Top 10 Annual Events in London
Time your trip to one of these spectacular goings on—from Trooping the Colour to the Chelsea Flower Show
June 24 to July 7, 2013
Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world, has been held at the All England Club since 1877. For two weeks every summer, hundreds of players and thousands of spectators descend on the venue, southwest of London. Traditions abound in the open-air courts; participants play on grass, the game’s original surface, and spectators can buy a conventional snack of strawberries and cream. It was here that legendary tennis player Martina Navratilova won six consecutive singles titles between 1982 and 1987 (she would later rack up three more, solidifying a tournament record). And, in 2010, Wimbledon saw the longest match in tennis history: 183 games over three days and 11 hours between American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut.
July 12 through September 7, 2013
The Proms, short for Promenade concert, is a classical music festival in Royal Albert Hall, located in South Kensington. The musical series was started by Robert Newman, who organized orchestra concerts as manager of the Queen’s Hall in the late 19th century. His goal was to reach a broader audience through a more casual, low-priced atmosphere. Almost 120 years later, visitors can gain entry to any of the 92 concerts held between July and September for just £5 (roughly $8). The hall’s central arena can fit 900 standing visitors, and its gallery can seat 500. Conductors lead orchestras through music by Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner and even Hollywood film scores. This year, Marin Alsop will be the first-ever female conductor to direct the “Last Night of the Proms,” the series’ grand finale.
Notting Hill Carnival
August 25-26, 2013
The Notting Hill Carnival is an early 19th-century Caribbean-inspired street festival held during the bank holiday weekend in August. The event began in 1964 as a way for Afro-Caribbean communities to celebrate their cultures and traditions in the face of poor race relations in London at the time. Today, costumed participants march through the streets playing steel drums and live bands perform on stages along the route. The aroma of traditional Caribbean food—jerk chicken, fried plantains and curried rice and peas—is heavy in the air, and the rum punch flows all weekend.
The Mayor’s Thames Festival
September 6-15, 2013
The Thames Festival is a free festival of river-themed art, music and educational events on the banks, between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge. The offerings include a nighttime river opera, screenings of 125 short films, choir performances and fireworks. This year’s festival will debut a floating art fair that features artwork by the country’s best art students. Visitors can step onto the fair and walk around as it bobs up and down in the Thames. The river will also play host to two boat races: 340 boats, from skiffs to Chinese dragonboats, will set off in the 21-mile Great River Race, and 40-foot-long steel barges will amble along in the river’s slowest race.
London Fashion Week
September 13-17, 2013
London Fashion Week, a trade show held twice a year in February and September, draws in 5,000 visitors, including designers, reporters and celebrities. The affair usually consists of more than 80 fashion shows, each running on-average 10 minutes, over a five-day span. Designers debut their latest collections, offering buyers and the media a look at what’s going to be “in” for the upcoming season. Experts say the designers who show their collections in London are often newer and edgier than those at the event’s Milanese, Parisian and New York counterparts. Tickets for runway shows are not available for the general public, but fashion fans can stake out shows to catch a glimpse of the designers and models or explore free fashion showcases throughout the city.
London Film Festival
October 9-20, 2013
Held each year during the second half of October, the London Film Festival features the best films of the summer’s international film circuit. Take your pick of more than 300 films, documentaries and shorts from around the world. Last year’s festival showed 338 short and feature films from 57 countries. Awards are presented to the best film and documentary, the most original film and the best of new British talent. The festival also hosts workshops and Q&As with filmmakers and actors and screenings of restored classics. . The full program for 2013 will be available in September.
November 5, 2013
On November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes, a soldier, and his fellow Catholic conspirators attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate King James I. To mark the anniversary, locals celebrate Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night, by lighting bonfires, setting off fireworks and snacking on foods such as toffee apples and fire-roasted potatoes. For the most impressive pyrotechnics, head to the London suburb of Blackheath or west of the city to LEGOLAND theme park. Stop by the annual Guy Fawkes Festival at the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Essex, about 50 miles northeast of London, for barbecues, carnival rides and musket-firing displays.
Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race
April 6, 2014
Every year since 1856, war years excepted, the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club have faced off in a spirited four-mile rowing match on the River Thames. The race was born out of friendly competition between two classmates in 1829—Oxford easily won the first race, and the winning boat is on display in the River & Rowing Museum in Henley. A difficult race to convey on television, the action onboard is now audible for all viewers, thanks to microphones worn by both boats’ coxes. Spectators can watch the race from several vantage points along either side of the river. At the start of the race, Putney Bridge, Putney Embankment and Bishops Park are prime viewing spots. Halfway down the course, Hammersmith and Barnes offer the best views. To catch the rowers at the finish line, head to Dukes Meadow and Chiswick Bridge.
Chelsea Flower Show
May 20-24, 2014
The Chelsea Flower Show has been held on the 11-acre grounds of Chelsea Hospital every year since 1913, except during the two world wars. The five-day botanical festival, sponsored by the Royal Horticulture Society, showcases flowers, trees, vegetables, herbs and other flora from 550 horticulturists from around the globe. Awards are given to the best gardens and floral arrangements, as well as “fresh” new talent. The Hampton Court Palace Flower show trumps the Chelsea show in size, but the latter is most closely associated with the royal family, who attend its opening day each year.
Trooping the Colour
June 14, 2014
Although the Queen’s birthday is April 21, the British choose to celebrate on a Saturday in June—when the weather is better, according to national officials. In a ceremony that dates back to the early 18th century, active British troops parade past the Royal guests and the public, carrying (“trooping”) the flags (“colours”) of the battalion and passing them hand-to-hand down the ranks of soldiers. The Queen is greeted by a Royal salute, and then she inspects the troops, to ensure soldiers are standing at attention. Queen Elizabeth II has attended the ceremony every year of her reign except 1955, due to a national rail strike. The procession moves from Buckingham Palace down the Mall and back starting at 10 a.m., and a flyover by the Royal Air Force takes place at 1 p.m. Get a good view of the centuries-old tradition from nearby St. James’s Park and along the Mall between Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace.