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50 affordable things to do in London this summer

From alfresco movies to summer fêtes, rooftop cocktails to play-friendly fountains, here’s how to make the most of summer in London without blowing your budget



1. Smell the roses

The city’s rose gardens are at their loveliest in the first two weeks of June. Claim a bench amid the blooms at Queen Mary’s Gardens in Regent’s Park, or wander the flower-twined walkways at Hyde Park’s romantic Rose Garden.  

2. Sip a slushy  

Childhood slushies have made a comeback – only this time, they’re strictly for grown-ups. Try the blood orange and Campari-spiked version at Soho’s Pastaio, or order a frozen yuzu margarita at Tayēr + Elementary, currently at number eight on the World’s 50 Best Bars list.

3. Join the Meltdown on Southbank

The mighty Chaka Khan is in charge at this year’s Meltdown, a series of artist-curated gigs held at the Southbank Centre. Beyond the big-name headliners, there are all sorts of free events, from dance battles, jam sessions and gigs to a country-themed queer cabaret. 14-23 June

4. Live it up at the Lambeth Country Show  

Entry’s free at Brockwell Park’s take on a ‘country show’ – a cider-fuelled fixture for South Londoners. Join the queue for jerk, watch the jousting and sheep shearing, or hop between the stages, where the line-up runs from samba to steel bands, dub to community choirs. 8-9 June

5. Bask in a sunny beer garden

Forget jostled pints on the pavement and relax in a beer garden instead. In Hackney, retreat to the People’s Park Tavern, with its barbecues and craft beers, or hide out in The Albion in Barnsbury, for a glass of something crisp and white in the lovely, wisteria-framed courtyard.

6. Expand your grey matter

Welcome to the Great Exhibition Road Festival, South Kensington’s playful celebration of arts and science. Its events, talks and workshops are free and aimed at all ages: think making ping pong comets, singing with a stranger or joining an AI silent disco. 15-16 June

7. Venture beyond vanilla…

If you’re craving an ice-cream, there’s no better place than Gelupo, the Soho gelateria run by chef Jacob Kenedy. What to expect in summer? Fragrant fig leaf, perhaps, ricotta and sour cherry, or moreish Hong Kong milk tea. 

8. …Or order a fancy soft serve

This summer, the coolest scoops are soft serve. Get yours at Soft Serve Society (try the super-silky charcoal coconut), or head to Hackney’s Bake Street for sumptuous small-batch flavours: a mandarin-spiked Jaffa Cake swirl, maybe, or cherry and toasted rice.

9. Celebrate an English fête

Every June, Kew gets its trestle tables out for a fundraising summer fête. Held on the Green, it’s all delightfully English, from the tombolas and tug-of-war to the dog show and tea tents – with the welcome addition of a Pimm’s bar, which does a roaring trade. 22 June

10. Cool down in a fountain

While Trafalgar Square’s fountains are a no-no, there are loads of spots where kids can splash. Brave a watery maze at Granary Square, race through Southbank Centre’s Appearing Rooms or dance with 55 choreographed jets in Somerset House’s Fountain Court.

11. Take Pride  

Rainbow flags fly high for Pride, the city’s celebration of all things LGBT+. Marching bands, drag queens and disco-fuelled floats parade their way through central London, while fringe events run from themed talks and tours to club nights of every persuasion. 29 June

12. See West End showstoppers for free

Love a show tune? Then get yourself to West End Live. It sees the stars of some of the biggest shows perform in Trafalgar Square: an impassioned Phantom of the Opera, perhaps, or all-dancing Mamma Mia! chorus. It’s free and extremely popular, so turn up early. 22-23 June

13. Scan the skies on Sunday mornings

Bad weather often scuppers the Lord Mayor’s Hot Air Balloon Regatta, but fingers crossed for this year’s colourful flotilla. It’s pencilled in for three Sundays in July, depending on the forecast, so check the online updates and set an alarm… take-off is at 5:30am. 

14. Join the festival crowd

All kinds of big-ticket gigs are held in London come the summer – and the biggest and best often stage free midweek events. For film screenings, live music, creative kids’ workshops and more, check out American Express presents BST’s Open House or In the Neighbourhood at All Points East in August.


15. Catch a clipper down the Thames

Instead of an expensive river cruise, hop on board a Clipper – a fleet of boats that sail the Thames, mostly carrying commuters. That means affordable tickets (free for children aged four and under) and a pier-hopping route that takes you to Greenwich, Battersea and beyond. 

16. Wake up early for Wimbledon…

No ballot tickets for the tennis? Then you’ll need to join the famous Queue. Arrive by 5am for a shot at Show Court tickets or settle for a cheaper Grounds Pass for the chance to catch the action on courts 3-19 or join the fans on The Hill. 1-14 July

17. …Or see it on the big screen  

If you’re averse to dawn wake-ups and snaking queues, head for one of the big screens that pop up around the city, from Canary Wharf to Covent Garden. The floating pontoon at St Katharine Docks is another prime spot: arrive early to score a deckchair.

