13 things to do in London in summer

Nikki Parkinson Travel 49 Comments

As we walked through Green Park and saw the green and white striped deck chairs lined up and ready for London’s sun worshippers, I smiled

We really were in London. For summer.

The expected top of 21 degrees was bound to bring out office workers on their lunch breaks.

Truth be told, the deck chairs (which cost about $3 per hour to hire) were more likely going to be cradling the bottoms of tourists.

Locals don’t need a chair. Just a patch of grass.

It’s the English way. And proves just how relative temperatures can be.

Back home in Queensland, 21 degrees would see us rugging up and declaring a cold winter’s day.

Here, it’s positively balmy. And Londoners do not waste a moment of that sunshine, however fleeting it may be.

It’s my first visit to London in the summer and it’s a very LOOONNGG time between visits full stop.

The last time I was here I was a university student, proudly wearing my white Reebok leather sneakers with my Staggers stonewash denim jeans and white Ken Done koala motif sweatshirt.

What can I say? It was the late ’80s.

My first visit was as a 12-year-old. Our family lived in the UK for five months when my Dad and Step-Mum took long-service leave.

I skipped the beginning of Year 8 for an education in travel. The stuff of life-long memories.

This time we’re creating memories for our almost-10-year-old son. Within a day he had mastered the Underground map and was telling us which stations we needed to change at and which lines would get us to our destination.

I remember doing the same as a 12-year-old.

We arrived 9pm on Sunday evening and have only had two days to absorb as much of the magic as London as we physically can. The arrival time meant we were able to get our sleep patterns on to British time more quickly and we’ve had minimal jetlag.

There’s so much to be said for visiting this city in summer, not just because of the “warmer” temperatures but because you get daylight until 9pm, it’s possible to pack so much more into one day.

And pack we have.

There’s so much we haven’t seen on this trip but the list of things to do in London in summer below has given us a taste of what this city has on offer … and we’ll be back.

13 things to do in London in summer

13 things to do in London

1. Book a London bus tour. Ok, so this might seem a naff thing to do and we may have felt extremely touristy sitting on top of the bus on the first day, raincoats on and umbrellas up, but if you have limited time, it’s a very good way to get your bearings and a snapshot of the city. We booked the Original London Bus Tour and didn’t complete the full tour but did a fair chunk on day one and then added on a little bit more the next day (our deal included a second day free). It’s not the quickest way to get around thanks to London traffic but it does give you a really good perspective and historical commentary.

The Original Bus Tour, London, in the rain

2. Trafalgar Square. Our first stop was this iconic landmark. I couldn’t work out where the pigeons had gone. I thought my Ken Done sweatshirt had scared them off back in 1986 but, no, a falcon is now employed as pest control to keep them out of the square.

Trafalgar Square, London

3. Big Ben. Our eldest son is called Ben and the youngest son was obsessed with getting a photo with his “brother”.  From any angle, Ben will always have a commanding presence on the London skyline.

Big Ben, London | lavender

4. Parliament Square and Whitehall. A walk around Parliament Square, past Westminster Abbey, on to Whitehall, and past Downing Street is an exercise in modern and not-so-modern history.

5. Oxford Street. If you’ve got your shopping mojo fully strapped on, this is the street for you. Every “high street” store is there, in flagship proportions, as well as one of London’s iconic department stores, Selfridges.

Selfridges, London

London-0004

6. Afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason. While the Ritz is most famous for its afternoon tea offering, we didn’t fancy packing a jacket and tie for Mr SY just so we could eat cake and drink tea. A friend said that Fortnum & Mason (just up the street) would be a more relaxed, yet just as ceremonial spot for a cuppa. We weren’t disappointed with our afternoon tea and champagne in The Gallery.

Afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason, London, England

7. The London Eye. This was on my bucket list and so worth the money for a birds-eye view of London. I love that even London’s newer buildings – the Shard, the Gherkin, the Cheese-grater – add to the traditional and add another layer on to the architectural history of the city. Do get there at opening time (10am) and do pay the extra for a fast-track ticket – especially at peak times and if you’ve got limited time in London. You don’t want to lose a day in a queue.

Westminster from The London Eye

8. Buckingham Palace. We didn’t plan it but happened to happen along to Buck House just before the changing of the guard. Yes, we are the accidental tourists. This happens every day at 11.30am between May and July. The crowds are massive. I’d say get there early but we did ok by stumbling across it. A London Bobby even had the kids in our area come and sit at the front where they could see the action.

