Jake Denton at the 24-hour McDonalds on a night out in London
At the 24-hour McDonalds, by Aiyush Pachnanda

Is London Still a 24-Hour City? I Tried to Find Out.

From bowling alleys to casinos, we went out until 7AM to finally agree on whether the UK capital is truly nocturnal.

It's four in the morning and you’ve done it again. You’ve staggered the length of a deserted high street, searching for the fluorescent lights of a kebab shop. Do you find what you’re looking for? Do you fuck. You stumble out of an Esso Express with a petrol shop pie and a belly full of regret, before booking an Uber that takes 36 minutes to arrive. 

London is obviously the best city in the world – just ask anyone who lives here – but, depending on who you ask, it’s not the most nocturnal locale. After midnight, what can you actually do apart from sesh in a kitchen with people you have nothing in common with? 


That said, compared to some cities where you can't buy booze after 8PM, London is relatively bustling. Even so, is it fair to call the UK capital a “24-hour city” as the night czar might hope? Do parts of the city stay open, or do they just pretend to? I went out all night with VICE photographer Yushy Pachnanda to investigate. 

First stop: the pub. It’s a Friday night so forget a table – we're lucky to get a pint. By the time we settle in it’s 11.30PM and the barman is shooing us out the door. What gives? It's not even midnight. 

In theory, the 2003 Licensing Act means pubs could stay open 24-hours a day. In practice, the local authorities will fuck them if they try that. In 2005, JD Wetherspoons owner Tim Martin petitioned to open the UK’s first 24-hour pub (a pitcher of Blue Lagoon at six in the morning? Why not?) But a decade and a half later, 24-hour pubs are still not the norm. 

Jake drinks a pint of beer on a night out
The Metropolitan Police and two punters from the pub

As punters spill out onto the street, Yushy and I catch the last tube in search of some ten-pin action. It’s a little known fact that bowling is the most popular sport in Britain – but until our alleys stay open 24/7, we’ll never compete with the likes of America and Korea.

Rowans in Finsbury Park stays open until 1.30AM – not bad, but it’s worth mentioning that there’s a disco downstairs and no one apart from me is actually here to bowl. I launch my ball into the gutter. Amateurs.

The late night tube in Finsbury park at 1.30AM
Rowans bowling in Finsbury Park

After an hour of bowling we jump on a night bus and head to Soho to hit some late night bars. I’d forgotten that Soho after hours is Literally The Worst Place On Earth. Dealers are racking up lines on car bonnets. Police are battering people for trying to batter other people. Everyone is screaming. It’s way too early for this.

One man who doesn’t want to buy drugs or batter me is Lindsey Carmichael, an Orange County tattoo artist, who’s been visiting and going out in London for 25 years. “You don’t see anything like this in California,” he says. “This is a different world.” 

So how late will he be out tonight? “Oh, my hotel is around the corner – I’m just getting ice cream.” Ice cream? Not a bad shout. I hail a rickshaw and disappear into the night in a blur of neon light. 

Jake on a rickshaw in Soho at night
Jake eating a burger at a 24-hour McDonalds

When it comes to drunk food, everyone’s an authority. East Londoners flock to Brick Lane’s Beigel Bake, while West Londoners swear by GQ on the Fulham Road. Yushy and I keep it simple with a chicken burger and a coffee from a local 24-hour McDonalds

“Around here, this is the only option,” Jess Baker and Mark Hinton tell me. “We walked all the way from Carnaby Street just to get some chips.” What about their thoughts on London nightlife? “Not as good as it should be,” they say. Hopped up on caffeine and MSG, I head out to prove them wrong. 


Turns out most of London's casinos are open 24/7 – which isn’t depressing at all, when you think about it. With its red carpets and thin corridors, Horizons Casino in Leicester Square is like something out of a Lynchian fever dream with a dose of British seediness. “Something feels off about this place,” writes Tripadvisor user balooko31, “I do not plan on returning but good luck to you if you go.” Ominous. So why does anyone bother?  

Jake drinking a pint outside 24-hour Casino 'Play2win' in Soho

“This is the only place that’s open late where you can have a drink and chill,” Mattie Alberti, 24, tells me. “If the pubs were still open I would be there instead.” You and me both mate. I’d rather throw myself under a pedi-cab than stay here any longer. Unfortunately train drivers are striking every weekend from now until June due to a dispute over worker’s rights. Come on TFL, give ‘em what they want. We hop on a night bus instead.  

The N15 at this time isn’t full of pissed up students. At a glance, there are office cleaners, rail workers, bar staff and NHS nurses on the top deck. 1.6 million Londoners work at night – a third of those earn below the Living Wage. These lot keep the city running on zero hour contracts and broken sleep. It’s a sobering thought. We pass Tower Bridge and I pretend we’re on a sightseeing tour. How can I be sad and tired when I’m having this much fun? 

Jake outside Fabric nightclub in London at 4AM

We jump off the bus and get in the queue for Fabric. Many of London’s clubs apparently stay open as late as 7AM – but tonight, last entry was at at four. There’s no way anyone in this line is getting inside. 24-year-old Isaac Joy isn’t happy when he finds out.  

“We’ve come all the way here for nothing,” he tells me, “I used to live in Berlin and you could come to a nightclub as late as you like. It’s a joke.” What Isaac doesn’t know is that while he can’t get into clubs at this time, he can buy a fish. Can you do that in Berlin, Isaac? Didn’t think so. 

Our next stop is Billingsgate – home to the UK’s largest inland fish market. Every Saturday morning, in the very early hours, fish fanatics come here to buy piles of squid rings, pink supper salmon, lemon soles and glistening octopi. Stall owner Zaheer Ahmed has been setting up since 2AM.

The UK's largest indoor fishmarket in Billingsgate
Jake holding a fish at the UK's largest indoor fishmarket in Billingsgate

“The good thing about working here is I finish while other people are sleeping. After this, I have all day to do what I want.” He also tells me I look like Michael Jackson, which isn’t a compliment in the way he thinks it is – but he’s a very nice man, so I buy a giant fish and shake his hand. By now it’s almost 6AM and Yushy and I are running on fumes. But there’s one last stop we want to make. 


Duck & Waffle in the Heron Tower is the highest 24-hour restaurant in London – and unless a McDonald’s opens in the Shard I can’t see them losing that title anytime soon. So, with both of us flagging dangerously, we order a full English each and some orange juice. For a painful £16 a head. Still, the views are spectacular. The sun rises over the Thames in a swirl of blue and orange. 

Full English breakfast at the 24-hour Duck & Waffle in the Heron Tower
At the Heron Tower after being out all night
The sun rising at the 24-hour Duck & Waffle in the Heron Tower
The sun rising at the 24-hour Duck & Waffle in the Heron Tower

So is London a 24-hour city? Well, only if you try really, really hard – but maybe it doesn’t matter. As long as you can throw dice, ride the N15, buy a fish or dine out on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower (make sure you book in advance), you’ll never be stranded at 4AM again.

Suddenly that petrol shop pie doesn’t sound so bad. Get me to bed.

@snakedenton / @_yushy

Neon bar sign reading 'Open 'til 3AM'
Packets of miscellaneous white rocks and powders
Five Guys fast food restaurant in soho at night
People gathered outside a club in London at night
The night tube in London before closing time
A late night pizza spot in Tottenham Court Road, Central London
A 24-hour off licence in Tottenham Court Road, Central London
A bouquet of roses on the night bus in London
A fox on the London streets at night