Every year, 17 March marks St Patrick’s Day – a high-spirited celebration of Ireland’s patron saint. This tradition has been embraced all over the world, and nowhere more so than London. For the Irish community, it’s a chance to get together and reconnect with their culture, but everyone’s welcome to join the party.
Organised by the mayor of London, the city’s festivities centre on Trafalgar Square. This year, the main event’s on Sunday 15 March. More than 125,000 revellers are expected, drawn by the promise of free gigs and good times, along with an obligatory pint or two of Guinness. If you’d rather avoid the crowds on ‘Paddy’s Day’, there are plenty of other options. In Islington, Homeboy is a cosy hideaway known for its Irish stew and punchy whiskey cocktails. Hoxton’s Howl at the Moon is another good bet, with traditional folk-music sessions on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Wherever you head, wear something green: it’s Ireland’s signature colour. Complete your ensemble with a natty leprechaun top hat, supposedly worn by the Emerald Isle’s mischievous resident elves.
The procession sets off from Hyde Park Corner at noon, then makes its way along Piccadilly and Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. It’s a colourful assembly of dancers, musicians and extravagant floats, representing different Irish counties. Sports clubs and brass bands – some from as far afield as the US – add to the cheerful melee, along with costumed stilt-walkers, performers and excited kids.
Nearest tube stations: Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly Circus or Charing Cross
Trafalgar Square’s the best place to get a taste for the ‘craic’ – the Irish term for a rollicking good time. It hosts the free St Patrick’s Day Festival, spanning street-food stands, craft workshops and dance performances. Well-known Irish bands also take to the stage; this year’s line-up includes Imelda May, and Celtic folk band Kíla. Don’t miss the céilí, which rounds things off with riotous reels and jigs.
Close to Piccadilly Circus, the labyrinthine Waxy O’Connor’s spreads over six floors. Amid church-like stained glass, sample some Irish beers – including sustaining pints of Guinness. The St Patrick’s celebrations last five days, with live music every evening and Irish dancing on Sunday 15 March, and the following Tuesday. Free tastings for whiskey enthusiasts are also in the works.
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Serving Guinness is an art form. Tilted to 45 degrees, the glass should be filled three-quarters. Next comes the wait, the most crucial part of the process. Officially, it takes 119.5 seconds for the bubbles to rise, forming a velvety foam. Finally, the barman tops up the pint by pushing on the tap for a smoother texture. The head should rise just above the glass and be dense enough to draw a shamrock on.