What to do in London: the eternal question in one of the world’s most dynamic (and dare we say frenetic?) cities. In summer, alongside the usual slew of restaurants and bars, we suddenly have access to sun-drenched beer gardens, flower-filled restaurant terraces, picnics in parks and day dancing at festivals, and boy are we ready for it.
And as we all gear up to escape our houses – this year more than ever – there comes a clutch of noteworthy events: more new openings, festivals and exhibitions than you can shake a cocktail stick at.
June marks the Platinum Jubilee, kicking off with an extra-long weekend that’s crying out for day drinking and dancing, so it’s no surprise there’s a clutch of festivals to get you going. This month also heralds the return of the Royal Academy’s always-anticipated Summer Exhibition; the annual London Festival of Architecture, which will encourage you to explore the city in a whole new light; while Rana Begum’s landmark show at Pitzhanger Manor is putting the art world in a spin.
Our aim is to keep our suggestions short but sweet: and because you’re reading about the best things to do in London here, you know everything has been chosen to bring you the best insider knowledge of the British capital.
The Drunken Butler’s new Persian menu
What: The beloved Clerkenwell restaurant goes full-Persian
When: Now and forever
Where: 20 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4SX
How much: £85 for the Persian summer feast
The Drunken Butler has garnered a quiet acclaim for its brilliant, French-accented cooking and superb spirits collection, but the jewel in its crown has long been the Persian Sundays event, a weekly sell-out Iranian feasting experience inspired by founder Yuma Hashemi’s travels and childhood in the Middle East. Now, the restaurant will only be offering a Persian-inspired menu that looks to Hashemi’s favourite family dishes throughout the week. Expect meals like tahdig, the Iranian crunchy rice dish; barbecue saffron chicken and plenty of delicate sweet treats. The icing on the cake? The ‘vintage’ negroni menu, using spirits sourced from the 50s, 60s and 70s. See you down there.
What: An Italian-themed food and fashion pop-up
When: 9-19 June
Where: Television Centre, 1 Wood Lane, White City, W12 7RJ
Cult jewellery brand Alighieri continues to cement itself as the epitome of cool with a ten-day food and fashion event at White City’s Television Centre. The brand’s founder and designer Rosh Mahtani has always been inspired by Florence, and she’s looked to the Italian city to create the Mercato, taking over the square with pastel-hued structures evocative of Renaissance architecture, and a special Alighieri pop-up at Mariella’s Bridal boutique. Once you’ve done a spot of shopping, you can soak up the ambiente with gelato, aperitivo and hand-rolled pasta from Casa Luna. There’ll even be Italian wine tastings run by Amber Gardner, a sommelier at London’s NoMad Hotel.
The 2022 Serpentine Pavilion
What: Serpentine Gallery’s celebrated summer commission
When: 10 June-16 October
Where: Kensington Gardens
How much: Free, depending on event
Each year, the Serpentine Gallery invites an internationally acclaimed architect to design and build their first structure in England: the Serpentine Pavilion. Throughout the summer months, the space is used for entertaining; for showcasing art; and it becomes a platform for the gallery’s live programme. This year, though, things look a little different: the mastermind invited to build the structure is Theaster Gates – not an architect, but a Chicago-based artist celebrated for his way of engaging with space, and rehabilitating forgotten, disused spaces. He’s created the Black Chapel, drawing on many architectural typographies that have inspired his work, and the backdrop for a new series of Gates’ tar paintings. If you’re intrigued, so you should be: the Black Chapel – and the accompanying programme of events – isn’t something to be missed.
What: A Grace Jones-curated music lineup on the Southbank
When: 10-19 June
Where: Belvedere Road, London, SE1
How much: Price varies according to event – some are free
Artist, musician, fashion icon and now festival curator: the legendary Grace Jones is the latest artist to head up the Southbank Centre’s annual Meltdown festival, and it’s no surprise that her lineup absolutely bangs from start to finish. Taking place 10-19 June, the festival is a whirlwind of genre-defying music and poetry, with events from Sky Ferreira, Honey Dijon, Greentea Peng, Hercules & Love Affair and so many more. Set against the brutalist backdrop of the Southbank Centre (always one of our favourite places in London for a cultural hit) and the Thames, it’s a sublime way to kickstart the summer.
