London is one of the most visited places on the planet. Each year, the English capital welcomes upwards of 30 million tourists. They are greeted by iconic sites, like Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. They come to catch a show in the West End. And, more recently, they arrive to explore world-class dining and cocktail culture. But they don’t all appear in equal numbers across the year.
The Big Smoke is very much a seasonal destination. High season typically takes off in early June and extends through the start of September. Late April through May, along with September into mid-October, are the shoulder seasons on either side. And late October through early April bookends the lull of low season.
But you’re not bound by these trend lines. The reality is there’s no bad time to land in London. And the “best” time is entirely relative. It merely depends on what type of experience you’re eager to achieve. Let’s find out what — and when — that is, exactly. Below, we break it all down, so you can discover your very own prime time to see the city.
- High Season: Early June through early September
- Shoulder Season: Late April through May; September to mid-October
- Low Season: Late October through early April
Best Times to Visit London for Smaller Crowds
The lion’s share of those 30 million annual visitors will touch down at some point during the summer months. You can’t blame them for being so predictable — London is consistently compelling throughout that time period, as gray skies and rain are rare. And the city’s 3,000 parks and green spaces are teeming with life.
“But the best time for me is spring,” according to Ross Corcoran, managing director of Lang Atholl, a bespoke tour company based in Scotland. “The weather is milder, the crowds are not as big, and hotel rates are not yet surging. It also allows you to get around the city with relative ease and use the Tube like a local rather than a tourist.”
Indeed, if you arrive in May, specifically, you might find you have the whole city to yourself. Although outdoor markets and street fairs are fully open, embracing the warming air, the international arrivals have yet to accumulate. Many native Londoners, meanwhile, step outside of town to take advantage of the multiple bank holiday weekends marking the month.
Best Times to Visit London for Good Weather
“June and July definitely have the best weather,” says Chris Perone, general manager at NoMad London. “Long days and warm evenings are perfect for strolling the city’s endless, meandering pavements.”
To his point, as the summer equinox approaches in mid-June, it starts getting light before 5 a.m. and darkness doesn’t set in until well after 9 p.m. With more than 16 hours of sun to play with, there’s ample opportunity to enjoy a lengthy morning walk alongside canals and greenery. Then, have a full English breakfast — or a legendary Sunday roast — before perusing the shops and restaurants of Mayfair.
You can even parade primary thoroughfares such as Regent Street, which shuts down to vehicular traffic this time of year. Or, take off toward the River Thames and check out the city’s newest observation deck, Lift 109, built into the chimney of the historic Battersea Power Station.
Then, return to green space in time for BST Hyde Park. The concert series, which runs nightly from the end of June through the beginning of July, carries with it world-class talent. Last year, headliners included Billy Joel, Pink, Lana Del Rey and Bruce Springsteen.
Best Times to Visit London for Lower Prices
“August and January are undoubtedly when you can grab the best deals,” Perone confirms. “While August can be a bit hot, everything is open and the city just has this buzz with the pubs overflowing into the streets. January is dark and can be damp, but that’s when the fireside tipples are at their best.”
As it applies to the former, simply make sure you’re booking a hotel — like the NoMad — that has adequate air conditioning. Yes, August temperatures have been inching toward the 100-degree mark in recent years, but it’s never as muggy as, say, a New York summer. So, it’s worth contending with the climate in exchange for those precious reduced rates, which apply to everything from overnight stays to rental cars.
As for January, you’re looking at an average of 12 days worth of rain throughout the month, with temperatures sitting squarely in 40-degree territory. It’s not ideal, and yet, as a result, the indelible coziness of British pub culture is dialed up to its maximal value. It’s a fantastic month to mingle with locals in Chelsea and Belgravia. Make your way past the terraced alabaster townhouses and amble into any number of legendary gastropubs, including The Harwood Arms, the only Michelin-starred pub in London. Or, enjoy new venues such as Bóha, which delivers on the promise of one of the most satisfying Sunday roasts in town. Just make sure to pack an umbrella and jumper.
Best Times to Visit for Making Spirits Bright
London is one of the most festive locales on earth come holiday season. Ornately lit Christmas trees populate public squares, wreaths and red ribbons dress doorways, and a diverse array of themed markets set up shop from Clapham to Clapton.
There are too many memorable offerings to list them all, but if you’re staying in central London, Christmas by the River is one you won’t want to miss. It features more than 50 merchants alongside London Bridge City Pier, under the shadows of Tower Bridge. Leicester Square market is another optimal option. It’s one of the smaller ones in sheer size, but the level of festivity it extends is beyond measure. Most Christmas markets operate from the start of November through the first week of January.
If you’re looking for another sort of holiday spirit, book your trip during London Cocktail Week. What started in 2010 as an intimate showcase of the local drinks scene has ballooned into the world’s largest cocktail festival, underscoring this city’s standing as the international epicenter of cocktail culture. The confab includes some of the top names in mixology, who fan out across town to shake up all sorts of pop-ups, tastings, and speciality drink activations over a 10-day period in mid-October.
Worst Times to Visit London
“Contrary to popular belief, summer is the worst time to visit London,” says Corcoran. “If there’s hot weather, the underground is almost unbearable, and if you’re used to air conditioning, I would strongly recommend against it. You will feel stressed, rushed, hot, and flustered trying to get around the city with the warmer temperatures and stultifying foot traffic.”
You’ll also endure the highest airfare if booking your trip between June and July. If you’re determined to battle the crowds, however, consider taking a train out to the countryside for at least a few days during your stay. The inclusive beach town of Brighton to the south, or the bucolic countryside of the Cotswolds to the west are ideal, if not predictable, summertime retreats.
“July is a tough time in London,” adds Perone. “With so many events, hot weather, and lots of out-of-towners in general, London can feel a bit cramped and stuffy. “And the Tube network… it’s an oven.”
So-called “deep-Tube lines,” which include the most popular services, like Piccadilly, Central, Victoria, and Northern, are all free of air conditioning. Needless to say, it’s a challenging experience to be cramped among strangers in a 90-degree train car. But if you stick with the sub-surface network, the train cars are not only temperature controlled, they’re also more spacious. Primary examples include the District, Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines, as well as the Wi-Fi-equipped Elizabeth line.