The original idea behind the event was for all the different regiments to parade their flags about so the soldiers would recognise them on the battlefield, but these days we do it to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday in June. Her real birthday is in April, of course, but April = rain, and we don’t want the lousy British weather to rain on her parade (literally!), so everyone pretends that her birthday is in the sunny month of June instead.
If you stand down The Mall then you can watch practically the whole of the British Army march past Buckingham Palace towards Horse Guards (that’s what it seems like when you’re standing there anyway – there are thousands of them). You can watch all of the horses and marching bands as well, followed by members of the Royal Family in their State coaches. The Queen will then take the salute on Horse Guards parade ground and everyone will march back again. The Royal Family then step out onto the Buckingham Palace balcony and wave at the crowds, and the RAF will send a few planes over the top.
It really is a great parade and we recommend reading Craig’s review to give you an idea of the atmosphere. He also gives you some good tips about the best time to arrive, and the best places to stand for a good view.
Note: If you can’t make this parade then they hold a couple of big rehearsals in the weeks leading up to it. The Colonel’s Review takes place one week before, and the Major General’s Review two weeks before.
The Lord Mayor’s Show is London’s longest running pageant and has been going for an incredible 800 years. It takes place every November when the new Lord Mayor of London gets sworn into office.
The event begins with a river pageant from Vauxhall Bridge to Tower Bridge. The new Mayor then rides his coach from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice via St. Paul’s Cathedral, where he stops to receive a blessing. He then takes his oath of allegiance to the Queen outside the courts and heads back to Mansion House again, where will be his official residence for the next twelve months. The parade is followed by a huge firework display over the Thames.
The Notting Hill Carnival takes place every year on August Bank Holiday. If you have little kids then try you should definitely go on the Sunday (‘Family Day’) because the main parade on Monday will be bursting with the biggest crowd you have ever seen in your life. A million people descend on West London to enjoy the decorated floats, colourful costumes and Caribbean steel bands.
The State Opening of Parliament usually takes place on a different date every year, but the parade is always the same: the Queen will ride her coach down The Mall to Parliament Square, accompanied by the Household Cavalry. She will then process through the Houses of Parliament to the House of Lords, where she’ll sit on the golden throne to read out the government’s plans for the coming year.
The public aren’t allowed inside Parliament whilst the Queen is in attendance, and the only bit you can watch is when she arrives and departs in her coach. There are no military bands either – it’s literally just the Queen in her coach and some military horses. Have a read through Craig’s review for some tips on when to arrive and the best place to stand. You might like to read Craig’s review of the House of Lords as well, in case you want to visit afterwards.
The best night to attend is the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ which has a mixture of bombastic classical favourites and flag-waving anthems. Popular pieces include Jeruslaem, Rule Britannia and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance. It usually closes with the cannons and bangs of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Craig has never been to the Last Night itself, but he has written a review of a normal Proms concert.
London has lots of Christmas trees – our favourite is the one in Waterloo Place, Leadenhall Market and outside Somerset House’s ice rink (read Craig’s review of the Christmas lights for a complete list) – but the most famous one is standing in the middle of Trafalgar Square.
This tree is donated to the UK by the Norwegians as a thank you for the help we gave them in World War II. It’s a traditional Oslo fir with strings of white lights running up to the top. As the evenings draw near it plays host to a different Christmas carol choir every night, singing to the shoppers as they march on to Charing Cross and Waterloo.
The lighting ceremony usually takes place in the first week of December and is attended by the Lord Mayor of London and Mayor of Oslo. They also have Christmas carols performed by the Salvation Army band. Standing on the steps of the National Gallery in that big crowd of people, listening to the Sally Army band play Silent Night before they light the tree is a magical moment that will make your Christmas. Read Craig’s review of the lighting ceremony to see what the atmosphere is like.
For two weeks in June/July the entire country holds its collected breath… will we have another British winner? Tim Henman came close for a while, and then Andy Murray finally won it in 2013 after 76 years of waiting. He’s won it another couple of times since and earned himself a knighthood.
Wimbledon is the world’s most famous tennis tournament and half a million spectators descend on the event every year to drink Pimms, eat strawberries and cream, and occasionally watch some tennis as well.
There are only 500 seats on Centre Court and its tickets cost a fortune, so you might want to try your luck with one of the outer courts instead. You can usually grab a ticket for one of those if you arrive by 9 AM. If you want one of the better courts then you’ll have to start queuing before 7.30 AM.
Guy Fawkes’ Night is named after a Catholic terrorist who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes was the explosives expert who was tasked with carrying the barrels of gunpowder into a cellar, and then guard them until the House of Lords was packed with politicians. Unfortunately for Guy the plot was leaked by someone in the know, and the soldiers conducted a search of the cellars the night before. Guy Fawkes was promptly discovered and then tortured for the names of his co-conspirators.
James I was so thankful for his deliverance that he decided everyone should celebrate by letting off fireworks and burning big bonfires – and 500 years later we’s still doing it!
Bonfire Night itself is always on the 5th November, but a lot of the biggest fireworks displays in London take place on the nearest weekend. They usually have lots of food and drink stalls, a bit of live music, and even a few funfair rides.
Chinese New Year takes place in late January/early February and the big London celebrations usually fall on the nearest weekend.
Half a million people turn up for a spectacular parade of paper-mache lions and fire-breathing dragons that drums and dances its way from Trafalgar Square to Chinatown, via Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.
They usually put up a large entertainment stage in Trafalgar Square with Oriental dancers, acrobats, musicians and martial arts stars, and the evening ends with a cacophony of firecrackers and fireworks. You might want to the then head off to a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.
Remembrance Day always falls on the 11th November, whereas the big parade takes place on the following Sunday. It is held the remember the fallen soldiers from all Commonwealth wars.
This parade is for the military rather than the Royals, so the Queen doesn’t parade down The Mall in her coach. She simply lays a wreath at the Cenotaph alongside the country’s leading politicians, and then listens to a bugler blow the Last Post.
Thousands of veteran soldiers and serving soldiers will then march down Whitehall from Horse Guards to Parliament Square, and loop back round to Horse Guards again. This part of the parade takes over an hour, with thousands of wellwishers clapping the regiments as they file by.
Craig has written a review of the parade on his blog, to let you know the best time to get there and the best place to stand.