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Big Ben, London| ©Rupinder Virdi/Flickr
Big Ben, London| ©Rupinder Virdi/Flickr
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How To Survive A London Heatwave

Picture of Harriet Clugston
Updated: 8 June 2017
Londoners — they’re a special breed. They spend months complaining about the lack of sunshine on the horizons, but as soon as they’re hit with soaring temperatures and clear blue skies, what do they do? Complain. In fairness to them, it has become astoundingly hot, with temperatures on Tuesday (the hottest day of the year thus far) topping 30°C — although in nearby Oxfordshire they hit 33.5ºC. With the mini heatwave set to continue, we’ve put together some of our best tips on not only how to survive the heat, but how to do it in style. Read on to discover how to handle London heatwaves like a pro.

Avoid the Central line

There is nothing worse than the rush hour tube crush during hot weather, but as the hottest route on the London Underground, according to Transport for London (TFL), during a heatwave the red line can get truly red hot. Throughout August, the average daytime temperatures at the end of platforms tend to hover close to the 30s, with the stifling heat caused by a total lack of cooling mechanisms, smaller, lower-ceiling trains and the deeper subsurface depth it runs at compared to other lines. It’s not always possible, but if you can, avoid this line like the plague.

Crowding on the London Underground | © Elad Rosenberg/Flickr
Crowding on the London Underground | ©Elad Rosenberg/Flickr

In fact, skip the Tube altogether

Summer scorchers are a perfect opportunity to try out more above-surface means of transport — and no, we definitely do not mean London’s buses, which are also killer. Despite the fact that you’re doing physical exercise, which hardly ever sounds like a good idea in hot weather, commuting by bicycle can be a great way to keep cool in summer, so long as the pace is kept leisurely. With only the smell of your own BO for company (which in itself makes cycling a far more appealing option than bus or Tube), cyclists also get to enjoy their very own natural air-conditioning, basking in a lovely, refreshing breeze as they flit about. Similar options include traveling by push scooter — adults riding these are still a bit of a novelty, but sales have been rocketing in London particularly over the past year, enjoying an additional surge after Samantha Cameron, wife of the ex-Prime Minister, was spotted trundling about on one — rollerskates, or even skateboard. Just make sure you leave plenty of time so your leisurely commute doesn’t turn into a mad, sticky dash.

But by far the best alternative means of heatwave transport? It’s got to be by boat. Londoners don’t take nearly enough advantage of the River Thames compared to cities like New York, where traveling by river taxi is standard practice. TfL has been trying to push the Thames Clipper as a legitimate method of commute for a while, with promotional posters dotted around London’s Underground stations. The Oyster-accepting boats operate between Putney and Woolwich and offer an outside deck area, light refreshments and toilets, with the promise of a brisk sea spray being the perfect remedy for heatwave conditions.

The Thames Clipper travels along London's Southbank | © James Breunung-Butler/Flickr
The Thames Clipper travels along London’s Southbank | ©James Breunung-Butler/Flickr

Take time for a swim

Forget the balmy waters of your regular leisure center and, instead, opt for a dip in one of London’s numerous lidos. Dotted around in every corner of the capital, these open-air pools, which are unthinkably chilly at other times of the year, are made for summer heatwaves. Londoners after a fish-free swim have plenty of options to choose from. South London’s Tooting Bec Lido is the largest fresh-water pools in the country at a whopping 91.5 meters in length, while those in North London can enjoy the Grade II-listed Parliament Hill Lido — both of which are big enough to accommodate the scores of fellow Londoners who will no doubt have the same idea. More centrally located is the art-installation-cum-fresh-water-swimming-baths, King’s Cross Pond Club. Designed to contrast the urban with the natural, this 40-meter oval pool is surrounded by natural vegetation in the heart of King’s Cross.

The King’s Cross pond may be the country’s first ever man-made freshwater swimming pond, but for the totally natural experience head to the Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park, or to Hampstead Heath, where there is a selection of ponds, with options for men-only, women-only or mixed dips.

Cooling off with the rest of London… #londonlido #brockwelllido #lido #london

A post shared by Lisa Katie Cope (@lisakatiecope) on

Become a regular at the capital’s art galleries

It’s not only the living who suffer in London’s heatwave — our artworks could potentially be in danger too. Temperature and humidity control are vital to preserving rare paintings in particular; in the tourist-heavy summer months, with countless hot, sweaty and panting human bodies squeezing into our museums and galleries, this means only one thing— air-conditioning.

As the National Gallery says, ‘paintings are generally quite safe in the temperature ranges usually considered suitable for human comfort indoors’. The gallery uses a combination of dehumidifiers, natural ventilation and air-conditioning to control their internal climates and maintain the temperature at 23°C during summer, keeping priceless paintings safe, and overheated Londoners grateful. Another great option is the British Library, who need to maintain a stable temperature in order to preserve fragile elements for their collections, with wax seals, in particular, suffering from the heat.

The National Art Gallery | © Wayland Smith/
The National Art Gallery | © Wayland Smith/

Get on the juice bar trend

In hot weather, even mild levels of dehydration can raise your body’s core temperature by impacting its sweat system. This means we need to drink water to help lower our body temperature and replace the moisture we lose in sweat. Rather tragically, it also means that that nice cold Pimms in one of London’s fantastic beer gardens is not as good idea as it sounds, given alcohol’s dehydrating properties. When London is experiencing a heatwave, your best bet is to opt for a soft drink on visits to the pub or, alternatively, maybe now is the best time to get in on London’s growing juice bar trend. Juices offer the same initial cooling effect of any other drink, but without producing the diuretic effect of alcohol or caffeinated drinks, making them a better option for keeping cool in the long run. The Culture Trip’s pick of the capital’s juice bars can be found here, while smoothies can be an equally great option.

Failing that, you could always consider a trip to the Ice Bar.

Get a curry down you

Spicy food may be the last thing you think you need in hot weather, but there’s a reason hot countries often have the spiciest cuisine — places like India, Mexico, Thailand or Jamaica are prime examples. Eating spicy foods can actually be an effective way to cool yourself down, with the spice working to raise your internal temperature, increase blood stimulation, and thereby stimulate sweating — one of the body’s key methods for temperature regulation, with the evaporating moisture transferring heat away from the blood and skin. Here are some of our top picks of the capital’s spicy food offerings.

Ice, Ice Baby

Any sensible person knows summer means ice cream, but we do ice cream exceptionally well in London. With a bursting ice cream, sorbet, gelato and frozen-yoghurt scene, there are just so many options out there, including classic, dairy-free, vegan, crazy flavors, and cookie sandwiches, aka the ‘biskie’. Some of the best picks include Riley’s Artisan Ice Cream Cafe, an art-themed parlour-cafe in Crouch End, La Gelatiera in Covent Garden (their gelato is ‘food art’, according to Charlie Turnbull) and Soho’s Snowflake, which boasts London’s biggest gelato cabinet — in fact, Soho in general is a bit of a mecca nowadays for frozen dessert lovers.

Lets not forget the other trend in frozen desserts, though— ice pops. Iconic department stores and grocers to the Queen Fortnum & Mason have a great selection of alcoholic popsicles (yes we know we said no alcohol, but these are probably worth it). The ice pops are produced by London-based company POPs, who offer a variety of bespoke lines to luxury retailers and restaurants, as well as their own collection of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options. The company is known to pop up at luxury events around the capital, are sold by a host of stockists, and can be found on both and Deliveroo.