The British weather can be pretty grim at this time of year – but that’s no excuse to retreat sofa-wards with a box-set and not emerge until the brief British summer (usually a couple of days in August). This city is still packed with brilliant sheltered days out, so here’s some inspiration for entertaining, educational and indulgent adventures that’ll make you welcome grey days in the capital.
White Cube, Mason's Yard
Owned by renowned British art dealer Jay Jopling, this contemporary art space is one of several branches of the iconoclastic gallery.
Until March 12th, it’ll be showing works by celebrated contemporary Korean artist Park Seo-Bo, in his first ever solo exhibition in the UK.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road
The world's largest museum of decorative arts and design never fails to impress and delight.
If you don’t fancy perusing the permanent pieces (the museum is home to more than 4.5 million objects d’arts,) be dazzled by the glorious Al Thani jewellery collection, open until March 28th, boasting 100 spectacular examples of gem-strewn Indian jewellery.
Tate Britain, Milbank
The vast Tate Britain houses Britain’s national art collection with pieces dating back to 1500, along with a sizeable contemporary selection of works as well.
Mix your art with a dollop of history at ‘Artist and Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past’. This exhibition showcases a range of major items associated with the British Empire from the 16th century to the present day, and runs until April 10th.
Science Museum IMAX, Exhibition Road
This vast modern cinema, located in the renowned museum's Wellcome Wing, screens science and nature films - predominantly in 3D, although it does make exceptions (such as the new Star Wars movie).
Popular shows currently screening include ‘Hidden Universe’, which takes viewers on a tour through deep space; and ‘Under the Sea’, narrated by Jim Carrey, which charts the lives of some of the ocean’s most beautiful and unusual creatures.
Electric Cinema, Shoreditch
This elegant single-screen cinema has a real 1920s vibe, with lamp-lit side tables and plush velvet-covered armchairs. It screens a good variety of both mainstream and indie films - but offers more than movies, with Barber & Parlour offering hair cuts, beard trims, beauty treatment and a range of tasty treats from their on-site deli-bar. A great spot for an indulgent few hours under cover.
Lexi Cinema, Kensal Rise
This volunteer-run indie spot calls itself ‘the UK’s first social enterprise independent boutique digital cinema’, and donates 100% of its profits to charity.
It shows mainstream and indie films, as well as streaming live theatre and opera from some of the world’s greatest venues - including the National Theatre and New York’s Met.
SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP
Alfie’s Antiques, Marylebone
This four-floor indoor market is a vintage lover’s dream. Housing around seventy-five dealers, the market offers a whole range of antique goodies - including silver, furniture, jewellery, paintings, ceramics, glass and vintage clothing. It also has a rather lovely rooftop cafe, with sprawling city views and - more importantly, for rainy days - a delightfully warming afternoon tea.
Greenwich Market, Greenwich
Greenwich market is a great way to get that market experience without exposure to the elements. Established in 1700, the historic site is packed with stalls selling handmade wares, from arts and crafts to tasty food. You can spend hours wandering the walkways and browsing the colourful stalls, and if you do get tired of shopping there are massage parlours, nail salons, restaurants and the occasional art exhibition to enjoy as well.
Westfield London, Shepherd’s Bush
The largest covered shopping centre in the British capital is a must-visit for any serious spenders. Packed with all the big-name brands you could want, as well as plenty of food options and a cinema, a visit to the Westfield can easily turn into a full day out.
Natural History Museum, South Kensington
From its huge dinosaur skeletons through to human DNA studies, this beautiful building exhibits a vast range of specimens from the world of natural history.
Check out the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until April 10th, displaying some incredible animal close-ups and dramatic landscapes.
London Transport Museum, Covent Garden
This entertaining interactive museum celebrates the last 200 years of vehicles in the British capital, telling the story of transport via its impact on the city and its residents. It’s home to some amazing classic pieces, from classic trains to wartime buses to original tube map designs.
Right now you can also get an insight into city life after hours, with the Night Shift exhibition - exploring the world of night transport over the past century. Runs until April 10th.
Dennis Severs' House, Spitalfields
This home-turned-museum offers a fascinating insight into the lives of a family of Huguenot silk-weavers, from 1724 through to the start of the 20th Century.
Acting as a sort of walk-through time capsule, the house reveals the sights, smells and sounds of the time, meticulously recreating the family’s 18th Century world.
Borough Market, London Bridge
Set under the arches of the railway, the labyrinthine Borough Market is London's best-known food centre - and a haven for any foodie luvvies seeking artisanal British fare. Be sure to come with an appetite, because it has hundreds of stalls to snack your way round, from actual cafes, delis and restaurants to vendors stocking everything the hungry shopper could desire: homemade pickles and preserves, freshly churned butter, baked goods warm from the oven, entire free-range pigs… This is gourmet mecca.
