We love London in the sunshine, but we also love London on a rainy day. From settling in for afternoon tea at a cosy board game café to mooching around some of the best museums and art galleries in the world, London is packed with rainy day activities- you just have to know where to look. We asked Londoners for their best tips for things to do on a rainy day in the capital. So all you need to do is pick up your brolly!
Over two million years of history are waiting to be uncovered at the British Museum. Journey back to ancient Egypt to see the world famous Rosetta Stone with its ancient hieroglyphs, explore Mexico’s Aztec artefacts or delve in the cultural wonder of Africa. 60 free galleries await you at the British Museum, which dates back to 1759. Located in Bloomsbury in London’s West End, don’t miss the historic Reading Room, said to be one of London’s greatest sights. Unbelievably, the British Museum spans over 13 acres, so if you’re in need of a guide who knows their Egyptian mummies from their Parthenon sculptures, you could always book a London Walks British Museum Tour.
Another must-do rainy day activity in London is the Science Museum. Packed with exhibitions, stories behind the objects we use every day and extraordinary inventions that have changed how we live, the Science Museum is fun for all. Children will love the interactive Wonderlab with its seven zones including chemistry bar, friction slides and colour room. See collection highlights like the space suit of Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space, in the Exploring Space exhibition or Amy Johnson’s Gipsy Moth aeroplane which flew from Croydon to Australia in 1928. And did we mention that the Science Museum is free?
For a wet weather activity in London, you can’t go wrong with The Natural History Museum. If it looks a little familiar, that’s because movies like The Mummy, Tomb Raider and Paddington were filmed here. Key standouts of The Natural History Museum have to be the 25-metre blue whale skeleton, suspended in the air in the majestic Hintze Hall, and the dinosaur and mammal galleries. Other galleries explore the world of volcanoes and earthquakes, gemstones and minerals or prehistoric fossils. Situated in the royal borough of Kensington, the Natural History Museum first opened in 1881 and is now home to 80 million specimens spanning 4.5 billion years. To do the Natural History Museum justice, you could always book our own guided tour.
There is surely no better way to spend a rainy day in London than in the company of some of the world’s most famous artworks. The National Gallery is home to paintings from Titian, Cézanne, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Constable, da Vinci, Botticelli and many other masters of their craft. To see masterpieces like Claude Monet’s Bathers at La Grenouillère in person, combined with the regular exhibitions at The National Gallery will surely turn any London downpour into a delight. As The National Gallery sits in the heart of London at Trafalgar Square, you’ll be in prime position for lots of other London landmarks such as Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery. True art buffs should book in for the best art tour ever.
A feast of modern and contemporary art from around the world, Tate Modern sits in a former power station on London’s Southbank. Head to Tate Modern on a rainy day in London and you’ll be greeted by thought provoking installations in its vast Turbine Hall, like the iconic setting sun by Olafur Eliasson. Then there are the collections by artists such as Turner and Rothko, a journey through British art from 1540 to the present day, or time to just wander and soak in the sheer artistic brilliance. For a guided tour of one of London’s most enigmatic, quirky buildings, take the Tate Modern tour.
Step into the fascinating world of time and place at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Part of the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory is devoted to royal astronomer John Flamsteed. Time your visit to see the red time ball drop at 1pm, once used to signal time to boats on the Thames. If the rain lets up a little, venture outside to see the actual Meridian Line in the courtyard of the Royal Observatory. Every place on earth is measured east or west from this line. The Royal Observatory is also home to the only planetarium in London, the Peter Harrison Planetarium.
One of the most famous landmarks in London, the Tower of London has seen it all. Anne Boleyn, awaiting her coronation in the Tower and then later in 1536, executed by Henry VIII for treason. Anne’s daughter, the princess Elizabeth who would become Elizabeth I, locked up in the tower by her sister Mary. There is so much intrigue and history wrapped up in the Tower of London that you could spend many a rainy day here. Don’t miss the 23,578 glittering gemstones of the Crown Jewels and search out the six resident ravens. Legend has it that the Tower of London will fall if the ravens ever leave, so there’s an extra raven at the Tower for good measure. A good tip to avoid the usual queues at the Tower of London is to book a tour with London Walks.
Spanning an epic 266m on the River Thames, the Houses of Parliament, also known as Westminster Palace, is a true icon of the London cityscape. This vast 1,100 room gothic palace was built in the mid-19th century but its history dates back to 1097 and William II. You’ll have to book if you want to while away a rainy afternoon in the Houses of Parliament, but if you manage it, tours take in the Lords Chamber, Central Lobby and Commons Chamber. You can even enjoy afternoon tea there too. Of course, no trip to the Houses of Parliament is complete without a glance at Big Ben, the world’s most famous clock.
