Choose the best time to treat yourself royally in London's fair city
London is one of those rare cities without a peak season. Instead, the streets bustle year-round as tourists scurry from shopping excursions at Harrods to strolls through Hyde Park to soaring high above the River Thames in the London Eye. While crowds are somewhat unavoidable, you can still plan your London vacation around other seasonal advantages, such as the weather, special events or low prices.
London features steady year-round showers, averaging about 2 inches of rain each month. Spring is no exception, and the rain is often coupled with mild temperatures in the low 50s and 60s. Summer rain brings muggy conditions with daytime temperatures in the low 70s. It rarely reaches the 80s in London, and you’ll find most buildings don’t even have air conditioning. As an added bonus, the summer days are long with the sun sometimes staying out until 10:30 p.m. The most rain falls in the autumn months, but the difference from the other seasons is negligible. September offers summer-like temps in the 60s and 70s, but by late autumn, they drop to the 50s. Winter brings cold and dreary conditions in the 40s and 30s, with darkness arriving by 5 p.m. Snow may fall occasionally in the winter, but it usually doesn’t stay on the ground for long.
Seasonal crowds and prices
While the city is crowded year-round, in early spring, it’s not as busy, and you may find some good travel package deals. There is one exception: Expect to pay high prices for airfare and hotels during Easter break and late spring. Summer is London’s peak season, so you’ll pay premium prices on just about everything, including hotels, tours and airfare. Unfortunately, long lines are also common during the summer, so expect to wait while visiting the city’s most popular attractions. Hotel and airline prices dip again during the fall, and the crowds become more tolerable. Winter brings even cheaper rates, but the city can be crowded when tourists flood London for the holidays.
London offers a host of special events throughout the year. Spring includes one of the city’s biggest sporting events, the London Marathon, in April, while the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May showcases ornate floral displays throughout the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Summer events include the Wimbledon Championship in June and July, one of the biggest tennis events of any year. London Pride in June celebrates the LGBT community with massive parades and parties. The Notting Hill Carnival in August is one giant Caribbean party with music, dancing and elaborate parades. During certain summer months, you can tour portions of Buckingham Palace when the royal family is vacationing in Scotland. Music festivals dominate the summer schedule, including British Summer Time, an enormous two-weekend rock and pop festival in Hyde Park.
Fall’s biggest event is Bonfire Night. The November 5th holiday marks the moment in 1605 when rebel Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The night is commemorated with massive fireworks displays throughout the city.
Holiday shoppers flood Oxford Street during the winter months. It’s also a great season for the arts, with some of the best theater, opera and ballet offerings available in the entire year.
Getting around London
The London Underground, which travels to most major attractions, is the best way to avoid traffic and the fastest way around the city. Buses are even cheaper, but they have to compete with city traffic so they’re not as fast as the subway. Buy a reloadable pay-as-you-go Oyster card, and you can use it to ride both the tube and the city buses. Depending on how much public transportation you use, Oyster cards can end up costing less than single-fare tickets.
London’s famed black cabs are everywhere, but the fares can be very expensive. Car rental agencies are commonplace as well, but some Americans find it challenging to drive on the left side of the road.