Something magical happens when temperatures rise and the sun shines in the British capital. Londoners emerge across the city, with parks, pavements and pubs filling up with convivial drinkers, and smiles spreading across once-tight lips. Summer is prime tourist season, but the atmosphere and those long, balmy evenings make up for the crowds. And there's more good news: summer 2020 boasts an incredible amount of things to do.

People sitting in a London park in the sunshine, while a jazz band performs in a bandstand.
Summer sees London's parks filled with flowers, people and events © Kamira / Shutterstock

Sporting spectacles

London hosts a dizzying array of summer sporting 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 (29 June-12 July), with world-class tennis, strawberries and cream, fruit-laden Pimm's and a good dose of queuing. With London one of the host cities of the Euro 2020 football championships (14 June-12 July), there will be plenty of matches occurring in the capital at Wembley Stadium. It's a bit late to buy tickets now, but there will be great atmospheres in pubs showing the games.

Man wearing a flamboyant costume at Notting Hill Carnival.
Flamboyant costumes are a big part of the Notting Hill Carnival © Katherine Alexander / Lonely Planet

Get the party started

In August, the Notting Hill Carnival (30­-31 August) – Europe’s biggest street festival – celebrates Afro-Caribbean culture with flamboyant processions, food stands and a string of superb sound systems.

Summer soundtracks and outdoor cinema

Music festivals to look out for this year include: All Points East (22-31 May), only in its third year but already the best festival in East London; Lovebox (12-14 June); 51st State Festival (1 August); and South West Four (28-30 August). Or you can tempt fate and attend an outdoor movie screening – Somerset House has the most central and impressive setting for films al fresco, but plenty of other options exist including The Luna Cinema which pops up at venues across London. And if that's not enough, check out all the capital’s best cinematic experiences.

People rowing on the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park.
The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park is hugely popular on a sunny day © I Wei Huang / Shutterstock

Park life

With thousands of acres of lush parks, city farms, overgrown cemeteries and leafy squares, London is far greener than most expect (47% green, to be exact). On the city's western edge, Richmond Park’s wild expanse is a great place to see free-roaming deer, while nearby Kew Gardens, the world-renowned botanical collection, is once again putting on a variety of picnic concerts for its Kew the Music events. A bracing bathe 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 and a magical outdoor theatre whose productions this year include 101 Dalmatians, Romeo & Juliet and Carousel.

For some water action, Hyde Park has boats for hire and a lido for swimming, while in St James’s Park you can watch the daily feeding of the pelicans or have a sneaky snooze in a deckchair.

Visit the Olympic Park

London's newest large park is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, opened in 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, top sporting facilities and a multicoloured riot of wildflowers. Zip up the ArcelorMittal Orbit for views across the 257-acre site and beyond, and then whizz down the coiling 178m slide to the bottom.

Children splashing in the fountains outside the Royal Festival Hall, London.
Enjoy some culture and the chance to cool off at the Royal Festival Hall © Doug McKinlay / Lonely Planet

Take to the Thames

The Thames, London’s iconic artery, really comes alive in the summer months. To appreciate its highlights, spend a day strolling the Thames Path, from Battersea to the impressive Thames Barrier in the east. Or for a more compact saunter, meander along the South Bank, enjoying picture-postcard views of the city’s skyline and passing some of the most famous sights.

One of these, the roofless Globe, comes into its own in the summer, with spectacular outdoor performances of Shakespeare plays, London’s most famous literary figure. You can also catch some quality events at Southbank Centre’s Underbelly Festival (April-September), which combines circus, cabaret, comedy and music. Nearby the unpredictable fountains outside the Royal Festival Hall are a fun way to cool off – the kids will love them. September’s Totally Thames festival is a packed month-long series of events including fireworks, regattas, races, art and archaeology.

Fill up al fresco

Summer is the ideal time to track down some of the capital’s best street food. KERB pops up in a number of locations around town, including the Gherkin, London Bridge, King's Cross and a huge indoor market at Seven Dials in Covent Garden. A tantalizing parade of food stalls line pretty Exmouth Market (Monday-Friday) 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, or for something covered check out Pop Brixton for the same. Street Feast run markets that make a tasty start to a night out and open every weekend through the summer; they can be found in Shoreditch, Canary Wharf and Lewisham.

Other great outdoor foodie spots to check out this summer include Maltby Street Market, Flat Iron Square and Tooting Market.

Drinkers converge at sunset on the Skylight rooftop; some are standing, while others sit on seats repurposed from wooden pallets, covered in grey cushions; the City of London and residential tower blocks are visible beyond.
Skylight is a lively place for a sunset drink in Wapping © Skylight

Drinking in the sun

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 and the Spaniard’s Inn, or, south of the river, the Avalon in Clapham. For brews with views, head to the city's rooftop bars: favourites include Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden, Franks, Skylight and the Queen of Hoxton.

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, which serves freshly brewed ale and crispy pizzas with a canalside seat.

You might also like these:

The best live music venues in London
The 11 best vegan-friendly restaurants in London
E2 beyond Shoreditch: a guide to east London's coolest postcode

The article was first published in June 2014 and last updated in March 2020.

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This article was first published March 2019 and updated March 2020

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Catie visited coffee shops around the city, from Abraço (second from right, top row) to Café Leon Dore (second from left, bottom row). Photographs: Catie Kelly.

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