Things to do in London When it's Hot Out
London’s summers can be very pleasant, often tickling the low 70s as long balmy days make way for sultry evenings, when bars and restaurants come over all Mediterranean, with tables (and revelers) spilling out onto the streets. But increasingly frequent heatwaves have seen the mercury regularly topping out at north of 100°F, creating stifling conditions as London’s great sea of concrete, asphalt and steel absorbs and releases the heat like an enormous sponge. Make the best of those sizzling southern summers with our favorite things to do in London when it’s hot out, including:
- The London Eye
- Kew Gardens
- London Aquarium
- Westminster Abbey
- London ponds and lidos
- Ice cream!
We All Scream for Ice Cream
The sun is hotter than hades, the asphalt is starting to melt and your mouth feels drier than Ghandi’s flip-flop. What better way to remedy the situation than on a self-guided crawl of Covent Garden and Soho’s finest ice cream parlors? Start your dairy odyssey at the Chin Chin Club on Greek Street where flavors run the gamut from tonka bean to cinnamon bun and toppings include marshmallow fluff and hazelnut sand. Suitably refreshed, make for Wardour Street’s Bake, where positively Insta-tastic fish-shaped cones come stuffed with alien-green soft-serve matcha ice-cream. Pause at Udderlicious on Seven Dials for a quick dragonfruit and banana palate cleanser, before taking the fast track to Covent Garden’s ultra-cool Milk Train. It’s here, if you can possibly squeeze any more ice cream in, that you can create and mix your own flavor and get fully on board with a choo choo candy floss cloud topping. Moo-tiful.
Sizzling Skyline Views
The welcoming arctic blast of air-con is reason enough alone to step aboard the London Eye in high summer. But that’s not all this big ol’ bicycle wheel has going for it. Europe’s largest cantilevered observation wheel towers a knee-liquidizing 443 feet over the Thames’s South Bank, and is an absolute joy on clear sunny days, with far-reaching views that take in many of London’s bucket-list landmarks – Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s to name just a few – as well as the iconic turrets of Windsor Castle way out west.
Cool, Cool Water
Londoners just adore an outdoor pool. Come rain, hail, snow or shine, you’ll find the natives stripped to their smalls and diving in. Yep, even in the very depths of winter. But these lakes, ponds and lidos are naturally at their most popular when London is at its hottest and stickiest. Cool off in the bucolic surroundings of Hampstead Heath where there’s a seasonal summer pond for mixed swimming on the Hampstead side and separate men’s and ladies’ ponds that are open year-round on the heath’s Highgate side. Or take a dip in one of the city’s fine lidos. The hip crowd hit up Brockwell Park’s art-deco gem for laidback lane swimming, and there’s an Olympic-sized beauty in London Fields over on the other side of town. Both are open year-round. The Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park is another popular option for al fresco swimming and is open for cooling dips throughout the sweltering summer season. Come on in, the water’s fine!
Hang Out with the Penguins
Watching cute penguins happily munching their fish ice lollies is guaranteed to have you feeling chilled in no time. Step inside London’s coolest colony at the Sea Life London Aquarium, where a raft of Antarctic gentoo penguins can be found living their best lives – slipping, sliding and diving around their icy habitat and playing hide and seek with curious visitors beneath the waterline. Listen out for their distinctive trumpeting call as you enjoy that much-needed respite from the London heat.
Chill in a Church
Chunky stone walls, shady interiors and rising damp make churches excellent refuges from the summer heat. But we’re not talking just any old church here. No! We’re talking about Westminster Abbey, perhaps the most famous place of worship on the planet. Step out of the heat haze and into its hallowed halls, where cool cloisters, great vaulted ceilings and the assembled spirits of kings, queens, poets and statesmen of yore all assist in keeping the temperature pleasantly cool. Check out the kaleidoscope colored light that beams in through the soaring stained-glass windows, dappling the choir stalls and flagstones in yellows, reds, blues, pinks, oranges and greens.
South Bank Centre Sizzlers
Hit up the Southbank Centre just north of Waterloo station for an embarrassment of summer riches. This brutalist arts complex is a buzzing cultural mecca with multiple performance spaces, a contemporary art gallery, a cinema and – crucially – outdoor fountains. Start with some light refreshment on the river terrace at Royal Festival Hall, then play Russian roulette with Jeppe Hein’s Appearing Rooms, a series of fountains that create vertical walls of water that vanish just as soon as they appear, leaving unsuspecting punters who’ve strayed across by accident very damp and very perplexed indeed. Still, it’s a fine way to cool off on a hot day. If you’d prefer to stay dry, duck into the dark, hushed interiors of the British Film Institute (BFI) cinema to catch a matinee movie.
How Does Your Garden Grow?
The lush foliage of a well-tended garden can be a godsend on hot days, providing overhead shade and cool grass to park your butt on. There’s Kew, of course, London’s premier garden experience, where treetop walkways and a soaring 18th-century Chinoiserie pagoda provide access to sky-high summer breezes, and picnic spots beneath great oak-tree canopies abound. But those in the know make for the (significantly smaller) Kyoto Garden in Holland Park, just west of Notting Hill. The phrase ‘tranquil oasis’ might have been coined for this place, a beautiful peaceful retreat in the style of a traditional Japanese garden, complete with tiered waterfalls, resident peacocks and a serene koi carp pond. In other words: an absolute treat in London when it’s hot out.