With so many events going on in London each summer, it’s hard to pick what to do and where to go. To help you out, we’ve picked out favourite things to do in the capital in the summer, whether you want to watch films under the stars, rock out at music festivals, or just eat and drink your way round the London.
Open-air cinema and theatre in London in summer 2019
When the sun comes out, London takes the roof off. If it rains, you get wet — it’s all part of the British summertime fun. Here’s where you can get your culture fix in the open air:
OPEN AIR CINEMA 2019: From watching The Greatest Showman on a rooftop to Bollywood blockbusters in Wembley Park, and all manner of classics and new releases in the open air, take a look at Londonist’s guide to 2019 outdoor cinema events, and get booking.
OPEN AIR THEATRE: The season at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre runs from May-September. It kicks off this year with Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, followed by family favourite Hansel and Gretel, Shakespeare classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Evita. The theatre is tucked away in the centre of Regent’s Park, and feels like a secret.
SUMMER BY THE RIVER: Open air cinema and theatre, big screen summer sports, live comedy and music performances, fun family days and fitness classes all form part of free festival Summer By The River. From 30 May
OPERA HOLLAND PARK: Opera Holland Park’s summer season is a brief one, lasting just two months, but it manages to pack in five new opera productions in this time, plus performances by the Royal Ballet. A temporary canopied auditorium is built next to Holland House — and yes, canopied means a covered auditorium, which is a relief on wet evenings. Get booking for Manon Lescuat, Un ballo in maschera, and more. 4 June-3 August
UNDERBELLY: Circus, comedy, cabaret and kids’ shows can all be found in one location for the duration of the summer; Underbelly Festival. Even better, the shows take place inside a giant purple tent, surrounded by bars and food stalls, making for a pretty decent festival atmosphere. 5 April-29 September
WEST END LIVE: Cast members from some of the best shows in the West End put on free, open air performances in Trafalgar Square. This year’s West End Live line-up has yet to be announced, but past years have featured casts from Lion King, Matilda and Stomp. 22-23 June
GREENWICH & DOCKLANDS INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL: Puppet shows, acrobatics, singing spheres, and slapstick are just some of the shows featured in the programme of Greenwich + Docklands International Festival. The free theatre and performing arts festival takes place at various locations including Cutty Sark, Old Royal Naval College, and a specially-constructed huge outdoor ballroom in Woolwich. 21 June-6 July
Family events in London in summer 2019
Looking for things to do with the kids on sunny days? Here are some ideas:
URBAN BEACHES: Plenty of temporary beaches pop-up around London throughout the summer. Here’s our guide to 2019’s sandy offerings. We’ll be updating it soon, so keep an eye on it.
MAY HALF TERM: Looking for ways to keep the kids entertained while they’re off school? There are plenty of ideas in our May half term event listings, including puppet shows, crafts activities and film screenings. You’ll find something to do, whatever their age and whatever your budget.
BRITISH SUMMER TIME: The rock and roll concerts in Hyde Park may not scream ‘family fun’, but did you know about the weekday events? Between the two big weekends of music, the festival site hosts free events including film screenings, a food market, Wimbledon screenings and children’s theatre, all under the Open House banner. 8-11 July
LAMBETH COUNTRY SHOW: A children’s funfair, bouncy castles, farmyard animals, sheep dog and owl displays, food stalls, live music, and crafts stalls are just some of the activities at the huge — and free entry — Lambeth Country Show in Brockwell Park. 20-21 July
KIDS’ WEEK: Keep the kids busy in the summer holidays with free tickets to West End shows. Kids’ Week is an annual event — which actually lasts for the month of August — giving 5-16 year olds free tickets to selected West End shows, provided they’re with a full-paying adult. Past shows have included Lion King, Matilda, and Aladdin. Kids’ Week tickets are normally released sometime in June, so watch this space. August
TOTALLY THAMES: Just when you think London’s winding down after the summer, along comes a month-long festival on the river. Totally Thames celebrates London’s river through exhibitions, art installations, talks, walks, quizzes and more. Some events are free, and a high proportion of them are family-friendly. The full programme will be announced soon. 1-30 September
Sport events in London in summer 2019
Whether you want to kick back and watch with a cool drink and a bowl of strawberries, or want to get involved with active pursuits yourself, here are the biggest sports events gracing London this summer.
OUTDOOR SWIMMING: Get to know London’s outdoor lidos and swimming ponds this summer. Read our guide to pick the right pool for you, and get fully prepared before taking the plunge.
