Those famous Cole Porter song lyrics might have extolled the virtues of visiting Paris in springtime but for me, it’s always been London. There’s no bad time to visit the British capital, but here’s why I love London in the spring.
Travelling in Europe in summer has come to mean one thing: queues. Some days it can seem that the whole world is standing in front of you as you wait patiently in line. London’s top attractions are no different. Come in spring, however, and unless you hit the school holidays, you’ll experience fewer crowds. But the reasons why I love London in the spring go far beyond not having to queue.
Time to Get Outside
Spring is all about regeneration and after a long, dull winter under grey skies, there’s no better feeling than to get outdoors again and feel the warm air on your cheek. London’s a green city, and the Royal Parks are wonderful when the bulbs push through the flower beds to erupt in a carpet of yellow, blue and white blooms. Daffodils are particularly good at lifting the spirits, and you’ll find the greatest concentrations adorning the lawns of Green Park and St James’s Park.
The weather’s just right for riverside attractions too. Though the nursery rhyme suggests that “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers”, you’re more likely to experience heavy showers in the summer months, albeit brief ones. Gone is the biting wind and sleet of winter, and in its place a gentle breeze that tickles your face and plays with your hair.
The birds make their presence felt, chirruping loudly enough to make themselves heard above the hum of the distant traffic. Though it’s not yet warm enough to row on the Serpentine or picnic on the lawns of Regent’s Park, it’s just perfect for a stroll and, as the season progresses, a moment of quiet contemplation on one of the many park benches.
Take to the River
It becomes a pleasure rather than a chore to join the line for a ride on the city’s famous Ferris wheel, the London Eye. Moored below its pods, the sightseeing boats begin to pick up trade and the rising temperatures make a high speed RIB ride a pleasure rather than a test of endurance. But for a bargain ride it’s hard to beat the Thames Clippers who shuttle commuters and visitors alike between the piers. Jump on at Westminster and alight at Greenwich for the most scenic section of their journey.
Back on dry land, hike up the hill to the Greenwich Observatory – so much more pleasant when it’s not so humid – and find out about why longitude is measured from London. Follow the story of clockmaker John Harrison to Hampstead, where he’s interred in the churchyard close to another John, the artist Constable. This upscale neighbourhood looks delightful in spring. Check out the house of Ernő Goldfinger, who inspired a Bond villain, on the way to Hampstead Heath. The views across London are splendid up here.
Pack in the Sightseeing
The lighter evenings also allow more time for sightseeing. By 4pm in December, the night is upon you and locals and tourists alike retreat into the warm and cosy interiors of their homes and hotel rooms. But in May, the light doesn’t fade until well into the evening. Put those extra hours to good use with a ride on a vintage Routemaster as it passes St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London. Or maybe you’d prefer to watch the street performers do their thing in Covent Garden. There are enough people about at this time of year to provide plenty of atmosphere and if it’s warm enough, al fresco dining becomes a tempting option.
Some of London’s best spectator events are held in spring, which is another reason to love this season. At the end of March, crews representing Oxford and Cambridge universities take to the water for the Boat Race, a rowing match that was first held in 1829. On the same day, over at Spitalfields City Farm, the Goat Race hasn’t such a long pedigree but it’s a whole lot more fun – some would even say it’s hard to bleat.
In April, crowds gather to cheer on the runners who are challenging themselves to complete the London marathon. Identify the front runners in Docklands before catching a ride to the Mall to see them sprint to the finish. April’s also the month that the Globe Theatre summer season kicks off. At this reconstruction of an Elizabethan playhouse, you can watch a production outside, just as folks would have done in Shakespeare’s time.
For a week in May, the country’s best garden designers transform the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea into show-stopping miniature gardens and impressive horticultural displays. If that’s left you feeling inspired, take a trip to Kew Gardens, where climate conditions from around the globe are recreated inside its iconic glasshouses. Almost 30000 species of plants are on display at this sprawling 250 year old garden, but the carpet of bluebells that appears in spring is worth travelling miles to see.
In the city, few spaces can match the Sky Garden. This lush tropical garden occupies three floors of the Walkie Talkie, a distinctive skyscraper more correctly known as 20 Fenchurch Street. It’s the home of the highest open air garden in the city and boasts fabulous views over London. Higher still is the observation deck of The Shard, south of the river near London Bridge. On the open air Skydeck on Level 72, you’ll be glad of the warmer spring air as you are open to the elements on its observation deck. With a view over London as breathtaking as this, you won’t want to rush down just because it’s cold.
Of course, London’s a year-round city, and its residents occupy themselves indoors rather than hibernate. There are enough museums, galleries and historic buildings to keep anyone entertained through the winter, not to mention theatre performances to while away the evenings. But there’s something special about the reawakening London undergoes in spring, and if you time your visit to coincide with that time of year, you won’t regret it.
About the Author: Julia Hammond
Enthusiastic advocate for independent travel and passionate geographer, travel writer Julia considers herself privileged to earn a living doing something she loves. When not roaming the globe, you’ll find her windswept but smiling, chatting away to her two dogs as they wander the Essex marshes.