London: Annual Events

As you’ll know from browsing through our listings and articles, there’s loads to see and do in London. You can take your toddler out and about all over the city, check out London’s best pub theatres or historic pubs (although preferably not with your toddler), see the top London landmarks or theatre shows, have a family day out, go to some of the best London markets and museums, or pretty much anything else you like. And as well as all this, there are loads of annual London events throughout the year, which you can book your holiday around if you’re not from London, or book your time off work around if you are.

Here’s our Six of the Best London annual events:

Notting Hill Carnival: Like so much in London, the Notting Hill Carnival is now world famous. The Caribbean street festival is on every August, over the Sunday and Monday of the bank holiday, so time off from work shouldn’t even be a problem. It’s said to be the biggest street festival in the world after Rio, with over a million people attending in 2010 and 2011. Go to watch the reggae, steel bands and feather boa costumes (we want), and arrive a day early to also take in the nearby Portobello Road Market, with over 1500 antique dealers on site.

London Marathon: We can’t say we’d be so athletic as to take part, but we’re full of admiration for the 35,000 runners who take part in the London Marathon each April, raising millions of pounds for their chosen charities in the process. The marathon route winds around the Thames, starting from three separate points around Blackheath and going through Greenwich, over Tower Bridge and past St Paul’s Cathedral before finishing at The Mall at St James’s Park. Special kudos over the years goes to Lloyd Scott, who completed (we won’t say ‘ran’) the marathon in 2002 wearing a deep sea diving suit with each shoe weighing 11 kg – breaking the world record for the slowest marathon time. (The suit is now on display at the National Maritime Museum.)

Chinese New Year: Just as January is winding down and we’re getting homicidal from the Christmas comedown, the lack of money in our accounts and the dark nights, comes the Chinese New Year celebrations, destined to get you through another week or two until spring. The 2012 celebrations saw a festival in Chinatown and Trafalgar Square, with floats, fireworks display and performances including music, dance, Chinese dragons, lions and acrobatics. 2013’s Chinese New Year is on February 10, with January 31 booked in for 2014.

The Boat Race: The Cambridge v Oxford Boat Race is a well-known fixture in the London sporting calendar, held on the last Saturday of March or the first Saturday of April. It’s been going every year since 1856, apart from during the two world wars, and covers a 4.2 mile stretch of the Thames from Putney to Mortlake. If you can get there to be among the quarter million or so people who watch the race live from the banks of the Thames, it’s well worth a watch –apart from the atmosphere itself, there have been several sinkings over the years, including one by Cambridge in 1978 which took 79th place on Channel 4’s list of 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.

Chelsea Flower Show: Held around Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital in Chelsea, the Chelsea Flower Show is one of those events you should go to at least once. It’s run by the Royal Horticultural Society and gives awards in all categories of gardens, including show gardens, floral exhibits, courtyard gardens, city gardens and exhibits of floral arrangement and floristry. The show runs for five days each May, and if you really can’t get along, there’s normally extensive coverage by the BBC.

State Opening of Parliament: If you like a bit of pomp and ceremony, whether it’s to marvel in awestruck fashion at historical tradition or to fall about laughing, the State Opening of Parliament is one of the best London events to indulge yourself in. It takes place in November, when the Queen rides her state coach down The Mall to Parliament Square and the House of Lords to read the government’s speech. There are many things we like about this ceremony, such as the searching of the Palace of Westminster by the Yeomen of the Guard to prevent any Guy Fawkes type gunpowder plots, but our absolute favourite tradition when the Crown takes a member of the Houses of Parliament as hostage, to be returned on the safe return of the monarch. We have so many MPs we could nominate for that one that we wouldn’t know where to start.

And we haven’t even mentioned Last Night at the Proms, the Mayor’s procession in November or the enjoyable pomp of the Trooping of the Colour. There are of course loads more London events that are held annually – check out our Six of the Best: London Festivals for more info. And if you have a review, comment or travel tip on any London event or attraction, let us know!