5 Free Ways to Enjoy a Sunny Day in London
It may not seem like it at the moment, but summer is just around the corner, and with this Sunday forecast to hit the mid-high twenties I’m sure, like me, you are all starting to come up with plans for how to enjoy this fine weather.
But, London is expensive! It’d be great to go shopping on Regent Street or visit an immaculate palace or even hop on the train to Brighton – but all of those things cost money that a lot of us simply do not have.
So here is a list of some my favourite cheap/free activities for a sunny day in London.
1. Hyde Park or St James’ Park
One thing that London has an abundance of is great parks. Unlike many modern cities you are rarely more than 15 minutes’ walk from a large green area. My personal favourites to frequent on a day out in central London are Hyde Park and St. James Park. Hyde Park is of course the largest park in Central London and as such it never takes long to find a nice sunny spot to sit down and even have a bit of space to throw a ball around.
There is the lake with paddle and row boats if you get bored (though they are quite costly) and you are of course right beside Marble Arch and Oxford Street if you get bored of just sitting around. The front of the park is often the most packed full area but if you take a stroll down towards Lancaster Gate and the crowds usually tend to disappear within a few minutes. One highlight of the summer season is the Hyde Park festival which always hosts a great line ups (Florence and the Machine and Mumford and Sons will there this year to my knowledge) and though we may not all be able to get tickets we can still appreciate some of the experience if you find a nice spot just outside the barriers.
St. James’s Park which lies right beside Trafalgar Square is a bit more tranquil. Though, due to it’s location, it is usually busy take a walk around and enjoy the wildlife and flowers and within a few minutes you will usually find a place to relax. Personally I usually try to get an area with a view of the Palace, there is nothing quite like having a few drinks in view of one of the world’s most famous and luxurious buildings.
If you get there early (11amish) then you may want to go watch the Changing of the Guards ceremony down by the palace gates but if you miss this still keep your eyes and ears open as there may yet some other military or royal procession going on during the day.
2. Primrose Hill or Greenwich Park
If you’ve been here for a while you may be getting a bit tired of the masses of people that flood through the centre of the city every day, the tubes may now seem like a sweaty nightmare or you may simply wish to try out somewhere new.
Well, look no further than either Primrose Hill on the North side of the river or Greenwich Park in the South East. Primrose Hill lies to the North of Regent’s Park and is about a 10 minute walk from Camden tube station. In truth there is really not much here except for an absolutely incredible view of the city. It is a great spot to come for a few drinks in the sun or to watch the sun set over the London sky line.
Again it does tend to draw a crowd but most people com for a picture and disappear quickly afterwards and tend to congregate right at the top of the hill, take a few steps downwards and you’ll soon be able to forget about the swarms of tourist only a few feet away. There is of course the benefit of being only minutes away from Camden town, one of London’s most popular and intriguing areas.
Likewise Greenwich Park offers a fabulous view, hike up to the observatory and you’ll see the city in an entirely new way. There is the benefit of a Café up here and for those with a few pounds and astronomical interests then the Observatory is there to be explored. One friend of mine loves this place simply due to the Greenwich Meantime line which marks the spot from where the time zones of the world are measured. From here you are only a few minutes’ walk from Greenwich itself which hosts some of the best little pubs in the entire city.
3. Camden Market
Another great aspect of life in London is the abundance of Markets throughout the city. Borough Market, Brick Lane, Portobello and a host of others are all great ways to spend a few hours perusing the goods which the city has to offer. My personal favourite however has to be the Camden Markets. Now this may be because I lived in Camden when I first moved to London and still feel a call to the place but I have honestly yet to meet anyone who has not been amazed when I brought them here.
There are technically 3 or 4 different markets here but they all pretty much join up with each other. The most extensive of these is the Stables Market which lies just past the canal on your left hand side. I believe I once read that between the markets there are over 400 stalls here (don’t quote me on that though). On sale there is everything you could imagine from the cute and cuddly to the creative and wacky to the vintage and valued to the downright weird (a bit of a Camden speciality).
There is also great street art in Camden and a number of different food areas sample cuisine from throughout the world with a personal favourite of mine being a stall which serves fruit covered in chocolate. There is also the benefit of having the canal locks nearby so that if, after the hours of fascinating browsing is over you need to rest your weary feet but do not want to sit outside a Starbucks then I would definitely recommend perching yourself alongside the lock to relax and watch the canal barges float past.
4. South Bank
A walk along the South Bank may at the beginning seem like a terrible idea. The crowds which surround Westminster Bridge and the London Eye can be quite daunting and in no ways fun, but please remember, this is not all the South Bank has to offer.
Personally I like to start off down around Lambeth Bridge and walk east from there. This way your journey starts off calm and relaxed and with an outstanding view of the House of Parliament in an area which I have often (even on a sunny Saturday in summer time) found to be virtually deserted (by London standards that is – so still other around having a leisurely stroll but not too many). Of course you do have to bear the torment of the tourist area for a few moments but if you really despise this turn up towards Waterloo for a few hundred meters and then come back down to the river.
Personally I am willing to deal with the crowds in the hopes of coming across a new and original street performer who are around this area every weekend. Once you’ve gotten past the crowds follow the river the whole way down to Tower Bridge, this way you will pass some of the best sites in the building without being jostled back and forth. Highlights along the way are St Paul’s Cathedral, The Globe Theatre, the City of London, Millennium Bridge, Tate Modern, HMS Belfast and The Tower of London. Treat the South Bank like any other area of London – there will be crowds but learn to work with this and you will get some great experiences.
5. The Sky Garden
Now this one takes a bit of planning but is definitely worth it. The Sky Garden is located at the top of the Walkie-Talkie building on Fenchurch Street. You need to book your tickets to go up about 3 weeks in advance and print them out prior to your arrival (you may be able to use smart phone to show ticket I never checked). You get a time slot to arrive and are allowed up for an hour (though most people I know have stayed longer and nothing has been said to them).
The gardens themselves are quite beautiful and the bar offers drinks and snacks at an average price for the city – which seems amazing as they really could get away with over-charging if they wanted to. But simply the reason for coming up here is the absolutely spectacular view. St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, The Palaces of Westminster and countless other amazing landmarks are all easily visible from up here. They also control the amount of people they allow up so that you never feel crushed in. The experience is not unique – you can go up the Shard building too, but here it is free!
Well there you have it, some of the best ways to spend a sunny day in London without spending a penny. There are of course an endless list of other things to do – brilliant beer gardens, lidos, beautiful walks and parks, river cruises and tour etc. but don’t feel that just because London is expensive and you may not be rolling in money that you shouldn’t enjoy the best parts of the city.
By Niall Halpenny