11 Things to Do in London This Summer

AHL's guide to a 'Hot Vax Summer'

Parliament Hill Lido
Parliament Hill Lido

By Caroline Lever

If the newspapers are to be believed, we are forecast for a ‘Hot Vax Summer’ — a season of promiscuity and decadence to counter a year of sensual deprivation. And I must confess that even as I sat down to write this list, I felt an unfamiliar tingle of excitement — the imagination of my own dormant, impish spirit, lit up with the potential of summer. London has such a wealth of incredible experiences but we’ve narrowed it down to a few places that we’ll be gallivanting about this summer.

Go and see some art

One of the things I have missed most this lockdown are my regular gallery visits. This summer, I am particularly excited to see Matthew Barney at The Hayward Gallery — the artist’s first U.K. museum presentation in over a decade. The V&A is renowned for spectacular exhibitions, and this summer’s blockbuster —Alice: Curious and Curiouser —  about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,promises to be a truly immersive and theatrical treat for adults and children alike. Finally, Lisson Gallery’s exhibition of celebrated artist, filmmaker and writer, John Akomfrah, caught my attention. Titled, “The Unintended Beauty of Disaster,” it reflects on Black Lives Matter protests, demonstrations against imperialist monuments and the rethinking of historical narratives through a series of photo texts and video works.

A Mad Tea Party, Salvador Dali, 1969. © Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS 2019
A Mad Tea Party
Alice’, Pirelli 2018 calendar shot by Tim Walker and styled by Edward Enninful to an Alice in Wonderland theme, featuring Duckie Thot. © Tim Walker Studio Courtesy of Pirelli & C.S.p.A
Alice

Cool off with some al fresco swimming

Surrounded by trees with rolling grassy meadows, Hampstead Ponds are one of the most magical spots in London to go swimming. Or for those who prefer a less ‘au naturel’ dip or just want to swim lanes, there’s also Parliament Hill Lido, a beautiful 1930s-style unheated lido right on the edge of the heath with an excellent café serving the best falafel for after.

Parliament Hill Lido
Parliament Hill Lido

Dance it out at a music festival

Is there anything more euphoric than dancing in a crowded field to live music? Several of the larger festivals are postponed another year, but there are still plenty of options to get your music fix in London. This summer you’ll find me front and center at All Points East which also offers the added benefit of a bath and a bed at the end of a long day/night of dancing.

All Points East
All Points East

Visit the London Design Biennale at Somerset House

See works by the world’s most ambitious and imaginative designers, curators and design institutes during London’s Design Biennale, curated by Artistic Director ES Devlin around the theme “Resonance.” The exhibition will also feature an installation by Devlin entitled “Forest for Change,” featuring over 400 trees from the U.K. and Northern Europe — a spectacular collision of art and nature in the courtyard of Somerset House.

The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court featuring Forest for Change — Image by Ed Reeve courtesy of Somerset House
Forest for Change- Ed Reeve

Eat out!

You have to love us Brits, who, faced with wind, rain, and unseasonably cold weather, to dine outside across London this spring. In fact one of the most positive things to emerge from this dreary season is a newly discovered al fresco dining culture. If you find yourself ion one of Soho’s newly pedestrianized streets on a summer evening I promise you the atmosphere will be second to none. Plus, the expanded seating arrangement means it is now easier to get a table at Barrafina or Duck Soup — two of my favorite restaurants in Soho.

Barrafina on Dean Street
Barrafina on Dean Street

Visit a market

Strolling around a market is quintessential London summer. I often visit Borough Market to pick up some delicious wine and nibbles to upgrade my BBQ or picnic. If you love vintage and fashion, Friday mornings are best spent browsing Portobello market. Meanwhile, no Sunday is complete without a stroll down the canal to Columbia Road to choose flowers for the week. In the winter the idea of waking at the crack of dawn to shiver at an outdoor antiques market in Surrey makes me want to dive deeper into my duvet, but in summer it is worth the journey to Sunbury or Kempton where you will find a treasure trove of furniture and antiques — our answer to Paris’ Clignancourt.

Al fresco dining at Borough Market
Al fresco dining at Borough Market

Visit The 20th Serpentine Pavilion (for some more art!)

To reach the Serpentine Pavilion and the galleries, one must first walk through one of London’s most beautiful Royal Parks — Hyde Park — perhaps even picking up an ice-cream or stopping for a picnic en-route. (This particular combination of art, nature and ice cream makes it one of my favorite outings).

This year, the Serpentine Pavilion has been designed by  Johannesburg-based practice Counterspace, directed by Sumayya Vally and includes a specially commissioned sound program, “Listening to the City.”  While there, do not miss the exhibition of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor, whose career as a studio portraitist, photo journalist and Black lifestyle photographer spans six decades and records major social and political changes in London and Accra.

Serpentine Pavilion
Serpentine Pavilion 2021 designed by Counterspace. Courtesy of Serpentine Pavilion.

Go mudlarking along the Thames

Walk along the Thames at low tide and you might discover treasure: Roman coins, pottery, fragments of centuries-old London life washed up or poking out of the newly exposed land — what’s known as the “foreshore.” Technically anyone searching the foreshore should have a permit, however you can also join a brilliant tour to learn more about the history of London and the Thames.

Mudlarking fragments. Photo courtesy of Christie's
Mudlarking fragments. Photo courtesy of Christie's

Escape the city for a stay at the Mitre Hotel

Just a 30 minute train hop from central London, perched on the banks of the tranquil River Thames, you’ll find an easy city escape at the Mitre Hotel in East Molesey. Bring a picnic basket packed full of goodies from the hotel and stroll over to Bushy Park — London’s second largest. The property boasts two stunning restaurants and bars where you’ll experience British hospitality at its finest — look out for Gemma for great chats and Mike for excellent cocktail and wine recommendations.

The Mitre Hampton Court Hotel

Outdoor adventures for adrenaline-freaks

Finally, if throwing yourself from a tree-top canopy at great speed is your bag, you might want to check out Go Ape, who have three zip-lining adventure locations across London. Or if you are more inclined to get wet,Lee Valley offers white water rafting on an Olympic course that is sure to get your pulse fluttering.

London Go Ape adventure
London Go Ape adventure

Looking for more summer tips in other great cities around the world? Check out our Berlin and New York summer guides.

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