What is the best month to spend as a tourist in London,England?
November 1, 2011 8:37 AM   Subscribe

What is the best month to visit London, England? We are most interested in theater, art, museums and historical sights. Which month offers a good chance at decent weather as well as a full cultural schedule?
posted by uans to Travel & Transportation around London, England (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
There is no time when you're guaranteed good weather in London. We had a hot spring (April/ May), and then a cold, wet, miserable summer. Cultural stuff goes on all year round, but the summer months (June/ July) tend to be especially full.
posted by tavegyl at 8:45 AM on November 1, 2011

June-August probably have the best weather, but they also co-incide with the summer school holidays (more tourists and higher prices for hotels etc). The weather's very changable really, in the last few years there's been Springs with amazing weather and Summers with shit weather, and the equal number of years with the opposite.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:47 AM on November 1, 2011

I should add, there is no real low season for museums and galleries, but they do tend to be especially full during the summer, during bank holidays, and during school half terms. You might wish to google those dates for next year and see if you can plan around them.
posted by tavegyl at 8:49 AM on November 1, 2011

Basically forget the weather, just aim for a period of time which is not a school holiday (or a public holiday like Christmas, Easter, or a bank holiday).
UK Bank Holidays
UK school term dates (a random example, they are mostly the same I think)

Oh and if you're planning on coming in 2012, I would probably avoid your visit coinciding the Olympics.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:50 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

...coinciding with the Olympics.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:51 AM on November 1, 2011

And as EndsOfInvention says more clearly than I did, by 'full' I mean 'full of people' rather than 'full of fun things to do and see'.
posted by tavegyl at 8:52 AM on November 1, 2011

Speaking totally personally, I would go to coincide with the Globe's performance schedule, which is April to October. Seconding avoiding the Olympics.
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:04 AM on November 1, 2011

You can get a general sense for weather patterns using weatherspark. After the immediate specific forecast it shows averaged weather data (for some of the data sources).

In general, London is hotter than the rest of England due to urban heat sink effects and keep in mind that the English are not big on A/C so if that is important to you aim for early spring or fall when it is less needed. The Underground (subway) is awful, or to be precise more awful, when it is hot.

It usually rains often but only a little. The typical North American downpour is pretty rare in England.

Also if you want to see anything outside of London (Oxford, Cambridge, etc...) buy your train tickets about a month in advance to avoid having to take a out a second mortgage on your home).

Be very careful about star ratings of hotels. A four star London hotel is most definitely not the same as a four star American hotel. We gave up on the small hotels in the Victorian terraces and now only stay in the large chains like Novatel after too many bad experiences with 3 star hotels turning out to be bedbug infested dumps with no A/C or air circulation.
posted by srboisvert at 9:07 AM on November 1, 2011

The average high in September this year was 70F, up from 65F last year and 68F in 2009.

It'll also be a touch quieter than Jun-August.
posted by Magnakai at 9:07 AM on November 1, 2011

I've only been to London once, but I went with friends that had been several times.

We were there the second-fourth weeks in September of last year. The weather was glorious: warm during the day, cool but not cold at night. The streets and museums weren't crowded, and there were plenty of things to do both during the day and at night. Schoolchildren were apparently starting classes because there were very few school groups at museums, etc (hooray!). We got a great price on the place we stayed because it was the "shoulder season".

The Olympics will be over, the kids will be in school, the tourists will have gone home, and the weather will (okay, MIGHT) be beautiful. September.
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:09 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

What EndsOfInvention said. You need to avoid school holidays and the Olympics (unless it is of interest).

The Spring-Summer weather patterns in recent years in London have been so variable it is impossible to predict whether you'll get a heatwave in April or a deluge in August, so don't even try to game the weather.

The only other consideration I can think of is to time your visit with the summer solstice (end June) to get advantage of the long evenings. It's lovely walking around London at night during that part of the year. Coming out of dinner or a play with the sky still light (circa 9.30-10.00 pm) is nice.
posted by bright cold day at 9:25 AM on November 1, 2011

nthing September for all the logistical reasons: post-Olympics, school holidays over, fewer tourists, cheaper flights and hotels, it's still light until late. The weather isn't something you can predict, but Septembers seem to taunt the schoolkids these days.
posted by holgate at 9:26 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I suppose it is foolish to second guess the weather anywhere anymore.
oliverburkeman --I had suspected the theater season is very quiet in the summer months--is that also true for independent theater--or what do you call
"off-off-broadway" in London?
posted by uans at 9:40 AM on November 1, 2011

You can visit London anytime but one thing worth remembering is that the days are very short from November to March; the sun went down at about 4:30pm today. Of course, the flipside is in mid summer, it stays light until about 10pm. But yeah, as others have noted, the weather can be good or bad anytime. September and October were great this year. Today was nice, if short.
posted by rhymer at 10:04 AM on November 1, 2011

