Explore London

The 24 hour city: London’s night shift

London is finally gaining recognition as a 24-hour city. Whether you want a makeover for your hair, some fine dining in the City or a chance to see a sci-fi thriller, you can do all these and more during the capital’s previously barren early hours of the morning.

Into the night

The centre-piece of the city’s efforts to create a ‘night-time economy’ – especially that of the Mayor, Sadiq Khan – is the launch of the Night Tube. The 24-hour weekend service has been running on the Central and Victoria lines since August, and will add the Northern and Piccadilly Lines this winter. This has been boosted with the Mayor’s announcement on November 4th of the new ‘night czar’ Amy Lamé. Similar efforts have been made successfully by cities across the globe such as Paris and, most notably, in Amsterdam, which went so far as to appoint their very own night-time mayor. The role will promote London’s nightlife and coordinate activities to preserve late-night services, which in recent years have struggled somewhat with a decline in nightclubs and music venues across the city.

All change please

London has not traditionally been a late-night haven. The difficulties getting home later on and licensing laws have long prevented the city’s nightlife extending into the early hours to the same extent as in other major European cities, such as Berlin or Amsterdam. It seems that Londoners also have a preference for their weekend mornings: you only need to walk around Shoreditch or the South Bank to find overflowing restaurants exuding wafts of brunch (although bottomless brunches paint a different picture, as seen in our article).

However, this is all changing. A growing number of venues are offering early-hours activities, and not just in the well-known spots of the West End. It is also more than the city’s nightlife that is developing its offerings: consumer activities across the board are increasingly available throughout the night. So what can you expect to find?

Hairdressing: Neil Cornelius

The experienced hairdresser, whose clients include the Duchess of Cambridge and Keira Knightly, opens London’s first 24-hour hair salon, which does indeed mean should you fancy it, a cut at 5am is possible. Neil Cornelius believes he is catering to the lives of residents in a 24-hour city, although you must book between 9am and 6pm – preventing anything too spontaneous in the early hours.

Food: Duck and Waffle

The restaurant serves up high-end British food, with a few of their renowned twists including, as you might have guessed, crispy duck on a Belgian waffle. The food on offer changes throughout the day, with separate menus for breakfast and dinner, although cocktails are always available. The real bonus, though, is its position on the 40th floor of Bishopsgate, right in the heart of the City. The views are simply stunning, especially at sunrise but also throughout the night with the lit-up Gherkin lying opposite.

Education: night at the museum

There’s a growing trend amongst London’s cultural institutions to offer ‘lates’ – extended opening hours sometimes featuring more adult themes of music and drink. The Science Museum operates an adults-only, after-hours session on the last Wednesday each month, with the theme changing each time: topics have included climate change, sex and big data. Even more frequent is the National Gallery, which remains open until 9pm every Friday, where it’s possible to roam through the latest exhibitions while enjoying a drink at the National Café.

Culture: late-night cinema

Moving over to the movies the Rio Cinema in Dalston is one of London’s few remaining truly independent cinemas, and regularly runs late-night screenings. The Prince Charles Cinema, Soho, is another home of nocturnal viewings, as well as movie marathons.

Photography: Cities at Dawn

When better to enjoy the city than when nobody else is around? The only caveat is that this involves being up an hour before sunrise, but it is certainly worth it. Cities at Dawn run regular workshops exploring London just as the sun begins to illuminate the capital. The colours are rich and varied and provide a different light in which to see those famous landmarks, while the streets will be more exposed than at any point during the day.