The Summer Solstice isn’t just for Druids and Stonehenge hippies, everyone can celebrate the Earth getting up-close and personal with the sun. This celestial movement happens once a year and results in the longest (and hopefully sunniest), day out of all 365 of them. This year it falls on Wednesday June 21 and to help you make the most of all that glorious daylight, we’ve pulled together a guide to packing the hours with fun. No need to prance around in fields, stay put and do your sun-worshipping in the capital instead.
Summer Solstice: from sunrise to sunset
4.34am: Watch the sunrise
Set your alarm (or don’t go to bed) and hike up Parliament Hill for a 4.34am kick-off. The views across London from here are the best in the city: top-notch landmarks like the Gherkin and St Paul’s are on show and, if you wiggle around a bit, the Houses of Parliament, over six miles away. There’s a path the whole way up and amazing panoramas of the city at the top – if you can see past the sunrise-selfie stampede.
5am: Buy loads of posh sausages
The centuries-old Smithfield Market gets going at a terrifying 2am. But there’s no need to go that early. Wait a couple of hours and you can get involved in as much meat shopping, meat swapping and meat sweating as you like. It’s aimed at wholesalers, so only go if you’re buying a wheelbarrow-load of sausages. Or book the monthly tours if ‘just looking thanks’ is how you like your steak (they start at a kinder 6.45am).
© Cedric Weber
7am: Take an early-morning dip
Brace yourself for the day ahead by diving into a body of freezing water. Both the ladies’ and the men’s fresh-water ponds in Hampstead Heath open at 7am in the summer, which doesn’t mean that they’re any warmer, it just means that London is officially in hot-month-mania. Pack your trunks and get ready to front crawl with the finest ducks in north London.
© Richard Lea-Hair
8am: Tuck into a hearty breakfast
Time to fortify your sun-worshipping with a fry-up or pile of patisserie, washed down with coffee. Head straight to Hawksmoor Guildhall for the epic full-English everyone raves about, served from a bonkers 7am. Or, if you need an early-morning spice kick, descend on one of Dishoom’s restaurants for a legendary bacon naan roll, served from 8am on weekdays.
9am: Enjoy the South Bank before the crowds do
Between the commuter crowds and herds of tourists, there’s a sweet spot at around 9am when the South Bank is actually quite empty (for the South Bank, at least). Take a stroll along the Thames, from the London Eye to Tower Bridge, and have yourself a ‘moment’ as the morning sun glistens across the water. June also means the return of Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love, so look out for themed sculptures as you serenely amble along.
11am: Explore Greenwich Park
No day out dedicated to the movements of the sun would be complete without a gallivant around Greenwich. Visit the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum to check out Edwin Russell’s famous dolphin sundial. The views from the top of the hill across to Canary Wharf are also stunning, and well worth the trek.
© Alan Stanton
1pm: Hit the museums
A weekday morning during term time provides the perfect opportunity to do a tour of South Ken’s museum circuit. Start off at the Science Museum where, fittingly, you can see Robert Henri’s 1867 wooden model used to illustrate solar eclipses or John Rowley’s 1712 orrery, which was used to demonstrate the movement of the planets around the sun. Afterwards, head to the Natural History Museum and, finally, to the V&A, where you can see a nineteenth-century embroidery of the solar system and Victorian photos of sunsets.
3pm: Time for tea!
All this longest-day-of-the-year business is exhausting. Hydrate yourself with a cuppa and keep your energy levels up with a huge slab of cake. Thankfully, you’re never far from a quick caffeine fix in London or, if you fancy a full luxury blow-out instead, check out our pick of tea shops, cafés, hotels and places to take afternoon tea in London. Calories = energy, remember.
4pm: Check if the animals have gone mad
A change in daylight hours sends animals loopy, apparently. Find out exactly how much so by heading to one of London’s many city farms. Has Larry the llama topped himself? Is Gareth the goat head-butting a chicken? Not your problem, really. Wander over to meet the new-born chicks instead – they’re cute and fluffy and won’t haven’t grasped the concept of Summer Solstice yet.
6pm: Cocktail o’clock
You’ve been up since 4am. That kind of behaviour deserves a reward in the form of cold and very strong booze. Luckily for you, London is drowning in places to sip spirits and glug gimlets. So, whichever corner of town you’ve ended up in, you won’t be far from a man with a beard offering to shake some alcohol around for you. Here’s our choice of the best cocktail bars in London.
8pm: Find a rooftop restaurant for dinner
There’s still over an hour of daylight left, so guarantee yourself a seat at the sunset event of the year at one of London’s best rooftop restaurants. From fine-dining in the clouds to heady pop-ups above the streets, get as high as you can at one of the city’s altitude spots, and just hope it’s not a cloudy evening. We’re watching you, June.
9.31pm: Watch the sunset
You made it! Congratulations, sun worshipper, now please gather for the ritual sheep-slaughter. Just kidding – there’s none of that where you’re heading. Get above the crowds and find a spot at one of London’s amazing rooftop bars, where you’ll be able to watch the sunset, drink in hand, and thank the sun gods that you’re not on the way back from Stonehenge on a National Express coach.
How about a drink with a view?
Cocktails shouldn’t taste better at altitude, but somehow they do – especially when that extra height guarantees that you’re also drinking in sensational views of London. So whether it's a special occasion or you're just wanting to get high in the capital, here are our top London bars with a view.
A bright little cafe in Angel that places its focus on healthy eating. Visitors here can expect to find organic coffee (from Caravan), tea (from The Tea Makers), cakes, pastries, salads, sandwiches and raw food snacks. And what's more, many of their dishes are free from gluten, lactose and refined sugar.