London in Autumn
- As the Summer sighs its last and the days begin to shorten, it's natural to get a little bit glum. The Winter's on its way, leaves are turning, you begin to notice that more people are wearing jackets, cafés are fuller inside than out, pedestrians scuttle to nearby taxis rather than walk and it's increasingly difficult to justify wearing flip flops.
- The exodus indoors has begun. Other (warmer) cities are better designed to keep lots of people outdoors for extended periods of time, but being inside is what London does better than any other city in the world, and Autumn is the time to make the most of this.
- The theatres, concert halls, museums and gig venues have announced their Autumn/Winter season, and it's sure to be another spectacular year. The sporting season of football and rugby is getting well underway. So while nature is doing her second most spectacular act of the year, you can enjoy yourself in warmer environments, soaking up London's world-leading culture to chase those philosophical, end-of-summer blues away.
Tip 1 Theatre: Don't spend more than you have to on the world's most revered theatre tickets! When people think about London theatre, their first thoughts typically bend towards the West End. And don't get us wrong, the West End's great, but pretty seriously expensive and you can easily bust a whole holiday's budget on one ticket. But better than the West End are, amazingly, the cheaper options. We give you the inside track on these below.
- Tip 2 Music: The best live music doesn't have to make your wallet quaver! Whether it's jazz, classical, house, drum & bass, Indonesian Gamelan music or Mongolian throat-singing, London's got a concert for you. Better yet, it's not difficult to find one that's easy on the wallet. Check out our picks below.
- Tip 3 Views: Autumn is undeniably a beautiful time of year, and to go with your slightly philosophical view, why not take in some of London's more spectacular views? They're free and they're decent exercise to boot. There are two kinds of tall object in London (or anywhere): hills and skyscrapers. Hills are the cheaper of the two options, as most skyscrapers like to charge you quite ludicrous amounts for the privilege of standing in a high place, and they're typically outside the centre of town. Find out our tips for the best views below.
So don't let those grey skies get you down; London is at its most beautiful in Autumn and there's more than enough to do indoors and out, yet indoors is where it's most active. Whether you're ensconced in the candlelit caves of Gordon's Wine Bar (near Embankment tube), sipping a tea in the British Museum or stamping your feet to the Celtic beat in Waxy O'Connor's (Rupert Street, near Piccadilly Circus) we're certain you'll be telling everyone that London's at its best when the leaves start to fall.
The National Theatre of Great Britain, situated in the rather brutal grey building on the South Bank (next to Waterloo Bridge) offers incredibly reasonable ticket prices for all of its shows, ranging from £10 upwards. If you arrive on the day with no ticket, returns for any available seats (even the best) are priced at £15, and some shows even do standing tickets for £5.
The iconic Shakespeare's Globe (on Bankside between Blackfriars Bridge and Southwark Bridge) is rounding up its outdoor season for the year, and it typically closes for Winter in October. If you want to catch a play at this historic theatre, where most shows are performed in a pseudo-authentic Shakespearean style, you can get "groundling" (standing) tickets for £5. If you book way in advance you can get yourself seats from between £15 and £24. The classic Comedy of Errors, about mistaken identity (aren't they all?) and much hilarity is playing from the 30th August, as well as other, lesser known plays from contemporary playwrights and those from a bygone era.
Earlier this year, Shakespeare's Globe opened their new, indoor venue, built in exactly the same style (and using many of the same methods) as the first, indoor Jacobean playhouses. This Winter's season is not to be missed, and ticket pricing is comparable to that of the Globe.
The avant-garde hothouse of London theatre is arguably the Royal Court on Sloane Square, where the newest and most exciting work gets its first outing. Tickets range from £12 to £32, and on particular days all tickets are charged at a concessionary price of £10 (usually Mondays). For some plays, all tickets are priced at £15.
The Barbican Centre (perhaps London's most diverse and enormous artistic hub) offers theatre and other live performance from all over the world and the savvy visitor can snag tickets at £12 (even in the stalls!). This venue is visited by the world's leading artistic lights, and as well as buying tickets for a performance, you can also just have a wander around the centre to see everything else that's laid on for free; usually live music in the foyer, art exhibitions (some dedicated in the The Curve) and occasionally science-cum-art talks and seminars for whoever happens to be wandering by.
It would be impossible to list everything that London has to offer, even in the "low-to-medium" price bracket, so our final advice is to just decide what sort of thing you'd to see and then go out and find it. There are very respectable theatres dotted all over the capital, with some in some pretty interesting places!
