If you’re starting university in September, you’ll be catching the end of the British summer during your first term. As the term goes on, the mornings start to get a little cooler and the days become a little shorter, and London’s busy energy begins to quieten down. Autumn in London is the favourite season for many with the crisper air and the colours changing across some of the city’s beautiful tree-filled parks.
Autumn in London becomes a bit less touristy after the high season over the summer months. The crowds begin to thin out but there are still lots of interesting events, exhibitions and shows to see and things to do. Before the run-up to Christmas, there’s lots of Autumnal exploring to do in the city.
So, as you start to get settled into your new academic year, here are a few things that are happening that you can get involved with over Autumn in London, alongside your studies.
On the 31st of October, it’s Halloween. It isn’t just an American celebration anymore. In the UK, kids trick-or-treat in residential areas, many people get dressed up in spooky (or otherwise) costumes and there are celebrations of all things spooky and gruesome. If you want to get involved, there will be lots of events across London or simple activities you can do at home with your flatmates.
If you enjoy horror movies, you’ll notice that lots will start appearing on streaming services like Netflix in the run-up to Halloween. Watching a couple of scary films is a great Halloween activity to do with your friends or flatmates for a night in.
Another free activity to do at Halloween is to spend some time in one of London’s overgrown cemeteries. Nunhead Cemetry for example has huge areas that are almost completely overtaken by nature. Here you can see some of the most ostentatious and extravagant monuments the Victorians made for their dead. The views from here across London are Insta-worthy too, especially on a spooky misty autumn day around Halloween.
Guy Fawkes Night
In the UK, we celebrate Bonfire night – also known as Guy Fawkes Night. On the 5th of November every year, you can find fireworks and bonfires all over London and the UK. These celebrations commemorate Fawkes’ failed gunpowder plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. If you want to get out of the city, Lewes holds the biggest Bonfire Night celebration in the world and you can reach this small town from London. Being such a massive event, the town becomes incredibly busy and travel in and out of Lewes becomes tricky. So before you look into going, make sure you can get both there and home again on public transport before you set off.
Guy Fawkes Day is followed by the Lord Mayor’s show on the 6th of November – another historic event which dates back over 800 years ago. In this tradition, the Lord Mayor of the City of London goes to Westminster to swear loyalty to the Crown. This is the oldest civic procession in the world and it follows a parade through the City and Westminster where you can watch the flutes, bands and even gilded carriages.
Feast on a Sunday Roast
If you’re new to the UK, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to one of the UK’s national treasures, the Sunday Roast. Autumn brings the excuses to indulge in a Sunday roast – it’s getting chilly outside and you’re probably spending a little more time indoors than you were over the more sociable summer months.
Many of London’s pubs start to offer roasts when the weather begins to change – so it might be something you want to tick off your bucket list while you’re in the city, and the Autumn in London is perfect for it. Keep an eye out for roasts on Sundays at traditional pubs across the city. Most will do a vegetarian or vegan roast option too, so everyone will be warmed up with a full belly.
As you probably know, there’s no shortage of green space in London. But one of the main things that people love about Autumn in London is witnessing the colours changing across the parks in the city. The tree-lined footpaths in some of London’s parks become carpeted with the golden oranges, reds, yellows and browns of the shed leaves.
Try Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Hampstead Heath, Holland Park’s Kyoto Garden, Battersea Park and Victoria Park for an Autumnal walk and listen to the dried leaves crunch under your feet. A particular scenic place for an Autumnal walk is Richmond Park where you can watch the deer roam freely. You wouldn’t know this park is in the capital city when you’re in it.
Or, take a walk on the Chelsea Embankment. With its traditional street lights and picturesque river views, it’s a really photogenic spot at any time of year. In autumn, however, you’ll find the golden-coloured trees forming an arch over the pedestrian’s path and piles of crunchy leaves gathered up to wade through.