WESTMINSTER MILE: Enter your family into the Vitality Westminster Mile, a mile-long run along The Mall by Buckingham Palace. Not a runner yourself? Why not head along and cheer them on? 26 May
WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: Last year was the men’s turn, but this year, the women take centre stage. Sadly, it’s not screened as much as the men’s competition, but we do know that The Book Club in Shoreditch is throwing a Festival of Football, screening all the matches along with film screenings, panel discussions and an exhibition about the world of women’s football. 7 June-7 July
WIMBLEDON: No tickets to Centre Court? No problem. Loads of London venues screen the matches on huge TV screens in bars, squares and on rooftops. Check out our full guide to this year’s screenings. If you did want to take your chances in the queue for tickets, here’s our guide. 1-14 July
LONDON TRIATHLON: Can’t pick a sport? Mix three up by taking part in the London Triathlon. The swimming takes place in the docks at ExCel, followed by a run to Canning Town, and then a cycle to Westminster. You can also cheer participants on along the route. 27-28 July
PRUDENTIAL RIDELONDON: At time of writing, there’s still just about time to enter Prudential RideLondon this year. A 100 mile and a 46 mile bike race in and around London brings 100,000 cyclists to the streets. Why not head out there to cheer them on? Find information on the route here. 3-4 August
GREAT RIVER RACE: The Great River Race, AKA London’s River Marathon, is a 21.6 mile boat race from Docklands to Ham in Surrey, with over 330 crews taking part. Fancy cheering the teams on from the river bank? Check out details of the course here. 14 September
London music festivals — summer 2019
… because it’s not summer without a festival or two. You can read our complete guide to London’s 2019 music festivals for the full picture, but here are a few of the highlights:
WE ARE FSTVL: London festivals are inherently different beasts to countryside festivals. They’re day events, not camping based, with limited space to operate in. Dance music extravaganza We Are FSTVL aims to prove all of that wrong. How so? By taking place in the part of London lots of people don’t consider to be London. Upminster. Three days of non-stop bangers and the punters won’t care where they are. Upminster, £42-£300, book ahead, 24-26 May
ALL POINTS EAST: Victoria Park is ground zero for London in terms of the city’s park-based day festivals. All Points East continues the area’s traditions with two weekends of supremely curated music. The first weekend operates more like a standard festival, whereas the second weekend is more ‘big gigs’ a la BST. There’s too much quality music here to highlight, but we’re gonna give it a go anyway: Hot Chip, Primal Scream, Courtney Barnett, Christine and the Queens, Little Simz, Kamasi Washington, Dizzee Rascal, Mac DeMarco… aaaand we’re out of breath. Victoria Park, £59+, book ahead, 24 May-2 June
JAM ON RYE: Jam on Rye puts a punny spin on the area’s famous park. But this isn’t punning for the sake of a cheap laugh. Food and music are paid equal attention on Bank Holiday Monday, as KERB provide a stage for some of the best street food vendors in the city. Even the music seems to have a culinary theme; Kelis headlines, and surely it’s not a coincidence that her last album was called Food? Coincidence or not, it’s one of the most underrated R&B albums of the past five years. Peckham Rye Park, £0-£45 (under 12s go free), book ahead, 27 May
CAMDEN ROCKS: Trawl around the pubs of Camden to watch the most exciting rock bands the city has to offer. There are an ambitious 400 bands squeezed in around 20 venues in just two days, so the key is to see as much as possible. One pro tip though — don’t try rushing to wherever a headliner (Frank Turner and Deaf Havana) is playing minutes before their show. There’s a strong chance you won’t get in. Camden, £40-£70, book ahead, 1-2 June
FIELD DAY: A juggernaut of London’s day festival scene, and one of the genre’s originators. The name isn’t quite so accurate anymore as this is the first year it’s ditching the field for four giant, connected warehouses in Enfield. It’s a seismic change, that looks to keep Field Day ahead of the competitors. That anticipation only builds once taking the ridiculous line-up into consideration. Skepta, Julia Holter, Earl Sweatshirt, Jorja Smith, Sinkane and Deerhunter to name but a few. Meridian Water, £40-£150, book ahead, 7-8 June
HAMPTON COURT PALACE FESTIVAL: An eclectic array of musicians takes over south west London’s favourite Tudor tourist attraction this July. Nile Rodgers & Chic, Tears for Fears, Kylie (although her shows have sold out) and others see if their spectacular shows can match the majesty of the venue’s brick beauty. The big question on everyone’s lips is… will Hampton Court Palace still be standing in the year 3000? That’s right, Busted are playing. Enough said. Hampton Court Palace, £49-£99, book ahead, 7-21 June
WIRELESS: London’s annual urban music festival returns to Finsbury Park for the sixth year running. Actually we say that, but historically Wireless was an entirely different beast — David Gray once headlined the festival up in Leeds. Don’t worry hip hop heads, none of that this year. Instead this line-up has a real American rapper bent to it: Cardi B, Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky get top billing. For our money though, the highlight of the weekend will be west London’s AJ Tracey rounding off a mega-year that saw him release his critically–acclaimed debut album. Finsbury Park, tickets are sold out but keep an eye out here to see if any more become available, 5-7 July
