My Favourite Summery Things to Do in London

Give me London in the summertime any day. It’s all about finding that cool and shady spot before anyone else! You’re not short of green space – in fact, you could pick a different London park for every day of the week. Take the plunge in a London lido or swim with nature in the wonderfully bucolic Hampstead Heath Ponds. If you still want to visit some of London’s landmark institutions, you can enjoy culture and sunning yourself in equal doses by choosing London museums or galleries with gardens. Time your trip to coincide with some of the summer 2012 events which we cover at the bottom of the blog post including Notting Hill Carnival and Somerset House Cinema.

Don’t forget to check out HostelBookers Summer Sale 2012 for cheap London hostel deals!

Museums with gardens

Traipsing around a stuffy museum on a sunny day just seems wrong. But sometimes the cool interiors offer welcome respite from the city heat. A happy medium is to pick one with a nice garden. The Natural History Museum, The Geffrye Museum, The British Museum; they all have some lovely outdoor space or other, but here are a few extra special spots…

The striking John Madejski Garden occupies the redbrick courtyard of  the Victoria and Albert Museum. Surrounded by lemon trees, you can laze on the lawn and watch the young toddlers run about in the shallow elliptical pool. Adults pensively dip a toe in too! This year the museum’s summer exhibitions include The Cult of Beauty, with art and design from the 1860s-1890s and also contemporary South African photography in Figures and Fictions. The nicest galleries to visit in summer include the light and airy Sculpture, Ceramic and new Medieval and Renaissance galleries. They have a lively summer events programme so check out what’s on before your visit.
Cromwell Road, nearest tube South Kensington

Chelsea Physic Garden Chelsea
It began as a place to promote the study of botany in medicine. Perhaps on a hot day, it’s charm as a secret walled garden in the heart of London is a bigger pull than the rare plants it exhibits. Enjoy the sun on the terrace of the Tangerine Dream Cafe and, if you can’t help yourself, a lavender scone. On Wednesdays in summer the garden is open until 10pm.
66 Royal Hospital Road, nearest tube Sloane Square

Hampton Court Palace
It is wonderful to experience the King’s Apartments and tour the exciting Tudor kitchens, but for £14, I’d rather settle for the gardens and fine views of the Tudor and Baroque architecture. For £4 you can admire the Orangery, Exotic Gardens and the Home Park with its long avenue views up to the palace. It also includes a visit to the maze, half a mile of winding paths surrounded by towering 7ft-high yew trees. A nice idea is to arrive by boat, but if the 3-4 hour journey from central London is too much, you can hop on board at Richmond or Kew.
Nearest station Hampton Court Rail (take trains from Waterloo)

Columbia Road Flower Market

On Sundays, saunter along this popular stretch in east London and breathe in the sweet aroma of lemon thyme, pineapple sage and freshly cut flowers. Be sure to check out the rows of shops, pubs and tea rooms behind the flower stalls which are all quaint, quirky and perfect for idle browsing.

*Note, as the day goes on, prices get cheaper but the crowds get bigger, tough call!
Columbia Road, nearest tube Hoxton or Bethnal Green

Lovely London parks

Hyde Park is the largest green space in central London and covers an incredible 350 acres. There is a boating lake and lido, horse-riding, tricksters on rollerblades, bandstands and the Serpentine art gallery. On Sundays, head to Speaker’s Corner at the north-east end of Hyde Park to hear people deliver their opinions with passionate gusto on just about anything.

Regent’s Park is a combination of formal, manicured gardens and open parkland. There’s a boating lake and footballers flock to the Hub to play matches on Saturdays. The park is also home to London Zoo, an open-air theatreand Primrose Hill is worth clambering for fantastic views across London.

Greenwich Park is a good excuse for a boat trip from central London to Greenwich Pier. Aside from the Greenwich Prime Meridian Line which bisects the park there are also several historic buildings including the Old Royal Observatory designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum to visit. Perched on a hill, enjoy sweeping views across the river Thames to St Paul’s Cathedral. You can also enjoy all the shops in Greenwich  and the markets in the square.

Hampstead Heath was a corner of wilderness once home to London’s bohemia and liberal intelligentsia. The likes of John Constable, John Keats and George Orwell lived and took inspiration here. You can visit the picture collection at Kenwood House, a fine villa with a sweeping lawn and if you forget to pack the picnic, The Brew House serves plump sandwiches, hearty hot lunches, trifles and ice creams. If you arrive early they cook a legendary English breakfast. Join the many kite flyers up on Parliament Hill for one of the most famous and filmed views of London.