Especially if you like to cook, you might enjoy trying the most seasonal veg on offer at some of London’s food markets. Find squashes, pumpkins, apples and gourds at huge food halls and markets like Borough Market (near London Bridge). As it starts to get colder, you can pick up a hot chocolate or a hot spiced cider from The Cider House before you browse through what the market has to offer that day.
Find a pumpkin in mid to late October at a fruit and veg market (or your local supermarket) to carve out the insides. Most people carve out a scary face, but you can be as creative as you like. Place a small tealight in the pumpkin lantern and you have a piece of festive decoration for your flat window or doorstep. If you’re living in a residential area where lots of kids are visiting, just be aware that if you put your pumpkin on the doorstep, this is often seen as an invite to trick-or-treat, so you’ll need to have some sweets on hand to give them if you want to take part.
Remember not to throw away the flesh of the pumpkin when you carve it. You can use it to make soup or another hearty Autumnal dish. Or, you can roast the pumpkin seeds with salt and pepper and they’re really tasty. If this is the kind of thing that appeals to you, you can even go and pick your own pumpkin (or pumpkins) to carve. You can find places to do this in or outside of London. Or, when it comes to carving, you can join a pumpkin carving workshop at Gunnersbury Park & Museum in Gunnersbury for £12 which includes your ‘perfect’ pumpkin.
Autumn in London | Free events
Every year, London comes alive with a number of festivals and events in the Autumn to keep you busy right up until the Christmas period. And, many of these are for free. Here are some of our favourites to make the very most of Autumn in London:
- In September, there is Totally Thames which is an annual month-long celebration of the River Thames. There are creative events including workshops, exhibitions, film screenings and live music and dance. Some of the events are paid but many are free of charge to the public. This festival runs from the 1st until the 30th of September.
- On Sunday the 2nd of October this year, the world-famous London Marathon is happening. The route takes the runners from Blackheath, passing landmarks including the Cutty Sark, and Tower Bridge and finishing just outside Buckingham Palace. Whether you’re a keen runner or not, this is an incredible event to spectate, and the atmosphere is a memorable one. Just be aware that there will be big crowds so if you want to find yourself a good viewing spot, you’ll need to get there well ahead of time.
If you can’t make the London Marathon, there is also the Royal Parks Half marathon which takes place one week later, on Sunday the 9th of October. This one takes the runners on a route through four of the eight Royal Parks (Hyde Park, Green Park, St James’s Park, Kensington Gardens) and other roads around central London.
If you are an art lover, the Frieze Art Fair (which is a paid-for event) put on a free event where they put outdoor sculptures on display. This year, there are sculptures from 19 artists dotted around Regent’s Park for Frieze sculpture month. The artists showcasing their work at this year’s open-air exhibition include Ro Robertson, Ugo Rondinone and John Giomo. There’s a trail that you can follow if you want to see them all. The sculptures are on show from September the 14th until November the 13th.
Another free event for art lovers, Unlimited Festival is on at the Southbank Centre from the 7th of September to the 11th of September. It will show art, comedy, music, dance and more created or performed mostly by disabled artists. Just be aware that not all of the events on as part of this are free – some you need to pay for.
You might also enjoy the GDIF festival (which stands for the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival). This is a (free) performing arts event on for two weeks at the start of September. It includes circus acts, dance, music and theatre in multiple locations outdoors. A couple of the highlights of this year’s festival are due to be the light, colour and sound installation based on nature and the ‘Island of Foam’ which is a huge rainbow-coloured body of foam which will take over Greenwich Peninsula on the 3rd and 4th of September.
On the 9th until the 11th of September, as part of the Classic Boat Festival, you can admire around 40 classic and preserved boats and vessels moor up at the St Katherine’s Dock (nearby the Tower of London). Even with little or no knowledge of boats, this is an incredible spectacle.
Open House London is an aspiring architect’s dream. This event gives you the chance to visit the parts of London which are normally off-limits to the general public. It runs every year and allows you to get into some of the most interesting buildings across London which are usually closed to the public. You can view these open houses from the 8th until the 21st of September.