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It’s summer, and we’re British, so even if the weather isn’t what we’d dreamed of, the very last thing anybody wants to do is spend their time cooped up inside - and that goes for cultural events too.
Fortunately, London has you covered with a multitude of open-air exhibitions, cinema screenings, gigs and more that will guarantee you make the most of the long days ahead. Here’s our pick of the best.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Set in the heart of Regent’s Park, this outdoor space is the perfect way to spend a sunny evening (but maybe bring a rug, and some insect repellent - those post-rain midges love an art-lover’s ankle).
Established all the way back in 1932, the award-winning theatre seats up to 1,240 and puts on a packed (and varied) roster of productions each year: this summer, there’s a new production of Legally Blonde the Musical, a new musical adaptation of 101 Dalmatians starring Douglas Hodge and Kate Fleetwood, and the Greek tragedy Antigone. Even better, tickets are a steal, with the cheapest costing only £25. Additional programming includes appearances from Tim Key, Daniel Kitson, Austentatious and more.
Regent’s Park, season runs to September 24; buy tickets here
Opera Holland Park
If you’re an opera fan – or indeed love music in general - don’t miss a trip to Holland Park.
The park’s gorgeous canopied open-air auditorium makes it the perfect venue for its three-month summer festival of music. Featuring everything from 19th century tragedies like Eugene Onegin and Carmen to the UK premiere of Mark Adamo’s version of Little Women, there’s something for everyone. This year’s slate also features a co-production of beloved musical comedy HMS Pinafore with Charles Court Opera – and with the City of London Sinfonia providing the music, what’s not to like? They also have a free recital series every other Friday, Songs on the Steps, where you can just perch on the grass opposite the venue’s gate and hear principal singers from the season.
Holland Park, season runs to August 13; buy tickets here
It’s the venue that needs no introduction. Sam Wanamaker’s replica of William Shakespeare’s iconic Globe theatre has been enthralling visitors since the Nineties. Today, the Globe has a reputation both for putting on fascinating productions of his plays and spotlighting other playwrights too.
This year, the packed roster includes Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Julius Caesar and Charlie Josephine’s Joan of Arc play I, Joan. Best of all, the tickets are affordable, if you don’t mind standing.
Southbank, season runs to October 22; buy tickets here
Somerset House Summer Series
Get ready to party in one of the London’s most impressive and iconic locations. After a two-year break, the Somerset House Summer Series is back with eleven gigs to see you through July. Hosted in partnership with American Express, the artists span a diverse range of genres – from Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems, who kicks off the proceedings on July 7, to English-Swedish singer Mabel, who closes the event on July 17, with the likes of Mercury-winner Arlo Parks, Carly Rae Jepson and John Legend in between.
Somerset House, July 7-17; buy tickets here
BST Hyde Park
Dance your way through the summer with this series of one-off gigs from some of the biggest names on the planet.
Taking place over three weekends in June and July, BST features nine days of massive gigs: this year, The Rolling Stones are headlining (celebrating their 60th year in the business, no less), along with Elton John, Adele, The Eagles, The Stereophonics and Duran Duran. If you like big names, there’s no better place to be.
Hyde Park, June 24 to July 10; buy tickets here
Kew the Music
A most civilised day out indeed.
Set in the lush landscape of London’s Kew Gardens, this festival bills itself as a “picnic concert”, where those who prefer munching rather than moshing to music can bring some food, some drink and let the sound wash over them.
Comprising a series of six one-off gigs, the event runs from July 5 to 10 and has a line-up that features Van Morrison, James Blake, Bananarama and even garage, courtesy of DJ Spoony. Whatever your tastes, there’s something for you to enjoy.
Kew Gardens, July 5-10; buy tickets here
Hampton Court Palace Festival
Rock like a royal this summer with this series of gigs at Hampton Court.
Located in the iconic Tudor Courtyard of the Palace, the festival takes place across three weekends in June, starting on Thursday. With previous attendees including Kylie Minogue, Bastille, Tom Jones and Gary Barlow, you know this year is going to be just as good – and 2022’s stellar line-up includes Elbow, Jack Savoretti, The Human League and Michael Ball & Alfie Boe. Even better, the gardens are open before the festival starts: perfect for a leisurely picnic before doors open at 5.30pm.
Hampton Court Palace, June 9-25; buy tickets here
Sculpture in the City
This annual sculpture park aims to use the urban environment as a gallery space like no other. Sponsored by local businesses and situated in locations dotted around the City of London, the initiative spotlights up and coming artists as well as the more internationally-acclaimed. This year’s installations include works by Alice Channer, Shezad Dawood, Sarah Lucas, Ugo Rondinone and Eva Rothschild among others.