London Festival of Architecture
What: A celebration of building design and city-making
When: Throughout June
Where: Across London
How much: Price varies
The LFA does exactly what it says on the tin: it celebrates the best of architecture and city-making in London every year throughout June. For 2022, the theme is ‘Act’, designed to inspire and energise after two years of enforced passivity, and asks how architecture could and should act in the face of climate change and social injustice. Alongside dedicated spaces in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Camden, the City of London and the Royal Docks, the festival has events and activations across the whole of London, ranging from the Architecture Bake Off, a public competition inviting bakers to create cakes in the shape of iconic London buildings; to Studio Lates, where architecture practices open their doors to both the public and the profession every Friday.
Plaquemine Lock’s Bourbon Boucherie series
What: Cajun and Creole-inspired barbecues in collaboration with guest chefs
When: 25 June; 31 July and 6 August
Where: 139 Graham Street, London, N1 8LB
How much: Price varies
Come rain or shine, there’s no love like the British have for barbecue. But there’ll be far more than charred sausages on the grill at Plaquemine Lock’s series of ‘boucheries’ this summer, which put a London spin on the traditional Cajun event. Tucked on the side streets behind Angel, Plaquemine Lock is beloved for its soul food inspired by the Deep South – not to mention its toe-tappingly good Blues Brunch – so the restaurant has a rep for knowing how to throw a party. The boucheries take place on several Sundays throughout the summer, inviting London chefs to create Cajun and Creole-influenced dishes, served alongside live music and bourbon cocktails. First up is Slade Rushing of similarly NOLA-inspired restaurant Louie, who’ll be cooking up plates of egg yolk carpaccio with Creole-spiced prawns and ‘nduja vinaigrette. If that’s not got enough flavour to pique your interest, we don’t know what does.
Chatsworth at Sotheby’s
What: a farm-to-table pop-up in sophisticated surrounds
When: 28 May-15 July
Where: Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London, W1A 2AA
How much: Mains from 20 GBP / 25 USD
Gin-cured salmon; lamb barnsley chop with monk’s beard and salsa fresca; a delicate, decadent bakewell tart: British classics become works of art when made with produce from the Chatsworth Estate in the Peak District as part of a summer-long collaboration at esteemed English auction house Sotheby’s. The seasonal farm-to-table menu runs from 28 May to 13 July, and is part of a roster of events celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Beyond the super-special menu, Chatsworth’s beautiful produce will be incorporated into Sotheby’s usual food offering, appearing at breakfast in the form of sausages, bacon, black pudding, served with Chatsworth’s dark, thick-cut marmalade and Chatsworth flower honey.
Dreamachine at Woolwich Public Market
What: A unique immersive installation that takes place with your eyes closed
When: Until Sunday 24 July
Where: Woolwich Public Market, 14 Plumstead Road, Thamesmead West, London, SE18 7BZ
How much: Free
An immersive experience that takes place entirely with your eyes closed? Sounds weird, but we like it. Using light, sound and the technology that already exists inside your own brain, Dreamachine creates an experience that’s entirely unique to you, designed to make us think about how we all see and experience things differently. The event unfolds at the Grade II listed, disused Woolwich Public Market, which has laid dormant since 2018. You might feel like you’re flying along on a rollercoaster ride; spinning through space; or you might even fall asleep. And you know what? It’s absolutely OK if you do.
Koya & Ko’s guest series
What: A series of rotating specials from London’s coolest chefs
When: Kicking off on 24 June, each special will be available for two weeks
Where: Koya Ko, 10 Broadway Market Mews, London, E8 4TS
How much: From 8 GBP / 10 USD for a bowl of udon
If you’re hungry, look away now: Koya Ko – the Broadway Market outpost from the much-loved udon noodle group – is hosting a handful guest chefs this summer for its Koya & Ko series, putting a spin on its stalwart udon dishes. Each chef is a friend of Koyo co-founder Shuko Oda, and the roster reads like a who’s-who of the hottest names in London food right now: Florence Knight of Sessions Arts Club looks to Italy with clam and wild garlic udon with roasted tomatoes; as does Max Rocha of Café Cecilia with tea-stained egg breakfast udon; while Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich (Honey & Co.) incorporate the flavours of the Middle East with pickled cucumber, shredded cabbage, tahini, sesame and chilli udon. Other chefs to look out for include Laura Jackson of Towpath Cafe, Owen Barrett of Monty’s Deli and many more. We’re salivating already.
