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Do you hear the cry of London Calling? Whether it’s Big Ben, Royal Fever, Premier League football or Harry Potter drawing you in, London is a city full of sights, history, pubs and places to explore.
Along with being a great city to visit on points, London is a hotbed for discounted cash fares and currently has a more advantageous than normal exchange rate (about £1: $1.30 at press time). Not to mention JetBlue is officially flying to London starting in 2021.
As an American who moved to London in 2005 as a student and now explores it regularly with small children in tow, I’ve spent more than 50 seasons in the city and will let you in on some local secrets of when to visit, save some money and maximize your stay.
Cheapest Time to Visit
According to Skyscanner data, November is the cheapest time to fly to London. The most significant event in early November is Guy Fawkes night (also known as Fireworks Night or Bonfire Night), and many parks of London put on a fireworks display, most notably being Alexander Palace in North London. Early November is also the Lord Mayor’s parade, a very London event dating back to the 16th century. Marking the annual change over of the Lord Mayor of London, the event has an ornate parade with floats followed by fireworks on the river.
The truth about November in London, though, is that without the backstop holiday of US Thanksgiving, Christmas season starts in early November. So, you can come and see many of the holiday sights in the cheapest month to visit. The Christmas lights are switched on by November 15 so coming over Thanksgiving week can be a great time to visit and take advantage of a few holiday days (many pubs even put on a Thanksgiving meal!).
Best Time To Visit to Avoid the Crowds
In January and February, it may get dark around 4pm and usually only averages one hour of sunshine per day. As such, you can get tickets to the best shows and restaurants in the evening after seeing the empty sights during the day. These months are when you can walk right on to the London Eye, stroll up to Buckingham Palace at 11am to watch the Changing of the Guards or go for an Instagram-able tea at Sketch or a classic tea at the Ritz.
There’s also the hope that your hotel will be at low capacity and that free upgrades to a suite might await you. It can be cold with lows around 35 Fahrenheit, but you will rarely find sub-freezing temperatures.
Watch out for British school vacation week, usually the third week of February. Many Brits use that time to head to Europe to ski, but you will notice more people on the Underground and in the museums that week.
Best Time To Visit for Art Lovers
September and early October can be more beautiful weather than the summer, with leaves turning and ample sunshine before the early sunsets in winter become commonplace. It is also a time for art, film and fireworks. The leader of the art fairs in London is the Frieze Art Festival, that reigns over Regent’s Park every October, focusing on contemporary art. There’s alternative programming for all art enthusiasts with Moniker Art Fair in Shoreditch’s Old Truman Brewery and The Other Art Fair, where you get a chance to buy directly from the artist.
The BFI London Film Festival runs in early October and is easy to get tickets to if you book ahead of time. I snagged regular tickets for around $25 in 2014 thinking it was just a screening, but the event was a full red carpet affair where I met Reece Witherspoon at the premiere of Wild.
Best Time To Visit for Peak Gardens and Flowers
While the Chelsea Flower Show at the end of May brings people from around the world to see why the British rule the gardening world, you can see lots of gorgeous gardens all spring long in London. Forget cherry blossoms at Tidal Basin in DC, magnolia and wisteria seasons in London are what you should be chasing. There are entire Instagram accounts devoted to the pink and purple flowers that sprout up all over London in April and May. Make a trip out to Kew Gardens to see the best in British floral.
Best Time To Visit for Posh Events and Royals Spotting
June is a great month to get outside in London, and there’s plenty of pomp and ceremony going on around the Capital. You can catch a polo match at Hurlingham Park or watch the Queen’s Birthday Parade called Trooping the Color (even though her actual birthday is April 21).
During Open Garden Weekends, you can nosy around many of London’s typically restricted, private green spaces attached to stately homes and privately owned buildings. Then get your tux and hat ready because Royal Ascot is towards the end of the month, where you can place a bet on a horse, spot some celebrities and be in the shadow of Windsor Castle.
Best Time To Visit for Sports Fans
July is when the ordinarily sleepy neighborhood in London called Wimbledon becomes the center of the world for tennis. If you haven’t inherited a debenture (a five-year season pass that costs $100k), then you can camp out and civilly queue with others for a chance to spend the day on Centre Court.
For Premier League football fans (Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham), you’ll want to visit during the season that runs from late August to late May. Rugby Union takes place between September and May, while Rugby League season runs from February to October, usually at Twickenham stadium. You can watch the traditional summer game of cricket from April to September at Lord’s Cricket Ground or the Oval.
London now hosts NFL games in the fall and its first MLB game this June with Yankees vs. Red Sox at London Stadium should you wish to tie in seeing your favorite team with a trip abroad.
Summer in London
Summer is London can see prices rise, but if you need to travel then, you’ll still find plenty of things to do and see, plus you will benefit from the long days with sunset after 9pm.
Londoners take to the parks and the streets to embrace the summer, and you’ll find people outside at concerts, films and lots of people standing in the streets with their pints or Pims. (Pims is the British drink of summer, consisting of a gin-based liqueur — Pimm’s No. 1 Cup — mixed with sparkling lemonade and served with ice, assorted fruits, and mint.)
Summer is when you can spend hours outside on Southbank or take the train out to Oxford or Cambridge to try your hand at punting on the river. There are rooftop pools and open-air lidos dotted across London for when the inevitable heatwave strikes. It’s best to stay somewhere central in the summer or on a good bus line because the London Underground notoriously does not have air conditioning and inside the carriages can reach 96 degrees in the height of summer.
With deals on cash fares popping up frequently, London is an easily attainable vacation. Adding in a day trip or more on the Eurostar could turn it into an extended European adventure. What’s your favorite time to visit London?
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