Autumn is a lovely time to visit London, after the stuffy heat of summer has gone and before the frantic busyness of the festive period. It’s arguably the best time for walking in the capital, with the grand royal parks ablaze in seasonal colours, and early morning mist on the Thames making riverside strolls delightfully atmospheric. As ever, world-class events and things to do abound.
Totally Thames Festival
The River Thames is a rare constant in a city forever changing, and this annual celebration pays homage to the iconic waterway and all things connected to it with a series of special events throughout September.
Some of the highlights include the Bascule Chamber Concerts, featuring a variety of musical performances in the jaw-dropping subterranean space below Tower Bridge; the Race for Doggett’s Coat and Badge (the world’s oldest boat race); and the R.A.P Party, a hip-hop themed poetry event on board the Dixie Queen paddle steamer. Check out the full schedule.
Lord Mayor’s Show
One of the highlights on London’s cultural calendar, the Lord Mayor’s Show consists of a public parade to mark the inauguration of the new Lord Mayor of London (not to be confused with the publicly-elected Mayor of London). Dating back over 800 years, this annual show is a chance to see British pageantry at its most extravagant, including some splendid ceremonial costumes and the mayor's grand state coach. The procession winds its way from Guildhall through The City, past St Paul’s Cathedral to the Royal Courts of Justice. It culminates with an evening firework display over the Thames.
Other London events in autumn
The London Design Festival leaves no doubt that the city is one of the world’s leading hubs in the field, and this year will feature a huge array of installations and projects. BFI London Film Festival will put on screenings of hundreds of films and documentaries from around the world, and always attracts some of the world’s best directors and most loved actors. Other top events to look out for this autumn include Frieze London and the London Jazz Festival.
Get spooky on Halloween
London’s two thousand years of history mean there are plenty of places for spooky glimpses into its storied past, and there’s no better time to explore them than around Halloween, when night falls early and there’s a chill in the air.
You can find some spectacularly photogenic cemeteries and graveyards in London. The most renowned is Highgate Cemetery with its plethora of stunning funerary architecture and famous graves. You can roam the East Cemetery at will, after paying an entrance fee, but must be on a guided tour to see the iconic West Cemetery, with its overgrown plots, moss-covered statues and maze of twisting paths. For something a little more off the beaten track, head to the totally abandoned Barnes Old Cemetery in west London, or the melancholy Crossbones Garden near London Bridge, an unconsecrated burial ground mostly holding the remains of Victorian women who worked as prostitutes.
There’s no shortage of museums in London, and some are particularly well suited to Halloween. The Old Operating Theatre is as harrowing as it sounds, featuring an original wooden operating table and displaying various amputation tools that were used in a time before anesthetic. Cue lots of wincing. The ghoulish Jack the Ripper Museum tells the tale of London’s most notorious (uncaught) serial killer from the point of view of his six victims, which can’t have been a pleasant one. For something a bit more wacky but still creepy, check out the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, with its shrunken heads, two-headed lambs and pickled genitals.
Bonfires and bangs
Bonfire Night – also called Guy Fawkes Night and Firework Night – is always a blast (pun intended) in London, with displays taking place across the capital, usually on the Saturday or Sunday closest to 5 November. The festival is rooted in the last-minute foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a group of Catholics tried to blow up the Protestant ruling class at the State Opening of Parliament. Anti-Catholic overtones are a thing of the past now but the event is still marked by epic bonfires, firework displays and twirling sparklers.
Autumnal colours and golden hours
It’s hard to find a time of year when London’s parks don’t look lovely, but they’re at their most resplendent during autumn. The summer crowds and picnickers have long dispersed, returning an atmosphere of tranquillity amidst the riot of colour that washes through the tree-lined paths.
Some of the best spots to enjoy the festivities (many free) include Battersea Park, Brockwell Park, Blackheath, Victoria Park and Alexandra Palace. Alternatively, make your way to one of London’s best viewing points, like the top of Greenwich Park or the Shard, for a spectacular show across the city skyline.
You simply can’t go wrong when it comes to choice but the absolute standout places are Kew Gardens, Kensington Gardens, St James’s Park, Victoria Park and Hampstead Heath. For something really special, head to Richmond Park, where rutting season is underway among the 600 resident deer – watch the amorous males clash for dominance.
’Tis the season to bring a brolly
The short days of autumn make it a great time of year to watch sunsets over the capital. The best spot to enjoy one is at the top of the hill in Greenwich Park, though Primrose Hill is a close second. Alternatively, you can hop on the Emirates Air Line cable car at dusk for a dreamy view of the O2 and Canary Wharf skyscrapers.
London weather really isn’t as bad as you’ve probably heard (honest), but autumn is one of the more unsettled times of year. Make sure you pack waterproofs, a warm sweater and a brolly (local slang for umbrella) if you’re planning on being outdoors for any significant amount of time.
Updated Aug. 2019