City of London, from June 21; free to visit
If you’re in the mood for a good blustery walk, then The Line might be the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Hailed as London’s first dedicated public art walk, it meanders from Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the O2, following the city’s waterways.
Along the way, you’ll be able to spot installations and sculptures by artists including Madge Gill, Gary Hume, Eva Rothschild, Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley, Richard Wilson and more: a stimulating and sunny way to get your art fix.
Thames Path, ongoing; free to visit
This brilliant annual shebang, founded in 2007 and based in a Peckham car park, was a large part of the catalyst for the artistic transformation of the area. Each year sees a new set of sculptural commissions crop up around Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park opposite Rye Lane station - this time artists include fast-rising star Paloma Proudfoot, Martin Creed and Nan Goldin, among others. The events programme, too, is excellent, featuring stellar performances from the highly acclaimed Multi-Storey Orchestra, and visiting company Sharon Eyal Dance.
Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park, to September 17; free to visit, tickets for events can be found on the DICE app
Sheila Hicks: Woven Wonders
Coinciding with her first UK museum retrospective (astonishingly late imo) at the Hepworth Wakefield up in Yorkshire is this gloriously summery and joyful site-specific installation created by the iconic American artist Sheila Hicks, for Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross. Hicks, 87, repurposes soft materials to create a conversation between the carefully restored Victorian architecture of the area and natural forces including wind, rain, sunshine, clouds, shifting shadows and glimpses of sun rays; providing a space to walk around, sit, read or contemplate.
Coal Drops Yard, to October 16; free to visit
Granary Square Photography Exhibition
Who said photographs had to be displayed in galleries? This interactive space around King’s Cross puts then on display for passers-by to admire, and there’s an impressive range to the exhibitions on offer. The current display, entitled The Silk Road, focuses on the work of Christopher Wilton-Steer, who travelled along the historic route connecting China and the West in 2019 and documented what he saw in more than 160 images. Taking the viewer from London to Beijing, it’s well worth a look while your kids merrily soak themselves in the nearby fountains.
Granary Square, to August 22; free to visit
The Fourth Plinth
Trafalgar Square isn’t just for tourists, it’s also for art lovers.
The iconic Fourth Plinth has been fascinating and perplexing viewers for the last two decades - a fresh artwork is installed every two years. The current piece, The End, by Heather Phillipson, is a huge scoop of whipped icecream topped with mammoth cherries, a fly and a drone (it has divided visitors, but according to the artist, it responds to the inflated scale of its surroundings, and the square as a site of celebration and protest). The next artist is Samson Kambalu, with his powerful sculpture Antelope. Kambalu’s installation recreates a 1914 photograph of Baptist preacher John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley, in which Chilembwe keeps his hat on - forbidden at the time in the presence of a white man.
Trafalgar Square, ongoing; free to visit
Since its launch in 2000, the annually commissioned Serpentine Pavilion has become an opportunity for architects to showcase their work to a UK audience. Every year, an internationally recognised architect is invited to create their first built structure in the country (which also doubles up as a space for hosting, chilling, coffee, events etc), resulting in a weird and wonderful mix of designs - past commissions have been created by Zaha Hadid, Daniel Liebeskind, Herzon and De Meuron with Ai Weiwei, Bjarke Ingels and more. This year, the Chicago artist Theaster Gates becomes the first artist to create a pavilion solo (though he did have a bit of help from his pal Sir David Adjaye). Black Chapel takes its inspiration both from chapels and the kilns of Stoke-on-Trent, as well as the materials used by his late father.
Kensington Gardens, to October 16; free to visit
Soho Photography Quarter
This new open-air extension of The Photographers’ Gallery takes over Ramilies Street, Ramilies Place and Hill Place (yes, the drab weird bit outside it), to create a permanent, pedestrianised space with a rotating, open-air programme of site-specific and interactive artworks, which will change twice a year. Alongside this the gallery will present an events programme including artist talks, presentations, short films, sound installations and specially commissioned AR projects.
The opening exhibition, Being Human Human Being, comprises a large, site-specific installation of works (including a 45-metre art frieze, cross street banners, soundscapes and projections) - by the acclaimed Indigenous Australian contemporary artist, Dr. Christian Thompson AO - his largest UK exhibition to date.
Ramilies Place, from June 8; free to visit