18. Be a groundling at The Globe  

No theatre’s as atmospheric as The Globe, especially if you’re a groundling, standing in front of the stage. It cost a penny in Shakespeare’s day, though these days you can get a ticket for £5 – a fraction of the price for seats and a smart way to catch sold-out shows.

19. Sip a sgroppino at Swift

On a warm summer’s evening, there’s nothing like a sgroppino: a cooling Venetian cocktail made from vodka, lemon sorbet and prosecco. At Soho’s Bar Swift they spike theirs with elderflower liqueur and charge a very reasonable £9.

20. Dive into Hampstead’s Ponds  

The three bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath are a quintessential part of summer. There’s one mixed pond, one for men, and the tranquil, tree-framed ladies’ pond, with daily temperatures posted on the website and admission for under £5.

21. Play!

Any quest to find the city’s greatest playgrounds has to start at Kensington Gardens, where the Diana Memorial Playground centres on a giant pirate ship. The coolest playground is possibly at Holland Park (it’s architect-designed), while Battersea Park is the place for shaded, all-ages play.

22. Eat better barbecue

Forget second-rate sausages and charred cheeseburgers and go straight to an expert: The Rib Man of Brick Lane Market. You’ll find him there on a Sunday, dispensing note-perfect rolls of tender barbecued pork (£8), slathered in turbo-charged hot sauce.  

23. Compete at the Battersea Games   

Limber up for the Battersea Games, a playful, summer-long pop-up on the former power station’s lawns, with a climbing wall, basketball court, ping-pong tables and more. It’ll also be screening the Olympics and Paralympics, as London’s only official fan zone. July–September

24. Go promming

The BBC Proms brings eight weeks of top-tier classical concerts. In time-honoured tradition, you can book ‘promming’ tickets on the day, in person at the Royal Albert Hall or online at 10:30am. Your reward? An £8 standing spot or even a seat in the Choir. 19 July–14 September

25. Buy a bunch at Columbia Road

There’s nowhere quite like this East End Sunday-morning market, which fills its namesake street with flowers. For the best deals, arrive around 2pm, when traders start winding down, and go for seasonal blooms like dahlias and pastel-hued sweet peas.

26. See an alfresco movie for less  

For free screenings of feelgood films, head to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, whose Summer Screen runs every Tuesday in July. Take your pick from the programme (Barbie, Moulin Rouge! and more), then request a place on the guestlist.


27. Cool down at the V&A

The V&A’s central courtyard is magical in summer, especially on quieter weekdays. Think a shady café, green lawns for picnics, and a sun-warmed elliptical pool, where everyone from toddlers to passing art professors roll their trousers up for a paddle.

28. Find your favourite boating lake

Take a turn in a pedal boat in Crystal Palace Park looking out for dinosaurs, or hire a classic rowing boat on the Serpentine. Alternatively, head to Alexandra Palace to race around the tree-fringed lake on dragon, flamingo and swan pedalos.

29. Catch some cricket at the Oval

Watch teams battle it out for The Hundred, a turbo-charged cricket championship that’s now in its fourth year. Tickets are affordable (from £5 for kids) and it’s faster-paced than standard cricket, as teams try to score the maximum runs from 100 balls. 23 July–17 August

30. Escape to a farm

Who needs the countryside? London’s full of city farms, most of which are free to visit. Feed the goats and alpacas at Vauxhall, meet the llamas at Mudchute, or lunch at the tea hut at Spitalfields City Farm, then visit Bayleaf the donkey.  

31. Check out London’s leafiest stage  

Framed by rustling trees and open to the elements, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is gloriously atmospheric. To see a show for less, try to score on-the-day Grass Banks tickets: £15 for a spot on the ground (bring a blanket to sit on).

32. Quaff a rooftop negroni at Frank’s

In-the-know locals flock to Frank’s Cafe, a summertime hangout in Peckham, perched atop a former car park. Part of the Bold Tendencies arts space, it’s joyous on summer evenings with its seasonal snacks, sunset views and modestly priced cocktails (most are under £10). 17 May–14 September  

33. Stroll past world-class street art

Spend an afternoon admiring Shoreditch’s art-scrawled walls – this whole postcode’s a canvas, so you won’t need a map. Wander through its backstreets and railway bridges and see what you stumble across, from Shok-1’s aerosol X-rays to Jimmy C’s pointillist portraits.