Changing of the guard, Buckingham Palace, London

9. The Green Park. This is the park immediately adjacent to Buckingham Palace. I hadn’t thought much of it until discovering its history. A former Queen established the park and developed its flowerbeds back in the day. That was until she saw her husband -Charles II – pick a flower from one of the beds and give it to his mistress. The Queen ordered that all the flowerbeds be removed. And they’ve never been reinstated. Instead in summer you’ll find lush green grass and avenues of trees.

Green Park, London

Green Park, London

10. Harrods. As a 12-year-old, I remember being in absolute awe of the Harrods food hall. We came from a country town that at that point in time wasn’t even have a major supermarket. I just didn’t know where to look first. This now 40-something may have repeated those same jaw-dropping looks all these years later. Rather than just look, we all chose some food to takeaway and eat in Hyde Park (a 10-minute walk away). I wouldn’t say it saved money on eating out but the experience was priceless.

Harrods, London

11. Hyde Park. Hyde Park in summer did not disappoint. Geese and swans competed with paddle boats for territory on the Serpentine. Kids were atop ponies; bikes were there for the hiring. You could spend the entire day enjoying this park. We walked off our picnic lunch by heading to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain – a stunning large, shallow circular water feature.

Harrods Food Hall picnic in Hyde Park, London

Harrods Food Hall picnic in Hyde Park, London

Princess Diana Memorial fountain, Hyde Park, London

12. Kensington Palace and gardens. Keep walking across the Ring Road from Hyde Park and you’re into Kensington Gardens and can walk through to the palace. If Wills and Kate were in residence, they didn’t ask us up for a cuppa. Next time. The Orangery next to the palace is a stunning place for high tea. The Princess Diana Memorial Children’s Playground is an ideal place to stop if you’ve got small kids in tow.

Kensington Palace, London

Kensington Palace, London

Princess Diana Memorial Children's Playground, London

13. See a show. Like a visit to New York, a visit to London is not complete without seeing at least one show. We had one night available to us for this and booked to see Bend it Like Beckham – something that appealed to our soccer-mad youngest as well as us. It was all kinds of fabulous – funny, well-cast and recreated the spirit of the original movie.

Getting around

We bought an Oyster card on our first morning (you can buy ahead and save a bit of money) and topped it up at the local mini-mart. This card will get you on all London public transport without having to worry about buying individual tickets.

Apart from our time on the Original London Bus Tour, we only used the tube for getting around London. Getting anywhere involved no more than one station change. If you can avoid travelling in peak hour times, then it’s a whole lot more comfortable.

Walk as much as you can. This applies in any city. While the tube is great for getting you from A-B in a hurry, you do miss out on a lot by being underground.

Travelling outside London? We booked our tickets ahead via The Trainline.Com – it can save you considerable money doing this in advance.

What to wear

London in summer is definitely all about light layers. As soon as the sun disappears behind a cloud, you’ll be adding on a layer. When it reappears, you’ll be stripping off again.

Blue Illusion jacket | Bassike tee | Surafina pants | Witchery scarf  | Frankie4 footwear sandals

I’ve found long pants or jeans plus a leather jacket to be the most versatile. On the cooler days I had a long-sleeve tee underneath; on warmer days, a short-sleeve tee.

Footwear needs have comfort as its number one focus as you do a lot of walking. I’ve worn black leather sneakers and sandals by Frankie4 Footwear and have powered through each day.

Blue Illusion leather jacket | Surafina scarf | NYDJ jeans | Frankie4 Footwear sneakers | Estil Australia messenger bag

For more on what to pack, see What to pack for Europe in summer.

Where to stay

There are so many options available to you in terms of accommodation in London.  I had considered AirBnB but when I started Googling options, I stumbled across the Hilton Islington. The price was better than city centre counterparts and we could get a room that had a separate lounge with sofa bed for our youngest. Before booking, I did more research into the area and decided that yes, Islington, very much appealed. We haven’t been disappointed.

Think Surry Hills in Sydney; New Farm in Brisbane; Prahran in Melbourne and you’ll get an understanding of this area in London. It’s only one tube stop from King’s Cross train station but it’s a world away from the tourist hot spots.

Cafes, restaurants, pubs and boutiques line the streets, that are also home to every High Street store you’d see in the city centre – but in a less hectic location.

Each afternoon, we’d return home from our tourist trek and sighed as we came out of Angel tube station. Yes, it was still busy (this IS London) but it was a more relaxed busy.

Hilton Islington is a short five-minute stroll to Angel tube station (Northern Line). It has all the services you’d need within a hotel but also all the things you’d like surrounding the hotel in terms of food and shopping choices.

