When to visit London

Let's be honest from the start—if you're looking for fantastic weather, London is unlikely to be your destination of choice. However, if what you're after is heaps of culture, diverse cuisine and a healthy splash of theatre, music and nightlife, then you're most definitely in luck.

With this in mind, planning a seasonal trip to London that ties in with the sunshine probably won't work, but if you pack both your "brolly" and your sunglasses and are prepared for rain, hail or shine then you're sure to have a good time.

London in September

Russell Square on a September afternoon. Note: Happy people.

Best seasons for the wallet and the weather

London's weather is so unpredictable that no month of the year offers guaranteed sunshine. In fact, having grown up in London, more often than not we enjoy a spate of good weather around May, and then July and August come as total washouts.

That said, as the whole world watched London in the Olympics in 2012, for once the weather decided to put on a fairly decent show and the worst of the rain held back until after the closing ceremony. While it is lovely to explore a city by foot, most of London's biggest tourist attractions are under cover, so even if you visit during one of those characteristically gray and rainy weeks, the good news is that it won't put a stop to your exploration of the city.

So duck away from the inflated room rates of the rainy summer months and plan your trip for the spring or winter time.

Spring

While there is no guarantee, May often comes up trumps in terms of weather. Londoners get a little taste of summer that is later cruelly snatched away from them just as they start to get into the swing of things. Now I'm not talking soaring temperatures, but enough blue sky and warmth to send us a little bit mental. You see, Londoners become extremely grateful for a bit of sunshine and the slightest hint of summer often causes us to walk around wearing overly-skimpy clothing, honk on car horns, and even smile at unknown foreigners.

If you do manage to catch London in one of these rare “heat waves”, it is one of the most friendly and fun cities in the world. Every patch of green space overflows with ridiculously happy people sipping on Pimms and charring bits of meat on disposable barbecues. Yes, we would happily picnic for breakfast, lunch and dinner because we know we have to make the most of it.

It's a gamble, but I'd put my money on May being the best month for experiencing London in these freak weather conditions. Although sometimes September is surprisingly good, too.

Trafalgar Square in Winter

Winter is a surprisingly good time to visit London, though you shouldn't get your hopes up for snow. Photo: pavlinajane.

Winter

Another of my favorite times to be in London is during the winter when we are occasionally blessed with one of those beautifully blue, crisp days. So rather than spending over the odds and visiting in the summer, why not take a punt on a winter visit, when the streets start to feel that little bit festive and the cosy English pubs are more inviting than ever?

November and the very start of December are good times to bag a decent airfare and the hotels still haven't hiked up their prices for the Christmas rush.

Dates to avoid

While joining in some of London's big celebrations can add real local flavor to your trip, it can also burn a much, much bigger hole in your wallet, so if you're counting those pennies, avoid these key dates. If it's unavoidable then the good news is London tends to carry on regardless, so tourist attractions and shops in the capital will remain open on most public holidays (except Christmas Day).

Easter weekend (March/April)

The UK celebrates Good Friday and Easter Monday (the Friday before and Monday after Easter) and this is often a pricey time to visit, as the hotels get booked up a long way in advance. Avoid that weekend if you can and you'll find the streets are less busy and the queues a lot shorter.

Bank Holidays

National holidays are undoubtedly a busier and more expensive time to visit, keep an eye out for the following days when booking your trip:

May Day Bank Holiday – falls on the first Monday in May.

Spring Bank Holiday – falls on the last Monday in May.

Late summer Bank Holiday – falls on the last Monday in August (this is also the Notting Hill Carnival and a party worth paying a bit extra on a hotel for).

New Year's Eve

It's a fun night to be in London, with fireworks on the Thames and a party on practically every street, but prices do soar over New Year's Eve and even the most simple accommodation options become a stretch for a Cheapo's budget. My advice would be to save those pennies and visit London on a different date when the city will still be lively and you might be able to afford to stay for more than one night!

More London help

Choosing the right neighborhood in London. Which neighborhood is right for your trip?

All about hotels in London. What's the difference between B&Bs, hotels and hostels? We'll explain.

London budget tips. How to keep it cheap in London.

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