Rain is a London tradition, but staying in and sulking on a gloomy day is not. Londoners take rain in stride and have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to make the most of an afternoon drizzle (or downpour). Wondering what to do when the weather looks bleak? Here are our favourite rainy day plans.
The National Gallery is a national treasure. Whether you spend twenty minutes or an entire afternoon, it's the perfect place to step back from city life and get inspired. On a rainy day, there's nothing better than getting immersed in a sunny work of art to brighten your mood, and the National Gallery has plenty of masterpieces to choose from. Our favourite gloom-busters? Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" and Georges Seurat's "Bathers at Asnières." The gallery's free guided tours, which take place twice daily (11:30am and 2:30pm), provide an excellent introduction to the museum's highlights in sixty minutes. For a bite-sized bit of culture, pop in any day at 4:00pm for an enlightening ten-minute talk on a single painting from the museum's collection. Prefer to be surprised? Check out the National Gallery website's "Take a Chance" tool, which creates a randomized itinerary of ten masterpieces for you to find during your visit.
There's no better place to lose track of time than the British Museum. With a collection of over 4 million artefacts from every continent on Earth, the British Museum is a curatorial wonder with surprises at every turn. Looking to make the most of a small amount of time? Discover the best bits of the behemoth in 40 minutes or less by taking a free daily eye-opener tour, which run every 15 minutes from 11:00am to 3:45pm. The tours focus on different historical eras throughout the day, from Ancient Iraq to Medieval Europe, and promise a heaping dollop of history in a thoroughly digestible format.
A rainy afternoon is a brilliant excuse for a shopping excursion. Our recommendations? Westfield Stratford City and Westfield London Shephard's Bush, the largest and second largest shopping centres in all of London, respectively. These enormous malls are packed with your favourite stores, dozens of restaurants and cafés, and plenty of entertainment, so you'll have no trouble making a day out of your visit. If you tire of browsing, tuck into the cinema (you'll find one at both malls) and take in that film you've been meaning to watch for ages. The rain doesn't seem nearly as bad now, does it?
There's nothing like a West End show to add some pizzazz to even the gloomiest day. Whether you prefer laugh-out-loud comedies or historical dramas, the London theatre scene has you spoilt for choice. We're partial to The Mousetrap, a deliciously shocking murder mystery and the longest-running show on the West End. If you're looking for an evening of side-splitting humour, you can't go wrong with the beloved comedy musical Book of Mormon. Remember: you don't have to pay out the nose to see a show on the West End. Many of the most popular productions hold lotteries either online or in person to distribute deeply discounted day-of tickets, from Aladdin to Book of Mormon. For an even wider selection of cheap tickets, visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square or download the TodayTix app.
Don't let the weather darken your mood! Laugh away the rainy day blues at a stand-up comedy club. The Comedy Store London, situated in the heart of the West End, hosts some of the best weekly comedy shows in town. Make sure to check out shows like The Cutting Edge, a sharp and topical send-up of the week's news, and Best in Stand Up, a fiercely funny competition pitting comedy giants against total newbies. For the absolute best free comedy night in London, try Angel Comedy Club, which hosts improv and stand-up events every night of the week at two Angel locations: The Camden Head and The Bill Murray.
If you're planning a cinema night, why not go big? And yes, we do mean that literally: visit the BFI IMAX Waterloo, home to Britain's biggest screen. The massive screen and 12,000 Watt surround sound create an immersive experience you can't find anywhere else in London, and thanks to a dizzyingly steep incline, all 485 seats in the theatre provide the same stellar view. BFI IMAX always plays the biggest blockbusters, but it also shows lesser-known documentaries and nature films that look gorgeous on the crystal-clear screen. Pro tip: if you want to sit in the extra-plush seats, make sure to book your tickets before you arrive.
Thanks to London's brilliant city buses, rain can't ruin a day of sightseeing. No need to pay for a pricey tourist bus: just hop on route 9, 11, or 24 with your Oyster card for a tour of some of the city's greatest sights. For the best view, make sure to snag one of the front seats on the top deck. Pick up the 9 at Aldwych, just outside Somerset House, for a ritzy ride through some of London's extravagant neighbourhoods. You'll get a great view of Trafalgar Square, Green Park, and Knightsbridge (keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of luxurious Harrods) before passing Kensington Palace. For a picture-perfect look at London's most iconic destinations, take the 11 from King's Road in Chelsea. First-time visitors and long-time Londoners alike can't help but gaze awestruck as the bus travels past Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament in rapid succession. As much as we love all of London's buses, the 24 takes our top slot thanks to its wonderfully diverse route, which includes a bit of politics (10 Downing Street), plenty of culture (Camden Town), and concludes with a taste of nature (Hampstead Heath).
The bowling alley isn't just for kids anymore. Many of London's plush bowling venues stay open into the wee hours, serving eclectic drinks and tasty diner-style grub in a cosy environment that's perfect for catching up with friends. All Star Lanes in Hoxton has only four lanes in their main hall, so you're in for a VIP bowling experience as long as you book ahead. At Bloomsbury Bowling, show off your singing chops (and make the competition forget about your gutter balls) with a stint in one of their private karaoke rooms. For a particularly glamorous night out, reserve the Kingpin Suite, the glitzy private room featuring table tennis, pool, arcade games, and an indoor cricket simulator as well as five private lanes.
When was the last time you gathered your best pals for a rousing night of board games and beer? Draughts, London's first board game café, boasts a massive library of over 600 board games from around the world. They've got puzzle games, trivia games, nostalgic games and more, so you're sure to find something that suits your fancy. (We should warn you, though: the abundance of options at Draughts might be the source of an unexpectedly heated debate within your group.) For groups of 3-4 players, we love the classic strategy game Settlers of Catan, preferably paired with a couple of cocktails and a plate of Draughts' delicious homemade hummus.
Don't let the bad weather stop you from staying active. Try out the popular climbing trend at one of London's many indoor climbing centres, where you can strap in (or not - if you choose to go bouldering, you won't use any ropes at all!) and follow one of hundreds of pre-designed routes to scale the walls. If you're new to climbing, book a taster session or beginner's course at Mile End Climbing Wall for personal guidance from an experienced instructor. If you get hooked, Mile End (as well as most other centres around town, like like Vauxwall Climbing Centre and Stoke Newington's Castle Climbing Centre) offer memberships for enthusiastic climbers. Who knows - you might be buying your first pair of climbing shoes sooner than you think!