Islington, London

Home & Pantry, Islington, London

Pimm's O'Clock

Islington, London

So, it’s your turn. Anyone who’s ever been to London knows my list is but the tip of an iceberg. We simply did not have the time for galleries and museums this time round.

I’d love you to share your “must see and dos” in the comments below to help others who might be planning a trip soon.

More tips from Styling You’s Facebook followers here:

Comments 49

  1. Love your post, Nikki. It makes me a bit ‘home sick’! Great list of things to see and do, there’s just so much there. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  2. Ooh I am getting excited for our trip now…been following your travel posts closely to get more ideas for our trip. Looks likes you are having a great time x

  3. I’m loving following your London adventures. We will be there later this year (a few days in London then off to Yorkshire for a family Christmas)
    I love to get the tube to Westminster then check out Parliament Square and Westminster Abbey pausing to take the obligatory shot of big ben. Cross over Westminster bridge and walk along Queens Walk next to the river past the London Eye and all the buskers/street entertainers on to the Tate Modern. The Rothko room in the Tate Modern is one of my special places so I always pop in there (free entry) just to sit for 10 minutes. Then back across the river on the wobbly millennium bridge to St Pauls Cathedral. There is a shopping centre next to St Pauls called one new change where you can catch the lift to their roof terrace which has a great view back over St Pauls.
    A good walk is my way of fighting off jet lag!
    The museums and galleries in London are fantastic The Natural History Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, V & A and Imperial War Museum are our favourites. They have an ice-rink out the front of the Natural History Museum in winter so thats on our list of things to do.
    There are so many great parks too which you have enjoyed.
    I hope the rest of your trip is just as much fun

  4. I spy Pimms!! Looks like you have a magical couple of days!! I was so hoping to see that you had just popped into Liberty, which is my all time world wide favourite department store. Home to the fabrics and so much more! It will be there next time!! The Hilton you are staying in sounds like a peach really. Thanks for sharing your holiday with us!!

  5. I’m loving following you along on your trip Nikki! Beautiful photos and so glad you’re having a great time. Not sure if or when I will ever get to the UK and/or Europe but I shall travel vicariously through you for now! 😉

  6. You managed to squeeze so much in, but I’m loving seeing that you took the time to stop for drinks and picnics rather than rush around madly non-stop. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do when travelling. Any regrets I have are usually that I didn’t stop long enough to really soak a place up. Too busy trying to fit too much in. And such amazing photos. I am in awe x

  7. My two best tips for London are the river boat from Big Ben down the Thames to Greenwich. The park and the shops there are beautiful plus being on the site of Greenwich Mean Time is kinda cool. The other one is head on the Northern Line to Chalk Farm station {my old stomping ground and where my London heart remains}. Head out of the tube across to Primrose Hill – the park + the village are gorgeous. Plus there are some seriously excellent pubs for drinking + eating. Then you wander to Camden Lock to jump on a canal boat through Little Venice. You won’t even know you’re in London. I freakin’ love that city!

  8. Ooo, such lovely photos of my city (squeal!) Nikki! It looks like you had a great time & managed to squeeze in quite a few of the key sites. I agree that the Big Bus Hop on/off Tour is a great option for getting an overview if you’re short on time. The commentary gives lots of interesting lesser-known facts about the city too. I’d also recommend Columbia Road flower market on Sunday mornings, especially good at this time of the year for Peony lovers!

    Did you know that although there are no flowers in Green Park, every spring hundreds of daffodils pop up, which were planted there for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002?

    Looking forward to following your Italian adventures – come back to London again soon! x

  9. Kings Road Chelsea for a wander and a shop.. Great Zara next to fabulous Saatchi Gallery. Set back in a large open air courtyard with a Gelato Bar so super for littlies to have a run around. Oh and up the other end of the street is Bluebird. Rest../Cafe/ high End concept boutique ( perfect for spotting ‘Made In Chelsea’ cast members). Portobello Market, on Friday right on opening time, then lunch at Electric Diner. Phew… I love London. Happy rest of travels…x

  10. It all looks amazing Nikki,thank you so very much I can’t see myself going to Europe anytime soon,as much as I’d like to I just don’t think I could handle the flight yet,loving your photos and tips Xx

  11. Thank you so much for taking the time to post this. I have been glued to every word seeing as we will be traveling there next year about the same time. I will definitely be referring back to this post closer to the time. Love to get your tips! I have never travelled to Europe so am eager to learn all the lessons from your experience.

