ONE OF THE WORLD’S most exciting cities anytime of year, London truly comes into its own during autumn. This is particularly true in 2016 — in fact, we’d go so far as to say that a combination of big-budget museum expansions, world-debut art exhibitions and theatre shows, top-notch festivals, and the city’s perennial autumn charm is conspiring to make fall 2016 the best time to visit London, ever. What follows is merely the tip of the iceberg.
1. The autumn leaves of the world’s largest urban forest need kicking.
With over 8 million trees, London is home to the world’s “largest urban forest.” This means that half of the city is green space…making it the perfect place to walk through parks, admiring the feast of autumn colors, kicking up crispy leaves as you go.
And while strolling the city’s many parks can keep you quietly content for hours, you might also want to nip inside now and then for a break from all that fresh air. You’re in luck — many of London’s public spaces are also home to art galleries and historic houses. The Royal Observatory and Meridian Line in Greenwich Park gives great insight into our explorations of space and time; the Serpentine Galleries overlooking London’s famous Hyde Park feature cutting-edge art and architecture exhibitions; and Ham House in Richmond and Kenwood House in Hampstead both offer a beautiful reminder of the London of yesteryear. Downton Abbey fans, rejoice.
2. The already famous London theatres come alive with new shows…
Every year, London’s theatre lovers go nuts in the fall when new shows appear in the West End. Grab tickets to see what this year’s fuss is about — and to be the first to see the year’s best talent in one of the most vibrant and storied theatre districts in the world. Must-sees in 2016 include Imogen, a feminist reworking of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at none other than the Globe Theatre; the musical Lazarus, written by the late David Bowie, at King’s Cross Theatre; and the musical version of the film School of Rock, with music by the West End’s very own Andrew Lloyd Webber, at the New London Theatre.
London’s vibrant, diverse, and international cultural offerings are reflected in its theatre and, even if you’re not big into the scene, there really is something for every taste.
3. …while others dim for candlelit performances.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, on the banks of the River Thames, makes for an intimate and cozy setting as few other theatres do…but the performance season winds down after summer. What most don’t realize, however, is that sitting on the same site — owned and operated by the folks at the Globe — is the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, carrying the live-theatre torch through autumn and winter.
This fall, the playhouse is hosting the enchantingly named Wonder Noir season. It’s not all Shakespeare all the time — they’re also putting on works by Hans Christian Andersen, Nick Drake, and John Webster. But in keeping with Elizabethan times, the theatre will be lit solely by candlelight, so get ready to feel like you’ve traveled back a few centuries.
4. The festival season buzzes through the city.
It’s not for nothing that London is considered by many to be the culture capital of the world, and this is especially evident when the city is awash with festivals. Some of the most prominent figures in fashion, art, film, and food descend on London for events spanning the fall months, treating locals and visitors alike to a nonstop cultural bazaar. London is effervescent year-round, but in fall it straight up buzzes with excitement.
More often that not, several festivals are running at the same time — sometimes for weeks on end — once the leaves start turning. During fall, there’s the Totally Thames Festival, London Design Festival, Frieze Art Fair, London Fashion Week, London Film Festival (see below), and the London Restaurant Festival (more on that later, too). And that’s just scraping the surface of the autumn festival list. If you’re looking for culture, creativity, history, and free samples all in one, don’t even think of going anywhere else.
And while you may have missed out on some of the above events for 2016, fear not — fashion, design, and art permeate the city’s museums and galleries throughout the season.
5. Film stars walk the streets.
Every October, London hosts the incredible BFI London Film Festival, attracting directors, producers, and film stars from all over the world for 12 days of everything film. There are feature films, shorts, documentaries, and a specially curated selection of international premieres. It isn’t uncommon to spot well-known actors and directors at the events, which range from red-carpet galas to talks with industry insiders. This year, the acclaimed director Werner Herzog will be pulling in the crowds for a talk about his new film Lo and Behold, while Amma Asante’s acclaimed film A United Kingdom will kick off the festivities. Twelve days, 454 films, 14 venues — you honestly can’t be bored.
Outside of the festival, the BFI Southbank hosts a constant selection of classic and contemporary films for when you fancy a cozy night in at one of London’s coolest cinemas.
