Five things to do in London this summer, from abandoned Tube station tours to the Proms
Soak up city views from a rooftop bar, follow in James Bond’s footsteps on an underground tour, watch one of Britain’s most famous classical music concerts – there’s plenty to do in London over the next three months
All eyes have been on London recently, from the lead up to last month’s royal wedding to this month’s Trooping the Colour parade celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 92nd birthday. Despite its centuries-old traditions, this cosmopolitan city of eight million people is always on the cusp of change.
Arrive here in July, August or September and you’re in for some unique events – just don’t forget to start the day in the traditional English way with a hearty fry-up.
1. Follow James Bond and head underneath Trafalgar Square
London’s Tube is the oldest underground railway system in the world. First opening in 1863, the Tube has 270 active stations, but over the years, parts of the iconic network have been abandoned. Transport for London has recently begun guided tours to sealed-off stations and platforms. They are so popular that most tours are hard to get tickets for, but one that is relatively easy to book is a trip to explore the platforms of Charing Cross station.
In this 75-minute tour (£40/US$53) that operates from Wednesday to Sunday (August 11 to September 16), visitors get to walk under Trafalgar Square to see the old Jubilee line platforms used as filming locations in the James Bond film Skyfall, as well as in children’s film Paddington Bear.
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2. Get a VIP pass
The British capital has always been a city of iconic architecture, but much of it is actually closed off to the public. However, on September 22 and 23 more than 800 buildings that are usually out of bounds will be opened to the public, such as the BT Tower, The Gherkin, and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Each year, a quarter of a million people take part in the Open House weekend. The schedule is available from August 17, and tickets sell out fast, so check the event website before you go.
3. Get a cool view from the rooftops
It may have a reputation as a rainy, grey kind of place, but London can be surprisingly humid in July and August.
A lack of air-conditioning on the ageing underground Tube system can make the city a sweaty place to explore in summer. Cue a fascination in the capital for rooftop restaurants and bars, which have mushroomed in recent years.
The controversial Walkie Talkie skyscraper – bought last year for a record-breaking £1.3 billion by Hong Kong condiment kings, Lee Kum Kee – is home to the three-storey Sky Garden observation deck and open-air terrace, complete with landscaped gardens. There are also bars and restaurants up there, though you do have to book (free) tickets in advance because of high demand.
Other rooftop venues with views over the city include the chic Rumpus Room atop the Mondrian Hotel on the South Bank of the River Thames, the Radio Rooftop Bar on the Strand, and Sushisamba, which serves an intriguing blend of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian food on the 38th floor of Heron Tower.
4. Practice your “Promming”
Is there anything more quintessentially British than a crowd of people at London’s Royal Albert Hall waving Union Flags and singing Land of Hope and Glory? Some find the Last Night of the Proms – the final concert of an eight-week summer music series – an inspiring expression of Britishness, while others think it’s an elitist tradition from a bygone era. Either way, the rest of the BBC Proms are all about witnessing outstanding classical music performances, which are held each day from July 13 to September 8.
Fortunately for tourists, 1,350 Promming (standing) tickets are released each day for concerts in the Royal Albert Hall. And if you fail to pick one of these up, on September 8 the open-air Proms in the Park (£45) sees 40,000 people in London's Hyde Park treated to a live concert and a big screen broadcasting the big moments direct from Royal Albert Hall. Tickets are on sale now.
5. Get stuck into a full English breakfast
If you want to taste something truly British, forget the trendy restaurants and head instead to a “greasy spoon” cafe for a traditional full English breakfast.
Some of the most reliable places to try one of these hearty fry-ups include the Regency Café in Westminster, the art deco E Pellicci on Bethnal Green Road, and Maria’s Market Cafe in the must-visit Borough Market near London Bridge. These are more authentic than the attempts you’ll find at most hotels.
Wherever you eat, be sure to request a side order of black pudding, a must-try blood sausage made from pork blood, oatmeal, and pork or beef fat.