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
What: The Royal Academy’s annual summer celebration
When: 21 June-21 August
Where: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD
How much: From 20 GBP / 25 USD
Whether the sun decides to make an appearance or not, the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition – now in its 254th year – brings a riot of joyful colour and energy to West London, from the flags that cheer up the whole of Piccadilly to chilled drinks in the RA’s beautiful courtyard to the artworks themselves. This year the theme is more poignant than ever: ‘Climate’, as chosen by British sculptor and the exhibition’s coordinator Alison Wilding, with two rooms filled with pieces by Grayson Perry, a structure made out of elephant dung bricks and works by the Singh Twins – not to mention a large-scale immersive installation by Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias.
Rana Begum’s solo show, Dappled Light
What: An exploration of light, material and colour by highly regarded artists
When: Until 11 September
Where: Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery, Mattock Lane, London, W5 5EQ
How much: From 7.70 GBP / 8 USD
Visionary, inspiring and, well, straight-up cool, Rana Begum is one of the biggest names on the art scene right now – and her Dappled Light exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery pays brilliantly bold homage to her talent. The Anglo-Bangladeshi artist blurs the lines between sculpture, painting and architecture, using a vibrant visual language to cross both the temporal and spatial experiences. Dappled Light is one of this year’s most highly anticipated exhibitions, so be sure to book ahead.
Food Forever at Kew
What: A major exhibition that’ll change the way you think about food
When: Until 21 September
Where: Richmond, London, TW9 3AE
How much: Included with an entry ticket to Kew Gardens; 15 GBP / 19 USD
The future of food has never been a hotter topic, and it comes to beautiful botanical life at Kew this summer, with the gardens playing host to a major exhibition dedicated to the subject. Four new art installations take pride of place, putting issues like food scarcity and biodiversity on the plate, while a series of dinners from guest chefs including queen of veggie cooking Anna Jones and Zoe Adjonyoh of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen adds extra temptation. Not only does this exhibition serve to make us think twice about how we eat, but it’s also designed to empower us to transform our impact on the planet and people for good.
Cornelia Parker at Tate Britain
What: A long-overdue homage to one of Britain’s most important modern artists
When: Until 16 October
Where: Bankside, London, SE1 9TG
How much: 16 GBP / 20 USD
If you ever want to come face-to-face with your mediocrity, gawping at Cornelia Parker’s work at the Tate this summer will just about do it. Parker is responsible for some of the most important art to come out of Britain in the past 30 years, turning everyday objects into the most extraordinary creations. This exhibition – which many say has been a long time coming – is the first major survey of Parker’s work to be held in London, and will include landmark works like ‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’, an installation of flattened silver objects including teapots, candle sticks and dinnerware collected from charity shops and car boot sales; and the striking ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ (1991), a garden shed frozen at the moment of explosion, its fragments surrounding a single lightbulb. This exhibition is both unmissable and unforgettable.
Weird Sensations at the Design Museum
What: A ground-breaking exhibition about ASMR
When: Until 16 October
Where: 224-238 Kensington High Street, London W8 6AG
How much: From 10.50 GBP / 13 USD
No matter which way you look at it, ASMR is quite weird – but it’s kind of wonderful, too, in the way it inspires a sense of calm or euphoria. In the first exhibition to take ASMR out of the digital realm, Weird Sensations at the Design Museum explores an emerging field of creativity entirely rooted in this specific feeling. Discover work by Bjork, videos by viral ASMR YouTubers… and a salivating tongue.
Continue your cultural tour of London with our insider guide to the city’s greatest galleries and museums.