If you missed the spectacle of the royal wedding last month, don’t be disheartened – there is still plenty more to see and do in London this summer. London is one of those cities which seethe with life all year round but in the summer it is particularly attractive and welcoming. This may be partly because the English are at their gleaming best in the summer months. After the long, dark, cold days of winter, they emerge from their cocoons like beautiful butterflies full of goodwill and friendly smiles.
With the sunshine dappling the ancient buildings and setting the famous London skyline aglow, the city basks in golden mellowness and opens its streets and doors and gardens to reveal all its ancient secrets. Here is just a very small taste of things to do and see during your summer visit to London.
Snuggling in the centre of London is Regent’s Park, originally called Marylebone Park. It dates back to the time of Henry VIII who decided to create a royal park for hunting in London. Its 410 acres nurse the lovingly restored, elegant Georgian terrace, designed by John Nash; the Regent’s Canal which linked the Grand Union Canal to the old London Docks; a boating lake; London Zoo and the Zoological Society of London; an open air theatre and some of the most interesting parkland in London.
This summer Regent’s Park also houses an exciting festival of food in which top chefs, old and new, will appear in pop up restaurants to tantalise the taste buds with their new and exciting culinary creations. Regent’s Park underground station is the best way to reach it. Another royal park, Hyde Park (Lancaster Gate or Marble Arch underground stations) has a wide variety of events and sponsored walks throughout the summer months, particularly in the build up to the Olympics.
Walk through any of London’s urban areas and you will come across private walled gardens – the type that so intrigued Julia Roberts in the film Notting Hill. During the weekend of 12th June these will be thrown open to the public to explore and admire the charming grounds within. And if gardens are very much to your taste, just a few miles south of London is the spectacular Hampton Court Palace, in the grounds of which its annual flower show is held in early July. It is easily accessible by train, boat, bus or coach and is a major summer event drawing in thousands of visitors each year.
From 26th June through to mid July, the City of London Festival celebrates music and the arts from all over the world, setting the streets, squares and historic buildings ablaze with colour and sound. There are numerous free outdoor events including processions, guided walks and exhibitions as well as bookable concerts in many notable venues.
Slightly quieter, but equally colourful, is the London Festival of Architecture, a two week extravaganza (ending on 4th July) of street constructions and markets, exhibitions, workshops, guided walks, cycle and boat rides. Its theme, appropriately, is ‘The Welcoming City’ and over three weekends the focus will be on the West End, The Royal Parks and the East End looking at ways to improve these whilst retaining all their merits.
Fancy something more energetic? Then the Big Dance is the Mayor of London’s treat for you. In conjunction with the Arts Council of England and countless other organisations, it includes nine days of cultural attractions and dance events dotted about the city in unexpected places, like shops and museums and exhibiting diverse dance styles. It takes place between 3rd and 11th July and you won’t be able to miss the Big Dance red London bus touring the streets to whet your appetites and give out more information.
At the end of August (the bank holiday weekend) is London’s truly stunning annual event of the Notting Hill Carnival (Notting Hill or Ladbroke Grove Underground). Once a local celebration organised by Notting Hill’s West Indian community, this is now a grand scale Caribbean carnival which has become world famous. It is a riot of colour and sound with amazing floats and that all-pervasive music of traditional steel drum bands to keep you in the mood for the three days (and nights) of partying and celebrating.
Children are far from forgotten in London in the summer. All London’s parks have dedicated play areas and activities for children and one unmissable event is the House of Fairy Tales in leafy Victoria Park in London’s East End. This takes place at the end of July and includes interactive workshops, music, comedy, art and magic – indeed all in all a magical day for children and adults alike. And as a treat for the very young, In the Night Garden’s live show continues at the O2 until early September. It is an enchanting show which will capture even the youngest child’s imagination.
And as well as all of these, there is London’s usual plethora of sightseeing tours, historic landmarks, museums, exhibitions, galleries, theatres and concerts. For those who enjoy a little retail therapy London’s shopping experience is unparalleled. Once you have explored the stores in the centre of town, take a trip out to the suburbs to investigate the vast, modern shopping malls that encircle London. And of course dining out in London is an adventure in itself with every possible taste catered for in its truly international cuisines.
A great deal of London can be explored on foot and at absolutely no extra cost, though a daily travel card is the cheapest way to travel all over London by tube or bus if you have a busy itinerary and need to cram everything into a day and still feel fresh enough to dance the night away or take a moonlit stroll along the embankment. Reserve an hour to soak up the atmosphere of London’s theatre land by night which buzzes with activity and exudes a quality of magic not present during the day. An evening tour of the famous sights of Westminster, to see the famous Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and much, much more lit up by night in dignified majesty, will leave a lasting impression on your mind of London at its best. Indeed the only thing you will miss in London this summer is another royal wedding!