London New Year’s Day Parade. As many as 10,000 dancers, acrobats, musicians, and performers (heavy on the marching bands) promenade from Parliament Square to Piccadilly for 500,000 spectators and TV audiences. www.londonparade.co.uk. January 1. [tel] 020/3275-0190.
Chinese New Year Festival. In conjunction with the Chinese New Year, the streets around Leicester Square come alive with dragon and lion dances, children’s parades, performances, screenings, and fireworks displays. www.chinatownlondon.org. [tel] 020/7333-8118.
Get into London Theatre. Theatre gets a jolt of new audiences during this promotional period during which producers get together to sell some 75,000 tickets at big discounts. www.getintolondontheatre.co.uk. Early January to February.
London International Mime Festival. Not just for silent clowns, but also for funky puppets and Blue Man–style tomfoolery, it’s held around town in mid-January. www.mimelondon.com. [tel] 020/7637-5661.
London Fashion Week. Collections are unveiled for press and buyers at a biannual fashion festival also held in September. It’s tough to get a runway show ticket, but there’s a raft of slick events and parties across the city. www.londonfashionweek.co.uk. Mid-February and mid-September.
St Patrick’s Day Festival. When you’re this close to Dublin and you consider England’s long rivalry with the Emerald Isle, you can expect lots of raging Irish pride—parades, music, cultural village, and food stalls around Trafalgar Square, where the fountains gush green. The city also sponsors concerts and craft fairs promoting Irish culture and heritage. It’s not just about drinking—it just looks that way. www.london.gov.uk. [tel] 020/7983-4000.
BADA Antiques & Fine Art Fair. Sponsored in mid- to late March by the British Antique Dealers’ Association, it’s considered to be the best in Britain for such collectors. Some 100 exhibitors move into a mighty tent in Duke of York’s Square, in Chelsea, for the 7-day sales event. Don’t expect a bargain. www.bada-antiques-fair.co.uk. [tel] 020/7589-6108.
Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. Taking place in late March or early April, the popular annual event (since 1829) held on the Thames in Hammersmith takes less than a half-hour, but the after-party rollicks into the night and the good-natured rivalry is undying. www.theboatrace.org.
London Marathon. Although it draws some 35,000 runners, the Marathon is also a kick for spectators, so hotels tend to fill up ahead of it. The starter pistol fires in Greenwich, and the home stretch is along Birdcage Walk near Buckingham Palace. If you want to run, apply by the previous October. www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com. Sunday in mid-April.
Udderbelly Festival. Mounted for eight weeks in a giant inflatable purple cow’s udder by the riverbank (really), this 410-seat offshoot of Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s variety venue the Underbelly sold some 750,000 tickets in 2013. Dozens of acts range from comedy to musicals to circus, plus there’s food, a beer garden, and other amusements. www.udderbelly.co.uk. [tel] 0844/545-8282. Mid-April to mid-July.
London Wonderground. An ever-surprising summer-long, 200-perforrmance festival of offbeat, family-friendly circus, comedy, and cabaret acts from around the world—plus fairground rides—has taken over a temporary spiegel tent on Southbank to great acclaim since 2012. www.londonwonderground.co.uk. [tel] 0844/545-8282. Tube: Waterloo. Early May through September.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Forget stuffy auditoriums. There’s little shelter from sudden downpours, but in good weather the repertoire of high drama, musicals, and Shakespeare sparkles under a canopy of blue skies, towering trees, and natural beauty. www.openairtheatre.org. [tel] 0844/826-4242. Tube: Regent’s Park or Baker St. Mid-May to September.
Chelsea Flower Show. The Royal Horticultural Society, which calls itself a “leading gardening charity dedicated to advancing horticulture and promoting good gardening” (don’t you just love the English?), mounts this esteemed show for 5 days in late May on the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. The plants, all raised by champion green thumbs, are sold to attendees on the final day, but sadly, foreigners aren’t usually able to get their plants past Customs. Tickets go on sale in November for this lilypalooza, and they’re snapped up quickly. The event is so celebrated that it is covered on nightly prime-time TV. Really. www.rhs.org.uk. [tel] 0845/260-5000.
