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5 Things to do in London at Night

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I get lots of pushback for saying this, but I stand behind it. People call New York City "The City that Never Sleeps". I call London "The Sleepy City". Aside from West End shows and late-night pubs, there isn't a lot to do after about 8pm and after 5 or 6, it gets harder to find something to do.

A girl sleeping on a bench

Some locals lose their minds when I say this and will vigorously defend London as a 24/7 city. As an American, I completely disagree. Most nights we are tucked into our hotel room by 6pm watching TV for lack of anything to do. It's okay because I love British TV shows, but, I sometimes feel for clients who only have a few days in London and are unable to use about 1/3 of their day. You really only have from about 9-5 each day. A lot of attractions let the last people in around 4pm and then you're done. You can get dinner and go back to your hotel if you don't have a show booked. We've gone to movies just to go out and do something. It's clearly something we could have done at home, but we just want to fill the time.


I get frustrated trying to maximize a client's visit by trying to fill the evenings. I mean, especially in the summer when the sun doesn't go down until about 9:30pm. I usually end up sending them on a walk along the Southbank. Sometimes I'll get their day planned out and think, "I should send them over to (insert something here) and then realize that they will be done at 5pm with the previous attraction and so that's it. Just dinner and then it feels like I'm leaving them hanging.


London in the evening

Here's a bit of comparison and why it frustrates me as an American: Madame Tussaud's in London (usually don't recommend it) lets the last visitors in at 5pm. Madame Tussaud's in NYC lets the last visitors in at 8pm.


The London Eye - which you would think would be a wonderful evening activity, stops spinning at 6pm on weekdays and 8:30pm on weekends. The Great Wheel in Seattle (where I lived for 20+ years) closes at 10pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends.


M&M World closes at midnight and that's about what you have for kids in the evening. I'm actually surprised it's open as late as the one in NYC.


There are plenty of ghost tours and guided night walks but many of them start at 7pm and, in the summer, it's not dark yet. I had one client want to book a "Westminster by Gaslight" tour this summer. It started at 7pm. I told her the only gaslighting she was

going to get was them trying to convince her it would be dark at 7pm in July 😂


Gas lamps

I mean, the London Dungeon - which bills itself as a haunted house, closes at 5pm in the Summer every day except Saturday where it extends itself to a whole extra hour of spookiness... I can't imagine any haunted house-type activity in a major US city closing up before 11pm.


Let's take it a bit out of London for comparison. Thorpe Park Amusement Park is about an hour outside of London. On a Saturday in July, it closes at 6pm. Lagoon is an amusement park of similar magnitude in my home state of Utah and on that same day in July, it closes at 10pm.


See why this frustrates me? Things directed at entertainment and tourism in America tend to stay open later. It's one of those cultural differences people tend to not worry about until they can't find anything to do in the evening.


So, that leaves you with West End shows, walking and late-night restaurants/pubs. Those are great if clients want them. There are music venues, cabarets, pubs, shows, etc. But, not many will be family friendly. Many kids will be ready for bed after a long day, but many teens will still want to go out and do something cool. It's hard to find places to send them. Even the Thames Rocket Boat sunset ride is only for 18+.


It's one of those things that irritates me a bit on some groups. Londoners who are probably home most nights themselves, will vigorously defend London as a nighttime hot spot and be offended that I would suggest otherwise. But, the occasional late open night at a museum doesn't always line up with a client's visit or plans.


So, here are 5 things to do in London at night:

  1. Head to China Town for late night eats. Check out Inamo for great Japanese food and tables that have embedded arcade games.

  2. London By Night open top bus tour (select a time later than 9pm in the Summer)

  3. Go to the Ceremony of the Keys - here's a truth bomb about this: It doesn't start until 9:45 pm and unless you are staying close to the Tower, it will take a healthy dose of self-motivation to get yourselves out the door again. I have had tickets 3 different times and finally only went when we were staying by the tower. It seemed like too much work to get over there from my usual area of Bayswater. BUT, it was very cool and I'm glad I finally went. It's kind of spooky to even stand in the tower after dark.

  4. See a movie at the British Film Institute's IMAX theatre

  5. Climb the O2 at Twilight - I mean, it starts at 8:30 so that's actually pretty late.


One Friday a month, the museums will be open late. Check each museum's website for information. I didn't include it because it's an occasional thing that may not line up with your plans.


I'm sure there are other things going on and I know someone is looking at their screen reading this right now doing this:


an odd man sitting at an old computer meme

But, I stand by what I said as someone who has actually lived somewhere that offers more than an open shop or a restaurant after dark. It's surprising to me that a city as large and international as London closes up so early in the evening.



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