Planning a trip to London and wondering what to pack? These helpful tips will keep you warm, dry, cozy and looking posh on a visit to England's capital city!
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*Post updated, August 2019
Across all of my trips, I have always felt that dressing for London as a tourist is fairly difficult. You want to look nice, you might walk 15 miles in a day then head out for a fancy meal, and it could, and likely will, rain, unexpectedly, at any moment. And on top of that, I also don't want to ruin my clothes - particularly not my fancy vacation clothes! So what can you pack that "ticks all of these boxes?" If you're lucky enough to be visiting this summer or fall, check out these tips so meet every weather-related attire challenge that England can offer!
Lately, we've been spending at least one of our yearly trips in the U.K., including two recent trips spent entirely in London and traveling from there throughout England. Dressing for vacation is always hard, but I find it's even harder when it's somewhere I want to fit in and look chic and fashionable...and it's especially challenging when it's one of the coolest cities in the world.
For me, my goal is to look presentable no matter where I happen to find myself on a day's travels, and to be wearing the right clothes that are appropriate for the weather and the physical activity - and there's no reason to make sacrifices on either count!
Before we dive in, I just want to highlight that I've included a number of example items, often the items I actually own (I generally say so, or show a picture, if that's the case), so you can get an idea of what I'm talking about. Of course, you'll already own many of these items, so I'm not trying to add to your shopping less, unless you're looking to expand the wardrobe! (I always am!)
Ok, let's check out the staples I never leave behind!
Don't forget your packing cubes when packing for London!
First things first! No packing post would be complete without recommending my packing-for-any-trip secret weapon - my favorite packing cubes!
These packing cubes keep everything organized before, during, and after the trip, and - best part - they're super affordable! I love being able to keep small items neat and tidy *in* the hotel room, and they're also a great way to pack up souvenirs for your trip home! For even more travel essentials, check-out the constantly updated list of all the items that I can't travel without!
Essentials coats for Fall and Spring in London
By far the most important piece you'll want to bring with you to London is the right coat, really regardless of season. Rain is a fact of life in England. It rains almost 1/3 of days in the country, totaling nearly 40 inches of rain per year. Many of those "rainy" days are perfectly comfortable to walk around in, and then there will be a slight drizzle, lasting maybe half an hour, and often that will be the end of it. Sometimes that same thing will happen multiple times throughout a day, or, of course, there are days where it just drizzles and spits rain (or pours) the whole day.
Any coat you bring to London shouldn't be too warm, as it really doesn't get too cold in England, and you'll want to be able to remove it (if and maybe? when) the sun comes out. In October, for example, the average temperature in London is a high of 60 and a low of 50.
And, for those reasons, you'll want it to be relatively light-weight so that you don't mind carrying it around, or wearing it when it's not raining. Additionally, unless you're traveling in the height of winter, the coat is the thing most people will see.
Overall, I'd recommend either a Barbour jacket or a trench. Barbour - a classic English brand - has a wide selection, including the traditional waxed jacket which, in fairness some will say, is a bit more English country than London (but well that's me!), to more "casual," lighter or quilted options. The waxed jacket, though, is waterproof and can have a removable hood added, which makes it perfect for spending a day touring. The Queen has a well-loved Barbour coat. When she sent it in for refurbishment (which is common with Barbour coats, as they're meant to last a lifetime), the company offered her a new one, which she politely declined, preferring to keep her old one!
The British trench coat is, of course, another staple for a trip to the U.K. Burberry is the quintessential classic, and is now available in a variety of shorter and more colorful versions. A darker, less-of-a-statement trench, such as this, or one from London Fog, which is actually American but has a wide and seasonably varied section of classic, yet more affordable coats, also works well for the younger set.
As far as an "overcoat," remember that it doesn't normally get terribly cold in London. However, I'd likely include one, especially for evenings out, etc., when it's not only chillier, but you'll likely want to look a bit dressier.
Don't forget your umbrella in England, regardless of season!
Though the British are notoriously relaxed about being rained on, on the occasions where the drizzly progresses to a downpour, you'll want an umbrella. Additionally, there are occasional wash-out days, in addition to the usual dreariness.
I opt for a compact umbrella that I can jam into a pocket before departing in the morning, use for 20 minutes as needed, dry off, and stuff back into said pocket. If you're fortunate enough to live somewhere with infrequent rain, or you fill-up the suitcase with treasures from my all-time "favourite," Fortnum & Mason, you could always donate the umbrella to the hotel when you depart, if you select a budget friendly option!
Another option is a much larger umbrella/walking stick. One of our hotels, The Goring (full post available here), had free hotel umbrellas for guests' use, seen in many of these pictures in this post. If you're inclined toward a larger umbrella, I'd vote for buying it once you get there, rather than hauling it over with you, if you find that, upon your arrival, your hotel doesn't supply them. Most high end hotels will, given the inevitable rain and equally inevitably unprepared tourists!
