Things to do in London when it’s raining

People rarely come to London for the weather, and there’s a good reason for that: London weather sucks. No matter what time of year you visit, chances are you’ll experience miserable rainy weather at least some of the time. Luckily, there are plenty of exciting things to do when it’s wet and grey outside, so you don’t have to feel like your holiday is ruined. Here are a few brilliant ways of killing a few (or many) hours indoors.

1. Visit the big museums (it’s free)

A rainy day means museum day for many people, but not everyone is aware of the fact that London’s big, famous museums are actually mostly free to visit. This makes them a good choice if you’re low on budget. You could easily spend an entire day indoors in a place like the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum or the V&A  without spending money on anything but travel. The changing exhibitions do cost money at all of these places, but are often pretty awesome, so worth the investment if you’re not totally broke.

2. Hang out at Tate Modern

Similarly to the museums, Tate Modern is also free to visit (apart from special exhibitions) and hosts an astounding collection of contemporary art, often presented thematically, rather than chronologically. There are enough floors and enough free-to-see art to take up quite a few hours. There is also a cafe / restaurant with lovely river views, a very well-stocked shop with art books, prints and awesome (i.e. not tacky) postcards, gifts and souvenirs and a massive turbine hall to hang out in while not watching art (the gallery is housed in a former power station). This is one of my favourite hangouts in London, even though I’ve been a million times.  Tate Britain (a different gallery located elsewhere) is also free to visit and is worth seeing if you have an interest in either historic or contemporary British art.

3. See the Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Collection is a  free museum and library  run by a British biomedical charity. It houses some really unusual and exciting exhibitions relating to health, science, art and life. It also hosts lots of interesting events and has a cool reading room and a nice cafe that’s popular with freelancers and digital nomads.  It’s basically (trendy) geek chic incarnate.

4. Eat your way through Borough market

Conveniently located near London Bridge station, Borough Market is London’s equivalent of La Boqueria in Barcelona. It’s a (mostly) covered food market selling all kinds of fresh, unusual foods, including rare (for the UK) fruit and veg, game meat, specialty foods and your usual crop of posh bread, condiments, takeaway world foods, cheeses and desserts. There are also a bunch of stalls selling cheap fruit and veg by the bowl and your choice of pubs, bars and restaurants.

5. Escape to the tropics at Kew Gardens

OK, so the word “gardens” might not be instantly appealing when the weather is foul, but Kew Gardens, London’s historic and utterly beautiful botanic gardens, offer several large conservatories to retreat to, as well as some historic houses and a gallery. The huge collection of beautiful plants from all over the world and the incredibly peaceful atmosphere are totally worth the £13 admission price and the longish journey from the centre of town. Sure, a stroll through the gardens in the sun might be lovely, but don’t give up the dream just because it’s raining. There’s plenty to do here even when it’s wet.

6. Visit the Barbican Centre

The Barbican estate’s Brutalist concrete architecture is even more depressing when it’s raining, but the Barbican Centre is actually a lovely place to visit. In the day you can enjoy art,  a library and free wifi you can use while chilling or working in the quiet foyers. There’s also a warm conservatory full of lush plant life and a pleasant cafe that’s perfect for a light meal or a nice cup of tea. Evenings and weekends also feature all kinds of great events (films, music, dance, etc.).

7. Discover the British Library

You need a Reader Pass to actually access the unimaginably huge collection at the British Library, but you don’t need one to enjoy the beautiful, unique space, visit the exhibitions or use the free wifi in any of the public spaces. In fact, many freelancers and digital nomads use this place as a free communal work space.

8. Go to Book Heaven at Foyles

The flagship store of this British chain of bookstores is on Charing Cross road, so very easy to get to from anywhere in town. Possibly my favourite bookstore in London, Foyles  is a huge, multistory bookshop that contains pretty much every imaginable type of book. If you’re even remotely bookish, prepare to get lost here for many, many hours. There’s also free wifi and a pleasant cafe on site.

9. Embrace your inner fanboy/girl at Forbidden Planet

Close enough to Foyles so you won’t get too wet going there, Forbidden Planet is a popular destination for everything related to sci fi, cult, fantasy, graphic novels, manga, etc. It’s not quite as big as Foyles, but it should still keep you occupied for a while if this is your bag.