September/Oct or April/May. Hate to rub it in, since I know it's too late now (ooh, unless you have time machine access...!) but I must chime in - the autumn here this year has been gorgeous. Maybe you'll get the same in 2012?
posted by bluestocking at 10:36 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm from London, but I live on the other side of the pond now. I was back there in June for an extended stay and it was great. Well, the weather wasn't, but there are a lot of cultural events on and the chances of the weather being half-way decent are good. You could extend that back into May, and forward to July with the caveat being that July is full on summer with all the attendant winding down of cultural things and ramping up of tourists. The added bonus of June, as others have mentioned, is the very long days. Daylight until 10pm is a wonderful thing.
posted by ob at 10:58 AM on November 1, 2011

Historical sights are my thing - and for any that are well-known you want to go out of UK school holidays. In the off-season you can queue for more than 30mins to get into Westminster Abbey, and I wouldn't dare to guess how long you'd have to wait at busy times of the year. If you're more into things that aren't on the standard tourist trail (say, the Hunterian Museum, Eltham Palace etc) this is much less of a problem.
posted by Coobeastie at 11:09 AM on November 1, 2011

May can be surprisingly nice, but June - early September probably give the best odds for decent weather. But yeah, this is the UK - there are no guarantees. Today was lovely in London, for instance. Mild and sunny, and here we are in November.

Given the interests you mention I'd say weather is not so important, but then again London's parks and commons are really very pleasant on a sunny day, with a picnic and a bottle of crisp white (yes, here in the land of the unfree we can drink alcohol in public!)

Just avoid the school holidays. Me? I'd probably plump for late May through June or September. But you know what? It doesn't matter that much. It's London. You don't come to London for the sun. It's just a nice bonus when it happens. :-)
posted by Decani at 11:51 AM on November 1, 2011

Warm summer rain with bright, late evenings is waaay better than a cold, dark rainy winter.
posted by wutangclan at 1:23 PM on November 1, 2011

My birthday is April 30th and I always had lovely weather around then when I lived in London. I would suggest May and September. Avoid the Olympics at any cost.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:46 PM on November 1, 2011

Don't forget about the Paralympics too - they're taking place between 29 August and 9 September. I would suggest June as a good month - although the weather is always unpredictable.

But in June the roses in Regents Park will be at their best and if we're lucky enough to get warm weather, it won't be too hot. The London Underground on a hot day is unbearable, as there's no air-conditioning. Hell, there's barely any ventilation down there.
posted by essexjan at 4:08 PM on November 1, 2011

As an ex-Londoner, I'd normally say June. Chance of good weather, before the school summer holidays, and lots of daylight. Next year, however, avoiding the Olympics will be the priority and September makes more sense.
posted by normy at 6:25 PM on November 1, 2011

As another ex-Londoner, I'd say that it's a total lottery. It can be raging hot in June/July/August or wet and cold. It can be really nice in the first half of September or freezing. You learn to term any day when it's not actually raining *on* you as fine.
Just book around your work commitments.
posted by Susurration at 7:30 PM on November 1, 2011

Not sure about the cultural side of things, but I was in the UK in April 2009. The weather was much better than I expected (a bit of rain, but more days where it didn't rain, and also quite a bit of sunshine - I suspect were were lucky though!), all the bulbs were flowering, we didn't have to line up for anything, and it was easy to find accomodation. I have vague plans to return next year in April/May.
posted by peppermintfreddo at 10:04 PM on November 1, 2011

There's not much more I can add to this thread as everyone else seems to have covered all bases.

I just wanted to point out the Climate section of Wikipedia's entry for London. It has recent stats for precipitation (mm), amount of rainy days, maximum high temperatures, etc. It brings some objectivity to the discussion.

So if you're looking to do the following: maximise temperature and sunny days; minimise rain; avoid huge crowds due to school holidays, public holidays and the Olympics… then your best bet is early July 2012 (or before).
posted by fakelvis at 12:45 AM on November 2, 2011

Uans, the theatre season in London is great and lively all year long. This includes West End shows (the equivalent of the American "Broadway") "ff-West-End (the equivalent of "off Broadway") and "fringe" (IE, "off off Broadway.") There are only three exceptions:

1. As Oliverburkman mentioned, the Globe Theater runs April to October, because it's an open-air theater, so it requires a reasonable amount of warmth and daylight.

2. In August, a lot of performers leave London and head to Edinburgh for the Edinburgh festival. The big West End plays will carry on regardless, but you'll have a bit less choice for off-West End and fringe.

3. From about 24 December to 2 January, the city is really quiet. Everything will be closed on Christmas Day (including museums and theatres), and many things will be closed the rest of that period.

I nth everybody who says that May or September will maximize your odds of good weather, reasonable sunlight, and not-too-many tourists. Also, I would avoid December and January, and perhaps November and February as well. Those are the months when cold weather and early sunsets make it a bit harder to enjoy walking around, soaking in the architecture and the parks.

That said: London is glorious any day of the year. You really can't go wrong. On the coldest, wettest, windiest day of the year, London is still one of the best places in the world for anybody who loves theatre, art, museums, or history.
posted by yankeefog at 3:40 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

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