Shoes and boots for London in the rain
Of course there are "chicer" shoes than boots, but for my money, you can't beat good, solid boots for walking long distances and encountering dirty streets, public transit, random mud, and, of course, the aforementioned rain. I've "banged on" about them before, if you've followed my packing-for-Europe posts, but Blondo boots just can't be beaten - waterproof and comfortable, they look classy, get the job done, and come in a variety of colors. And, of course, that means that they don't get ruined in a downpour or crunching through those wet, Autumnal leaves!
I personally like the full riding boot, for the full rain coverage (can't splash in from over the top) but sometimes the full boot does get a bit toasty, so having booties as well is usually a good idea in the warmer months.
I would say I wear boots the vast majority of days I spend in the U.K., but if not boots, then it's loafers! I don't find them as comfortable in the rain, but if you're feeling confident that it's a rain-free day, go for it!! If you'e wanting to get into the English feel before you even arrive, Boden has some of the most gorgeous, quirky heels, shoes, and flats.
When I was doing my research for this blog, I found these amazing Hunter loafers that are, you guessed it - rubber! I've never tried them on (and I certainly wouldn't give them their first try on a big trip to London!), but they could be worth investigating if you're looking for another, very waterproof option!
Cozy sweaters for chilly days (and nights) in London
Depending on the time of year, the U.K.'s damp weather can really be damp, even if it's not technically that "cold." Of course, there's on better place to warm up than London - pubs, tea, and a Sunday roast: all invented to warm these people up! Reminder - the pictures below and above this text were taken in *mid-April.*
I personally like a bit of a turtleneck for everyday wear in colder months, even in spring and fall, to avoid needing a scarf. I've found quite a few that I like from Eileen Fisher. My big piece of advice on sweaters, though, is make sure they fit under the coat you intend to bring - try them on at home with your coat before you leave.
Dressing for Summer in London
If you're fortunate enough to encounter some days of lovely British sunshine, enjoy! I'd still bring the umbrella out with you in the morning, if I were you (the picture of me with Sir Winston, the trench coat, and the umbrella was taken the same week as the shot below!).
But, for those charming, warm days, I personally like a dress and a light jacket, along with a pair of loafers to protect the feet during all the walking! (My American readers should be reminded that Europeans do not wear beach flip flops unless they are...you guessed it! At the beach! Also, your feet would get filthy in metro London without proper shoes!). Modcloth has some phenomenal loafers, which would, of course, also be lovely for drearier days, though I'd be careful in the rain. If you're looking for less of an investment, TJ Maxx always has a good selection, though you may have to dig to find your size and the right fit.
Ah the omnipresent question of "can I wear shorts in London?" Of course you can. Personally, I don't like to wear shorts as a tourist for a few reasons - I don't like my legs touching the public transit seats, I don't find them comfortable for a lot of walking, they aren't as common in Europe as they are in the U.S., so I feel like half-dressed, and frankly it's just not that hot in London, usually. But, if you really want to wear shorts, I'd recommend a bit longer than what Americans normally wear (especially lately - shorts have gotten super short!) and try to avoid pairing them with tennis shoes (the full tourist look).
Best purses for London
If you do want to carry a purse (generally I jam everything into my Barbour's pockets, but a purse is necessary every now and then!), I love a good Longchamp Le Pliage - a classic, even if it's not English! If The Duchess of Cambridge carries one, it's perfect in my book!
If you're looking for a British option, a recent discovery of mine, last time we were in Covent Garden, was The Cambridge Satchel Co., purveyor of all sorts of classically designed traditional handbags. Gorgeous, excellent quality, and super sturdy, I picked up a saddle bag with a long, cross-body strap for easy touring!
Of course, you need to be mindful of pickpockets in any city and in any major tourist attraction, and when those two are combined, extra careful! Personally, I have felt perfectly safe at the major London attractions, but always be mindful. I wouldn't bring a purse that does not fully close.
Keeping kids dry in London's persistent rain
On my first trip to London, one of the things that shocked me the most was how Londoners really do just continue going about their business during sudden rain. Depending on where you live, perhaps you are already aware of this, but in Indianapolis, it just doesn't rain that much, and when it does, people generally go inside or change their plans. Not in London! As I don't have kids, something that never crossed my mind was how absolutely drenched these poor little Britons would be, getting pushed in front of their parents in a stroller in a downpour. But nope, moms and dads just grab their handy plastic baby stroller rain shield, pull it down over the kid's stroller, and carry on!
Thanks for stopping by and enjoy your visit to the U.K.!! I hope you'll check out a few of my other posts on visiting England - my favourite place in the world! xx
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