Put your wallet away! Our city’s packed with fun free events this summer. Here are some of the best...
1. Free bougie fitness
If the average gym sesh won’t cut it, get yourself down to the London Bridge City Summer Festival. Running until the end of August, the event has a schedule of fab free fitness sessions lined up. Dance pros Swing Patrol will be hosting retro dance classes, Havana Londres will be teaching visitors how to salsa Cuban-style and bougie gym Third Space will be putting on high-intensity workouts. Want to exercise your vocal chords rather than your tired, old muscles? You can belt out some stone-cold bangers with fellow Londoners as part of ‘massaoke’ (mass karaoke – ie more singing, less embarrassment).
London Bridge City. Tube: London Bridge. Until Aug 31.
2. Free adrenaline
Couldn’t make it to the Tour de France? Fans of all things two-wheeled can get their fix at all-day cycling bonanza The Red Hook Criterium. Dubbed the ‘Formula One of the cycling world’, the event brings together cyclists from across the globe to race around Greenwich Peninsula on brakeless, fixed-gear bikes. (What could go wrong?) If you work up an appetite watching all that pedalling, there’ll be street food stalls serving up fish and chips, paella and pizza. Get down there early to grab a free cowbell (the vuvuzela of the cycling world) so you can make a racket every time the riders come past.
Greenwich Peninsula. Tube: North Greenwich. Sat Jul 22.
3. Free Bollywood moves
In the 1800s, Devonshire Square was home to huge warehouses, used for storage by the East India Company. Now, this East End spot is reflecting on its heritage with a summer season of weekly Indian dance performances by Bollywood Co (from Pineapple Studios) and dancers backed by South Asian dance charity Akademi. Tales of Silk and Music features some of South Asia’s leading performers, providing a retrospective journey through Indian dance styles, from modern to classical. It’s the perfect way to squeeze a bit of culture into your lunchbreak.
Devonshire Square. Tube: Liverpool St. Thursdays at 12.30pm until Aug 17.
4. Free odyssey
London’s free alfresco amphitheatre, The Scoop, is open again on the banks of the River Thames for summer. This year they’re putting on a colourful, three-part adaptation of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. Running at three hours in total, the show follows war hero, king and absentee husband Odysseus as he takes to the seas of the ancient Mediterranean, battles monsters and ultimately returns to his troubled home of Ithaca. You can watch the whole lot or just pop in for a bit. (Part one is more family-friendly than the others.) There’s room for 1,000 people at every performance, so there’s no need to book in advance.
The Scoop. Tube: London Bridge. Aug 9-Sep 3, Wed-Sun, 6pm-10pm.
5. Free dragons
Local companies will be taking to the water to battle it out in the annual Paddington Dragon Boat Regatta on Thursday, where (hopefully) strong-armed teams will merrily row their boats along the Paddington Basin. Before the boat race kicks off, there’s the slightly slower-paced rubber duck race – you can even sponsor one if you want to raise the stakes (though good luck picking yours out of the sea of yellow plastic aquatic avians).
Merchant Square. Tube: Paddington. Thu Jul 20.
6. Free guts and gore
Squeamish? Look away now. The Science Gallery at King’s College London is getting gory with an exhibition and series of events called ‘Blood: Life Uncut’. Ending with a show at Peckham’s Copeland Gallery in October, they’re kicking things off with loads of free events this summer. Learn how leeches have been used in medicine from medieval times to today, or go to a workshop about what it takes to be a surgeon, including a rundown on bonesaw equipment through the ages. It’s going to be bloody brilliant.
Various locations. Jul 27-Nov 1.
7. Free (welcome) advice
Imagine your school’s career guidance assemblies, but much cooler, and you’ll be something not too far from WeWork’s summer of talks We, The Creators. They’re hosting the likes of designer Henry Holland and SBTV founder Jamal Edwards at their Moorgate offices on Wednesday July 19 as part of a series of panels from leading voices in architecture, music, media, entertainment and fashion. The sessions promise to get attendees a bit closer to answering questions such as ‘what makes a good idea?’ and ‘how do you turn your passion into a career?’ There are also cocktails, obvs.
WeWork Moorgate. Tube: Moorgate. Until Aug 9.
8. Free sports and spectating
Want to learn how to be more mindful? Cook seafood? Be an opera singer? Grosvenor Square has been transformed into a cultural haven of workshops and silliness for this year’s Summer in the Square. There’ll be giant games (think croquet with Tom and Jerry mallets), outdoor cinema screenings of ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Star Wars’ and a sports day featuring ‘space hopper hell’. See you at the start line.
