Top 14 things to do in London this summer
London is an iconic city that never sleeps and that constant bustle is what sets it apart from many other European cities. Now this can be a good or a bad thing depending on your personal taste and how stressed or laid back you are. With summer in full swing, I’ve compiled a list of activities to consider while soaking up the sunlight.
Go for a picnic at Kensington Gardens. I had never been to London before but I am certain that it is a totally different city in the summer months compared to when the cold creeps in. The interiors of bars are all empty as patrons stand outside to sun themselves whilst sipping a pint. The parks are filled with men and women in bathing suits, lying on the grass attempting to catch a tan. What better way to absorb some of your own rays than head out for a picnic? Even if it is after work, you are still going to have a few hours of sunlight in this land of eternal light. The best part about Kensington Gardens (apart from the fact that there happens to be a Royal Palace on the property in which the beloved Princess Diana once resided) is the Whole Foods situated on Kensington High street. This conveniently placed oasis is the ideal stop to purchase picnic foods from. With your shopping complete, you can easily amble down to the park, passing the Royal Palace and head up to the water where you can enjoy the summer vibe
Picnic at Kensington Gardens
Visit the Serpentine Pavilion. This is still inside of Kensington Gardens which it turns out, are enormous. Not too far from the Peter Pan statue and adjacent to the Serpentine Lake, the gallery is always there but the pavilion itself is special because every year, the feature is designed by someone different. This year it was a Gando born architect Francis Kéré. There is certainly an African theme which is lovely to see against the English setting.
Serpentine Pavilion - incredible photo by Craig Tyndall
Hop on the Coca Cola London Eye. Ideal for anyone who wants to witness all of London in one sitting/standing. The Eye takes about a half hour to complete its rotation and in that time you are able to see the majority of London from the comfort of a glass box with 360 degree windows. Ideal for photos and proposals so I am told, the ride is a little pricey for what it is but again, travel is a subjective thing and what pleases one may not please another.
View from inside the Eye
The London Eye- photo by Craig Tyndall
Experience the Tate Museum of Modern Art. There are various reasons for visiting this one (so those who aren’t into the obscurity that is modern art can hold out just a little longer). Not only is entrance free, but you will be able to utilize the newly built Switch House as a viewing deck. If you are looking for a free panorama of London then this is most certainly the place to go.
The Switch house (left) and Neo Bankside (right) - photo by Craig Tyndall
Walk across Millennium Bridge. Once you are done looking at the stacks of bricks and piled garbage, you can head out to the river and cross the Millennium Bridge which I know of for appearing in Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows. Cross the wobbly bridge and right at the other end, you will come face to face with the impressive St Paul’s Cathedral. When you are up amongst the tall buildings do also note how oddly some of them are shaped – as though parts are cut out. This is because there is a law in London that states that buildings in particular prominent locations cannot obscure the view of St Paul's because it is a protected vista.
Millennium Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral - photo by Craig Tyndall
St Paul's Cathedral - photo by Craig Tyndall
Wander around Westminster Abbey. This one is a little more niche and for geeks such as myself. The Abbey itself is stunning to look at but inside are interred the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote Canterbury Tales (though his tomb is a little nondescript), Sir Isaac Newton (his is rather amazing), King Henry III, a memorial for David Livingston, William Blake, William Shakespeare along with acknowledgements to many other famous literary names in the poets corner.
Stop in at the Temple Church. This one too is a little dorky but pretty incredible once you pay you £5 to enter. This church was a known base for the Knights Templar and inside you will find various stone effigies of some of those knights. I first learnt about it in a Dan Brown book and seeing them in person was worthwhile. It is also quite close to St Paul’s so if you have time, you can squeeze it in one trip .
Stone Effigies at the Temple Church
Visit a gin distillery. This is ideal for rainy days in particular because the whole tour is indoors and you get a lovely gin and tonic once the tour is complete. I am obviously passionate about gin so I had to explore one of the cities that this drink became really popular as well as ruined many lives in. Even my partner, who doesn’t share my genever fervor, had a great time.
Gin and tonic at the Beefeater Distillery
Take a boat ride. City Cruises offers possibly one of the greater specials I encountered on my UK trip. A hop on, hop off ticket for only £10 for adults and £5 for kids. Ideal if you are not keen on too much walking and would rather have a few beers in the sun. These boats travel past parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, The Shakespeare Globe, Tower Bridge and with a boat change you are even able to go down through Canary Warf all the way through to Greenwich where you will be able to see the Cutty Sark itself. The trip is led by a rough around the edges guide who made us laugh on multiple occasions. Do be warned that the boat is open-topped so lather up in sunscreen because you know – Baz Lurhman.
Tower Bridge from the boat - photo by Craig Tyndall
City of London
Stop off in Greenwich. It is worth a proper visit, not just a boat ride passing through. This little borough seems to be set apart from London somehow. There is less of a rush, more pubs, beauty and something that feels closer to the relaxed countryside atmosphere. Greenwich is a respite from the constantly thrumming London proper. You can also take a walk all the way up to The Royal Observatory where you will be able to see the prime meridian or the point where East meets West. On dreary days or at dusk you will be able to see the green laser that is shot out over Canary Wharf and note that this is where Greenwich Mean Time is set from.
The view from Greenwich
Visit a pub. As I said, the summer season means that the inside of the pubs are empty but the outsides are filled with people sipping on delicious beer. Some bars plant troves of flowers that all blossom at this time, making for a stunning setting to try out the delicious cask ales and ciders that England is renowned for. I have never seen so many beers and ales on tap nor such a wide variety of ciders. These combos are perfect for guys and girls as you both explore the tastes of London.
Pub covered in flowers
Head to Oxford Street for some shopping. Renowned for the endless chain of high end clothing stores, be prepared to do some walking. This street houses huge names like Harrods, Selfridges, Addidas, Top Shop, Forever 21, a Disney store and small obscure stores that you can purchase touristy items such as fridge magnets and t-shirts from. Double check on you map if there are any stores in the side streets that you may want to visit – Victoria’s Secret is a little ways down and will take up at least an hour of your shopping time because who can say no to the three stories decorated in crystals and feathers?
Walk along the Thames. Again warm weather makes it ideal for long walks and outdoor exploring. Going down the river you will be able to see Big Ben, Parliament, a bit of Westminster Abbey and then some. There are also many benches upon which you can rest and have a lovely ice cream or if you are in the mood, bring along a few chilled beers and sip them while overlooking the beauty of London.
Be sure to explore in the evenings too. There are plenty of open-air food stalls which sell surprisingly good food and drink. Southbank is perfect because it ranges through stand alone establishments through to the Hilton Underbelly Festival which has food, drinks and even a gin section as well as live entertainment that you can pay to go watch though on a warm evening I would recommend relaxing with a good old fashioned G&T and people watching instead. Dusk is the perfect time to walk home and take some stunning photos with iconic vistas behind you and a few drinks inside you.
Dusk is exquisite in London
Just an iconic backdrop