Beer gardens

Oh they’ll spin a yarn of tales in Spaniard’s Inn, apparently frequented by Dick Turpin and John Keats. Inside there are creaky floorboards and ancient beams, then a charming terrace, chicken coop and hop-hung arbours outside. Feast on BBQ and spit roasts at the weekend. Spaniard’s Road, NW3, nearest tube Golders Green

Albion, Islington Explore Islington’s backstreets and find amongst the elegant townhouses an equally elegant pub with overhanging wisteria. Food can be pricey but the roasts are award-winning after all. Alternatively, skip the sup and just sip a pleasant pint of bitter. 10 Thornhill Road, N1, nearest tube Caledonian Road

The Waterway in Little Venice overlooks the pretty long boats bobbing on the Grand Union canal near Paddington. A little pricey but restrict yourself to morsels off the tapas bar menu or come for brunch. There is live music on Thursday nights from 8pm. 54 Formosa Street, W9 Lockside Lounge, Camden is a decent boozer with a terrace reminiscent of an old boathouse and popular with market-goers. DJs liven the place up a bit at weekends. 75-89 West Yard, Camden Lock Place, NW1, nearest tube Warwick Avenue or Royal Oak

Wilton’s Music Hall is a charming place to go for a drink after work. A crumbling theatre, with an active programme of cultural events in the both the bar and music hall, the sun streams down the alleyway and you can catch the last few sunsetting rays from the tables outside among the geranium and lavender pots. Go now! Their bid for funding was recently rejected and they need your support to stay open. Save Wilton’s! 1 Graces Alley, E1, nearest tube Aldgate East


There is something very special about floating on the lake amongst the bright blue pedalos. Created in the 1930s, it’s chlorine-free and right in the heart of Hyde Park. Post swim, enjoy a lovely lunch at the Lido Cafe next door. Hyde Park, nearest tube Lancaster Gate or Knightsbridge

The three Hampstead Heath Ponds are divided into men’s, women’s and mixed bathing. This idyllic spot is surrounded by trees and you experience that ‘getting back to nature’ sensation diving off the little jetty. Open all year and a mere £2 entry fee. Hampstead Heath, nearest tube Gospel Oak or Tufnell Park

The idea of swimming outdoors giving you goosepimples? Hampton open-air pool is kept at a tepid 28 degrees all year round. A lovely way to dry off is to sun yourself on the surrounding well-kept lawn. 98 High Street, nearest station Hampton Rail

Outdoor cinema

Somerset House Cinema
Until 27th August 2012
The Film4 outdoor film season at Somerset House is rather special. Make yourself comfortable and bring a picnic, rugs and cushions. Settle down and listen to DJs from 19:30 before the film commences at 21:15. Tickets cost *gulp* £16.50 and this year the programme includes cult classics Thelma & Louise, The Princess Bride and newbie Scott Pilgrim vs The World. The Strand, nearest tube Temple

Scoop for More London
24th June – 28th September 2012
Ahhh, films beside river Thames and free! This year the line-up includes Johnny Depp’s Alice and Wonderland, The Illusionist and True Grit. Films are free and start at 7:30pm. Nearest tube London Bridge

Shakespeare’s Globe

One of London’s landmark venues comes in to its own in the summer. Shakespeare’s Globe was rebuilt a few hundred yards from the original site and throws you in to the fascinating world of Shakespearian London. The summer programme is always jam-packed and you can catch Much Ado About Nothing, Doctor Faustus and Anne Boleyn in 2011. The best bit? or just £5 you can stand in the yard at the front of the stage- where the poorest rabble would gather and seated tickets start from £12.

Hostels with gardens

Most people want to stay in central London but, despite England’s rainy reputation, the city can be stifling in summer! So, if you need accommodation, look for London hostels near parks, or better still, hostels with their own gardens or roof terraces. Here are a couple…

In one of London’s most lovely leafy districts, YHA London Holland Park has its own bar restaurant with seating outside. Holland Park is one of the city’s smaller parks and something of a hidden gem for tourists while Notting Hill and Portobello Road Market are all in walking distance. Central London is within easy reach by bus, tube or bicycle.

Alternatively, the Travel Joy Hostel is housed in a traditional London pub with views of the river Thames. They have a roof terrace overlooking the river as well as deckchairs and tables where you can enjoy a nice pint. The Tate Britian art gallery is within walking distance and the hostel offers a free breakfast and a free city tour.

London events 2012

Greenwich and Docklands International Festival 2012
21st – 30th June 2012
A wonderful and free spectacular of surreal outdoor performances which utilizes perspective, acrobatics and dance to show this part of the city in a new light.

London Gay Pride 2012
7th July 2012
Join the colorful crowds for Parade Day on Saturday 7th July on Baker Street. The parade finishes at Trafalgar Square where you can enjoy street theatre, stalls, performers and of course, people watching!

Free Range 2012
28th May – 16th July 2012
A series of art & design shows take place every year at the Old Truman Brewery venues in east London. It’s a platform for graduate artists to exhibit fine art, product design, graphics, illustration, textiles and photography which are rotated on a weekly basis. There are evening viewings and admission is free! Nearest tube Shoreditch High Street or Liverpool Street

Notting Hill Carnival 2012
26th – 27th August 2012
It’s always a bumper event in London – it’s a Bank Holiday weekend so everyone is up for a party! Read our Notting Hill Carnival Guide.

Thanks to Simon Welshsquaccodiekatrinben hanburyMatthew Blacktiny_packagesfabbiojig o’dance for the images off Flickr!

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Or check out our London video guide for more cheap things to do…

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