Although New York is known as ‘the city that never sleeps‘, London can actually give the east coast island of Manhattan a serious run for its money.
London is well-known for its big stand-out daytime events like the London Marathon, its Chinese New Year celebrations and of course the markets that run through its streets every week and help make part of its lifeblood. But London at night is something very special indeed as it’s full to the brim with activities that will entice both those who are brand new to the city and people who have been proclaimed Londoners for years.
One of the best things about enjoying London by night is that there is a huge supply of black cabs, Uber taxis and night buses that can get you back to your hotel. There is no need to feel like you need to rush to get the last Tube back to where you’re staying, but if this is your first visit to the city, make sure you pick up a bus schedule or ask the concierge at the Oxford Street Hotel where the best place is to find a taxi at night.
Part of why London comes alive at night is largely thanks to its flourishing theatre district, more widely known as the West End of the city. Actors and performers of the highest calibre take to these stages and act in some of the most famous plays and musicals in the world.
There are some musicals and plays that simply have to be seen at least once, just to say that you’ve had the experience. Two of the most popular musicals at the moment are Wicked and The Lion King, both of which will absolutely require pre-booking as they tend to sell out for weeks on end.
You’ll notice that musicals on the West End run for a very long time, in fact most have been in the same theatre for years, which is very similar to the running time of shows for Broadway musicals. For example, Wicked is still one of the newest and most popular musicals on the West End as it’s just entered its 10th year on the circuit.
The Lion King is marking its 17th year on the West End this year, while the oldest running show in the area is The Mousetrap, which has been on stage in London for a massive 64 years.
Explore Piccadilly Circus in London
The main theatres are surrounded by the Oxford Circus, Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and Charing Cross Tube stations, so not only will you have your pick of places to travel towards but these stations are close to a plethora of bars and restaurants…
Places to eat and drink
Late night activity finds a home in the bars and restaurants in London, many of which stay open until the wee hours every night of the week!
Some places to get something to eat very late at night in London include Voodoo Ray’s in Dalston, which serves up New York-style 22-inch pizzas, which are perfect if you’ve been dancing up a storm in one of the area’s very cool bars or clubs. They also serve glasses of Coney Island Iced Tea – a little taste of New York when you’re in London.
Beigel Bake on Brick Lane is one of the few places in London that’s open for a full 24 hours every day of the week. It offers you smoked salmon bagels for under £2, or if you prefer something sweet they also have pastries for less than £1, which are perfect for breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack.
In Piccadilly – right by all the theatre action – you can have dinner before or after a show at Brasserie Zedel. This cavernous French restaurant looks like the perfect Parisian brasserie from the 1940s. Start or end your night with a bit of 1940s glamour here as it’s open until 1am on weekends.
For something extra quirky head along to Shoreditch where you’ll find The Bridge, a tiny bar with an elegant upstairs cafe. Feel free to have a coffee and a pastry or perhaps a glass of wine to finish the night in this eclectic room that’s open until 2am Wednesday – Friday, 1am Sunday – Tuesday and until midnight on Saturdays. Even the people who own bars in Shoreditch want to get out to enjoy the party atmosphere in the area.
Night Tours of London
Open-top bus tours aren’t just restricted to the daylight hours, in fact there is a specific London By Night Sightseeing Tour that runs from 7pm until just before midnight every night of the week.
It starts at Victoria and will take you to various stops including Hyde Park, Westminster, St. Paul’s and the Tower of London. Of course, nighttime is perfect for one of London’s famous haunted ghost tours as the city is full of notorious landmarks that are set to give you the spooks! Why not try London Ghost Walks, which runs guided walks all around the city from different Tube stations from 7.30pm every day?
As anyone who has been to the top of the Empire State Building in the evening in New York will tell you, it’s much better to see it at night and the same is arguable true of the London Eye. It’s open until 8.30pm every day and the queues are normally much smaller, so you won’t have to stand around for too long, plus the city lit up at night is one of the most spectacular sights you’re sure to see. Similarly, you can go to the viewing deck of The Shard by night, where you might get an even clearer view of the city than you would by day.
The Shard’s opening times are 10am-7pm Sunday to Wednesday and 10am-10pm Thursday to Saturday. There’s something particularly romantic about being in one of these two attractions in the evening, which is perfect if you’re planning a city break with your other half. It’s worth knowing that if you’re planning a romantic trip, The Shard is open until midnight on Valentine’s weekend, inclusive of Saturday and Sunday.
Museums by night
Again, if you are put off by the idea of joining yet another queue or clamouring to see London’s sights during the day, there are a lot of the city’s museums that you can visit at night.
On Thursdays and when there are special exhibitions, the Barbican Galleries stay open until 10pm. The National Gallery and National Portrait Museum in Trafalgar Square also host late night openings every Friday. These are particularly good to visit at this time as they are privy to a lot of school groups during week days.
The Natural History Museum in South Kensington is open until 10:30pm on the last Friday of every month and the Science Museum in the same area stays open until 10pm on the last Wednesday of the month.
Head along to South Bank on Friday and Saturday nights to enjoy the interpretations of art in the Tate Modern, which stays open until 10pm both nights every week.
Currently, the Hampstead Observatory on Hampstead Heath is the place to do some free stargazing through the attraction’s telescope. It’s open late-night from mid-September to mid-April every year, but if it’s a particularly clear night, you’ll be able to get one of the best views of London’s skyline without having to take to the London Eye or The Shard.