London summer nights: The top five

Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:52am EDT
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By Nia Williams

LONDON, Jun (Reuters Life!) - Summer nights are for spending outside, especially in London where luxuriantly long light evenings are the perfect opportunity to explore some of the capital's treasures after work. Here are five favorites to enjoy:

1. Chelsea Physic Garden: Summer Evening Talks

London's oldest botanic garden was founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries of London so their apprentices could grow and study medicinal plants. Still thriving more than three centuries later, this 3.5-acre walled Eden in the upmarket environs of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea lives up to its billing as London's Secret Garden.

Small enough to feel intimate, big enough to get disorientated in the winding, shadowed glades, the physic garden is home to an astonishing array of herbs, ferns, flowers and plants from all corners of the globe. Intriguing examples of medicinal botany include the Chinese firethorn Pyracantha Fortuneana, the aptly named Viola Odorata (used as a laxative) and numerous vibrant, poisonous poppies surrounded by skull and crossbones warning signs.

Every Wednesday from June 29 until August 31 Chelsea Physic Garden will open late for a late-night talks series celebrating trees. Topics range from "Oaks in Folklore and Legend" to the "Art of Bonsai." Tickets are 15 pounds($24)and include entry to the garden and an opportunity to sample the delights of the hugely popular Tangerine Dream Cafe.

2. Zoo Lates: London Zoo

It's a magical formula: Animals, alcohol and a ban on children. Every Friday through June and July, London Zoo opens its gates after hours to over-18s and embraces the feel of a mini festival. A Pimms bar, champagne teepee, real ale tent and International Street Food Festival add to the party atmosphere but the animals are the real stars of the show.

Check out the penguin 'beach bar' next to their newly refurbished clear glass pool - affording great views of aquatic playtime - and ogle Lucifer, the zoo's regal male lion as he settles lazily in the gathering twilight, every toothy yawn garnering a gleeful "Oooh!" from the crowd. If you're organized you can follow the schedule to fit in "Owl o' Clock," "Giraffe Feed and Talk" and "Meerkat and Mongoose Mayhem" - among other highlights.   Continued...

<p>Zoo keeper Dan McFarlane poses for photographers behind a group of fregate beetles during a photocall at London Zoo's annual stocktake January 8, 2009. REUTERS/Andrew Winning</p>