Queen of Hoxton, Shoreditch
This kooky pub/nightclub/gallery/performance space has become a cultural highlight of east London, offering a dizzying array of musical acts, workshops, creative events and seasonal rooftop pop-ups.
Right now, the versatile roof space is home to ‘Once Upon A WigWam’: a seasonal venue rather like a tented enchanted forest, inspired by the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm. As well as ornate (magical?) mirrors and gnarled branches, the set-up - which will be there until the end of March - boasts a gingerbread bar serving themed snacks and beverages.
The Vaults, Waterloo
Another byword in cultural cool is the London Vaults - an arts space located in a network of underground tunnels that were formerly part of Waterloo Station.
Tucked away in the tunnels are various arty offerings such as exhibitions, music and theatre, along with a fine country-pub-style restaurant, The Suffolk Punch.
The 2016 Vaults Festival is running until March 6th, with a line-up of more than 100 different shows, from outrageous comedy and cabaret to hard-hitting political theatre and international dance.
clueQuest, King’s Cross
This is one of those real-life escape games; think Crystal Maze and Fort Boyard - which have become popular workplace team-building activities, but are actually loads of fun for everyone. The set-up is that 3 to 5 people are locked in a room, and have to solve puzzles to escape within an hour - with various different packages and mysteries to choose, ranging from taking on spy missions to foiling evil professors.
Board games are no longer boring: in fact they’re having a bit of a renaissance, with various games cafes and bars opening up around the world. The London original is Draughts, a friendly, funky-looking bar with a library of over 500 board games to play and buy. They also host tournaments, themed evenings and game design workshops.
The tasty new snack menu, along with a selection of wines and craft beers, helps round out your gaming experience. The ideal rainy day pick-me-up!
Plonk Hoxton, Hoxton
This 9-hole course is a UV wonderland of miniature golf combined with booze. The crazy course involves obstacles and trick shots, with the adjoining 186 Bar providing drinks. Throughout 2016 you can also expect various pop-up food takeovers at the Rotation Food Truck on site.
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
The stately setting for years of Royal Opera and Royal Ballet performances is opulent, elegant and open for tours. Visitors can choose from a backstage tour, exploring behind the scenes ahead of the evening performance; a visit to the magical the Production Workshop and Costume Centre, where the splendid sets and costumes are created; or a top-to-bottom tour of the historic red and gold auditorium.
Theatre, The West End
London’s renowned theatre district is packed with performances to suit every taste - ranging from musical classics to Shakespearean tragedy, from controversial comedy to thought-provoking modern theatre. If you’re at a loose end in London one day, check out the matinees: a great afternoon’s entertainment which is generally cheaper that the evening version. Performances on right now include the swinging all-singing Guys and Dolls, Eddie Izzard’s Force Majeure Reloaded tour and Pinter classic The Homecoming.
London Film Museum, Covent Garden
Dedicated to the British film industry, this informative little museum exhibits original props, costumes and sets from feature films. Currently, the space is dedicated to the exhibition ‘Bond in Motion - The Largest Official Collection of James Bond Vehicles’. This features cars, other speedy modes of spy transport and a few props from the blockbusting film series.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Planetarium and Astronomy Centre, Greenwich
There’s a whole universe of galactic fun on offer at the Royal Observatory, where visitors can experience space in the Peter Harrison Planetarium, chat with astronomers, visit the interactive Weller Astronomy Galleries and also admire incredible images of outer space with the annual Insight Astronomy Photography of the Year exhibition. You can even get to grips with a 4.5 billion year-old meteorite.
The British Library, St Pancras
This incredible archive - one of the world’s largest - is open to the public, so visitors can enjoy not only the beautiful listed building but also the Library gallery showcasing around 200 of its most treasured items - from the Magna Carta and Gutenberg's Bible, to the music of the Beatles.
Until May 22nd, special exhibition ’Imagining Don Quixote’ explores different editions and illustrative interpretations of the classic work, with versions from Gustave Doré and Salvador Dalí, as well as Terry Gilliam sketches for his original Don Quixote film.
Sipsmith Distillery, Chiswick
Brush up your knowledge on the classic London spirit that’s enjoyed a huge comeback over the past couple of years: gin. Sipsmith’s opened in 2009 – the first copper-pot based distillery to open in the capital for 189 years. Now they offer tours so visitors can see where the award-winning brew is made, gen up on their gin history and enjoy a tutored tasting of the spirit. Cheers to a delicious afternoon out!