Perhaps London's most prestigious jazz venue, Ronnie Scott's, hosts various up-and-coming acts from the world of jazz, funk and soul (as well as jam nights) for under £10, and also does tap and salsa nights periodically. The bar's got the speakeasy feel of New Orleans and drink prices are the expensive side of reasonable. And, tucked away on a quiet road in Croydon, is The Oval Tavern, where every Sunday lunchtime (13:00 -15:30) you can see some of the country's best jazz acts for the princely sum of nothing and enjoy a Sunday roast while you're at it!
‘Houseplant’ is a bi-monthly disco/funk/house night at Juno (Shoreditch High Street) with free entry and some of the best up-and-coming DJs and the rarest grooves in London and beyond. Drinks are reasonably priced. The Big Chill Bar off Brick Lane has free entry, reasonably priced drinks and reliably good music, as well as a decent chunk of outdoor space. Or you could head South to Brixton to sample some of the most authentic London clubs and DJs available. The best venues include Plan B, Prince of Wales, DogStar and more. Indeed, Brixton is alive with music of all genres most of the time, so it's always well worth a visit.
For the calmer listener, a huge variety of London venues have excellent quality foyer performers as well as their programmed season. You may be able to catch the end of the Proms as it runs until 13th September. This is an amazing opportunity to get cheap tickets on the day to see some of the world's greatest classical music in the spellbinding Royal Albert Hall.
Aside from ‘Promming’, though, there's still plenty of great stuff available. St Martin-in-the-Fields offers free classical concerts at lunchtimes as well as some stunning candlelit performances in the evening (usually Thursdays). The Southbank Centre and Royal Festival Hall offer concerts at good concession rates for students, while there are free foyer concerts in both most nights. In conjunction with Radio 3, the Cadogan Hall (near Sloane Square) will often host daytime concerts for free if tickets are applied for in advance. Many churches and cathedrals will also offer free or very cheap concerts, such as Southwark Cathedral (near London Bridge), often with their own choirs and orchestras in attendance.
And for all of the rockers and blues lovers out there, you're spoiled for choice. Whether it's a jam night at Ain't Nothin' But off Oxford Street, The Blues Kitchen in Camden, Round Midnight near Angel tube or one of the many other classic blues venues, you're sure to find great live bands, with established acts programmed next to the highest quality jam nights available.
Camden deserves a paragraph all to itself where live music is concerned. From the Jazz Café to the Hawley Arms (Hawley Road, just of Camden High Street), which was Amy Winehouse's favourite haunt and where music from Blues through folk to post-punk is almost a nightly event, there's something for everyone. Head up to Cecil-Sharp House for folk music from the British Isles (with a particularly strong Celtic representation) or get a vegetarian sarnie to the blues at the GreenNote Café. Stay on later until the late-night venues open and be treated to a handsome helping of drum and bass and electronica, or get your salsa on at the Cuban Kitchen, or just wander the streets and take in the sounds of world music that seem to be always playing!
You could get the tube to either Chalk Farm or Camden Town and head to the rear of Regents Park to climb Primrose Hill, perhaps London's most famous (but sufficiently quiet) natural vantage point. If the weather's holding out, you might even want to take a picnic. This is a view from the North and therefore straight ahead is the sublime foliage of Regents Park as it gradually begins its shift to the sepia end of the spectrum.
There are two very good equivalents in the South: Greenwich Park and Crystal Palace. The first is the more romantic option, and as well as getting a boring old tube to North Greenwich, you could also pack a picnic, go to one of the many docks on the Thames and jump on a Thames Clipper for a fiver. From here, you can watch the city slide past as you travel downstream to Greenwich, which is almost like a posh seaside town in East London. From here, it's nice to just have a walk around, but if you head toward the Greenwich Observatory (clearly signposted) and climb the hill then you'll have a magnificent view over the Thames, The City and the rest of London from the East.
Crystal Palace is a little further out, and it's wise to combine your trip there with a few other activities, like going to the park to see the dinosaurs (correct, dinosaurs) or having a stroll round the kitschy vintage markets. The view over London is impressive, and you are sufficiently far away to be able to see all of it on one plane, with the space either side to take stock of our might suburbs.
You could get yourself a meal at one of the many restaurants (prices from cheap to quite expensive and a lot of global cuisine represented) that has the view, or just take your time wandering the quirky streets. Crystal Palace Park is also exceptionally beautiful in the autumn due to the vast array of tree species within. And it has dinosaurs.