Britain is set to see the hottest day of the year so far today with temperatures set to reach higher than in Greece and Italy.

Forecasters said the mercury is expected to rise as high as 24C (75.2F), possibly even 25C (77F), in much of England, while in Rome and Athens it is anticipated to be in the low 20s.

Retailers are bracing themselves for a run on BBQ food while thousands of people are likely to flock to beaches and parks to make the most of the sunshine before it becomes more unsettled next week.

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A Met Office spokesman said yesterday was already the warmest day of the year so far for England after the mercury reached 23.7C (74.7F) in Worcestershire.

London, the South East, East Anglia and the East Midlands will enjoy the highest temperatures of 23C (73.4F) to 24C (75.2F), while the rest of the UK will also be warm although rain is forecast for north west Scotland and northern parts of Northern Ireland.

Forecaster Simon Partridge said those areas will see increasing amounts of rainfall as the day goes on and temperatures will be as low as 12C (53.6F) and 13C (55.4F).

A Met Office spokeswoman said tomorrow is also expected to be a fine and dry day although parts of Northern Ireland and Scotland are again likely to see rain.

Next week will become more unsettled with thundery showers anticipated all over the country although overnight temperatures are also expected to stay warm.