10. Chill out at a gaming pub

Sometimes all you want to do when it’s grey and miserable out is get together with a bunch of friends in a cozy room and play some board or video games. Too antisocial for a holiday activity? Not when you can do it in a pub! Many of London’s hipster pubs and bars offer a small selection of board games (and Jenga. Always Jenga), but if you want to level up (see what I did there?) you can visit one of the places especially geared towards gamers and gaming.

Try Draughts for a huge collection of board games (over 800, apparently) and a good choice of local craft beers, cider and food.

Scenario  has over 100 board games, plus both retro and modern video games. There are also some really nice (and strong!) cocktails with amusing gaming-related titles. The vibe is super friendly. Last time I was there, some guy walked up to us and let us test-play his brand new, not-yet-in-shops game. How cool is that?

Secret Weapon also has both video games and board games in a more “East London pub” environment. If the weather clears up, you can sit in the beer garden.

11. Window shop at a posh department store

Instead of being sad because you can’t afford to buy anything at these super expensive stores for rich people, why not re-imagine them as huge, free museums of consumerism?  London has some truly over the top department stores to explore and they offer great people watching opportunities as well as free samples of everything from food to cosmetics.  I recommend Selfridges on Oxford Street (that food hall, OMG), Liberty (in its lovely Tudor-revival building), Fortrum & Mason (for specialty food, amazing tea and a super posh vibe) and, of course, Harrods, the poshest of the posh.

12. Be fascinated (or grossed out) at Body Worlds

The fact that this exhibition of real, “plastinated” human bodies is located in Piccadilly should tell you that it’s a massive tourist trap (and if that doesn’t, the admission price will). However, that doesn’t actually make it any less fun or interesting to visit. Body Worlds is an incredibly strange mix of science, entertainment, and some sort of bizarre attempt at “art” that’s worth seeing at least once in your life. Where else can you see smokers’ lungs up close, examine slices of a brain consumed by Alzheimer’s or visit a petting zoo of human organs? There are touring exhibitions all over the world, but if you’ve not come across one yet, this is as good a place as any to see it.

13. Take a tour of the Masonic Temple

The United Grand Lodge of England offers tours of the Freemasons’ Hall , one of Covent Garden’s most iconic buildings. There are up to five tours a day, giving you plenty of chances to pretend you’re a character in a Dan Brown novel. But even if you’re not trying to decipher the Da Vinchi code, this is  a really beautiful building that’s been around since the 18th century. There’s no shortage of opulence and occult vibes inside, that’s for sure. There is also a museum.

14. Snuggle up to a new furry friend at a cat cafe

There’s nothing better than curling up with a cat on a cold day. No cat? No problem! Just visit London’s hip cat cafe and you’ll be literally surrounded by cats.

Lady Dinah’s  is usually very busy, so it’s best to book in advance (as in, before your actual London trip), but walk-ins are sometimes possible, so it’s worth checking. This cool East London “cat emporium” is home to many cats and also offers posh afternoon tea packages if you want to go for the full British experience.

15. Catch a film at a cozy cinema

Feel like staying in bed or crashing on the sofa with a good film instead of going out in the rain? Portobello’s Electric Cinema offers both comfy beds and plush sofas for you to relax in while watching arty movies.  The Genesis Cinema in Stepney screens both blockbusters and arthouse stuff and offers comfy sofas, an in-theatre bar and blankets. This is probably the closest you’ll get to Netflix and chill while actually being out in public. Check out this post for more unusual London cinemas.

16. Shop at a covered market

Spitalfields Market has food, vintage and designer fashion, antiques and all kinds of other cool stuff. The pretty, historic building is located between Liverpool St Station and Brick Lane and has at least some action every single day of the week (although it’s busier on weekends).

Camden Stables Market is located in a network of, you guessed it, old stables, so is a good place to escape the rain. You can browse vintage fashion, antiques, imported Chinese tat, local crafts and even vinyl records. There’s also the utterly 90s-futuristic Cyberdog megastore, some takeaway food places and several cafes. The adjacent Camden Lock Market is smaller, but also has a large indoor bit. There are other parts to Camden Market, but they are open air, so somewhat less fun in the rain.