Who could forget Lady Diana Spencer arriving at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London for her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981, vast train trailing behind her? St. Paul’s was also the venue for another royal wedding, that of the Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII, to Princess Catherine of Aragon who would later marry Henry VIII. Or perhaps the underground crypt would interest you more. St. Paul’s underground crypt is the final resting place of Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Steeped in history, it is easy to imagine those that walked before you as you discover the golden gallery and the whispering gallery. To discover more of St. Paul’s secrets, the St. Paul’s tour from London Walks is your saviour.
Head over London Bridge (not to be confused with Tower Bridge) and you’ll be at one of London’s rainy day- or any day- gems, Borough Market. For over 1000 years, Londoners have come to Borough Market to buy their bread, fish and meat. Today, Borough Market where you can find the finest world produce in one unique London experience. Take the chance to sample some proper London street food with an international flavour, like grilled seafood skewers and Middle Eastern meze. The full market is on Wednesday to Saturday.
If you want a taste of the authentic London, dodge the drizzle and head for Old Spitalfields Market for some shopping. The original East End marketplace open 7 days a week, Old Spitalfields Market is home to small, local producers, quirky independents and comforting London fare from The Kitchens. Best of all, this eclectic slice of historic London can all be found under one historic (and rain proof) Victorian roof.
London is a melting pot of cultures and you can immerse yourself in the London vibe at Brick Lane market in Shoreditch. Located in London’s East End, where Jack the Ripper once prowled, Brick Lane is now where the cool people congregate. On a rainy day, the Truman Markets are a haven. Get your crafts at the Backyard Market, street food from the Sunday Upmarket, your vintage at the Vintage Market and tea with a side order of chintz at The Tea Rooms. For the ultimate in street food though, it has to be Brick Lane Beigel Bake.
Whether you want to shop or just wander, Covent Garden is an experience in itself but if it’s indoor activities you need there are three markets at Covent Garden to tempt you. From handmade crafts and antiques at The Apple Market, jewellery and sweet treats at the East Colonnade and the historic Jubilee Market, you’ll have stall after stall of unique produce to choose from. Once a 7th century Saxon settlement, Covent Garden was once known as ‘Convent Garden’ being where the monks of Westminster Abbey grew their vegetables in the 1500s. Find out more about the fascinating history of Covent Garden on a London Walks tour.
London is filled with unique shops like The Old Curiosity Shop in Holborn, said to be the inspiration for the Dickens novel, or the must visit Harry Potter shop at Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station. But, if the lure of the high street is too much for you, London has a wealth of shopping districts with an abundance of national retailers and stores. Like upmarket Chelsea for your designer brands, or popular Oxford Street for the high street stores you know and love. If it’s bucketing down, you’ll need the proper London shopping centre experience at Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush or Stratford. Hundreds of shops, and just a few minutes’ walk from the Underground.
A favourite activity in London when it’s raining is to sample some of the capital’s excellent restaurants. There is a restaurant for every taste and budget in London but to really get into the city vibe, go for something quirky. Like cocktails and karaoke in a traditional London boozer (Londoner lingo for a pub). If a cocktail bar isn’t your scene, you can even blend karaoke with bowling at Bowling Alley All Star Lanes or Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes. Or how about some food and drink with some ping pong? Yes, it’s a thing at Bounce in London.
Believe it or not, there are still a million other ways you can occupy your time and have a ball on a rainy day in London- it just depends on how energetic you’re feeling! For a chilled day, try the IMAX cinema at South Bank, or one of London’s many indoor golf courses for a spot of crazy golf. Urban Golf for its ‘golf and grooves’ and maybe a burger too, or Swingers Club for a cool, urban crazy golf experience. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but an escape room can be a lot of fun. For us though, the best place to be on a rainy day in London is a board game café.
No London rainy day activity guide would be complete without a mention of the fabulous West End musicals on offer in London. Whether you plump for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a classic like Hairspray or a modern masterpiece like Wicked, London’s theatres like the Apollo, Piccadilly and the London Palladium will keep those draughts away. Families will enjoy the annual pantomime at Waterloo’s National Theatre. For mellow classical, jazz and folk, book in for a concert at the Barbican and let the resident London Symphony Orchestra blast away those rainy day blues.
With this mix of rainy day activities in London, from cool to cultural, you’ll be wishing for a downpour every day so you can try them all out. Don’t worry though, they’ll be just as much fun in the sun too.