As well as its impressive stock of royal parks, open-air markets and historic city walks, the British capital has plenty to explore under cover. From chic shopping to gallery hopping, our itinerary for a rainy day in London delivers warm, dry versions of the city’s favourite activities. Brollies at the ready, here’s where to have a spectacular time in the metropolis without getting wet.
A rainy day in London is the perfect excuse to duck into the capital’s inimitable museums and galleries. The city is blessed with a concentration of incredible cultural hubs that are home to some of the world’s most sought-after artworks –and many with free entry. For the Mark Rothkos of modern art, look to the legendary Tate Modern on the South Bank. Here, you’ll find a permanent collection packed with Warhols and Matisses as well as a rotation of shows by contemporary icons such as Yayoi Kusama and Kara Walker. Art mogul Charles Saatchi’s eponymous Chelsea gallery is also worth a visit to marvel at his personal, ultra-avant-garde collection.
For art of a more classic persuasion, take a black cab over to The National Gallery. Located on Trafalgar Square, this historic behemoth is full of masterpieces from the 13th century onwards, from da Vinci’s 'The Virgin of the Rocks' to Van Gogh’s 'Sunflowers'. Similarly, the Tate Britain houses a splendid archive of exemplary works – the largest collection of British art in the world. Take an aesthetic journey from the 16th century to the present day, stopping at Turners, Hepworths and Hockneys along the way.
A damp day is the perfect excuse to venture inside some of the landmark buildings that make London’s skyline so iconic. The gilded interiors of St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace are just as impressive – if not more so – than their ornate façades. Gaze up in wonder at the soaring dome of St Paul’s and step up to appreciate the incredible acoustics of the Whispering Gallery. Head along the river, ideally aboard a covered Thames cruise, to admire the location of countless royal weddings at Westminster Abbey and walk in the historic footsteps of kings, queens and statesmen.
Warm up and refuel with a pit stop in a quintessentially British pub. When it comes to historic watering holes packed with atmosphere, you’re spoilt for choice in London. Tuck into hearty ale-battered fish and chunky chips at Mayfair’s elegant Punchbowl. You’re in good company – Winston Churchill’s portrait keeps watch over patrons. Or dine beneath The Star Tavern’s twinkling chandeliers, comfortably couched upon a well-worn Chesterfield. This iconic Belgravia pub has in hosted such characters as Peter O’Toole and the Great Train Robbers over the years.
Once suitably energised, spend the afternoon ducking the deluges with some serious retail therapy. Take cover from a rainy day in London in one of the capital’s many celebrated department stores. While you’ll find luxurious fashions, homeware and gifts at all, each has its own personality. All mock-Tudor grandeur and dark wood paneling, Liberty bursts with olde-English charm and favours niche labels as well as top designers. Unashamedly ostentatious, Harrods displays endless reams of glamourous brands, and don’t miss its Art Nouveau-inspired food hall. Duck under your umbrella and make a dash across the street to Harvey Nichols to peruse similarly extravagant wares from established luxury brands across its eight floors. A little more down to earth but as charming are Selfridges and, nearby, Fenwick Bond Street.
London’s beautiful historic indoor markets and arcades appear even more romantic in the rain. Be captivated on a slow wander through the grand Victorian halls of Leadenhall Market and peruse fine cigars, wines and fragrances as the heavens descend upon its glass roof. Over in Mayfair, a cluster of pretty arcades sit just a stone’s throw from one another. Royal, Burlington, Piccadilly and Princes Arcades are home to an alluring clutch of heritage boutiques from which to unearth small, Royal Warrant-holding brands of distinction. From exquisite tailoring and antique jewellery to luggage and timepieces, you’ll find them all in these delightful Edwardian retail havens.
While the heavens continue to open, secure a table offering the best of British cuisine. Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge is renowned for his rich, refined take on English classics. Nowhere better serves his take on comfort cooking than his first London restaurant, Kerridge’s Bar & Grill. Ensconce yourself in a generous leather booth and dine on pig’s cheek pie with clotted cream mash, surrounded by Tom’s sculptor wife’s eye-catching centrepieces.
Round up your rainy day in London with some theatre. For crowd-pleasers, make a beeline for the West End where there are award-winning musicals galore and smash-hit blockbusters such as Hamilton and The Phantom of the Opera. For something more highbrow, the Royal Opera House serves a heart-stirring programme of ballet and opera, while the South Bank’s National Theatre puts on inspirational performances by big stage names. Offbeat productions are the order of the day at Barbican. Here you’re as likely to catch a genre-splicing poetry and music concert as you are a live art installation.
Before you retire your umbrella for the day, savour a post-show nightcap at Velvet by Salvatore Calabrese. This sleek Champagne and cocktail bar is the perfect spot in which to unwind, serenaded by the smooth sounds of jazz. Sip on a signature martini or innovative cocktail amid modernist artworks while a pianist tinkles the ivories for an ambient backdrop.