  12. You are amazing! Such a beautiful, interesting and helpful post and you are on holiday! You must have been up half of a night – jetlag? 😉 Hat off to you x Loved hearing about your escapades as I get to spend most of my time when in England in Devon with family, so it’s great to be reminded that London can be ‘done’ in a couple of days. For others with more time a trip to Greenwich is lovely too and Camden market for clothes and street food.

  13. Years since I have been in London, but in any city the big red bus is a great intro followed by lots of walking as you say. Hyde Park, how I loved that place. Enjoy, Paris next?

  14. Thanks for the heads up on some alternatives for afternoon tea. We went to the Wolseley last time which was lovely, but I think we need to try The Orangery or Fortnum & Mason for our visit in September.
    Some of our favourite places to visit that haven’t been mentioned yet are the British Museum (Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Liberty London store. But now I’m madly Googling some of the other suggestions here!
    Hope the weather remains kind- it really does make a difference when you can walk around and see things at your own pace at street level.

  15. Planning a trip to London (plus Scotland, maybe Ireland) in two years. Will be jotting down a few notes for things to do plus your accommodation sounds perfect! Thanks Nikki! Enjoy the remainder of your holiday 🙂

  16. borough market near London Bridge is a foodie haven, vino polis next door perfect for wine loving adults to explore. Drinks at hutong up the Shard a must for views. Taking a boat from Canary Wharf to Houses of Parliament to see the city from the river. Tate modern art gallery which is free….. Islington is my old work and living hood , great location to base yourself!

  17. Delighted you are having fun – loving coming along for the IG ride!
    St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey are divine spots. Covent Garden, Kings Road, the V & A…so many fabulous places to see xx

  18. Queens Park farmers markets on a Sunday are a must-do. Regents Park for a coffee or hire a row boat. Vinopolis for wine tasting near Borough Markets. The Tower of London and Tate Modern. The Dorchester is also a good alternative to The Ritz, and you’re right Thr Orangery also lovely for high tea. London bicycle tour from Bayswater. Take me back:)

  19. Oh I love your pics – they take me right back! I did High Tea at Fortnum and Mason last time too – so fun! I love London and have been fortunate enough to visit three times in my adult life, as my sister and her husband lived there for ten years and we used it as our base for travelling through Europe.

    My favourite things to do are to wander around Covent Garden and down the Kings Road in Chelsea (where Anthropologie is) for shopping (if you want something a little quieter than Oxford St); I can’t rate Westminster Abbey highly enough – the history in there is unbelievable; my favourite big museums are the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern and the Imperial War Museum (a bit further out but amazing). The V & A is beautiful too (and has a gorgeous gift shop) and I went to visit The Churchill War Rooms last time and they were fascinating and small enough to do in a couple of hours and would appeal to most.

    I also love wandering around Knightsbridge and walking through parks wherever possible. Arvo tea at the Orangery has been a favourite too. Such a beautiful, majestic city. I can’t wait to return! x

  20. Terrific guide to a whirlwind tour of London’s highlights. Lovely photos Nikki. London is my second home. I lived there for over 10 years, which included most of my 20s. I lived briefly in Chelsea (so much fun) but spent most of my time living in or near Greenwich. A lovely part of town with the park, the Observatory, the site of Greenwich Mean Time, Inigo Jones’ fabulous Queen’s House, The University of Greenwich (where I studied), dry docked Cutty Sark, lovely old church (where I sang) and many pubs (where I drank & laughed with friends). Easy to get to by train if you or anyone else is interested. Keep having fun!

  21. it’s all looking great nikki! … thankyou for sharing!… your photos are capturing the memories! … all of the things we enjoy doing all of those things on holidays! … love the picnic in the park and soaking it all in!… priceless! … we love public transport in big cities! easiest and most efficient! … plus walking too, as one sees so much more!
    love the kent garden to on insta and the sneaky scarf purchase!;) … a must have for sure hun! … I got a little side tracked in Selfridges and Harrods!
    keep enjoying the journey guys! love m:)X

  22. Oh my goodness, Islington is my old stomping ground, what a great place to stay! I’m a bit homesick looking at all these pics but it’s ok, I’m hot on your heels, and leaving next week for the mother country. Me and my bestie (also a Sam) have birthdays a day apart so we are going for tea to Fortnum and Mason, it’s been on my bucket list for ages! I would love to do a bus tour around London, although I read this week about mini cooper tours (with a small group obvs) how ace would that be? My favourite thing to do is to walk from the Embankment all the way along the river, through Green Park, past the Palace and up to Trafalgar Square and finish up with a wander through the National Gallery. The hubster and I did that walk on our third date and it kind of sealed the deal! Happy hols!

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