London’s terrible weather is historical and legendary, to the point where a trip to the English capital wouldn’t be complete without at least one rainy day. Bad weather in this city is practically unavoidable unless you’re visiting at the height of summer (and even then, there are no guarantees).
Don’t know what to do with yourself on a rainy London day? As a great man once said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” and that is true even when the weather is bad. There are still plenty of things to do on a rainy day in London! So get out your brolly, slip on those wellies, and let’s take a look at the best ways to spend a rainy day in London.
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How to get to London
If you are flying, there are several airports in the area. The most convenient are Heathrow Airport and London City Airport, which are both linked to central London by metropolitan public transport, with trains leaving every few minutes. Gatwick, Luton and Stansted Airports are between 30 minutes and 1 hour away by national rail, and are the most common airports for flights with low-cost airlines. Be aware that you can use Oyster cards (see below) on trains to Heathrow and London City, but you will need a train ticket to get to and from Gatwick, Luton or Stansted. There are also low-cost coaches to and from these airports.
If you are coming from within England or, you can take the train. The train system in England is run by multiple rail companies, but station employees know the system well and can help you with your ticket purchases. It’s usually cheaper to travel at off-peak times (early morning, midday or later in the evening), and it can sometimes be cheaper to break your trip into portions and buy tickets for those portions (and then stay on the train straight through), rather than one ticket from start point to end point.
If you are coming from Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam, or somewhere near those cities, investigate the Eurostar. This high-speed train goes from these cities to London several times a day, and feels very luxurious compared to flying! The earlier you book, the cheaper the tickets are.
Driving to London is generally considered a huge hassle. People who drive into central London are required to pay a congestion charge, which is a fee introduced by the government to try to cut down on traffic and pollution in the inner city. Even if you are willing to pay the congestion charge, parking is expensive and difficult to find. Many drivers park their cars at a train station on the outskirts of the city, and then take public transport into the centre.
What to expect in London
The currency of London is the pound, (£ / GBP), divided into 100 pence. Paper money is referred to as notes (as in “a 5-pound note”). England’s official language is English, but in London you will hear languages from all over the world…in fact, over 300 languages are spoken by the inhabitants of this city! Different parts of London also have their own accents and dialects. When you are in East London, keep an eye out for the bank machines which allow you to choose English or Cockney Rhyming Slang as your preferred language.
As far as tipping goes, plan to tip around 15% in restaurants. Take a look at your bill before you pay, as many restaurants automatically add a “service charge,” which is the same as the tip. You are not required to pay this, but most people do. If possible though, always try to pay your tip in cash because many restaurants do not allow servers or kitchen staff to keep tips paid by card.
In bars, taxis, or for other services, tips are appreciated but are not expected. Traditionally in pubs, most patrons who wanted to tip their bartenders would buy them a drink instead of leaving cash, but this may not be as common as it once was.
You may also notice two prices on the menus of fast food places and sandwich shops. This is because they are required to charge different taxes if you sit in to eat or take your food with you.
Public transport in London is by Underground, also known as the Tube, overground train, and Docklands Light Rail. There also buses. The city is roughly divided into zones, with the central area being zone 1 and extending out to zone 6. To get around London using any public transport, you will need an Oyster card. You can get one from any staffed tube station, or from some off-licenses (corner stores). You have to pay a deposit, which you get back when you return the card, and then you can “top up” with as much money as you think you’ll need. You can pay for individual journeys as you go, or purchase a weekly pass. Take a look at tfl.gov.uk for current fares and payments on all the different types of transport. And remember: on the escalators, always stand on the right and walk on the left. Londoners will certainly let you know if you’re standing on the wrong side!
Things to do in London when it’s raining
Happily, for the unlucky visitor caught on a London rainy day, there are plenty of things to do inside.
The most classic, and classy, way to spend a rainy afternoon is with an afternoon tea. This mid-afternoon snack consisting of tea (or coffee, or champagne) served with delicate sandwiches, savories and cakes was introduced in 1840 by the Duchess of Bedford, who just couldn’t wait until dinner time. There are hundreds of restaurants, cafés and hotels which offer afternoon tea, so do some research and find one that suits your personal taste and budget.
When you’ve had your fill of cucumber sandwiches and scones, it’s time to head to the pub for a pint. This is an ideal thing to do on a rainy day for adults. Pubs range from the beloved Wetherspoons, a huge chain with branches in nearly every city and town in England, to small local boozers serving a variety of craft beers. If you don’t like the vibe of the first one you find, keep looking, as there is sure to be another one just around the corner.
If you’re not a lover of tea or beer (or if you are but just want more London rainy day activities), check out some London theatre. The theatre culture in London is legendary, and ranges from the big West End musicals to small fringe plays taking place in abandoned pubs. There’s something for every taste and budget. Buying West End theatre tickets at face value can be very expensive, so book through one of the many discount websites or go to the discount theatre ticket shop in Leicester Square.
Another favourite rainy day activity in London is shopping. Avoid being out in the elements in the main shopping areas of Oxford Street or Regent Street, and instead head to some of the amazing indoor shopping spots. Westfield Stratford in East London and Westfield Shepherds Bush in West London are both gigantic shopping malls where you will find a huge variety of high-street stores such as H&M and Zara. Or check out some of the department stores such as John Lewis, Selfridges or the British favourite, Marks & Spencer.
If this is all a bit high-end for you, have a wander around some of the indoor markets, such as Camden Lock in Camden Town, which has been newly rebuilt after being destroyed by a fire, or the historic Spitalfields Market in Aldgate. Canary Wharf, London’s business district, also features an underground warren of shopping malls and restaurants, and is a great place to get out of the rain and observe the bankers in their natural habitat.
