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As you may have heard, British weather isn’t great.
On any given day, we Londoners are privy to 500 shades of grey, 100% humidity and an invigorating arctic breeze to keep everyone on Oxford Street marching at a brisk pace. Best described as Chinese water torture for the masses, we wouldn’t be surprised if it was some kind of meteorological conspiracy brewed up by the umbrella industry.
Despite suffering through 9 months of non-stop drizzle, we can’t even gloat about how much rain we get! Milan, Miami and Mumbai all get much, much more; they just don’t follow the little and often precipitation diet we seem to be on. To add insult to injury, come summer there will be, without fail, some kind of inexplicable drought. Enter hosepipe bans, vigilante gardening, apocalyptic Daily Mail headlines and mums mourning their azaleas. Then, August bank holiday rolls around and, like clockwork, 72 hours of torrential rain welcomes in autumn.
Ok. We’ve established it rains. A lot.
Luckily for you, London is continuously perfecting the great indoors. Here’s where to go and what to do when the heavens open.
There is no bad weather, only inadequate clothing
First things first, get yourself properly attired.
The Burberry trench coat is a classic for a reason; it suits all, it’s light, warm, but not too warm and weatherproof against the elements of its country of origin. It’s a pretty pricey investment, but it will last you through to the next Ice Age. Find your waterproof bargain at the Burberry Outlet in Hackney.
"For a modern spin on staying dry, try the colour changing umbrellas, raincoats and wellies from Squid London."
You’ll also need a trusty brolly. You can buy a compact black one on every corner, you can’t beat a Fulton, but for style and substance visit James Smith & Sons in Bloomsbury. Selling umbrellas for rain and shine for almost 200 years, the shop has over 1000 styles to choose from, the storm may have passed by the time you’ve picked one! We are also a fan of Rains, offering a huge selection of trendy raincoats. So if your budget doesn't stretch to a Burberry trench coat, make sure to explore what Rains has to offer with stores in Islington and King's Cross.
Wellington boots and Barbour jackets are for the country. Feel free to purchase both in St. James’s, but please abstain from wearing them until fields and pheasants are in sight.
Shop Till You Drop
Modern shopping malls are ghastly places, London now has two of them and there is nothing more to say about that. The precursors to these monstrosities were the beautiful, covered shopping arcades of Regency London. If you find yourself seeking refuge from the rain in Mayfair, Piccadilly, Soho or St. James’s head towards the beautiful arcades for a step back in time. There are four: the Piccadilly Arcade, the Royal Arcade, the Princes Arcade and the Burlington Arcade.
"Pick yourself up original stills and limited editions of the Rolling Stones, Grace Jones or David Bowie"
In the Piccadilly Arcade you’ll find another historic umbrella shop, Swaine Adeney Brigg, where umbrellas are lovingly handmade using hard wood, like oak or and maple, detailed in finest leather and finished off with luxurious silk canopies. If you happen to live somewhere wetter than London, you can even have a bespoke brolly made just for you. Further down the Piccadilly Arcade you’ll come across Snap Galleries specialising in pop culture photography, and musicians in particular. Pick yourself up original stills and limited editions of the Rolling Stones, Grace Jones or David Bowie. It’s only rock’n’roll, but we like it!
Before heading back onto Piccadilly, follow your nose into Santa Maria Novella, a Florentine apothecary dating back to 1612 that sells old-world remedies, heavenly scents like Acqua di Sicilia and exotic medicinal liqueurs.
Over at the Royal Arcade you’ll find beautiful ceramic art at Erskine, Hall & Coe, the smartest bespoke British brogues at George Cleverly and the most stylish spectacles at E. B. Meyrowitz to complete the suits at the Paul Smith flagship store on the corner of the arcade and Albemarle Street.
Amble under the shelter of the Princes Arcade for the finest British chocolate at Prestat and perhaps a jaunty hat for sunnier climes from Christys’. Milliner to royals and rich folk for nearly 3 centuries, they’ll find a style to suit the trickiest head.
Lastly, take cover under the famous Burlington Arcade. When it’s pouring outside retreat to its splendour of simply exquisite delights. While away the drizzly hours alongside indecisive gents in the pursuit of the ultimate in engagement ring in the antique jewellery shops. We’ve spent many a happy afternoon dreaming big at Johnson Walker entertained by proposal stories and hopefully spared some ladies from the dreaded pear cut along the way!
"The top level of the original arcade was used by ladies of the night and their pimps would burst into song, or whistle, to warn of police presence."