Beating Retreat. Drum corps, pipes, and plenty of bugle calls: This anachronistic twilight ceremony, held for two evenings in early June at Horse Guards Parade by St James’s Park, involves the salute of the Queen (or another member of the royal family) and the appearance of many red-clad marchers. Scholars trace its origins to 1554—so for tradition’s sake, it’s deeply meaningful. It’s the nearest relative to the better-known Trooping the Colour, but without the crowds. Reserve ahead. [tel] 020/7839-5323.
Hampton Court Palace Festival. High-end niche names (Rufus Wainwright, Van Morrison, Russell Watson) perform early in the month in a temporary theater on palace grounds. Tickets are around £50. www.hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com. [tel] 084/4412-2954.
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Artists have been in a frenzy to win entry to this blind competition for nearly 250 years. Paintings, sculpture, drawings, architecture—if you can dream it, you can enter it, and if you’re one of the most talented, your piece is anointed as the best that year. The show is what the Royal Academy is known for, and although it’s not envelope-pushing, it’s a seminal event in British art culture and shouldn’t be missed if you’re in town. www.royalacademy.org.uk.
Trooping the Colour. Never mind that the Queen was born in April. This is her birthday party, and as a present, she gets the same thing every year: soldiers with big hats. Gee, thanks. A sea of redcoats and cavalry swarm over Horse Guards Parade, 41 guns salute, and a flight of Royal Air Force jets slam through the sky overhead. The Queen herself leads the charge, waving politely to her subjects before they lose themselves in a hearty display of marching band prowess. After such extravagant displays of pomp, no doubt is left that the colour has been truly trooped. Held in mid-June, it starts at 10am. If you want grandstand seats instead of standing in the free-for-all along the route, where you’ll only get a fast glimpse of passing royalty, send a request by February to Brigade Major, Headquarters Household Division, Horse Guards, Whitehall, London, SW1A 2AX, United Kingdom. SASEs are required, so include an International Reply Coupon from your post office so that your return postage is paid. Otherwise, check out the Beating Retreat for a similar, if less elaborate, experience. www.royal.gov.uk. [tel] 020/7414-2479.
Taste of London Festival. For 4 days in mid-June, the city’s top chefs and the region’s finest farmers convene in Regent’s Park for a belly-stuffing. [tel] 087/1230-5581.
Pride London. A signature event on the world’s LGBT calendar, in a good year London Pride can pull some 825,000 revelers, many of them heterosexual, with a buoyant roster of concerts and performances by famous names plus a parade (the U.K.’s largest) in the center of the city. The gay pride week, co-sponsored by the Mayor’s office also makes for an excellent excuse for some blowout dance parties. Late June or early July. www.londoncommunitypride.org.
Wimbledon Championships. Why watch on television yet again? Check p. ### for how to be one of the 500,000 to witness it in person. Late June to early July. www.wimbledon.org. [tel] 020/8971-2473.
Hard Rock Calling. Tickets are steep (around £70), but the lineup for this 2-day concert at the former Olympic Park is A-list; names have included Eric Clapton, The Police, Bon Jovi, and Bruce Springsteen. www.hardrockcalling.co.uk.
Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. An ambitious program of free theatrical and musical pieces, many of them developed by artists expressly for the spaces they’re performed in. It’s held in late June. www.festival.org. [tel] 020/8305-1818.
City of London Festival. Traditional and high-minded classical music concerts are held toward the end of the month in some of The City’s oldest buildings. www.colf.org. [tel] 0845/120-7502.
Meltdown. A compendium of hip prestige arts held at the end of June at the Southbank Centre, curated each year by a notable such as Patti Smith, David Bowie, and Yoko Ono. www.southbankcentre.co.uk/meltdown. [tel] 020/7960-4200.