Finally, one of the absolute best (and cheapest) activities for children, architecture buffs and avid people-watchers: jump on one of London’s iconic double-decker buses and try to get the coveted front seat on the upper floor. When you feel like you’ve gone far enough, hop off, cross the road, and take the same bus back to the spot where you got on. Passengers always get on at the front of the bus, where the driver is, and tap their Oyster cards on the yellow Oyster reader. You can do the same thing with the Docklands Light Rail, or DLR, which takes passengers to Canary Wharf and Greenwich.
Places to visit in London when it’s raining
There is absolutely no shortage of places to go when it rains in London. Whether you’re a nature lover, amateur historian, or pop culture connoisseur, there is a place for you to go to get out of the rain.
One of the best things to do in London for children is to take them to a museum. Far from the typical museum full of glass cases displaying dusty old bones, London museums know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to appealing to children. The Natural History Museum has all kinds of activities for kids, and there is even a skating rink there in the winter. If your little one wishes they were a pirate, the National Maritime Museum can help, with a giant atlas, ships to play on, and lots of other fun things to do.
For budding scientists, the Science Museum has a wide variety of interactive exhibitions, including a flight simulator that lets them experience flying in a Red Arrow airplane! The Museum of Childhood is a less well-known museum which will delight adults and children alike with displays of toys throughout history, and big and small kids will love playing with the interactive installations.
Needless to say, there are lots of things at all of these museums that will appeal to adults, too.
If you fancy sticking to the tourist trail on your rainy day in London, there are plenty of indoor London attractions to keep you entertained. Harry Potter superfans will want to head to Watford to visit the studio where the series was filmed. Lightweights and Instagrammers can stick with a visit to Kings Cross station, which features a Harry Potter souvenir shop and a photo op at platform 9 ¾, complete with a staff member just out of frame, holding your stripy scarf as if it’s blowing in the wind.
To keep going with the photo ops, check out Madame Tussaud’s, a world-famous tourist attraction featuring lifelike wax figures of your favourite celebrities. If you prefer your attractions a little on the grim side, London Dungeon will give you a look into the violence of London’s past, with some creepy amusement-park-style rides for good measure. If that doesn’t float your boat, SEA LIFE London aquarium, on the South Bank of the Thames, features 500 different species of sea creatures, from sharks to sea anemones. This is a much better way to deal with water than being out in the rainy streets of London!
Where to stay in London
There are literally thousands of hotels, hostels and BnBs in London, each with their own history, quirks and room rates. Here is a quick guide to the areas of London, so you can get comfortable in a location that works for you. We have also written an extensive guide on Where to stay in London.
North London can sometimes feel like a collection of small villages which have blended into one big area. Stay here for easy public transport into Central London, and a wide selection of local pubs, restaurants and shops if you feel like staying local during your trip.
South London is not as well served by public transport as other areas, and is not nearly as touristy. This is a great area to stay in if you want a slice of typical London life, and accommodations here might be a little cheaper than other areas.
East London, famous for its working-class history and the distinctive Cockney accent of Londoners born here, is now home to a huge diversity of different nationalities, as well as being one of the most up-and-coming hipster areas of the city. Stay here if you are looking for cool bars, galleries and shops and amazing international food.
West London is known for being the wealthier end of London, evidenced by its posh neighbourhoods and luxury stores lining the high streets. It’s also home to the legendary Notting Hill Carnival, which takes place in August every year. If you are flying in and out of Heathrow airport, it’s very convenient to stay in this area.
Central London is where the vast majority of shops, restaurants, and tourist hotspots are located, and you might even be able to walk to most of the attractions you want to see. Staying here will really put you at the centre of everything, but be prepared to pay accordingly!
Tours to do in London
Although not necessarily indoor activities, tours of London are an amazing way of getting to grips with the geography and history of the city.
Big Bus Tours is one of London’s biggest hop-on-hop-off bus tour operators, and they stop at every major tourist attraction you can think of. Get a break from the weather while you’re on the bus, and if you decide to visit any of the attractions described above, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump until you’re back in the dry again.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter is a visit to the studio where the series was filmed, with a behind-the-scenes look at the sets, props and costumes that breathed life into J.K. Rowling’s books.
Another highly recommended tour, which is extra atmospheric on a gloomy, gray day (although probably not ideal for young children or those who are easily scared), is a Jack the Ripper Tour. The tour guide will take you to all the locations featured in the story of the Victorian serial killer who was never apprehended. At only £10 per person, this is one of the best cheap things to do in London when it rains.
If you’re looking for an even cheaper option for a rainy day out in London, Free Tours By Foot offers a variety of tours on a pay-what-you-can basis. Tours are likely to be poorly-attended on a rainy day, so it might be worth braving the rain for a chance to take a tour in a much smaller group.
Recommend budget tours in London
- Harry Potter Tour of Warner Bros. Studio in London
- London Pass Including Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour and Entry to Over 80 Attractions
- Afternoon Tea Cruise from Windsor
- Blenheim Palace and The Cotswolds Day Trip from Bournemouth
- Sunday Lunch Cruise from Windsor
- London Eye Fast-Track Ticket
- Tower of London, Changing of the Guard, Thames Cruise with Harrods Cream Tea or London Eye Upgrade
- Wicked the Musical Theater Show
- Phantom of the Opera Theater Show
- Small-Group Tour: Historical Pub Walking Tour of London
- Fully Guided Tour of Warner Bros Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
- St Paul’s Cathedral Admission Ticket
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