The best things to do in London come rain or shine

Tomé Morrissy-Swan
The Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye - Reuters

Londoners like to complain. It's either too hot or too cold, too rainy, or too windy.  But we also love our city, home as it is to a never-ending range of activities at world-class museums and music venues, top restaurants, pubs and food markets, huge parks, and some of the world's biggest and best sporting events. 

Samuel Johnson was right when he said "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life". And that was in the 18th century, before most of the great museums opened.

Tourists agree, and in 2016 London was announced as the second-most visited city in the world, behind only Bangkok, with almost 20 million visitors per year. So if you're looking for fun things to do in London, whether as a visitor or a resident, here are our top picks - whatever the weather.

When the sun shines

Glorious green spaces

Britain's capital is made up of around 47 per cent green space, so there are plenty of parks to choose from. The pick of the bunch is Hampstead Heath, a huge 320-hectare site complete with swimming ponds, the stately Kenwood House and, of course, Parliament Hill, which provides one of London's best panoramic views. Richmond Park, famous for housing 630 red and fallow deer, is another green space that's not to be missed. 

The famous deer of Richmond Park Credit: Paul Grover

Outdoor pools

Opportunities for outdoor swimming are not to be overlooked. When the sun shines, a leisurely swim in the Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park or a refreshing dip in Tooting Bec Lido (Europe's biggest outdoor pool, no less) is incredibly tempting.

Over in East London, the heated London Fields Lido is a better choice for those with less tolerance of chilly temperatures.

Open air film screenings

Film screenings under the open sky are a special way to experience London. Summer stalwarts include the Rooftop Film Club at the Bussey Building in Peckham, and Big Screen on the Beach at the Roundhouse up in Camden.

Rooftop Film Club is even giving visitors the chance to meet their very own Ryan Gosling lookalike at screenings of Drive or La La Land across its three cinemas, in Peckham, Hoxton and Stratford. 

Pop-up screenings in various locations such as Hampton Court Palace and Greenwich Park are run by the popular Luna Cinema. Each year, the St Kat's Floating Film Festival even sees film fans take to the river. 

Rooftop Film Club's Ryan Gosling lookalike Credit: Paul Grover

Alfresco dining and drinking

London has experienced a culinary revolution, and has evolved into a city filled with a vibrant array of restaurants, markets and street food vendors. Borough Market, Maltby Street Market and Brockley Market are among the best. Pop Brixton, a community-run project in shipping containers, has established itself as a cosmopolitan foodie mecca (don't miss Zoe's Ghana Kitchen for Ghanaian cuisine, or Donostia Social Club for tapas-style dining).

Meanwhile, Street Feast run buzzy night markets and street food arenas including the Model Market in Lewisham, Dinerama in Shoreditch and Hawker House in Canary Wharf. 

Roof terraces also abound. Among the best is the stylish Radio Rooftop Bar at ME London, The Strand, and The Sky Garden - a public space home to London's highest landscaped gardens. The Roof Gardens in Kensington even has its own flamingoes. 

Sport & fitness

Speaking of roof terraces, rooftop yoga is also a burgeoning trend for mindful Londoners. Sophie's Fitness runs classes on the roof of Madison Restaurant, overlooking St Paul's, and in the summer, Yogarise offer classes above the Bussey Building in Peckham with panoramic views of the city.

In terms of competitive sport, London lays a strong claim to being the sporting capital of the world. Diary fixtures such as Wimbledon, the ATP Finals, regular NFL matches, rugby matches at Twickenham stadium and the annual Oxford V. Cambridge boat race on the Thames mean that there's always a top sporting event to attend.

Facilities include two cricket stadiums, the world's third-largest rugby arena and, of course, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (where daredevils can also have a go on the terrifying ArcelorMittal Orbit ride).

If you're looking for a friendly football match, try Footy Addicts, a site that will sort you out with a game wherever suits you best. There's no shortage of tennis courts in the city, either, so there's no excuse not to grab your racket and go for a game wherever you are, be it Clapham Common, Parliament Hill, Holland Park or Regent's Park.

With the kids

Despite its size, London is a remarkably child-friendly city. One of the most popular attractions is London Zoo, the world's oldest scientific zoo, in Regent's Park. With 700 different animal species, including five majestic tigers, a huge aviary and England's largest penguin enclosure, it's certain to keep your children entertained.

Feeding a Giraffe at London Zoo Credit: David Rose

Adventurers are also sure to be impressed by a session at Go Ape, a zipwire adventure in the tree tops of Battersea Park. The London Wetland Centre, run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, is the ideal day out for budding nature lovers. Just ten minutes from Hammersmith, it's an urban oasis with an outdoor adventure playground, a pond zone and an indoor discovery centre.

In Forest Hill, the nature trail at The Horniman Museum and Gardens is one of the oldest in London, offering children the chance to experience pond, meadow and woodland habitats, managed carefully to encourage a wide variety of wildlife.

And when it's raining...(or snowing)

Museums to explore

It rains a lot in London, but thankfully there are plenty of indoor distractions. The rich map of museums in the city, many of which are home to permanent free exhibitions, are a great place to start. 

At the Royal Museums Greenwich, visitors and Londoners alike can get under the skin of historic maritime London at the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, the home of Greenwich Mean Time. The nearby, rather niche Fan Museum is also well worth a look.

