London may be open for indoor dining and pints, but many of us are still keen on outdoor activities while COVID-19 remains present. And with a sunny summer in full swing, who’d want to be inside anyway? Whether you’re a Londoner or are simply looking for outdoor London activities ideas for a mini break in the capital (or nearby), you’re in luck. We’ve combed through London’s top outdoor activities to keep you busy, entertained and having fun this summer.
Best sporty outdoor London activities
Were you always the competitive one on the Zoom quiz? Channel that enthusiasm into some actual, outdoor sports activities in London this summer.
Hitting a homerun at Roof East
Stratford’s grown-up playground has returned, with a whole load of outdoor games to keep you sharp while you sip sundowners to a panoramic East London backdrop. We’re talking rooftop baseball batting cages, old-school bowls or nine-hole crazy golf in a faux-jungle setting. It’s enough to work up a pretty serious appetite – just as well there are three street food traders on hand to sort you out.
Cheeky Burger’s got the greasy burgers covered, while East Side Pizza bakes up sourdough crusts and the chefs at Kolkati roll paneer cheese, coconut-coriander raita, tomato and pickled onion into an Indian paratha flatbread. Stay to see out the evening at the Rooftop Film Club, where sunset film screenings compete with views of the Olympic park and beyond.
Chugging between skyscrapers on a GoBoat
Londoners tended to flock to any body of water they could during lockdown, and that behaviour has only escalated since restrictions lifted and the summer set in. Great timing, then, for eco-friendly electric boat company GoBoat to launch a brand-new London site in the heart of the slick financial district.
Already operating in Paddington and Kingston, the self-drive boats are now available for hire in Canary Wharf, offering one-, two- or three-hour trips around the Docklands. The leisurely pace of 4km per hour allows for plenty of time to take in the scenery, from shiny, glass office blocks to historic docks. Bring a group of eight, a picnic and some prosecco (you can even bring your dog) and get ready to set sail. Prices start at £89 per boat.
Best outdoor London activities for foodies
London never disappoints when it comes to food. And this summer, the capital’s most famous food joints are taking their wares outside.
Proving your spice tolerance at WingJam (1-3 October)
Taking over Shoreditch’s Kingsland Lawns from 1-3 October (moved back from July) is WingJam: a three-day chicken wing extravaganza that will stretch your waistband and test your tastebuds’ tolerance for hot sauce. Showcasing over 50 sweet, spicy, tangy and downright weird hot wing flavour combos from 15 of the UK’s top chicken vendors, the festival gives the opportunity to taste wings from just £1 a portion (reckon you can stomach them all?). Jostling for your attention will be wings prepared by the ramen kings at Bone Daddies, or the winner of the Just Eat best takeaway award, Chicken George Jr. You’ll have vegan wings on the menu as well as BBQ, Buffalo, strawberry cheesecake, doughnut-flavoured and pigs-in-blanket wings. Told you it would get weird.
And for anyone that’s serious about spice, there’s the ultimate challenge: the Wingjam Hot Wing Eating Contest, which feature the hottest chili peppers this side of the Mississippi. Wash them down with craft beer, cocktails and a side of live music. Tickets start at £14.50 and include a bottle of – you guessed it – hot sauce.
Boogieing with a bao bun at Street Feast presents Eastival (7 August)
Ever heard of Dinerama, Hawker House, Giant Robot? If you live in London, chances are you’ve come across the brainchildren of Street Feast, which has been transforming disused spaces into buzzing street food markets since 2012. Just ask any 30-something residents of Dalston if they remember Street Feast in Dalston Yard (they do), which practically kickstarted London’s street food craze before it closed in 2016 to make way for housing.
On Saturday 7 August, Street Feast is teaming up with the London nightlife extraordinaires at Columbo Group to hold Eastival: a street food festival with the partying dialled up to 11. On Three Mills Island, a little-known grassy spot near Bow, the festival brings over 20 of London’s finest street food traders including Burger & Beyond, No Bonez Vegan Wings, White Men Can’t Jerk and Fundi Pizza, with many more still to be announced. With tickets starting at £15, you also get funk, soul and hip-hop spun by London’s most fun disco DJs, Horse Meat Disco – plus more craft beers and cocktails than you can wash down your food with. There’s even karaoke, a soft play area and trampolines for the kids.
Best outdoor London activities with big screens
Did you miss going to the cinema during lockdown? Let’s remedy that.
