Rainy days are common in London any time of year, but you can still enjoy the city and stay dry.
The weather in London is so unpredictable. When it rains in the middle of August, Londoners aren’t surprised, they’re used to that.
Visitors, however, may find that they need to change their plans if they don’t want to get soaked.
Pin it for a rainy day!
Going into a restaurant or café seems like the obvious thing to do. There are so many good places to eat and drink everywhere in London that it’s probably the easiest way to pass the time till the rain stops.
Shopping may also be an obvious choice. Careful though, because after wading through Oxford Street with a trillion umbrellas around you, you are likely to promise yourself never to do that again.
Other than eating or shopping, what else can you do in London when it rains?
See an exhibition
You are really spoilt for choice when it comes to museums and galleries in London.
Most of the major museums are free every day of the week. They’re the perfect place to spend a few hours when in rains outside.
Some of London’s most famous museums, like Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert, the Science Museum, the British Museum, the National Gallery, Tate Gallery and Tate Modern have such huge collections that can keep you occupied and entertained indoors for as long as you need to hide from the rain.
The large, well known museums can get very busy when it rains, so sometimes it’s better to look for the lesser known museums that may not be as crowded.
Read a book
London has some impressive libraries that are open to the public and you can spend time in them while you wait for the rain to go away.
Here are some of the most interesting libraries in London:
The British Library near King’s Cross station has the world’s largest collection of books. Check out the free public exhibitions while you’re there. You can request to see a book in one of its 11 reading rooms that are free to enter once you issue a reader’s pass.
The Wellcome Collection Reading Room has over 1000 books, categorised under Alchemy, Food, Travel, Body, Breath, Face, Pain, Mind, Lives and Faith. Find a sofa or walk around to explore the other items in the reading room – sculptures, manuscripts, paintings and interactive activities.
The British Film Institute Library (BFI Library) has books and journals all about cinema and the history of film, mostly in the UK but also worldwide. I’ve written more about the BFI in my post about South Bank.
If you like poetry, then the Poetry Library in Southbank Centre is the place for you. It has a huge and growing collection of British poetry from 1912 to contemporary works.
Foyles is a bookshop, not a library, and it’s one of my favourites. If I’m in central London and it won’t stop raining, I like to step into Foyles on Charing Cross and browse their massive selection. It has several floors, a cafe and helpful staff that can look up any book for you.
Learn a new skill
There are many one-day workshops, classes and courses you can do in London.
This is a good solution when you check the forecast and see that it’s going to rain. It gives you time to sign up in advance. You may also find drop-in classes.
Where do you find workshops in London?
You can always simply Google whatever you want to learn and find workshops to match your interest. If you want to choose from available listings, try some of these sites:
Obby has a great selection of workshops and classes to chooses from, conveniently categorised under art and crafts, food, wellbeing etc.
Eventbrite is a huge database of events. You may be overwhelmed at first by the sheer number of events on offer. Remember to narrow down the search by using filters, particularly the date filter on the left, and select “course” or “seminar” under Event Type.
Funzing is another cool place to search for workshops of all kinds.
Go behind the scenes
For the curious, you can take all sorts of behind-the-scenes tours in London’s cultural institutions.
These will typically teach you about the history of the place and let you look around in parts of the building you wouldn’t normally have access to.
These are good for days when you know it’s going to rain, as they require booking in advance.
If you have a cultural institution that you like, it’s worth checking out if they offer backstage tours. They may also arrange a private tour for you.
Here are some suggestions for backstage tours at some of London’s most famous venues:
The Royal Albert Hall grand tour will take you to the auditorium, the Queen’s private box, rehearsal rooms (possibly) and give you insider stories about this world-famous performance hall. It also offers themed tours, focusing on classical music, history and other themes.
The Royal Opera House backstage tour will give you a glimpse into the current production (which may also be a Royal Ballet show, depending on what’s on that day) and the history of the Royal Opera House.
Southbank Centre is a large cultural complex with several performance halls and galleries, housed in an iconic brutalist building. They offer both architecture tours and behind the scenes tours.
Somerset House has guided tours several times a week, where you can learn about the fascinating history of this building. Note that the public tours at Somerset House are free, but you need to get a ticket at the information desk.
The British Library also offers guided tours of its public areas.
See a film or a theatre show
Depending on the time of day you’re caught in the rain, or if you know it’s going to rain all day, you can go to the theatre. Day tickets or last minute tickets are a good option for days like this. Check out my guide to finding affordable theatre tickets in London.
For film lovers, there are some interesting options, besides ordinary cinemas.
The British Film Institute (BFI) mediatheque is an amazing place to spend time when it rains, watching films, TV shows, documentaries and videos from its vast catalogue of over 33,000 titles. Find a sofa and enjoy, it’s all free.
Not far from there near Waterloo station, IMAX has some of the largest cinema screens in London.
Rich Mix, near Shoreditch High Street station, shows both mainstream and arthouse films. Apart from cinemas, it has a rich programme of events.
Rio Cinema is a long-running independent cinema that also mixes arthouse and popular films.
You can also visit the Cinema Museum for screenings of old and new movies.
Don’t hide from the rain
Something else you can do is just accept it. Since it rains so often, maybe it’s best to equip yourself with a good waterproof jacket or an umbrella and do whatever you want to do.
What can you do outside in the rain?
A walk along the River Thames in the rain can be a beautiful experience.
Walking tours often run whatever the weather, and there are dozens of walking tours you can take in London.
Some people (not me…) have gone on the London Eye in the rain or have done a River Thames boat tour in the rain.
The Tower of London can be a good place to visit on a rainy day, it might even make it more dramatic than it already is.
As long as the rain is not too strong, you can just do whatever you like.
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