With mild year-round temperatures and a social calendar that never quits, there’s no such thing as a bad time to visit London. That said, the number of visitors from both overseas and around the UK swells during the summer months when school’s out and the winter holiday period. So, to avoid congestion, the best times to visit London are during the shoulder seasons of late winter/early spring (January to April; excluding the Easter holidays) and the fall (September to November).
Weather in London
London has a reputation for being a rainy and cold city, but that’s not entirely accurate. Many US cities (including New York) are actually rainier than London. Though London does tend to be cloudy, London is actually the country’s driest city and experiences four seasons — sometimes all in one day.
Winters rarely dip below 40 F (4 C) and snow is uncommon with the odd burst of flurries rarely accumulating. (In the rare event of any buildup, the city and its airports grind to a halt.) Days are short in winter, as the sun sets around 4:00 p.m.
Spring comes early in London with fair weather and blossoming trees sometimes emerging as early as late February. On average, spring and fall tend to be London’s rainiest months, but it’s not a major difference from the other seasons.
Summer in London is relatively comfortable compared to other European capitals with daytime temperatures in the 70s F (20s C); however, there is often a week or two of extreme heat and humidity with temperatures reaching 90 F (32 C). London isn’t equipped for the sweltering weather, as many places — including some London Underground lines — don’t have air conditioning. But the warm weather brings out Londoners in droves, and summer brings long daylight hours (the sun doesn’t set until about 11 p.m.).
Peak Season in London
Summer is London’s peak season, and you can expect long lines at tourist attractions and high room rates at hotels. For main attractions like the London Eye and the Tower of London, you can pre-book your tickets online several months in advance.
As most museums are free (barring special exhibits), there’s no need to pre-book; however, to avoid crowds go early in the day and skip weekend visits as London museums are a popular family-friendly pastime for Brits living outside of the city.
Due to the number of hotels, hostels, and holiday rentals available in London, there’s no shortage of choice when it comes to accommodation, but book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Like any big European city, London is also busy during Christmas. Public transportation is unavailable on Christmas Day and limited on Boxing Day (December 26). Most of London’s most famous attractions and businesses are closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
During the British school holidays, the city is also congested. School holidays occur during summer (usually from July through September); around the Christmas and Easter holidays; and at “half term:” autumn half term is usually end of October and spring half term is usually mid-February.
Though you’ll need a winter coat, January—the city’s coldest month—is a great time to visit London as the holiday hordes have thinned.
- On January 1, the streets around Piccadilly host London’s New Year’s Day Parade. You can buy grandstand tickets for the festival and parade in advance.
- During the first two weeks of January, shop ‘til you drop at the January sales. Hit the high streets (main shopping thoroughfares) like Oxford Street and Regents Street and heritage department stores like Harrods, Selfridges, and Fortnum & Mason.
- January 25 is Burns Night, an homage to the Scottish poet Robert Burns, which is celebrated throughout the UK with Scottish-themed food and drink served at many pubs and some restaurants. (There’s usually haggis involved.)
Because the spring half term falls mid-month, there are more children and families in London in February as compared to January, but it’s still a good month to visit—especially if you’re not traveling with kids.
- Celebrate Chinese New Year in London’s Chinatown with a small parade and various festivities.
- Valentine’s Day is honored at many London restaurants with special menus or festive décor. (Tables for two at top London restaurants should be booked in advance.)
Spring is one of the best times to visit, as London is such a green city and is filled with parks, trees, and flowers.
- St. Patrick’s Day is honored in Trafalgar Square with the London St. Patrick's Day Festival, which usually takes place on the weekend closest to St. Patrick’s Day (March 17). With a considerable Irish population, expect crowds at London’s many Irish pubs.
- In the UK, Mother’s Day falls in March (the date varies based on the Christian calendar), so expect things like mum-themed afternoon teas and special menus at some restaurants.
Don’t forget your umbrella, as spring can be a bit rainy. Easter public holidays (Good Friday and Easter Monday) sometimes fall as early as March or as late as May. Expect the long weekend to bring crowds, closures, and celebrations. Schools are usually closed for two weeks around Easter.
- The London Marathon is usually in April; expect road closures.
May is the start of the peak tourist season, but it’s a lovely time to visit because of the weather. There are two May Bank Holidays (public holidays when the banks and many businesses are closed). They usually take place on the first and last Mondays of the month.
- The quintessentially British Chelsea Flower Show is a five-day celebration of all things floral and is held in the upscale neighborhood of Chelsea.
The social calendar is full swing in June, and the city is jam-packed with international and British tourists alike, enjoying the extra hours of daylight.
- Trooping the Colour (Queen's Birthday Parade) extends from Buckingham Palace and includes an appearance by Her Majesty the Queen. You’ll need to dress for the occasion and buy tickets in advance.
- Pride in London attracts an estimated one million visitors to the city and many LGBT events, including the parade, take place around Oxford Street.
- Wimbledon, the world-famous tennis tournament, sometimes starts at the end of June.
July is London’s hottest month and one of its busiest and most vibrant.
- There are tons of music festivals going on in London in the summer, but the most famous is The Proms, a two-week series of contemporary and classical music concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington.
Like July, August is warm and crowded. There’s a Bank Holiday on the last Monday of the month.
As school starts again and the weather gets cooler, the crowds start to thin in London, making it an excellent time to visit.
- Bursting with a creative and diverse range of events, The Thames Festival takes place the first two weeks of the month.
October brings a bit more rain, but a bit fewer people.
- The prestigious BFI London Film Festival brings out Britain’s biggest stars.
November is also a good time to visit, the weather is cooling off even more so crowds are quite small.
- Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated on November 5 throughout the UK and commemorates Guy Fawkes’ failure to blow up the House of Parliament. There are firework shows and bonfires throughout the city.
- The massive Lord Mayor’s Show is an elaborate parade and show, and it shuts down much of London for the day. It's free to watch the procession, but tickets are sold for the grandstands.
In December, London is practically bursting with festive cheer. The city sparkles with Christmas lights (especially around Oxford Circus) and many holiday markets. Christmas Day and Boxing Day (December 26) are both public holidays and most business will be closed. Around the holiday period, there’s limited transportation and no public transportation on Christmas Day.
- On New Year’s Eve, London puts on a big fireworks show on the River Thames. Tickets always sell out well in advance