34. Feast by the canal   

Set by the canal in Islington, Towpath punches well above its weight: a small, no-reservations café adored by the city’s foodies. Its chalked-up menu is masterful, whether we’re talking toasties with quince jam or aioli-slathered onglet steaks. Opening hours are limited, so check ahead.

35. Discover the Horniman’s wonders

This South London museum is a terrific all-rounder, especially with kids in tow. On sunny days, explore its animal walk and gardens, with skyline views of London. If it’s rainy, retreat to the aquarium, butterfly house or museum, famed for its overstuffed walrus.

36. Join the Carnival crowd  

Technicolour floats, maxed-out sound systems and the tang of jerk chicken in the air? It can only mean one thing: the Notting Hill Carnival is in town. Wear your dancing shoes: with steel bands, rare groove, soca and more, it’s impossible to stay still for long. 25-26 August

37. Stop for a spritz at Lina Stores   

Soho’s iconic Italian deli has now expanded, with a series of laidback eateries kitted out in its trademark eau-de-nil. The pasta pricing’s easy on the wallet and drinks are a steal, from summery rhubarb spritzes (£10) to vermouth on ice (£6), served with a slice of orange.

38. Retreat to an arboretum

Find some welcome shade in Richmond Park at the Isabella Plantation. Dating from the 1830s, it spans 40 fairytale acres, with rustling glades of beeches and sweet chestnuts, ponds and meandering streams. Bring a picnic or stroll below the last magnolia blooms of the summer.


39. Feast on oysters for less 

Do oysters have a place in a guide to affordable London? They do when Wright Brothers is running its generous happy hours, which see oysters priced at £1 a pop. Days and timings differ at its various outposts, so call up or consult Instagram.

40. Attend an art car boot sale

Now held in King’s Cross, the Art Car Boot Fair is a blast, as art-world stars roll up with cut-price wares. (In previous years, Sir Peter Blake’s inkjet prints and signed Polaroids by Juno Calypso.) It’s £15 a ticket, £5 from 3pm, or free for the final hour. 7 September

41. Pause for a Thameside pint  

When the sun’s shining, a beer by the Thames is one of London’s timeless pleasures. Try the Prospect of Whitby, the city’s oldest riverside pub, or – for cask ales and Wind in the Willows vibes – the White Swan in Twickenham. 

42. See art by the Serpentine

The Serpentine galleries showcase contemporary art in the loveliest of settings: leafy Kensington Gardens. It’s free to visit and this summer’s line-up is outstanding, from Yinka Shonibare’s wax print-painted statues to Minsuk Cho’s star-shaped pavilion.  Yinka Shonibare, until 1 September; Serpentine Pavilion, 7 June–27 October

43. Snoop behind closed doors  

All kinds of buildings throw open their doors for the Open House Festival, from art deco gems and bold contemporary builds to fire stations and temples. It’s free, though you’ll need to register online to book places and enter ticket ballots. 14-22 September

44. Pay your respects to London’s dead    

London is home to some gloriously grand Victorian cemeteries – most famously, perhaps, the ivy-draped example at Highgate (£10 entry), whose residents include Karl Marx and Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker fans will appreciate the pot of ballpoints by his grave). 

45. Call by a cabmen’s shelter

Those small, green-painted wooden huts you’ll sometimes spot in London? Victorian cabmen’s shelters, where weary cabbies could find respite. Now, Chelsea Embankment’s shelter has opened as Café Pier, a tiny eatery with glorious views, sourdough toasties and excellent brunches.

46. Stroll the Parkland Walk  

Welcome to the city’s longest linear nature reserve, following the railway line that once connected Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace. It’s a flat, four-kilometre amble with plenty to see along the way, from wildflowers and woodpeckers to a mischievous spriggan.

47. Get your coffee on ice

With temperatures up, it’s time to tweak your caffeine hit. For a next-level velvety iced coffee, call by Omotesando Koffee, or sample Workshop’s sublime shakerato: an espresso with orange-blossom honey, shaken over ice.  

48. Plunge into a lido   

London Fields Lido is an excellent place to start, given that it’s heated to a manageable 24 degrees. It’s even warmer at Hampton Pool, on the edge of Bushy Park – though if you don’t mind something more bracing, the unheated Brockwell Lido is delightful on a summer’s day.

49. Sample summer’s bounty at Spring

Skye Gyngell’s restaurant at Somerset House is a beauty: an airy former drawing room dressed in pink and gold, with cloud-like chandeliers. Keep it seasonal (and affordable) with the early evening Scratch menu: three courses for £30, rustled up from ‘waste’ produce.   

50. Doze in a deckchair 

Made it to 50? You deserve a rest. Come summer, the green-and-white-striped deckchairs come out in London’s Royal Parks, for hire from £3 an hour. Claim a lakeside spot in Regent’s Park or settle in for a post-picnic nap on Hyde Park’s sun-dappled lawns.