BRITISH SUMMER TIME: The big-hitter in the heart of London. Entertaining the masses in Hyde Park this year are Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Florence + The Machine, Robbie Williams and one more as-of-yet unannounced act. In between the two weekends of musical brilliance comes BST Open House, when you can wander into the site for free and enjoy cinema screenings, pop-up bars, circus, cabaret and much more. Hyde Park, various prices, book ahead. 5-14 July
SOUTH WEST FOUR: Mega. That’s the one word that sums up Clapham Common’s EDM/grime/garage/whatever-the-hell-people-want-to-dance-to end of summer weekender. The line-up is massive. Dance music is a broad church, so if you and your mates all have differing tastes this could be the festival for you — there’s at least one act on this behemoth of this line-up that everyone will go crazy for. What’s ours? Tough choice, but TQD have never let us down before. Clapham Common, £57-£99, book ahead, 24-25 August
Quirky London events in summer 2019
London’s long history means some quirky events have popped up over the years:
MAY FAYRE AND PUPPET FESTIVAL: St Paul’s Church hosts the Covent Garden May Fayre and Puppet Festival, which brings together Punch & Judy fans from all over the country to celebrate the duo’s ‘birthday’. It marks the anniversary of the first record of a Punch & Judy show being witnessed, as written in Samuel Pepys’ diary. 12 May
NAKED BIKE RIDE: If the thought of cycling naked makes you wince, watch out for the London contingency of the World Naked Bike Ride, which sees packs of cyclists riding through the streets, sans clothes. The event aims to curb car culture and raise awareness for cyclists’ rights. Everyone’s welcome to take part, or simply watch. 8 June
TROOPING THE COLOUR: Get your dose of pomp and pageantry at this parade celebrating the Queen’s (official) birthday. The Household Division — the Queen’s personal troops — are on show at Horse Guards Parade, including 200 horses and 400 musicians, and the Queen herself overseeing proceedings. 8 June
SOHO WAITERS’ RACE: Look out for waiters sprinting around Soho with a tray of drinks — it’ll be the annual Soho Waiter’s Race taking place at the Soho Society Fete. Around 30 participants normally take part, the aim being to cross the finish line first without spilling any of the drinks on the tray. One of London’s wackier events that has to be seen to be believed. 30 June
CHAP OLYMPIAD: Well-dressed eccentrics gather in Bedford Square Gardens once a year for the Chap Olympiad. Think garden party meets tamest sports day ever, with participants rewarded for the sports that require the least physical exertion. Dress code is elegant finery and dandy wear — except to see plenty of tweed and plenty of cravats. This year’s event hasn’t yet been announced… watch this space. July
PEARLY KINGS AND QUEENS HARVEST FESTIVAL: Nothing signals the end of summer better than a harvest festival. The Pearly Kings and Queens are usually out in their button-bedecked finery for this traditional festival at Guildhall Yard, with Morris and maypole dancing and marching bands. This year’s festival hasn’t yet been announced. September
Flowery events in London in summer 2019
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, pick up some tips for it. No garden of your own? Get your fill of flowers and greenery at these events:
CHELSEA AND BELGRAVIA IN BLOOM: Two of London’s wealthiest areas hold their own free flower festivals to coincide with the nearby Chelsea Flower Show. Look out for floral installations, special events, and offers in local shops and businesses. Chelsea in Bloom (20-25 May) takes on an Under The Sea theme this year, while a short walk away at Belgravia in Bloom (20-25 May) they’re celebrating the language of flowers.
CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW: If you know your roses from your rhododendrons, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show is the place to be. See special gardens created by the world’s top gardeners and stock up on plants for your own garden. It’s always fun seeing people battling to carry plants and trees home on the tube on the last day, when the majority of plants are sold off. 21-25 May
OPEN SQUARES: Open Garden Squares Weekend is a ticketed event giving access to gardens and green spaces which are usually off-limits to the public. Ballots run for some of the really popular venues, including the garden of 10 Downing Street, but most of the 200 gardens are open to anyone with a ticket. 8-9 June
HAMPTON COURT FLOWER SHOW: Green-fingered Londoners can stock up on plants for the garden, and get plenty of horticultural inspiration at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Workshops this year include flower arranging and calligraphy. 2-7 July
NATIONAL PARK CITY WEEK: London’s National Park City Week encourages Londoners to get outside and enjoy green spaces and waterways. The full programme hasn’t yet been announced, but keep an eye on the website. 20-28 July
Special summer 2019 events in London
BANK HOLIDAYS: Mondays 6 May, 27 May and 26 August are all bank holidays. If you’re lucky enough to have a three-day weekend, take a look at our guide to spending bank holidays in London, including suggestions for interesting and unusual things to do, walk and cycle routes, restaurant ideas, and even things to do in the rain.