Over in west London, South Kensington is known as the city's museum district. The V&A Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum are sure to delight time after time, with over 73 million artefacts to discover and countless interactive ways to explore history, science and culture. A highlight is the awesome, newly-installed 25-metre blue whale skeleton, named 'Hope'.  

The British Museum, founded in 1753, is another of the best. Housing collections from across the globe, as well as some controversial pieces such as the Elgin Marbles, there's enough there to amuse you for a whole day. 

The new blue whale skeleton named 'Hope' at the Natural History Museum Credit: PA

For the style-conscious, The Fashion and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Street is a short walk from the Shard, and is solely dedicated to showcasing contemporary fashion. Current and forthcoming exhibitions include The World of Anna Sui and Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern.  Would-be sleuths can also investigate the intriguing Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, or The Crime Museum at New Scotland Yard. 

Top galleries

As well as museums, those who appreciate art can also get their fix at one of London's many galleries, which are filled with unmissable paintings and works of art.  Situated conveniently on the South Bank, the Tate Modern is Britain's national gallery of thought-provoking international modern art and is a short walk from the (covered) Borough Market, where hungry culture vultures can grab some lunch after a morning well spent. The National Gallery, the Saatchi Gallery and the Royal Academy are also must-visit destinations.

But it's not only in central locations that excellent galleries are to be found. The Dulwich Picture Gallery, for example, is a delight when paired with a day out in the cafes, pubs and boutiques of Dulwich Village. Damien Hirst's Newport Street Gallery is in Lambeth, while the Victoria Miro gallery on Old Street showcases work from established and emerging artists around the world in an ex-Victorian furniture factory. 

Cosy pubs and cool bars

When it's dreary outside, there's nothing better than hunkering down in a cosy pub, preferably with an open fire, a board game or two and a selection of London's growing list of craft brews.  The candlelit Flask Tavern in Highgate, rumoured to be a favourite of Kate Moss, as well as haunted, is one of the most atmospheric, and the Grade II-listed Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street is a landmark that has stood for centuries, having been rebuilt after the Great Fire of London. 

Other notably atmospheric, snug boozers with remarkable period features and open fires to visit include The Running Horse in Mayfair and the Three Kings of Clerkenwell in Islington. Don't take our word for it, though. It's best to try them all. 

If you're after something a little more slick, head to City Social, an art deco bar and restaurant in the City of London. There you can enjoy panoramic views of the dreary (but nonetheless spectacular) skyline in all it's grey glory - but at the same time, be transported to South America with it's new Cuban Delights sensory premium dessert experience. It's a collaboration between Havana Club 7, celebrated chef Jason Atherton and acclaimed perfumer Cecile Zarokian, and we highly recommend it. 

London via the world: take a moment to enjoy a view of the skyline while experiencing a culinary journey


It's designed to embody the Cuban culture of ’sobremesa’ - the moment in the evening when friends and family come together.

For families

The SEA LIFE London Aquarium is often the first port of call for families keen to make the best of a rainy day in London. There, you can discover Europe's largest collection of marine life, including sting rays, sharks and penguins, and find out more about conservation. 

Chel-ski on the King's Road is another fun idea for children and adults alike who need to brush up on their ski and snowboard skills in a fun and weather-proof environment, and the nearby Clip n' Climb centre is a hit with children too. 

There are also a number of giant indoor playzones for energetic children to try, such as Bramley's Big Adventure, Kidspace, Discovery Planet and Little Dinosaurs at Alexandra Park. The Unicorn Theatre near London Bridge and the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon specialise in shows especially for children. 

Get active

In winter and over the festive season, ice rinks open up across the city, the best of which are at the Natural History Museum, Somerset House and Hampton Court. But at any time of year, skaters can head to Broadgate Ice Rink, Streatham Ice and Leisure Centre or Alexandra Palace.

If you're after a challenge, look no further than bouldering or rock climbing, with locations across the city offering top rates. Try Building One at The Arch Climbing Wall in Bermondsey or the Castle Climbing Centre near Finsbury Park. 

Theatre, shows and entertainment

London is arguably the entertainment capital of the world with top-notch theatres and arenas. Each year, the Royal Albert Hall hosts the summer-long Proms series (where standing tickets can be accessed on the day for any event for £7.12). The Royal Albert Hall also regularly hosts shows from the internationally acclaimed Cirque du Soleil. At other large venues such as the 02 in Greenwich or Wembley Arena, you'll find the biggest bands and artists in the world performing.  The best comedy and stand-up can be found at Hackney Empire, the Camden Comedy Club and the 99 Club in Leicester Square. 

Simba in the stage production of the Lion King Credit: Joan Marcus/AP

West End theatre is pricey, but it's a real treat - especially when preceded by a pre-theatre dinner. The West End is only rivalled by New York's Broadway for its range of shows. Highlights include Harry Potter & the Cursed Child, the hilarious The Book of Mormon, Wicked, Kinky Boots, and family favourite The Lion King. 

London also has a rich off-West End theatre and fringe theatre scene, which is a cheaper alternative. Productions at venues such as the Union Street Theatre in Southwark, Omnibus Theatre in Clapham and Jacksons Lane in Highgate also delight audiences night after night.  In the run up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, there's countless Edinburgh previews across the city.