BBC Promenade Concerts. The biggest classical music festival of the year, held primarily at the Royal Albert Hall, “the Proms” consists of orchestral concerts for every taste. Seats start at £6. www.bbc.co.uk/proms. [tel] 020/7589-8212.
Lovebox. The weekend-long music marathon held in Queen Victoria Park in northeast London mixes newcomers with giants of sound, including (in 2013) Azealia Banks, Disclosure, M.I.A., and Goldfrapp. The crowd is young and fun, starting with nitrous-huffing kids on Friday and morphing into a de facto gay pride day by Sunday. www.mamacolive.com/lovebox.
Virgin Active London Triathlon. Some 13,000 participants cycle through the City from Westminster, sprint around the ExCeL center in Docklands, and swim in Royal Victoria Dock in this annual late July event. Sir Richard Branson attends. www.thelondontriathlon.co.uk. [tel] 020/8233-5900.
Yahoo! Wireless Festival. Held al fresco in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for 3 days in mid-July, it books the best names in the biz. In 2014, those included Bruno Mars, Pharrell Williams, and Drake. www.wirelessfestival.co.uk.
The Lambeth Country Show. A free, old-fashioned farm show overtakes Brixton’s Brockwell Park (for a single weekend in July, anyway) with farm animals, jam-making contests, a fun fair, tractor demonstrations, and Punch and Judy puppet shows. Very English stuff. www.lambeth.gov.uk/Country-Show. [tel] 020/7926-7085.
Notting Hill Carnival. In August 1958, roving bands of white racists combed the slums of Notting Hill in search of Caribbean-owned businesses to destroy. Resulting community outrage and newly rediscovered cultural pride led to the formation of a new festival, which today is Europe’s largest street parade, a powerhouse smorgasbord of cultures spanning the rest of the Caribbean as well as Eastern Europe, South America, and the Indian subcontinent. It attracts some 2 million people during the August Bank Holiday weekend, which includes the last Monday in August. Sunday is kids’ day, with scrubbed-down events and activities, but on Monday, the adults take over, costumes get skimpy, floats weave through small streets, and rowdy hordes celebrate into the wee hours. www.nottinghillcarnival.biz.
Great British Beer Festival. Just like it sounds: More than 800 British ales and ciders are available to try at London Olympia—after all those tastings, you’ll be relieved to learn the Tube is within easy reach. It runs 5 days. www.gbbf.org.uk. [tel] 0844/412-4640.
The Great River Race. Always over too soon, the Race is the aquatic version of the London Marathon, with rowers vying to beat out 300 other vessels—Chinese dragon boats, Canadian canoes, Viking longboats, and even Hawaiian outriggers—on a morning jaunt upriver from the Docklands to Richmond. It’s held on a Saturday in mid-September. www.greatriverrace.co.uk. [tel] 020/8398-8141.
The Mayor’s Thames Festival. In conjunction with the Great River Race, nearly half a million souls attend London’s largest free open-air arts festival, which includes more than 250 stalls selling food and crafts (Southwark Bridge is closed for a giant feast), a flotilla of working river boats, circus performers, and antique fireboats, tugs, and sailboats. Sunday sees the Night Carnival, a lavish procession of thousands of lantern-bearing musicians and dancers crawling along the water. Everything is topped off with barge-launched fireworks. It takes place over 10 days. www.thamesfestival.org. [tel] 020/7928.8998.
Open House London. More than 800 buildings, all of them deemed important but normally closed to the public, yawn wide for free tours on a single, hotly anticipated weekend in mid-September. Past participants have included the skyscraper headquarters of Lloyd’s and Swiss Re (officially “30 St Mary Axe” but usually called “The Gherkin”) and even No. 10 Downing Street. The list of open buildings comes out in August, and some require timed tickets, but for most the line forms at dawn. Open House also organizes year-round walking tours. www.openhouselondon.org. [tel] 020/3006-7008.
