You've planned your trip to London meticulously. You've made a list of must-see museums and historic homes and palaces. You've mapped out your walking tours through the parks and characterful neighbourhoods. But what about that London near-certainty, the rainy day? How can you make the most of wet weather when you only have a few days in the British capital? Read on to learn how to keep rain from ruining your stay in one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in the world.
Ideally you should try to keep as much flexibility in your London plans as possible. That way, when the weather takes a turn for the worse, you can shift your schedule around so that indoor activities take precedence. Most visitors to London, for example, are keen to sample some of London's world-class museums. These, of course, provide excellent rainy day activities. Many of London's major museums, moreover, are either situated together in complexes or are large enough to constitute complexes themselves. The British Museum, the most visited tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, falls into this second category. A visitor can easily spend an entire day wandering about in this vast institution which contains a wealth of treasures from around the world. Highlights include millennia-old Egyptian mummies and the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens. The museum also hosts blockbuster temporary exhibitions for which last-minute tickets are sometimes available.
As for museum complexes, the National Gallery, one of the world's leading collections of pre-twentieth century Western art, is located conveniently next door to the National Portrait Gallery, a sizable institution which charts British history since Tudor times through portraits of its leading citizens. These two Trafalgar Square museums would make for a very pleasant rainy day outing punctuated by lunch in one of the two galleries' restaurants. In South Kensington, just west of the centre, a visitor will find the Museum of Natural History, the Science Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, all next door to one another. The museums of this complex are even connected to each other, as well as with nearby South Kensington tube station, by an underground tunnel which ensures that inclement weather isn't a worry to museum-goers. The varied nature of these collections also allow a group with different interests to split up for a time and yet remain conveniently nearby, all still safe from the rain. As all of the above museums are considered national collections, entry is free and visitors are only required to pay for temporary exhibitions.
For many tourists, one of the highlights of a trip to London is the opportunity to shop. Again, this can be an excellent rainy day activity. Large department stores such as Harrods or Selfridges can easily occupy an avid shopper for hours, so vast are their holdings. As many of the most high-profile (and high-end) shops are concentrated on a handful of streets such as Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street, meanwhile, rainy day shopping doesn't require being outside for too long at any one stretch. However, for a similar retail experience under the shelter of a single roof, keen shoppers may want to head to either of the two large Westfield Malls (in White City to the west of the city centre and Stratford to the east) each of which contain many of the same shops located in the West End.
If your preference is for eating rather than shopping, London can also fulfill your desires. Few cities are able to boast as many options in terms of price range and types of cuisine as London, so if rain threatens to spoil your day, why not spend the afternoon lingering over a leisurely lunch. Many of the best restaurants in the city offer set-menu lunches at much lower prices than their dinners. And if the rain scuppers your late afternoon plans, why not take the opportunity to indulge in that quintessentially British activity, the high tea? The grander hotels offer particularly sumptuous high teas or you can combine the experience with a shopping excursion by taking tea in one of the departments store restaurants. Another option for dining on a rainy day is Borough Market, a mostly covered area near London Bridge which is packed towards the end of every week with stalls offering foods from around the British Isles and Europe. And if the rain should cease while you're browsing, the market is well-placed for visiting the nearby Tate Modern (large enough to occupy a good portion of your day, as it is) and Shakespeare's Globe theatre which offers an exhibition during daytime hours. Speaking of theatres, if rain should scupper your plans on a Wednesday or Saturday afternoon, why not take in a matinee performance of a play or musical in the West End? Last minute deals are often available at much lower prices than evening performances.
Finally, you could just embrace the rain. London downpours are rarely very strong, certainly not by the standards of more temperate regions. Pack or purchase a reliable raincoat or umbrella and, thus armed, make your way about the city. Just make sure to avoid the see-through poncho if you don't want to stand out as a tourist!
E.T at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum
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