London is the European Union’s biggest city, and it’s hard to escape that fact when the sun finally bursts through its usually leaden skies – the millions who sit in their flats burst out onto the streets. But there’s no need to get overwhelmed and hastily skedaddle for Brighton – this is a great summer city, big enough to offer everything from outdoor swimming to semi-rural green spaces, vast parks able to comfortably accommodate thousands for a festival and great cultural places (either free or inexpensive) where you can cool off without getting wet. Have a look at our suggestions for fun in the London sun that won’t break the bank.
The joy of urban festivals is that not only are they navigable and have proper toilets, but you can get the tube home at the end of it and sleep in your own bed. Bliss. What’s more, many of them offer completely free entry. From food festivals on the South Bank, to Pride and its various quirky offshoots and the Cockney Heritage Festival, the capital’s free festivals are legion. There are also various borough festivals, in Camden, Paddington and the City. Dalston hosts a children’s festival and of course, Notting Hill has its Carnival – still the biggest street festival in Europe – that one’s coming up soon, on 25 and 26 August.
Many free outdoor screenings take place around London on balmy summer evenings. Sites include Hyde Park, Regents Park, the central court of Somerset House, the Dip on the Southbank and also in some local parks around town. The types of films shown vary from classic musicals to the latest must-see. For an idea of what to expect this summer, check out all the latest new movies here. Don’t forget to take along a picnic blanket as well as some beer and Pimms to make a late-night picnic of it.
London has several lidos, most of which are gleaming Art Deco monuments to aquatic leisure, built in the early 1930s and now lovingly refurbished for the 21st century. Most have small entry fees that will allow you to spend the whole day, should you so wish, carrying on like a movie star in their Beverly Hills backyard, lolling around in the sun by the side of a cool, shimmering pool, with a cocktail bar close by. Be warned though – they get very busy at the weekends.
If you have a hankering for a more Arcadian swimming experience, head for the ponds at Hampstead Heath – ‘the lungs of London’. There is a public pond and separate men’s and women’s ponds, with the latter two offering you the full au naturel experience, if you’re so inclined. The novelty of swimming in the raw, outdoors, in Europe’s biggest city is one that won’t wear off in a hurry.
If the steaming pavements and sweaty crowds of this great beast of a city begin to take their toll, why not escape into the free-of-charge coolness and splendour of The British Museum, Tate Modern or the V&A? All museums frequently showcase great art and design exhibitions at affordable prices. Other free major museums include the Science and Natural History Museums, all next door to each other on the main South Kensington drag.
The more eccentric cousins of these museums include the Horniman in Forest Hill where you can see a giant over-stuffed walrus and an authentic voodoo altar among other things, and the Museums of Royal Greenwich, showcasing maritime and astronomical exhibits including wreckage of a zeppelin pulled from the Thames and a 4.5 billion year old meteorite, of all things. London even has museums dedicated to its own endlessly fascinating and turbulent history, with sites like the Museum of London in it’s City location and out in West India Quay.
On the terrace of Camden’s Roundhouse, just near Chalk Farm tube, 150-tons of golden sands have been spread for the duration of the summer season, from late July to late August. This urban beach has deckchairs, sun loungers, beach huts, an ice cream van, a bar, a chip shop and an American deep-southern-style barbecue joint. There are even classic seaside arcade games to play, including slot machines and air hockey, plus beach gigs for when the sun goes over the yard-arm, featuring hip-hop, acoustic indie and reggae artists. What’s more, it’s all free.
So don’t spend the summer lying on your sofa fanning yourself with a newspaper, get out there and experience all (or some) of what’s on offer – and there is a lot to see and do in London this summer.