Something magical happens when the sun flickers into the British capital’s sky. Vitamin-D-starved Londoners emerge across the city, parks, pavements and pubs fill with convivial drinkers, and smiles spread across once-tight lips. Summer is prime tourist season, but the atmosphere and those balmy evenings, when the sun doesn’t set until after 9pm, more than make up for the crowds. And summer 2014 boasts a mind-boggling number of things to do.
Sports & street events
London hosts a dizzying array of summer events – many of them free – that perfectly reflect the city’s many faces. For a quintessentially English affair, you can’t do better than Wimbledon (23 June–6 July; www.wimbledon.com), with world-class tennis, strawberries and cream, fruit-laden Pimm's, and a good dose of queuing. The Pride Parade (28 June; www.prideinlondon.org) runs a LGBT rainbow over the streets of the West End, and the roads will be claimed again in July for the finish of stage three of the Tour de France (7 July; www.letour.2014stage3.com). Then, in August, the Notting Hill Carnival (24 & 25 August; www.thelondonnottinghillcarnival.com) celebrates Afro-Caribbean culture with flamboyant processions, food stands and a string of superb sound systems.
Live music events in the city continue to multiply each year. A host of big names from rock and pop including the Libertines (4 July) and Black Sabbath (5 July) play Hyde Park’s British Summer Time (www.bst-hydepark.com); stay on the grass for first-rate classical and pop music at the last-night celebrations of Proms in the Park (13 September; www.bbc.co.uk/proms). The courtyard at Somerset House makes a spectacular backdrop for a clued-up programme of live music (www.somersethouse.org.uk/music/summer-series-2014) in July and is also an enchanting setting to watch a flick alfresco. Electronica fans should head east for Haggerston Park’s one-day house-and techno-fest Found (14 June; www.foundfestival.com) and Victoria Park’s jam-packed Lovebox (18 & 19 July; www.loveboxfestival.com).
With thousands of acres of lush parks, city farms, overgrown cemeteries and leafy squares, London is far greener than most expect, with exciting surprises hidden amongst the foliage.
On the city's western edge, Richmond Park’s wild expanse is a great place to saunter among hundreds of free-roaming deer, while nearby Kew Gardens, with its world-renowned botanical collection, also offers great views from its recently reopened pagoda. A bracing dip with the ducks in Hampstead Heath’s ponds is an exhilarating summer must-do; follow it up by climbing Parliament Hill for one of the city’s best panoramas. Further south, in stately Regent’s Park you’ll find beautifully manicured rose gardens, a gorgeous outdoor theatre (openairtheatre.com) and London Zoo, which hosts late-night comedy, music and dancing throughout the summer.
For something more central, head to St James’s Park for the daily feeding of the pelicans, tea on the terrace at Inn the Park (www.peytonandbyrne.co.uk/inn-the-park) or a sneaky snooze in a deckchair.
Visit the Olympic Park
This year’s hands-down standout park is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which opened in its entirety in April 2014. As royally appointed as the name suggests, the area at the heart of London’s 2012 Olympics boasts waterways, playgrounds, cafes and sculpted grassland, adorned by stunning artwork, first-class sporting facilities and a multicoloured riot of wildflowers. Zip up the Orbit (arcelormittalorbit.com) for views across the 257-acre site and beyond.
Summer is the ideal time to track down some of the capital’s best street food. KERB (www.kerbfood.com) pops up in a number of locations around town – find it at recently created Granary Square in Kings Cross, a great stop for lunch by the canal. A tantalizing parade of food stalls line pretty Exmouth Market in north London, and in warm weather its excellent selection of restaurants fling open their doors and crowd the cobbled street with sociable diners. Brixton Village in south London is another top spot to find eclectic and inventive eateries with a raft of outdoor seating, and Street Feast (open every weekend through the summer; www.streetfeastlondon.com) makes a tasty start to a night out in Dalston, east London.
On warm summer evenings drinkers crowd into pub gardens and spill onto pavements as packed as rush-hour tubes. Perfect places for a sundowner include the leafy gardens of north London’s Edinboro Castle, Garden Gate (www.thegardengatehampstead.co.uk) and Spaniard’s Inn, or the south’s Grand Union (www.grandunionbars.com/venue/brixton). For brews with views, head to rooftop bars Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden (www.southbankcentre.co.uk/visitor-info/shop-eat-drink/restaurants/roof-garden-cafe/bar), Franks (frankscafe.org.uk), Boundary (www.theboundary.co.uk/rooftop) and the Queen of Hoxton.
Take to the Thames
The Thames, London’s iconic artery, really comes alive in the summer months. To appreciate its highlights, take a day strolling the Thames Path, from Battersea to the impressive Thames Barrier in the city’s east. Much more leisurely is a meander along the South Bank, providing picture-postcard views of the city’s top sights.
The roofless Globe comes into its own in the summer, when you can also catch some quality performances at Southbank Centre festivals including Udderbelly (www.underbelly.co.uk), Wonderground (www.londonwonderground.co.uk), Meltdown (www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/festivals-series/james-lavelles-meltdown-2014) and the free shows of More London (www.morelondon.com/events/about). And don’t miss September’s Totally Thames festival (totallythames.org) a packed month of events including fireworks, regattas, races, art and archaeology.
Roam along Regent’s Canal
To escape the crowds and see an altogether more local side to the city, head to Regent’s Canal, which winds its way through north London. Hop on a barge or cycle from Little Venice to Camden Town, grab a coffee at the Towpath Cafe and then head further east to the shops and stalls of Broadway Market, the green expanse of Victoria Park and finally Hackney Wick’s Crate Brewery (www.cratebrewery.com), which serves freshly brewed ale and crispy pizzas with a canalside seat. On the way, look out for the quirky Floating Cinema (floatingcinema.info), offering an international programme of film and events along the length of the canal.