Grosvenor Square. Tube: Bond St. Until Sun Jul 23.
9. Free playtime
It goes without saying that kids have a monopoly on good playgrounds. Tots dominate the swings in the daytime and teens rule the parks in the evenings, leaving no time for us adults to have a guilt-free go. Thankfully, London’s about to be blessed with a playground that’s strictly 18+ (not in a kinky way). Seed brand 9Nine is bringing jumbo slides and super-sized seesaws to London Fields for a weekend at the end of July. It means a whole two days of playtime, with no five-year-olds around to judge you on your swinging technique.
London Fields. London Fields Overground. Jul 29-30.
10. Freedom to explore
If you’ve always wanted to cycle around central London but have been wary about our city’s busy roads, it’s time to get on yer bike. RideLondon, the world’s largest festival of cycling, returns to the capital this summer for a weekend of events, including the FreeCycle. Eight miles of London’s roads will be traffic-free on the last Saturday of July to create a cycling route that takes bikers past landmarks including Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England, then loops over Waterloo Bridge.
Visit www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk for exact routes. Jul 28-30.
11. Free jazz and soaking
The Southbank Centre’s series of Summertime weekenders returns this month. Head down on July 29-30 for circus performances inspired by the British weather (plus Jeppe Hein’s ever-popular fountains), or on August 6 for up-and-coming jazz. The climax is the annual Urban festival, a celebration of art inspired by city life over the last weekend of August. Expect parkour workshops, street artists making over the building, live hip hop and DJs playing funk and soul in the sunshine.
Southbank Centre. Tube: Waterloo. Sat Jul 22-Aug 28.
12. Free drag, music, dance and people from the north
Every weekend in August a different famous institution is taking over the National Theatre’s River Stage. Legendary dance company Rambert will bring movement and plenty of lycra; Womad is putting on three days of vibrant music from around the globe; Hackney’s iconic and notorious queer venue The Glory will provide a weekend of chaotic drag shows; and Home, Manchester’s centre for international contemporary theatre, art, film and music, is sure to add a dash of northern soul to its takeover. The National Theatre will also put on its very own weekend of entertainment featuring Night Czar Amy Lamé and the Hackney Colliery Band. This is grade-A free fun.
National Theatre. Tube: Waterloo. Jul 28-Aug 28.
13. Free queer talks
‘Your Sexts Are Shit’. Well, according to Rachel Mars, that is, who’ll be reading out romantic love letters from back in the day at the Tate Modern’s July Late. The summer instalment of this free monthly event is a celebration of LGBT+ culture in London. A travelling venue called the CAMP-er-VAN will be parking up to screen queer films. Artist and pessimist Scottee will ask visitors if they’re ‘brave enough to change the world’. Plus, the team behind hip mag Polyester Zine will be helping people create wearable art. All this, as well as access to the free exhibitions and NTS Radio on the decks.
Tate Modern. Tube: Southwark. Jul 28, 6pm.
14. Free beer tastings
Great news, craft beer fans – Camden Town Brewery has a new home in Enfield and we’re all invited to the free opening party (although you’ll probably want to book in advance). It’ll be a day of free tours and tastings, workshops, talks and live music. And, if that wasn’t enough, there’s even stuff for kids to do, so parents don’t need to worry about finding a babysitter to look after the little ’uns. Cheers!
Camden Town Brewery. Ponders End rail. Jul 29.
15. Free art among the bankers
Square Mile art trail Sculpture in the City has been refreshed, just in time for lazy summer wanders. New works are on display around bankersville, including pieces by art A-listers like Damien Hirst and Daniel Buren, plus Nathaniel Rackowe’s ‘Black Shed Expanded’ (pictured) and a load of litter hanging from a tree in Bishopsgate (thanks, Martin Creed!). The works will be sticking around until May next year, but it’s worth heading into the City over the next couple of months to check them out without rain/sleet/snow/gloom. It’s also the perfect excuse to get up close and personal with landmarks like the Cheesegrater and the Lloyd’s building.
Various locations in the City of London. Until May 1 2018.
16. London’s biggest free party
Finally, quite possibly London’s best free event, Europe’s biggest street festival Notting Hill Carnival returns as usual for the last weekend of August. The celebration of our capital’s Caribbean communities has been taking place since 1964 and always fills west London with live reggae and salsa, soca floats, steel bands and a whole lot of jerk chicken and fried plantain. Head down for soundsystems, parades and, of course, specially trained dancing police officers.
Multiple venues. Tube: Notting Hill Gate or Ladbroke Grove. Aug 27-28.