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The City of London at night.
© Vincent Laforet - AIR

Amazing ways to explore London after dark

The shortest day of the year is fast approaching. Here’s some entertainment guaranteed to brighten up the winter solstice and make the most of London after dark

By Alexandra Sims and Ellie Walker-Arnott
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The clocks have gone back, the nights have drawn in and now the shortest day of the year is on the horizon. The Winter Solstice, AKA the day when the sun goes down and London goes dark at 4.19pm, takes place on Sunday December 22 2019. But don’t hibernate. London is a night owl’s paradise. Here’s our pick of late-night events to light up your nocturnal spirit.

RECOMMENDED: The 101 best things to do in London

Make the most of London after dark

Prince Charles Cinema
Prince Charles Cinema
Photograph: Prince Charles Cinema

1. Pull an all-nighter at Prince Charles Cinema

Can you even call yourself a film buff unless you’ve sat through all 20 hours and 10 minutes of ‘Star Wars’, or prised your dry, bloodshot eyes away from Aragorn’s coronation at 3am? The answer is no. And no one throws an all-night film marathon quite like London’s wild card cinema. Whether it’s a 12-hour Disney sing-along or an all-night sci-fi medley with director’s commentary, Prince Charles Cinema probably hosts it. Coming up for December is The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, a Disney Pyjama party, and on 21 December a nostalgic Christmas movie marathon of six festive classics. Strap in. 

Photograph: Donna Rutherford

2. Gaze at the stars

London may be a hive of light pollution, but there are still some dark pockets where you can gaze at the stars. Nestled away from the bright lights at the edge of the capital, Morden Park Hall is a well-known stargazing spot. The former deer park is blessed with a large open meadow, which is perfect for peering at those faraway rocks. If you’re new to star-seeking, why not join The Baker Street Irregular Astronomers who put on regular free stargazing events.

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Beefeater – Alan Kingshott, Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London
Beefeater – Alan Kingshott, Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London
Photograph: Rob Greig

3. See Tower of London’s covert Key Ceremony

Every evening at 9.30pm a bunch of Yeoman Warders (aka Beefeaters) gather outside the Tower of London and shout ‘Halt, who comes there?’ into the darkness. This is the Ceremony of the Keys and it’s taken place every day, without fail, for 700 years to ‘lock up’ the Tower. You can nosey in on this bizarre tradition yourself and get a late-night look at the ancient fortress. It’s free to head along, but must be pre-booked. It’s also really popular and sells out months in advance. So get booking quick to grab the next available slot.

Photograph: vgallova

4. Creep yourself out on a ghost walk

Give yourself the heebie-jeebies by prowling through London’s dark streets on an evening ghost walk. London Ghost Walk’s Alleyways and Shadows walk will lead you through the gloomy side streets of the old city where you’ll unearth plenty of ghosts and ghouls. 

Alleyways and Shadows tours leave from Exit Three of Bank Underground Station on selected Saturdays. Tours cost £10pp and last 1hr 40 mins, book here.     

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Ronnie Scott's
Ronnie Scott's
Photograph: Paul Wilkinson

5. Bop along to some late-night jazz

Opened in 1959, Ronnie Scott’s is a legendary Soho institution sure to get any jazz fanatic more than a little hot under the turtleneck. It’s also open every evening until 3am for the ‘Ronnie Scott’s Late Late Show’. The nights have showcased  Stevie Wonder, Robert Glasper, and Lady Gaga, and in true improv style, any top-notch performers in town are invited to drop by, meaning the programme can change last minute. If you want to live out any Kerouacian dreams, this is the place to do it.

Photograph: Herry Lawford

6. Do some late-night meat bartering at Smithfield Market

The city’s centuries-old meat market is pretty nice to gawp at any time of day with its ornate arched ceiling and zany colour scheme (white, purple, blue and green). But, it’s not until the middle of the night that the place really comes alive. Between 2am and 9am, the market is a hubbub of meat vendors. Forget late-night meat sweats, here you can go late-night bacon bargaining and ham haggling till the early morning.

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7. Hit one of London’s late-night bars

Let’s be honest, our glorious capital isn’t best known for its late-night drinking spots, so to help you avoid the hapless plod around town looking for more liquor, check out our guide to London's late-night bars and pubs, organised by closing time (including one or two hangouts open all hours and good for something more sobering). It’s time to quench your thirst into the early hours.

More great things to do this winter

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