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Museum lates: late-night events in London

Get your culture fix after hours at some of the capital’s top museums and attractions

Max Meichowski
By Katie McCabe and Alice Savile |
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In 1999, the Royal Academy of Arts became the first British gallery to open for 24 hours, sparking a lasting trend in London’s nightlife: the museum ‘late’. The V&A launched a Friday lates series three years later, with most major museums and galleries soon following suit. But after a decade of them, things got a bit samey. Most lates became little more than after-hours drinks where you’d get in trouble for taking your plastic cup of wine into the wrong gallery.

That all changed in 2016, when gal-dem, a new magazine by and for women of colour, took over the V&A to launch its first print issue, and broke the mould for what a late could really be. BBZ brought its club night into the Fashion Gallery, and the foyer became a heaving dancefloor as grime artist Melz killed it on stage. More than 4,000 people showed up, and every inch of the museum felt alive. It turned a traditional institution into a radical, political party space.

Since then, lates have got more ambitious in their reflection of what’s really happening in the city. Instead of hosting string quartets and cheese-and-wine nights, galleries are booking drag artists, political activists and people like Resis’Dance and Pxssy Palace. Lates really are better than ever. Now we just need the RA to bring back that 24-hour opening…

RECOMMENDED: our full guide to exhibitions in London

Museum lates in London: what's on?

Max Meichowski
Things to do, Exhibitions

RA Lates

What’s the vibe? This is where the grand dames and duchesses of the art world come to let their (immaculately groomed) hair down. Tickets are pricy, but you get your money’s worth with free entry to the exhibitions, DJ sets and the chance to meet the art-collecting sugar daddy/mummy of your dreams.

When do they happen? Arty parties happen every few months. 

What’s coming up? Deep Earth (November 23) is inspired by Antony Gormley’s ‘Eco-Visionaries’ exhibition. The space will be decked with natural forms like rocks, moss and seaweed, and will house an unbe-leaf-able line-up of nature-inspired performances, including Aszyk’s ‘Floral Intensities’, which mixes psychedelic plant visuals with botanical-inspired sounds. Trippy.

Things to do, Late openings

Uniqlo Lates at Tate Modern

What’s the vibe? Buzzing! If the lates dream is all about grassroots, democratic night-time takeovers, then Tate’s making that a reality. It teams up with London collectives to programme fresh artists, DJs and curators who are sparky enough to make this former power station a vital energy source once again.

When do they happen? The last Friday of every month.

What’s coming up? ‘Creative Learning’ (September 27) is about getting your hands grubby. NTS Radio will curate a squelchy line-up of abstract funk and dance sounds – the ideal soundtrack for making Andy Warhol-style prints, getting surreal Dalí tarot readings and playing with paper made out of poo (bring your own hand sanitiser).

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Travis Hodges
Museums

Late at the Natural History Museum

What’s the vibe? If your idea of a great night out is goggling at some horrible things in jars, then this is for you. Peer at the museum’s ‘Spirit Collection’ of preserved animals or dance until the whale skeleton’s massive bones rattle at a huge silent disco in the museum’s foyer.

When do they happen? The last Friday of each month.

What’s coming up? Chat to scientists from across the EU at ‘World Wide Webs: Our Interconnected Planet’ (September 27).

New_04 MX Cinema.jpg
© Ed Marshall
Museums, Film and TV

The Cinema Museum

icon-location-pin Elephant & Castle

What’s the vibe? Housed in the workhouse where Charlie Chaplin toiled as a lad, this spooky building comes alive at night with gigs, talks and screenings of vintage flicks. The doors open an hour before the movie starts, so there’s plenty of time to look through the memorabilia.

When do they happen? Get a night at the flicks at least three times a week. 

What’s coming up? Take a chariot ride into the history of stop-motion animation with a screening of ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ (Friday September 20), followed by a Q&A with animator Astrid Goldsmith, who’s made work inspired by its mythical skeleton warriors.

