favourite craft shops in London. Whether you need a new ball of wool for your latest project, or advice for a complete beginner, find somewhere you can get it.
BOOKS: If you ask us, bank holidays were made for reading — ideally in the sun in the park, but we'll settle for over a pint in the pub if that's what the weather dictates. Either way, you'll be in need of books, which these independent London bookshops all have by the shelf load.
SECOND HAND BOOKS: Whether for environmental or financial reasons (or just because you love that old book smell), we've got pre-loved books covered too, with our guide to shopping for second hand books in London — including one inside a former tube station.
CHOCOLATES: It's a bank holiday, and you deserve a sweet treat. So head to one of London's best chocolate shops — they range from historic boutiques, to the store which inspired Roald Dahl, to the modern shop which invented salted caramel (to who we give thanks on a daily basis).
FLOWERS: Brighten up your home with a cheeky trip to your local florist — these are our favourites across town.
Staying at home
If weather's stopped play, or you just need a chilled, restorative weekend without leaving the house, that's absolutely fine too.
PUZZLES AND QUIZZES: Get those little grey cells going with our collection of quizzes about London. From history and transport trivia to emoji, picture and anagram rounds, they're great for keeping you occupied, or going head-to-head with family and friends. Just keep it civil, eh?
WHAT TO WATCH: We've picked the best London shows to watch on Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime — from The Crown and Call The Midwife to documentaries about London history. There's also our YouTube channel which, in typical Londonist style, covers everything from tube secrets to moquette to milk floats to psychedelic fashion to... well, have a look for yourself).
BOOKS: Need a new read? Might we point you in the direction of our own books, Londonist Mapped and Londonist Drinks. We pooled our knowledge about the best of London, combined it with some truly talented artists and cartographers and ended up with a couple of rather lovely tomes. Londonist Editor-at-Large Matt Brown has also been fairly busy writing books, including the mythbusting Everything You Know About London Is Wrong, and Atlas of Imagined Places. Plus, there's Routemasters of the Universe by Londonist contributor Harry Rosehill. That little lot should see you through the weekend, right?
AFTERNOON TEA DELIVERY: You've still got to eat, right? Do it in style, with these afternoon tea delivery services in London.