Sailing to see a blockbuster with Openaire Float-in Cinema
Follow the flicker of pink and blue lights bouncing off the glass buildings of Paddington’s Merchant Square, and you’ll stumble across an unexpected cluster of (socially spaced) deck chairs lined up along the canal – all pointing towards a big, pink-framed cinema screen. This is Openaire Float-in Cinema, one of the capital’s open-air cinema offerings that’s taking advantage of the exceptionally warm evenings we’ve enjoyed since its launch in the first week of June.
The best bit? If you want to one-up the deck chair occupants, you can hire a boat that sits eight and go on an hour-long cruise through Little Venice before dropping anchor right in front of the screen in time for the opening credits. Scan a QR code to get beef ragu or spinach ravioli, mozzarella sticks and garlic bread delivered right to your seat (crafted by artisan pasta chef RaviOllie), as well as blankets and cans of sparkling wine or beer. Then pop on your Bluetooth headphones and settle in for film viewings that span Top Gun, Mamma Mia!, Joker or – if you’re brave enough, surrounded by water – Jaws. Don’t forget to get an ice cream. With Häagen-Dazs sponsoring the event run, there’s plenty of it about. Deck chair tickets cost £17.50 while a boat costs £240 all in.
Taking in the views with Hideaway Cinema
Many of us missed going to the movies during lockdown – and are jumping at the opportunity to see some of the last year’s top flicks in an airy, outdoors setting. The open-air screening pros at Hideaway Cinema are throwing in some of the UK’s most beautiful cinematic settings to the mix, with movies shown at Kew Gardens (one of London’s few UNESCO World Heritage sites), HAC Shoreditch and Hampstead Heath. Venture outside of the capital and you’ll find scenic viewings at Norfolk’s Holkham Hall (next to the beach famous as a setting for Shakespeare in Love), Newcastle Racecourse and more. Pretty impressive for a company that started out as a summer student project in a carpark in the south-west of England.
While you might be desperate to catch up on the latest releases – Cruella, The Father, Wonder Woman 1984 and In The Heights among them – Hideaway isn’t short on golden oldies. Cult classics Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs will be shown alongside Grease, Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman singalongs. Tickets start at £15.99.
Best outdoor London activities in beer gardens
A table at a decent beer garden has become so coveted in London that a shared-access Google Doc of the best ones went viral last year. It’s a good time, then, for some new launches, like the ones below.
Cheering on your team at The Garden at Kentish Town
Remember the FIFA World Cup in 2018? Every pub in London was rammed, footie fans packed shoulder-to-shoulder in heatwave temperatures, craning to glimpse the screen. Not so for Euro 2021, especially if you’re watching at The Garden at Kentish Town, north London’s largest beer garden, which opens on 24 June. With gigantic LED sports screens, 12-metre-long bars and 12,000sq ft of COVID-safe outdoor seating on German beer tables, watching the football this season will be an altogether more civilised affair (well, potentially).
And The Garden is more than a sports bar – although it does that well, with World Championship Boxing and international rugby on the schedule, too. Eight street food traders hawk global grub and Saturdays see bottomless brunch. Then there’s drag bingo, karaoke, beer pong and 90s brunch, plus Oktoberfest to look forward to.
Having a good laugh at Ally Pally
Last summer, The Terrace opened at Alexandra Palace: a spacious, open-air beer garden hosting up to 400 socially distanced customers for craft beer and cocktails with iconic panoramic views of the London skyline. Over 17,000 people visited last summer, paving the way for an even bigger stint this year. Book a table in advance and come hungry, as Browski Burger and Last Night A Vegan Saved My Life both flog the capital’s juiciest burgers here, whether that’s with chuck steak or mock meat patties.
The south-facing terrace is perfect for sunny days but has umbrellas and heaters for those that aren’t. Look up the entertainment schedule before booking your slot – you’re just as likely to catch a live concert as a comedy set or a bit of busking. Not to mention StrEATlife, Ally Pally’s annual street food event, alongside pop-up and guest food offerings.
Best outdoor London activities at urban beaches
If we can’t have the Costa del Sol, at least we can sink our toes in the sand at one of London’s own beaches.
Sipping rum punch at Limin’ Beach Club
The South Bank was a sad shell of itself during lockdown, with no sign of the buskers, street food vendors and meandering visitors that usually breathe life into the Thameside strip. But it’s since been resurrected with a vengeance and is now dotted with street performers, gourmet burger vans and pop-up bars churning out summer cocktail after summer cocktail. One of the best offerings is Limin’ Beach Club – a recreated, sandy beach on Gabriel’s Wharf, for all of us who might not make it to an actual coastline this summer.