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Things to do, Late openings

Emerge Festival

icon-location-pin Various venues, London
icon-calendar

What’s the vibe? Think Art Night but for heritage. This new fest is a massive culture crawl through 30 London museums, historic venues and arts centres. Everyone from teeny players like Brixton’s Chocolate Museum to big guns like the Barbican are laying on DJ sets, escape games, talks and art seshes. Follow one of six planned ‘circuits’ or try catch ’em all in a demented but educational form of Pokémon Go.

When do they happen? Who knows? This month’s event is the first.

What’s coming up? The first edition (September 27-28) features everything from an ice sound bath (London Canal Museum) and witchcraft workshops (Lauderdale House) to medieval code-breaking (Jewel Tower). Cracking stuff.

Museums

London Transport Museum Lates

What’s the vibe? Choo-choose these nights for transport-themed shenanigans that are designed to appeal to reluctant commuters as well as hardened train aficionados. The LTM’s been drawing in late-night crowds for more than a decade with quizzes, talks and scavenger hunts around the its collection of great transport memorabilia.

When do they happen? Every couple of months.

What’s coming up? ‘Hidden London’ (October 11) will explore what lies beneath the city’s streets and the dusty charms of disused tube stations. 

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Hydar Dewachi
Museums

Friday Late at the V&A

What’s the vibe? This is it: the majestic grandmother of all London lates. The V&A first dipped a toe into nightlife back in 2008 (perhaps surprisingly, considering Queen Vic wouldn’t know fun if it hit her on the bustle) – and hasn’t looked back since. Queues snake round the block for this doughty mix of DJ sets and late-night design-led fun.

When do they happen? The last Friday of each month.

What’s coming up? Named after a geological era that was shaped by human activity, ‘Anthropocene’ (September 27) ushers in a new epoch with art, tech, and earth-shaking dance.

Museums, Fashion and costume

Fashion and Textile Museum: Thursday Lates

icon-location-pin Bermondsey

What’s the vibe? Look, we’re not saying *don’t* wear your holey old cardigan, but this crowd’s looks are as sharp as a dressmaker’s scissors. Flamboyant designer Zandra Rhodes’s magenta-hued museum welcomes guests in for after-hours masterclasses in all things fashion, hosted by industry experts.

When do they happen? Get your style fix a few times a month. 

What’s coming up? ‘Working for Christian Dior’ (October 10) is a talk that swirls you into the world of a ’50s fashion model who worked closely with the originator of the full-skirted ensemble.

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Science Museum Late August 2017 Space. Yuri Gugarin bust unveiling. BBC tomorrows world filming.
Barry Macdonald
Things to do, Late openings

Lates at the Science Museum

What’s the vibe? A highly interactive, brain-stretching night out for anyone who wants ‘eureka!’ moments that don’t involve being naked in a tepid bathtub. It’s a world away from the boring lessons on the periodic table you had at school.

When do they happen? The last Wednesday of each month.

What’s coming up? If you’ve set all your passwords to ‘password’ (ya fools!) then cyber security-inspired night ‘Top Secret’ (September 25) is for you. Watch cyber criminals try to hack smart TVs in real time, find out how gamers can tackle online espionage and try and bend your drunken brain round quantum information protection.

Art, Galleries

First Thursdays

icon-location-pin Whitechapel

What’s the vibe? Hop on a tour bus to discover east London’s coolest art hotspots by night, like an edgier version of TV’s ‘Coach Trip’ but without the sunburn and imminent threat of national humiliation. Or, opt for the safer option of a curator-led walking tour. Either way, things kick off and end at Whitechapel Art Gallery, where the bar stays open until late.

When does it happen? The first Thursday of each month.

What’s coming up? The next instalment (October 3) is a multi-venue shebang, taking place across four indie art spaces, plus an after-hours encounter with Whitechapel’s latest exhibition, which features mud sculptures and eerie mouth-based video art by Anna Maria Maiolino.

Time Out says
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Prefer your culture during daylight hours?

Museums

Top ten museum exhibitions in London

Get ready culture vultures: some of London's best museums are showcasing an abundance of cracking exhibitions on now and throughout the year's events calendar. Whatever the day, week or season, there's always an exciting show to delve into, on subjects as varied as history, fashion, art and the natural world. 

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