Have a Carrie moment trying on some Manolos or stop to chat to the Burlington Beadles, one of the oldest (and smallest) police forces in the world. Dating back to the arcade’s opening in 1819, they were enlisted by the arcade’s owner, Lord Cavendish, as, essentially, mall cops. The top level of the original arcade was used by ladies of the night and their pimps would burst into song, or whistle, to warn of police presence. In return, the ladies would whistle to the pickpockets below to warn them of approaching police and so the rules came to be: no whistling, no singing, no humming, no hurrying. The Beadles uphold the same Regency rules today. Recognisable by their Victorian frock coats and top hats, they are full of helpful London knowledge and happy to share one or two of the area’s saucier historical stories – just be sure to follow their rules!
Fun and Games to Keep the Rain Away
Of course we could suggest you do all the obvious things; go to any and all of the museums, visit the Planetarium, have a long, boozy, brunch (German Gymnasium, Corazon, Timmy Green, go for afternoon tea (The Delaunay, Dean Street Townhouse or the Wallace Collection – feels like Claridge’s, but 1/4 of the price) wander around London’s amazing indoor markets (Spitalfields, Brixton, Borough, even Leadenhall) BUT sometimes it’s just nice to do something silly. Just because you’re in London doesn’t mean you have to “do London”, the itinerary can wait - did we mention it’s raining?
"Hint Hunt and Time Run are the best escape games in town; you have one hour to make it out of the room solving puzzles and riddles."
Games are having a bit of a moment, and rightly so! It’s refreshing to do something that doesn’t involve staring at a screen, something you won’t have to work off at the gym, something that forces you to use good old fashioned verbal communication with your friends and family. Hint Hunt and Time Run are the best escape games in town; you have one hour to make it out of the room solving puzzles and riddles. Yes, it’s a tad faddy, but it’s fun!
If you prefer sitting down for some old school board games head over to Draughts in Haggerston which has every one ever made, Scenario in Dalston and the Scooter Café in Waterloo have all the Hasbro classics and The Crown and Two Chairman in Soho is good place to watch the rain fall over some competitive Cranium.
If you’re no good at charades or spelling, find an indoor playground with a little ping pong at Bounce, crazy golf at Swingers or table football at Cafe Kick.
If you can’t bear to look at another drop through the window, just go underground. The Vaults in Waterloo are repurposed train tunnels now home to comedy shows, immersive theatre, gigs, street art and parties to help you forget the grey skies above, it definitely helps when you can’t see them.
If you do feel guilty about “not doing London,” then here are our top three lovely places to be on rainy days.
- The British Library is the second largest collection of books in the world and a stunning architectural space in itself, aside from the books, it also hosts multiple exhibitions covering a range of social, historical and literary topics.
- Similarly, the beautiful Reading Room at the Wellcome Collection displays curiosities alongside an eclectic library with lots of cosy nooks to sit and be inspired by the collections. Talking is not only allowed in this library, it’s actively encouraged.
- The Barbican is a multidisciplinary space for art, film, dance, live music, education, eating, drinking and… oh, it’s a block of flats too, people live in it. A Grade II listed building, it’s an iconic example of 1960s brutalist British architecture. You can spend the whole day there seeing multiple shows, exhibitions, exploring the structure of the building, the lake and the fountains (yes, even in the rain.)
Do What the Londoners Do
"London’s favourite cinema has to be the Prince Charles, famous for their kitsch sing-a-longs, all night movie marathons and cult favourites."
If it’s pouring outside, do what we do. Catch a movie and then park yourself at the pub til closing time. London has spectacular cinemas that don’t have sticky floors or stink of stale popcorn. The Electric Cinemas are the best, not just in London, but the world over. Cosy up under the cashmere blankets with a glass of wine in Notting Hill or Shoreditch; they screen current releases, independent films and some old classics too. For high-brow documentaries see what’s on at the British Film Institute, although they may have gone too academic in design: the seats are rather studious and uncomfortable. London’s favourite cinema has to be the Prince Charles, famous for their kitsch sing-a-longs, all night movie marathons and cult favourites. You never feel old or out of touch at the Prince Charles, not only have you’ve heard of every film in the listings, you know all the words!
The Everyman Cinemas are scattered around town and have a home cinema room feel, aside from new releases they also stream live performances from the Royal Opera House, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Bolshoi Ballet, the National Theatre and many others. A wonderful alternative to many of the shows in London (and beyond) that sold out or outrageously expensive – and you can go in your jeans!
If it’s still soggy when the film ends, find the nearest pub, if you can’t see one, there’s an app for that. Get a pint, share some chips and chat until last orders or bed time, whichever comes first. We know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s these pub nights that end up being peoples’ fondest London memories.
Of course you could just get your hair wet and go about your day as originally planned. As the anonymous saying goes, a bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.