Summer in London is the city’s best season. You’ve got a better than average chance of blue skies, warm days and cool breezes. Long days and lingering twilights mean plenty of time for sightseeing, wandering and just generally staying out late. Gardens are bursting with blooms, cafe patios are buzzing with Londoners sipping lattes (or something a bit more bubbly) and rich green park meadows invite you to spread out a blanket and stay a while, dozing while bees hum busily nearby.
Take advantage of summer in London with some great seasonal offerings, like outdoor theatre. Get out into the city’s leafy parks and experience world-class theatre performances, from Shakespeare to the opera, for one of the best traditions summer in London has to offer.
Summer in London: Outdoor Theatre
It’s all about the outdoors when it comes to London theatre in summer. While the West End theatres are still putting on their reliables (it’s all about Hamilton, Matilda, Brief Encounter and an assortment of other new and tried-and-true shows this summer) you can stay out under the stars to catch a show… if you can stay out that late.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has been performing extraordinary outdoor shows each summer in London since 1932. In the green surroundings of a Royal Park, this theatre puts on award-winning runs of shows like Into the Woods, To Kill a Mockingbird and Jesus Christ, Superstar. This venue is no ordinary park band shell, featuring not just permanent stage and seating, but also a picnic lawn, dining options from barbecue to cafe and the West End’s longest bar.
Ready to visit? Summer 2018’s line-up is a mix of old and new:
- The Turn of the Screw (June 22 – 30)
- As You Like It (July 6 – July 28)
- Little Shop of Horrors (August 3 – September 15)
- Dinosaur World Live (August 14 – September 9)
Book online or visit the Box Office in Regent’s Park, open daily from 11 AM (closes at 8 PM on performance days, 5 PM on dark days) — an ideal option if you’re not sure of the weather or if you’ll have time during your busy visit. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is centrally located near the Baker Street Underground Station, making this an easy, convenient choice during a vacation.
Shakespeare’s Globe runs outdoor theatre all summer long in addition to the location’s year-round tours and exhibition. If you’re fascinated by production, history and all things Shakespeare, you’ll want to join the guided tour, which discusses the original theatre, the current reconstructed version, and the way the distinctive shape works in with the storytelling process. There’s an engaging exhibition beneath the theatre exploring the history of this venerable space and the Bard himself.
If you want to see a show in the Globe Theatre’s open-air playhouse, this summer’s line-up includes Hamlet, As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale, Othello and more. Choose to sit in the round stands for a roof, or stand in the central yard — just remember, no umbrellas are allowed! If you’re visiting during a wet spell, the covered seating offers a nice opportunity to enjoy outdoor theatre even in a signature London drizzle.
Shakespeare’s Globe is located in the midst of the busy Bankside, a waterfront promenade along the south bank of the Thames — making it easily accessible during your day of sightseeing.
Holland Park open-air opera is a unique cultural treat hosted each summer in this historic Kensington park. Once the estate of Sir Walter Cope, and later the wife of the Earl of Holland, the broad sweep of greenery in the heart of Kensington’s busy shopping, dining and tourist district includes a Japanese garden as well as some remnants of Holland House, which was badly damaged in World War II. Today, the house’s old front terrace provides a backdrop for the open-air theatre tent.
The summer opera season takes place under the cover of a tent, so you won’t get wet once you’re in your seat — although a cool evening could have you shrugging on a jacket. And while it is the opera, you’ll find there’s no enforced dress code, so if you can’t find space in your luggage for your favorite gown or formal jacket, this is a perfect summer compromise. However, you might want to stop for pre-theatre bites before the show — the venue features a bar with some snacks, but if you’re thinking of spreading a blanket in the grass, the “picnic areas” offered aren’t exactly what you might picture. Instead, they’re covered pavilions with tables available to reserve.
The 2018 schedule includes Verdi’s La Traviata, Mozart’s comic opera Così fan tutte, the medieval story of Lady Godiva retold in Isabeau, and Richard Strauss’s comedy Ariadne auf Naxos.
Iris Theatre at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden is a truly inspired location for outdoor theatre. St. Paul’s Church is considered the “Actor’s Church,” associated to the many theatres in this district thanks to its location at the heart of Covent Garden. The church’s beautiful gardens, surrounded by historic buildings, become the stage for live performances each summer.
This year, the open-air shows include The Tempest, The Three Musketeers and Arabian Nights. With such a convenient location in the center of Covent Garden’s shopping and dining district, you won’t want for options for a pre- or post-show dinner or drinks, as well as easy access to transportation.
Speaking of Covent Garden, the broad square in front of St. Paul’s Church is always filled with some sort of entertainment. Whether it’s a magician performing solo (well, with some help from the crowd) or a small theatre troupe, you can always grab a square of pavement or head upstairs to the balcony of Punch and Judy’s for a pint and a birds-eye view of the show.