Winter (Dec – Feb)
Winter Wonderland is a festival dedicated to everything wintry which runs for most of December and into early January. Includes markets, food, giant ferris wheel, ice-skating rink, fair rides, ice kingdom, and beer halls. Free entry but the rides vary in price. The key attractions (ferris wheel, ice-skating rink and ice kingdom) generally require pre-booking online.
Outdoor ice-skating rinks pop up all over London in the lead-up to Christmas – at the Tower of London, the London Eye, Canary Wharf, the courtyard at Somerset House, Hampton Court Palace, the Natural History Museum and the afore-mentioned Winter Wonderland. Prices vary and most prices for the 2014/2015 season have not been posted yet, although during the 2013/2014 winter you could generally expect to pay between £11 and £15 for a session.
New Years Eve
London always puts on a spectacular New Years Eve celebration, with the main fireworks display launched from around the London Eye. Designated viewing sites are set up along the river, and will be closed as they fill up. General information can be found on the Visit London website, but for more specific information, check the Lord Mayor’s website closer to the time.
Spring (Mar – May)
Chelsea Flower Show
The world-famous Chelsea Flower Show is a floral and gardening competition and show that takes place every May in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital. Entry is rather expensive – in 2014 a whole day ticket was £58, afternoon was £36 and evening £30 (cheaper for members).
Head of the River race
The Head of the River is a rowing race held every Spring, when 400 crews from around the world row a 4.25 mile course along the Thames. There are several spots along the river from which you can watch the race.
Summer (June – Aug)
The Wimbledon Championships takes place every summer in Wimbledon in south London. Tickets are allocated by ballot and the ballot can be entered from outside the UK. The ballot needs to be entered months in advance so you need to be organised!
The Beating Retreat is a performance of music and military precision drill put on every year by the Household Division at Horse Guard’s Parade. It runs for two nights in the week or two leading up to Trooping the Colour (see below). Tickets vary in price depending on seats, but we got cheap seats this year (2014) for £12, bought from soldiers selling them in front of Horse Guards Parade. They can normally also be bought online.
Trooping the Colour
Trooping the Colour is a parade put on for the Queen’s birthday – held in June as the weather is likely to be better than on her real birthday in April. Traditionally this exercise was for soldiers to learn their standards and colours (hence ‘trooping the colour’) so they could be located in the madness of battle, but it is now a symbolic tradition. The parade itself is held on Horse Guards Parade and tickets are allocated by ballot in March of each year. However, those without tickets still have the opportunity to observe by lining the Mall or Horse Guards Rd to watch the procession heading towards Horse Guards Parade at the beginning, and back to Buckingham Palace at the end. The parade begins at 10am, so you should arrive well before then to find a good spot to observe. As it is a celebration of the Queen’s birthday you can expect to see most of the royal family participating in the procession too. The celebration ends at about 1pm with fly-pasts of military aircraft over the palace, with the royal family making an appearance on the balcony.
In Summer, outdoor cinemas appear all over London, whether it’s in parks, on rooftops, in hot tubs, in little back streets, the courtyard of an art gallery or in an abandoned power station. They typically start at about £10 (aside from the free Vauxhall Village movies). Advanced booking often required as popular movies sell out.
Every summer sees the BBC’s world-famous Proms classical music festival take place. Book tickets in advance (anywhere from £7.50 – £68) or queue up on the day for standing tickets (£5).
Notting Hill Carnival
The Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest street festival, takes place every August bank holiday weekend. Make sure to plan your journey because roads will be barricaded and several tube stations get closed.
Hampton Court Palace Flower Show
The Hampton Court Palace Flower Show has now over taken the Chelsea Flower Show as the biggest in Britain. It is significantly cheaper than its more-famous sister, with full day tickets at £30 (advance booking) or £34 (at the gate), and afternoon tickets £19 (advance) or £21 (gate).
British Summer Time
British Summer Time is a music and comedy festival held in Hyde Park for about a week in July. The price of general admission varies from day to day depending who is playing, with the cheapest being about £35 to the more expensive at around £60.
Autumn (Sept – Nov)
Open House London
For two days every September, London’s most impressive and notable buildings are opened to the public. Ever wanted to have a peak inside 10 Downing St? Want to know what the view is like from inside The Gherkin? All 800+ buildings are opened for free, and you cannot book tickets so you have to queue up on the day – and be warned, some of the most popular buildings can have very long queues!
Bonfire Night/ Guy Fawkes Night
Remember, remember the 5th of November… and every 5th of November is remembered all over the UK with fireworks, bonfires and fairs. Often it is stretched over the closest weekend to the 5th. In London, individual borough councils all over the city put on their own celebrations, so no matter where you’re staying you should be able to find one nearby. Keep an eye on the London TimeOut webpage for updates on where to catch a fair or fireworks display in your area. Some are free while some charge a small entry fee.
The Lord Mayor’s Show
The Lord Mayor’s show is a parade held every November close to Guy Fawkes Night and ends with a fireworks display. It was traditionally the journey a new Lord Mayor had to take to Westminster to swear loyalty to the crown and is now basically an excuse for a party. The parade is over 3.5 miles long between Bank and Aldwych in the centre of London.
BFI London Film Festival
The BFI London film festival runs over two weeks every October, including movie screenings, world premiers and interviews and master classes with directors, actors and crew. Get a ticket to an event or just turn up to watch the cast arrive at a world premier!