London: things to do when it rains

By Harriet Cooper

Photography by Romaoslo/Getty Images

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September 2017

Londoners don’t let a bit of rain dampen their spirits – in fact, you can still make the most of the capital’s top sights when it’s wet outside. Take cover with any one of these activities indoors and you’ll be soon be singing in the rain, says Harriet Cooper.

Step back in time at a museum

The capital is awash with small, quirky museums. We love Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields – the former home of the Regency architect is packed with fascinating books, prints, statues and artworks. Also worth a visit are Leighton House in Holland Park, for pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Frederic Leighton’s eclectic interior design, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, where the detective’s living quarters have been painstakingly recreated.

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Learn how scientists first mapped out the stars, admire the country’s largest refracting telescope, touch a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite, and travel the universe in the planetarium.

Do dim sum

Nothing beats a long, lazy dim sum brunch. Try New World in Chinatown, one of the last establishments to offer yum cha from an old-school dim sum trolley. Royal China has branches in every direction of town; the original Queensway branch - with its opulent decor and lively atmosphere - serves all the Cantonese classics. Don’t leave without trying the prawn and chive steamed dumplings.

  • The view Greenwich’s Royal Observatory © Stephen Hovington/Alamy.


    With some of the most iconic (and oldest) museums in the world, rainy days in London never come without a more-than-suitable back up plan. Aside from its fascinating lineage, the Royal Observatory also offers stunning views of the capital, including the skyline of Canary Wharf.

Reach for the stars

Ok, so it might be a little wet for a photo-op of you straddling the Prime Meridian line. But once inside the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Royal Park, there’s plenty for budding space explorers – young and old. Learn how scientists first mapped out the stars, admire the country’s largest refracting telescope, touch a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite, and travel the universe in the planetarium. The views from the Observatory across London are worth it alone.

Go behind the scenes

From catching the Royal Ballet in class to watching costume makers at work, discover the hidden world of London’s finest theatrical institutions on a backstage tour. The Royal Opera HouseNational Theatre and London Coliseum all offer the chance to go behind the curtain.

  • Bowl with it: bowling at Brick Lane’s All Star Lanes.

    Brick bait

    Did you know that between the 1950s and 1970s, Brick Lane had it’s own animal market. Starting as a dog and bird market, it became far more exotic with the sale of goats, snakes, monkeys and even lion cubs.

  • Gourmet burgers at Borough Market © shomos uddin/Getty Images.

    Top tip…

    Borough Market gets busy at the weekend – especially at lunchtime – so try to visit early in the day or just before the market closes at 17:00. Alternatively, try on Mondays or Tuesdays, when there is a limited market in operation. Nearest Tube: London Bridge.

  • Discover work by world-class artists at The Photographers’ Gallery © Dennis Gilbert.

    Photo finish

    The six-floor Soho gallery is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 – and stays open until 20:00 on Thursdays. Free entry before midday. Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus.

Take cover at an indoor market

Alfie’s Antiques Market in Marylebone is the place to trawl for vintage fashion and 20th-century home décor, and Old Spitalfields Market offers arts, crafts, and collectibles. Refuel at Borough Market aka ‘London’s Larder’ and Brixton Village Market – gourmet burger joints, Swiss raclette stalls, craft beer on tap… you’ll forget the inclement weather in a trice.

Discover London's best food markets

Score a turkey

With their retro ambience and live music - not to mention decent diner-style grub and licenced bars selling cocktails and shakes - the city’s boutique bowling lanes are an ideal place to shelter. Try Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes or All Star Lanes, which has four venues in town – all you need do is practise bowling that perfect strike. Booking is essential.

  • Afternoon tea at Claridge’s, a time-tested treat for Londoners.

    Did You Know…?

    In 1945, suite 212 at Claridge’s was officially declared Yugoslavian territory at the request of Winston Churchill so that Crown Prince Alexander II could be born ‘in his own country’.

Get the picture

Tucked behind Oxford Street, The Photographers’ Gallery comprises six floors dedicated to work by world-class artists and graduates alike. The exhibitions are consistently engaging, there’s a cafe – serving delicious coffee­, a print sales gallery and a superlative bookshop. What more could you ask for? Tip: it’s free admission before noon every day.

Take afternoon tea

Nowhere does afternoon tea better than London. From the traditional – a cuppa and a tier of finger sandwiches, scones and pretty cakes – at the SavoyFortnum & Mason, and Claridge’s to the more avant-garde – try tea with a Basque twist at COMO The Halkin, or TING on the 35th floor of the Shard, which serves up an Asian-inspired tea alongside stunning views – it’s the perfect way to while away a rainy afternoon.

Find more London afternoon teas

Cruise the canals

Just because the day is a washout, doesn’t mean you can’t be on the water. Explore London’s waterways and canals in an original narrowboat (don’t worry, they’re covered) with The London Waterbus Company. Hop on at Little Venice and meander along Regent’s Canal, admiring the pretty painted barges along the way, before disembarking at either London Zoo or Camden Lock.

Go metal detecting

The London Silver Vaults first opened on Chancery Lane in 1876 and now house a mightily impressive commercial collection of fine antique silver – the world’s largest, in fact. You’ll get a little frisson of excitement as you step through the huge safe doors into this subterranean warren of silverware shops (the vaults are 40-feet underground), where you’ll find everything from rare 16th-century pieces to examples of today’s best modern work.

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