Summer-like experiences in London in the winter?
November 7, 2011 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Is there somewhere in or near London, UK that can give a summer-like experience for a few hours? I'm looking for the opposite of a snowdome or an ice bar: a space that's warm, bright and summer-themed.

A friend of mine is used to warmer climes and is getting a bit apprehensive about the encroaching grey, dark, cold winter. To cheer her up a bit, I want to take her somewhere that feels summery, or where we can at least play at pretending that it's summer for a few hours. Warm, bright (ideally daylight-ish) and a suggestion of being outdoors.

All I can think of are beach-themed bars and swimming pools (although I can't think of any of those), but I'm sure you have plenty of better suggestions too. Cheesy and kitsch are fine as long as they're strong enough to be funny. Come to think of it, an appropriately-themed spa could also be good, even if I (male) can't go with her.

To forestall the internet shrinks: This isn't someone battling SAD or similar problems. She just hasn't really had a summer this year and misses it.
posted by metaBugs to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In Washington DC, there's an enormous greenhouse that houses the Botanic Garden that was my saving grace in my winters there. It didn't necessarily have the bright light thing, but the natural warmth and green things and all that was wonderful. I don't know if London has anything like that, but if so, I recommend it.
posted by brainmouse at 9:07 AM on November 7, 2011

Kew Gardens has some large, tropical glasshouses.
posted by BinaryApe at 9:13 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get thee to Kew. The Temperate House, the Palm House, and the Orangery for tea.
posted by holgate at 9:18 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's a less good (but in its own way more intriguing, and possibly more convenient) tropical greenhouse built into the Barbican Centre. As I recall it has ridiculous opening hours and days, so check in advance.
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:22 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Palm House at Kew Gardens. It's kept hot and tropical all year round and it's full of huge beautiful exotic plants. You can go by underground - Kew Gardens Station on the District Line, or by train - Kew Bridge station from Waterloo.
posted by sleepy boy at 9:24 AM on November 7, 2011

London Zoo also has a tropical zoo, based in Brentford, just next to Kew. Avoid the Rainforest Cafe in central London at all costs. You could have tea at the Orangery in Kensington if you wanted to stay in central London. It's summer-ish.

It's not remotely near London, but if you want the full summer in winter experience, then the place to go is the Eden Project.

Seconding others, though - Kew's glasshouses are the best place. Petersham Nurseries does have a nice indoor conservatory type area. It has heaters in it. It's quite pleasant.

In summary: for the perfect day: go to the go to Kew Gardens and stay until lunch. Then go to the Tropical Zoo and on to Petersham Nurseries for afternoon tea.

Optional: get the 20:10 flight from Gatwick to Newquay and then go to the Eden Project the next day.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:57 AM on November 7, 2011

What about The Eden Project? On the main page it says "steamy rainforest like environment." That sounds nice and warm to me.

The Eden Project is in Cornwall which isn't super close, but not really far either.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:57 PM on November 7, 2011

The Living Rainforest outside Reading is easier than the Eden Project if you have a car. Not quite on the same scale, but good.
posted by cromagnon at 1:15 PM on November 7, 2011

I think you need an indoor water-park. Not just for kids! We go to one in every year in January or February to help the mid-winter blues in the US.
posted by maxg94 at 1:45 PM on November 7, 2011

Response by poster: Those are some great suggestions, thanks folks!

I've seen the Barbican Centre's greenhouse, but for some reason convinced myself that it's only for residents of the estate. I'll definitely look into the opening times, even if it does turn out to be one of those places that's ostensibly open to the public but seems actively opposed to actually having visitors.

Getting to a water park is a great idea (I've actually never been), but in the shorter term I think a trip to Kew is probably the best.
posted by metaBugs at 4:17 AM on November 8, 2011

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