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London is a beautiful city rich in history, culture, and character, and these qualities seep through into its events calendar. National holidays are also royal events. Sporting matches are steeped in history and international renown. Festivals center around the city's diverse communities and thriving arts scene.
No matter what time of year you choose to visit London, there are a variety of ways to experience the city at its vibrant best and celebrate London with the locals.
Fall in London marks the coming of two major arts festivals: the London Film Festival and the London Design Festival. The London Film Festival is a massive 16-day celebration in mid-October of the art of filmmaking, both British and international. The event features numerous film screenings, galas, lectures, and discussions at a variety of venues across London.
The London Design Festival, on the other hand, is a nine-day event in early September, taking advantage of the mild London fall with elaborate installations across the city from leading artists, plus exhibits and events centering around fashion, graphic design, architecture, and more.
Other fall events include the legendary Guy Fawkes Night every November 5th. The holiday commemorates the anniversary of the "Gunpowder Plot," a failed bomb plot against the British monarchy in 1605, and involves a night of bonfires and fireworks in various locations across the city's neighborhoods. Also be sure to check out London's takes on American Thanksgiving and Halloween, and visit Trafalgar Square for the Indian festival of Diwali in October.
The Mayor's Thames Festival is another local favorite.This arts festivals falls on a weekend in early September, and marks the transition of summer into fall. Performances, food stalls, art installations, and more pop up all along the banks of the Thames, as well as on its bridges and docks. This is an especially great event for families.
Wintertime brings the worldwide celebration of New Year's. London rings in every New Year with fireworks from the Thames set to music and cued by the midnight tolls of Big Ben, plus a world-famous New Year's Day Parade featuring up to 10,000 performers that winds from Piccadilly to Parliament Street.
Christmas in picturesque London means markets (such as the Christmas Market near the London Eye in Southbank and the Covent Garden Christmas Deluxe), incredible citywide Christmas lights, and concerts and a grand tree in Trafalgar Square. Visitors have also popularized Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park, a spectacular winter-themed carnival that runs from mid-November to just after New Year's.
Other wintery events that London does right include London Fashion Weekend in late February, and that blustery day of romance, Valentine's Day.
Event highlights of the spring season include Saint Patrick's Day, with a parade and festival taking place in downtown London on the Sunday closest to April 17th; and Saint George's Day on April 23rd, a celebration of England's patron saint. Trafalgar Square hosts a music festival and family activities on this holiday, with special pub and restaurant parties taking place around the city to celebrate British heritage.
One of the biggest events all year in London is the London Marathon. On a Sunday in late April every year, more than 36,000 runners make the 26.2 mile journey through London's streets before half a million spectators and even more on television broadcasts around the world. The Boat Race is another sporting spectacle not to be missed. This iconic rowing race on the Thames in West London is between teams from the universities at Oxford and Cambridge. The race has a long history and has become a renowned British institution.
A final spring highlight is the Chelsea Flower Show, which takes place over the course of five days in late May. The show, which dates back to 1913, is produced by the Royal Horticultural Society and is typically attended by the royals on opening day. The beautifully designed display gardens on the grounds of Chelsea Hospital are a treat for any visitor.
Summer brings an almost overwhelming number of events and celebrations. Two sporting events associated with tradition, style, and high society take place during June: the international tennis tournament of Wimbledon, and the Royal Ascot horse racing event. The former takes place at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, southwest of downtown London, and features the top tennis players in the world. The latter takes place at the Ascot Racecourse, a historic horse racing track located about 45 minutes to the west of London. This is an annual social event and an elite horse race attended by members of the British royal family.
Another event steeped in royal tradition is Trooping the Colour, the official celebration of the Queen's birthday held in June every year. The day features a formal military parade before the Queen, a ceremony with the British colours, and a flyover by the Royal Air Force.
Arts and culture also blossom in summer. Discover the largest classical music festival in the world at The Proms, a festival held at Royal Albert Hall from mid-July to September. Other music festivals abound throughout the season in locales such as Hyde Park, Victoria Park, and Trafalgar Square.
For a taste of Caribbean flavor, stop by the Notting Hill Carnival, typically held on the last weekend in August and featuring Caribbean parades, performances, food, and art. London's Pride Festival also falls in June or July, featuring two-weeks of events highlighted by the Pride Day Parade. The event has become internationally renowned for its celebration of London's LGBTQ communities and draws crowds of over 100,000.