The clocks have gone back, the nights have drawn in and now the shortest day of the year is on the horizon – literally. The Winter Solstice, AKA the day when the sun goes down and London goes dark at 4.28pm, takes place on Thursday December 21. But don’t hibernate away. London is a night owl’s paradise. Here’s our pick of late-night events to feed your nocturnal spirit.
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Make the most of London after dark
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.
Image: Herry Lawford
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. Unfortunately, there’s no all-nighter planned for Solstice, but there is an ‘Elf’ quote-along screening at 6.30pm.
Listen to stories after dark
Vanessa Woolf has made a career for herself by leading Londoners into obscure areas of the capital at night and telling them magical stories by candlelight. Join her ‘Dark Waters: Midwinter Storytelling Walk’ on Dec 21, where she’ll be telling spellbinding tales about the Thames ‘to warm your heart and chill your blood’ in a secret location in Battersea. It’s free to join. Make sure to wrap up warm and bring a candle in a jar.
Image: Vanessa Woolf
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.
Image: Donna Rutherford
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 nighttime Christmas tours will lead you through the gloomy alleyways of the old City where you’ll unearth plenty of ghosts of Christmas past, including a demon hound that once lurked in an ancient church tower and the place where the ‘Hellfire Club’ came into being.
Christmas tours leave from Exit Three of Bank Underground Station on Wed Dec 27, Thu Dec 28, Fri Dec 29 and Sat Dec 30 at 7pm. Tours cost £10pp and last 1hr 50 mins.
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 pretty popular and can sell out up to 12 months in advance. So get booking quick to grab the next available slot.
Image: Rob Greig
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.