ZIP WIRE: The world’s largest and fastest inner-city zip line is coming back to London, offering views over the capital while you travel 225m back to earth. Even better, up to four people can now ride at the same time, so pick your friends wisely. 12 June-15 September
ZOO NIGHTS: For four Fridays, London Zoo stays open late for adults only, giving the public a chance to see the animals when some of them are at their most active. Special events also take place including a food market, live music, entertainment and special tours. 7-28 June
LONDON PRIDE: Pride is so much more than a parade of rainbow flags. The whole festival goes on for almost a month with all manner of events (to be announced). Of course, it all culminates in that parade on 7 July. 8 June-6 July
BUCKINGHAM PALACE SUMMER OPENING: For a few weeks each summer, us commoners are invited to step inside Buckingham Palace and get an idea of what goes on in there. Visitors to the State Rooms summer opening can see inside the 19 rooms where the Royal family hosts important guests, including the Throne Room. 20 July-29 September
THE MONSTER: Kids, it’s time to move over and let the adults have fun. The Monster is a giant inflatable obstacle course popping up at Alexandra Palace — and it’s only for adults. The 300m long course is surrounded by bars, street food stalls and live DJ sets. 23-28 August
NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL: It wouldn’t be an August bank holiday in London without Notting Hill Carnival. Dancers, drummers, musicians, sound systems. and all manner of other performers take to Notting Hill’s streets for three days of festivities. It gets very crowded and lots of public transport in the area is disrupted, so do plan ahead if you’re going along. Here’s our guide to 2018’s carnival, which we’ll be updating for 2019 closer to the time. 24-26 August
OPEN HOUSE: Your annual chance to see behind the closed doors and bolted gates of London. Open House Weekend sees the public allowed inside buildings such as the BT Tower, The Gherkin and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Most buildings are free to visit at Open House, although some tours require booking (and the most popular ones do get booked up in advance, or involve long queues on the day). 21-22 September 2018
Summer 2019 food and drink in London
Will all this going on, you’ll be needing to refuel. Here’s our pick of summery food and drink options:
ROOFTOP BARS: It only takes a sliver of sunshine before Londoners are heading to the roofs to imbibe with a view. Here’s Londonist’s guide to the best rooftop bars in London this summer, while these rooftop bars are open all year round.
BEER GARDENS: If you’re more of a feet-on-the-ground, pint-in-hand kinda person, head to London’s best beer gardens, which we’ve mapped all the way from Uxbridge to Bexleyheath.
PUB CRAWL: If you like the best of both, these bar crawls take in beer gardens and rooftop bars — and there’s one for whichever part of London you’re in.
BARBECUING: Not all Londoners are blessed with gardens or outdoor space, but sometimes, you’ve just got to fire up the barbie. Here’s a guide to where you are — and aren’t — allowed to barbecue in parks and public spaces around the capital.
ICE CREAM AND GELATO: If you’re into the sweet stuff, treat yourself to a scoop or two of London’s best ice cream… or London’s best gelato… or London’s best soft serve ice cream. Or you could just go the whole hog and tuck into a delicious, sweet, cooling ice cream sundae.
PARK CAFES: From kid-friendly eateries to gourmet destinations, we reckon these are the best park cafes in London, ideal for when the kids need to let off steam.
STREATLIFE: Alexandra Palace’s regular street food and craft beer festival is back for several weekends this summer, offering excellent nosh paired with impressive views over London. Streatlife also has some impressive headline DJs including Kate Nash. 25-26 May/15-16 June/27-28 July/17 August
FOODIES FESTIVAL: Syon Park hosts three days of foodie paradise over the late May bank holiday weekend. Foodies Festival has street food stalls, prosecco masterclasses, chocolate making more. Younger visitors are catered for with the kids’ cooking theatre, and there’s live music too. 25-27 May
TASTE OF LONDON: Five days of feasting come to Regent’s Park in the form of Taste of London festival. Several London restaurants will be offering tasters from their menus, alongside celebrity chef appearances, wine tastings, food pairings and more. 19-23 June