‘Limin’’ means ‘relaxing in good company’ in the owner’s native Trinbagonian, and there’s nothing we’d rather be doing right now. The tropical escape (with covered seating too, for when the weather turns) does excellent vegan Trinidadian street food plus simple Caribbean classics fresh off the grill – think yoghurt-marinated jackfruit curry and chickpea-and-potato-stuffed aloo pies alongside jerk chicken – plus rum-based cocktails served in coconut shells or pineapples. Be sure to check out the area’s independent boutique shops and other bars and cafes on your way in or out. And beware of the rum punch. It’s lethal.
Playing beach games at London Secret Beach
You’ll likely remember South Kensington for the Science Museum, the V&A and the Natural History Museum, as well as the bougie cluster of French bistros and coffee shops that line the pedestrian route towards them. It’s less likely that you know it as a beach destination, but 2021 is full of surprises. On the surface, Kens Bar on Cromwell Road might be fairly non-descript – but its one-acre secret garden out back tells another story.
In the shadow of the 19th-century St Stephen’s Church, Kens’ garden has been transformed into London Secret Beach – a big sandpit that you can almost imagine being lapped by the sea. Cabanas, rattan-style sofas and sun loungers tempt you in for a comfy cocktail and plate of barbecued treats, while the lawn is dotted with air-conditioned igloos for fancier lashings of Afternoon Tea. We’ve even heard mention of ‘beach games’, although we get the feeling you have to go there to find out what they are. Reservations start at £20 per person for a three-hour time slot.
Best outdoor activities near London
Escaping the capital for the weekend? You don’t need to go far to find some of the UK’s best summer events.
Learning circus tricks at Hifields (31 July-1 August)
Taking over the picturesque, woodland-dotted parkland of Chippenham Park for the first time this July is no ordinary festival. Yes, Hifields has world-class DJs and bands headlining its four specially built stages, from Skream and Wilkinson representing dubstep and drum n bass, to tech house beats by Marcellus, and Artful Dodger, DJ Luck & MC Neat on the Garage Takeover stage. It also has over 50 up-and-coming local musicians, playing artfully designed stages among a circus, fairground, food park and art installations. You can even take part in a circus workshop, when you need to take a dance break that doesn’t involve sitting by the beautiful lake and taking in the rolling countryside views. The green theme doesn’t stop there: Hifields is committed to preserving the site with recycling, green generators and reusable cups. Day tickets start at £29.70.
It’s less than an hour on the train from London King’s Cross to the grand university buildings and wooden punts of Cambridge. Hifields puts on a shuttle bus from the city (as well as from Newmarket and Bury St Edmonds) to the festival ground, and there aren’t many prettier cities to make your base for the weekend escape from London.
Stay at Graduate Cambridge, a newly renovated hotel on the banks of the River Cam and surrounded by the university colleges. Opening on 1 July, the classic, pastel decor chimes with the surrounding greenery and nearby punt boats, with ‘Cambridge Blue’ touchpoints in the bedrooms and East Anglian produce cooked up in the open-flame restaurant. From £199.
Skanking out with Andy C at Dreamland (22 August)
Remember raving? Lockdown was hard for drum n bass heads, used to a weekly worship at the altar of filthy beats. After a year without a proper party, we couldn’t be more ready for the legendary Andy C’s takeover of Dreamland – Margate’s vintage amusement park. The seaside Kent town will host an impressive line-up for one day (and night) only, with Dillinja, DJ Flight, Skeptical, High Contrast and more all taking their turn on the turntables.
Tickets start at £15 and if you’re heading to Andy C at Dreamland, you might as well spend a couple of days in Margate to enjoy the beach. Sure, there’s that gorgeous stretch of sand that you so crave – but there are also quirky art galleries, hip coffee shops, arcades and vintage clothes shops to be perused.
Stay at Plum Guide’s Pink Acid guesthouse, just a mile away from the Dreamland site, for a trippy experience to get you in the mood for the old-fashioned amusement park. The walls are doused in fuchsia pink paint, matching the baby pink sofa that’s covered in sea anenome-like cushions in primary colours and leopard print throws. Artful design in primary colours make the perfect backdrop for an Instagram photo shoot and the beach is just a short stroll away. Sleeps four, from £392.