Festivals and Holidays in London
London New Year’s Day Parade (1 January)
Over 10 000 dancers, musicians, and acrobats from across London and the world welcome London into the new year. The procession starts along Piccadilly and goes through Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and ends at Big Ben.
Chinese New Year (late Jan / Early Feb)
The largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of China take place in London’s own Chinatown, as well as Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square.
Shrove Tuesday celebrations in London means lots of pancakes – both to eat and to race with. Yup, Pancake Races are a common sight on this day across the city, including races at Guildhall, Victoria Tower Gardens, and on Brick Lane.
The Boat Race – Late March / Early April
Nearly a quarter of a million people flock to the Thames every year to watch this epic rowing battle between the country’s top two universities – Oxford and Cambridge. Less prestigious but possibly more fun is the Head of the River Race, which takes place around the same time of year.
London Marathon (mid to late April)
One of the world’s most popular marathons, the London Marathon sees nearly 40 000 people (many running for charity, and in some seriously silly costumes) run over 26 miles from Greenwich across Tower Bridge and ending eventually near Buckingham Palace.
Chelsea Flower Show (late May)
No other horticultural event in the world attracts as much attention as the Chelsea Flower Show, when some 150 000 visitors stop by to experience the flower displays and creative show gardens at the Chelsea Royal Hospital.
Trooping the Colour
Catch a glimpse of Her Majesty as London celebrates her official birthday with a royal procession along The Mall accompanied by the Household Cavalry, complete with gun salutes and a flypast by the Royal Air Force.
Every year the Southbank Centre invites a guest director to curate a programme of music and art by some of the world’s most revered artists. Past directors have included John Peel, Patti Smith, and David Bowie.
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships
As the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, nearly half a million spectators descend on Wimbledon during the two weeks of world-class sports. Advance tickets are recommended!
One of the world’s most prominent Pride celebrations, London’s annual LGBT-focused event includes a massive parade through central London, as well as free outdoor concerts and plenty of parties.
London’s best-known festival of classical music returns every year for a two-month stretch of daily concerts, largely taking place at the Royal Albert Hall. Tickets, particularly for the standing-room-only “Promenaders” section of the hall, can go for remarkably cheap.
With one of the most varied programmes of London’s large-scale outdoor music festivals, Wireless has seen concerts from the likes of David Guetta and Jay-Z. Takes place over several days at the Olympic Park.
Greenwich Comedy Festival
London’s premier comedy festival, Greenwich sees the UK’s top acts perform at the Old Royal Naval College throughout the month.
Notting Hill Carnival
Every August Bank Holiday, the streets of Notting Hill transform into a massive party celebrating the area’s Caribbean heritage. Expect thumping soundsystems, delicious food stalls, and the main attraction – the fantastic floats and costumes of the Carnival parade.
The Mayor’s Thames Festival
London’s largest outdoor festival is packed full of free events along the Thames for the whole family, including live music, dance performances, street arts, and market stalls. The final Sunday evening sees the grand finale of the festival – the Night Carnival, a parade filled with multi-cultural costumes and floats.
BFI London Film Festival
The world’s best films descend on London for a two-week cinema extravaganza at BFI Southbank and at theatres across the city.
Bonfire Night / 5 Nov
Marking the date of a failed attack on the House of Lords by Guy Fawkes and the Gundpowder Plot in 1605, Bonfire Night is an annual event celebrated with fireworks and bonfires.
London Jazz Festival
The city’s top festival dedicated to jazz music, the London Jazz festival showcases the best and brightest artists and musicians dedicated to the genre from the UK and across the globe.
Lord Mayor’s Show
Marking the inauguration of the newest mayor of the City of London (that is, the London district of The City and the historic centre of London), this annual procession from Guildhall to the Royal Courts of Justice in Westminster has taken place annually for nearly 500 years.
The national ceremony commemorating the contribution of those who went to war takes place on the second Sunday of November at the Cenotaph on Whitehall, where wreaths are laid by the Queen, as well as many royals and top government officials.
There’s plenty to see and do in the run up to Christmas in London. Major shopping areas such as Oxford Street and Regent Street are lit up with sparkling Christmas lights, and several Christmas markets pop up across the city. Hyde Park is home to a large Winter Wonderland, and ice rinks pop up across London including at the Natural History Museum, at the Tower of London, and in front of Somerset House.
New Year’s Eve
The entire city is flooded with parties and celebrations for New Year’s Eve, and you only need to take your pick from the nightclubs, concert venues, restaurants, pubs, and comedy clubs organizing their own festivities. The main fireworks display takes place from the London Eye and in barges along the Thames. The best place to watch is from Victoria Embankment along the north side of the river.