6. Food reaches another level at the London Restaurant Festival.
London is packed with fantastic dining options, with over 60 Michelin-starred restaurants in the city. It probably won’t come as a surprise, then, that the London Restaurant Festival is a big deal. With over 250 menus to choose from and an entire month’s worth of events (October 1-31), there’s very literally something for every taste and every budget. You can pick a tasting menu at your new favorite spot, go on a restaurant-hopping tour, or, you know, just have the “Ultimate Gastronomic Weekend” (gonna force you to Google that one).
And remember: It’s a feast not just for the taste buds but also for the eyes — you’ll have plenty of ammo to be filling your Instagram with nothing but mouthwatering food pics this fall.
7. Autumn 2016 is the best time to explore London’s award-winning museums.
The list of London museums is as broad as it is long, and every fall is a great time to visit exciting new exhibitions (shout out to smaller crowds and cozy sweater weather). But in the biggest cultural expansion that London has seen in decades, 2016 offers more than we knew we could handle. The Tate Modern has doubled in size with the opening of the Switch House, and the Design Museum (which happens to be the UK’s most-followed museum on Twitter) will reopen this fall at a gigantic new site in South Kensington.
After checking out the brand new Design Museum, make sure to pop into the always-impressive Natural History Museum and Science Museum, both free and full of all things science — dinosaurs, the Apollo 10 command capsule, Stephenson’s Rocket, model blue whales… The Science Museum also opens a new Mathematics gallery in December — they say that we learn best when we’re having fun, and London’s museums certainly abide.
Pro tip: Don’t skip The Geffrye. Apart from its famous Christmas exhibition, it has a rad showcase this fall on — get this — teenagers’ bedrooms. Will there be Spice Girls posters? Hopefully.
8. In October, you can reenact Night at the Museum.
If you’ve ever had a desire for some sort of clandestine evening in a museum when no one’s looking, London’s Museums at Night events are your chance. For just a few days in October (27-29, to be precise), some of the best-loved museums in the city stay open late for the big kids to enjoy.
From ghost tours that’ll spook you to fun social nights with music and cocktails (think Queen Elizabeth’s hunting lodge, the Roman Baths glowing at night, and the Craven Museum and Gallery by candlelight), the feeling of staying in a museum after hours is even better than when your parents used to let you stay up late for sleepover parties.
9. You can be the first to see the latest art exhibitions, from the great masters…
London has serious pull when it comes to the arts. Every year, exhibitions include works by many of the greats in the art world, old and new. This fall, London showcases the Picasso Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, abstract expressionists Rothko and Pollock at the Royal Academy, and Caravaggio at the National Gallery, among many, many others.
10. …to new ones to watch.
The city is also a stage for the hottest upcoming artists as well as today’s established A-list. Head to trendy East London to explore over 150 galleries showcasing the cutting edge of London’s vibrant art scene.
What’s more, on the first Thursday of every month, many of these galleries host events, exhibitions, talks, and late-night openings, and several (including some museums) stay open till 9pm. You can walk the route to take it all in, or hop on and off the Art Bus to get your fix. Highlights include Beyond the Horizon and Image Music Text at Whitechapel Gallery, and Isolation Chamber Vacation at Transition Gallery.
11. The whole of the South Bank is thrumming with activity.
Taking a walk along the southern bank of the Thames is far more than just a stroll by the river. The Southbank Centre alone is 21 acres of galleries, theatres, music halls, and a poetry library, so whether you’re into dance, jazz, theatre, literature, or anything in between, you should find something here. Still not convinced? There’s also a roof garden, multiple bars and restaurants, and even a skate park.
The London Literature Festival will add to the buzz here in early-to-mid October (surprise! Another awesome October festival spanning 11 days), with multi-award-winning writer Margaret Atwood headlining the event. Its focus this year is on how the world is increasingly resembling science fiction — think H.G. Wells panels, discussions on human limitations with Richard Dawkins, and Hassan Blasim (a celebrated Iraqi author) imagining his homeland 100 years in the future.
12. And as the nights draw in, you’ll see London lit up just like in the movies.
London is an incredibly romantic city — as seen in films like Love Actually and Notting Hill. Watch the city light up as the day turns to night, wrap yourself in that snug autumn sweater, and take a walk along the Thames or sit by the fire in a traditional pub. This, truly, is London at its best.
This post is proudly presented in partnership with visitlondon.com.