London Fashion Weekend. It’s got nothing on its kin in New York or Milan, but here, pop-up shops from more than 100 designers are put on sale at deeply discounted prices in the hopes they’ll build style buzz. www.londonfashionweekend.co.uk.
Frieze Art Fair. More than 175 galleries vie for big money from collectors in a colossal 4-day tent show in Regent’s Park. It has become influential in the contemporary art world. www.friezeartfair.com. [tel] 0871/230-3452.
Diwali. One advantage of visiting a multicultural city like London is that it affords you the chance to sample major international holidays in an English-speaking environment. One such treat is Diwali, the Indian “festival of light,” when Trafalgar Square is transformed with lights, floating lanterns, massive models of the elephant god Ganesh, music, dance, and DJs. It’s free and held in mid- to late October.
BFI London Film Festival. An important stop on the cinema circuit, this event, sponsored by the British Film Institute, is geared toward media exposure, but there are plenty of tickets for the public, too. www.bfi.org.uk/lff. [tel] 020/7928-3232.
Dance Umbrella. One of the world’s best dance festivals, with plenty of standing-room seats for as little as £5; it peaks in late September. www.danceumbrella.co.uk. [tel] 020/7407-1200.
Guy Fawkes Night. In 1605, silly old Guy Fawkes tried to assassinate James I and the entire Parliament by blowing them to smithereens in the Gunpowder Plot. Joke’s on him: To this day, the Brits celebrate his failure by blowing up him. His effigy is thrown on bonfires across the country, fireworks displays rage in the autumn night sky, and more than a few tykes light their first sparklers in honor of the would-be assassin’s gruesome execution. Although displays are scattered around town, including at Battersea Park and Alexandra Palace, get out of the city for the weekend nearest November 5, also called Bonfire Night, because the countryside is perfumed with the woody aroma of burning leaves on this holiday. Mount Primrose Hill or Hampstead Heath for a view of the fireworks going off around the city.
Lord Mayor’s Show. What sounds like the world’s dullest public access program is actually a delightfully pompous procession, abut 800 years old, involving some 140 charity floats and 6,000 participants (Pewterers! Basketweavers!) who parade round-trip from Mansion House in The City and head to the Royal Courts of Justice, on the Strand, all to ostensibly show off the newly elected Lord Mayor to the Queen or her representatives. The centerpiece is the preposterously carved and gilt Lord Mayor’s Coach, built in 1757—a carriage so extravagant it makes Cinderella’s ride look like a Toyota Corolla. That’s a lot of hubbub for a city official whose role is essentially ceremonial; the Mayor of London (currently Boris Johnson) wields the true power. All that highfalutin strutting is followed by a good old-fashioned fireworks show over the Thames between the Blackfriars and Waterloo bridges. It’s held on the second Saturday in November. www.lordmayorsshow.org.
London Jazz Festival. Some 165 mid-November events attract around 60,000 music fans. Many performances are free, and tickets are distributed by the venues. www.londonjazzfestival.org.uk. [tel] 020/7324-1880.
Remembrance Sunday. Another chance to glimpse Her Royal Highness. She and the prime minister, as well as many royals, attend a ceremony at the Cenotaph, in the middle of Whitehall, to honor the war dead and wounded, of which Britain has borne more than its share. Those red flowers you’ll see everywhere—red petals, black centers—are poppies, the symbol of remembrance in Britain. It takes place on the Sunday nearest November 11.
Carols by Candlelight. Royal Albert Hall’s annual evening of sing-along Christmas carols, readings from Dickens, and music by Handel, Bach, Mozart, and Corelli played by the Mozart Festival Orchestra—in period costume. www.royalalberthall.com. [tel] 020/7589-8212.
New Year’s Eve Fireworks. As Big Ben strikes midnight, London rings in the New Year with fireworks over the Thames and the Eye. It’s so crowded that in 2015, the city began limiting attendance to 100,000 and requiring tickets. They cost £10 and can be booked via www.london.gov.uk/nye starting in late September.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.