London doesn’t exactly hibernate in winter – the fun just moves indoors to theatres, clubs and restaurants – but the arrival of spring definitely witnesses a change of pace in the city. April’s sweet showers herald the start of warmer weather and a host of outdoor events that see Londoners and visitors alike shedding their sweaters and enjoying the longer days.
Parks, gardens & architectural gems
Without a doubt, London’s green spaces look their best in spring. Everybody’s favourite floral indicator of the change in season is the daffodil, and the best places to see them are St James’s Park and Green Park, where hundreds of these yellow flowers cover the lawns. By the time the daffodils have faded roses have taken their place, with the rose gardens in Regent’s Park and Greenwich Park the perfect spots to treat your eyes and nose.
The world’s greatest botanical gardens at Kew are worth a visit at any time of year, but spring is when the bluebells bloom and, over the Easter period, the Gardens will host an Easter egg hunt and chocolate-themed events. Following that will be Edible Kew, a series of exhibitions, events and activities exploring the vast number of edible plants all around us.
The London Wetland Centre is a hub of activity in spring as chicks hatch from their eggs to the delight of ornithologists and people who like cute baby birds. The centre also has guided tours and resident otter-observing sessions.
Many of London’s historical properties reopen their doors around Easter after being closed for the winter. Beautiful Ham House in southwest London is a perfect example of early 17th-century house design, while 2 Willow Road in Hampstead showcases the work of Modernist architect Ernö Goldfinger.
Sports & activities
Getting around London by bike might not seem the obvious way to travel in such a busy city, but if the spring weather is behaving itself and you fancy actually seeing the sights rather than travelling beneath them on the Tube, renting a Boris Bike (named after current mayor, Boris Johnson) is a cheap and easy way of getting around. Pick-up/drop-off stations are found all over central London, the first half hour is free, and if you plot your route to follow the parks and River Thames you can cross from one side of the city to the other avoiding most of the traffic.
If even more energetic activities take your fancy then the London Marathon (www.virginlondonmarathon.com) is held in the capital every April (this year on 21 April). The world’s biggest fundraising event starts in Greenwich Park, before wending its way past London’s most famous sights until it reaches the finish line on the Mall near Buckingham Palace. Thousands of runners take part, and you can join the many loud and enthusiastic spectators lining the streets.
Another big crowd pleaser is the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (theboatrace.org) along the Thames, from Putney to Mortlake. The two university teams have been battling it out since 1829 and this year, on Sunday 31 March, supporters will again flock to the river banks to see who wins (Cambridge is currently in the lead with 81 wins to Oxford’s 76). After the action, you can retire to one of the busy local pubs to argue the merits of both teams.
For an alternative way of getting out on the water (with no rowing involved) jump on a Thames Clipper commuter ferry and enjoy a duck’s-eye view of the city’s skyline. It’s worth sitting outside and having your camera ready to snap top riverside attractions like the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London.
Festivals & events
The highlight of the year for Britain’s keen gardeners (and there are many) is the Chelsea Flower Show, held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital towards the end of May (this year from 21–25 May). The centenary celebrations in 2013 promise the usual mix of traditional and contemporary gardening that draws huge crowds each year.
If culture, rather than chrysanthemums, is your thing then the Museums at Night festival from 16–18 May this year sees evening events at many of London’s top museums and galleries, including the London Transport Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Since opening in 1997 Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank has grown so popular that the season starts earlier each year to cope with demand. This year’s productions begin in late April with The Tempest, followed by Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Another weather-defying venue that opens its doors in spring is the Open Air Theatre (openairtheatre.com) in Regent’s Park. This year’s shows include To Kill A Mockingbird and Pride & Prejudice.
This article was published in March 2013 and updated in April 2013.