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30 unmissable things to do in 2016

Written by
Time Out London contributors

Don’t let the first week at work get you down: put a smile on 2016 with our pick of the year’s 30 essential events and shows, both at home and abroad. So stop sulking and start planning your next big adventure.

1. Hit the slide… at ArcelorMittal Orbit

Spin right round (baby, right round) on the world’s longest helter-skelter. Springtime thrillseekers will get to corkscrew down the UK’s tallest work of public art (that massive curly red thing by the Olympic Park, FYI). Carsten Höller, the Dutch genius behind this inspirational adornment, has past form: last summer he installed something similar on one side of the Hayward Gallery. One critic described it as ‘a novel way of re-entering the real world outside’. May we simply add: ‘Wheeeee!’ Olympic Park, E20 2ST. Spring.

2. Make concrete plans… at Hinterland

St Peter’s Seminary is a massive, Le Corbusier-inspired building overlooking the river Clyde in Scotland. Originally intended as a sort of Hogwarts for priests, declining church attendances rendered the behemoth obsolete from the day it opened, and since 1980 it’s lain derelict, a crumbling monument to man’s folly and divine indifference. Until now. Relaunching as an arts venue, its maiden event, ‘Hinterland’, promises to revivify the old brutalist wreck with a light show and a fresh choral score performed by the choir of St Andrew’s Uni. Right turn, Clyde. Access via shuttle bus only from West Clyde St, Glasgow. Mar 18-27.

3. Strike a pose… for 100 years of UK Vogue

In 1916, thanks to party-pooping World War I, besieged London fashionistas were denied delivery of US style bible Vogue magazine. Enterprising scribes on our side of the pond established their own affiliate, and a home-grown fashion institution was born. The exhibit will feature archive gems and Golden Age fashion photography from the likes of Cecil Beaton, David Bailey and Mario Testino, right up to the present day: a Wintour’s tale, if you will. National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE. Feb 11-May 22.

4. Get lit… at Lumiere Festival

© MatthewAndrews

You know what January needs? A ginormous festival of lights. Artists from around the world will festoon London with luminous installations, including a giant neon flower garden in Leicester Square by French Collective Tilt and a new Julian Opie LED piece that will dazzle passers-by on Carnaby Street. Not flashy enough? An old Mayfair phonebox is going to be turned into a tropical fish tank. Even more amazingly, thanks to the enlightened support of the mayor’s office, it’s all totally free. Various locations. Jan 14-17.

5. Carry a torch… at AfrikaBurn

Mike Turner

Like its larger US cousin Burning Man, South Africa’s AfrikaBurn invites pyromaniac punters out into the scorched desert to build a temporary city and set fire to stuff with other like-minded hippies. It’s not a festival as such; there are no stalls and, indeed, no money. Even ‘bartering’ is a dirty word; organisers prefer a ‘gift-based’ economy. Everyone builds sculptures which they proceed to destroy in a blaze of glory. Tankwa Karoo, South Africa. Apr 25-May 1.

6. Catch a flick… at the Tribeca Film Festival 

Co-founded by Robert De Niro as a show of solidarity with lower Manhattan post-9/11, the Tribeca Film Festival celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year with a strong programme of documentaries, shorts, indie films and foreign celluloid, plus talks, parties and regular festival gubbins. Details are thin on the ground at this early stage, but look for the return of ‘Tribeca Storyscapes’, which showcases bold alternatives to conventional movie storytelling that use websites, video games, art installations and apps. Various locations, New York City. Apr 13-24.

7. Stop worrying and learn to love the bomb… at Secret Cinema

Covert cinephiles Secret Cinema are playing their next happening very close to their chest. Following some high-profile, well-trailed performances over the past couple of years (‘Back to the Future’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’), all we know of their February 2016 effort is that it will be screened in both London and Moscow, and likely have a Cold War theme. Analysing their deliciously coy, noir-ish tweets of late we’ll take a punt that it’s ‘Dr Strangelove’. The war room set alone is iconic enough to justify it. But remember: you can’t fight in there. Secret location. Feb.

8. Take it sloe… at the London Gin Festival

For ages the cliché tipple of dour Debbie Downers, gin is now considered cooler than a king penguin in Ray-Bans. As such, a veritable deluge of distillers is descending on Wapping’s Tobacco Dock for the second year running to share their wares with fellow juniper-worshippers. Boasting over 100 different varieties of spirits, talks from industry experts and musical entertainment, this celebration of all things ‘mother’s ruin’ should have everyone crying and saying they love each other within two hours, tops. Tobacco Dock, Tobacco Quay, Wapping Lane, E1W 2SF. Feb 19-21.

9. Meet the lions… at London Zoo

Pay tribute to the king of beasts at ZSL’s new 27,000-square-foot pride and joy. As part of global efforts to save the endangered Asiatic Lion (of which only 500 remain in the world), this new 360-degree den-slash-breeding programme is mocked up to look like an Indian village, giving visitors a sense of just how much overlap there is between the realms of humans and lions on the Subcontinent. If previous blockbuster openings at London Zoo are anything to go by, this one should be a roaring success. Outer Circle, Regent’s Park, NW1 4RY. Spring.

10. Kaws a rumpus… at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Kaws is a New York-based artist whose oeuvre spans graffiti, vinyl Japanese toys, a Kanye album cover and the bottle design for Pharrell Williams’s perfume line. He’s also a dab hand at sculpture, and from February the pastoral idyll that is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park will show a collection of his mad, outsized pop-culture-mangling creations in wood, acrylic, fibreglass and aluminium. But Kaws can also keep it conventional too: the park’s Longside Gallery will hang some of his paintings and prints – vivid canvases very much in the pop art tradition, featuring Mickey Mouse, Spongebob and
the Simpsons. West Bretton, Wakefield, WF4 4LG. Feb 6-Jun 12.

11. Practise bawl control… at Uefa Euro 2016 

Here we go: depending on your point of view, it’s either time for the Groundhog Day ordeal that is watching England play in an international tournament, or time for yet another bloody good laugh. England won the qualifying group this time. Undefeated, too. Whevs. Less predictable are the fates of the Welsh and two Irish teams: which will attract the most English defectors? For those lucky enough to be heading to France, may we suggest getting behind a proper team, such as Spain or, better yet, Germany. Maybe keep that to yourself for now, though. Various locations, France. Jun 10-Jul 10.

12. Chow down… at Mistura Food Festival

Peruvians are big on food. Not only does the capital, Lima, boast a goodly crop of entries on World’s Top 100 Restaurants critics’ lists, but owing to the country’s diverse terrain (mountains, coastline, desert) and complex social heritage, even basic grub is eclectic and forever changing. The best fare makes it to this ten-day fiesta, where upwards of 600,000 people are expected to sample ceviche (raw seafood marinated in citrus), cuy (guinea pig) and paiche (Amazonian bonytongue fish). And neck a couple of piscos to really get into the spirit. Various locations, Lima. Sep.

13. Go wild… at Wilderness

Love festivals, but feel you’re too old to watch hordes of hyperactive school-leavers tip over portaloos? Then this is one for you. This lovely lakeside spot in the heart of Oxfordshire certainly pulls in the big musical names (last year Björk headlined), but there’s more than tunes on offer here. Wilderness’s long-table feasts are the stuff of legend (last year chefs Nuno Mendes, Raymond Blanc and Angela Hartnett ‘headlined’), and there’ll be lectures, games, an atheist church service, a chance to swim, forage… and still get twatted in a field. Win-win. Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire. Aug 4-7.

14. Grab your buns… at Cheung Chau bun festival

Cheung Chau is a tiny Hong Kong island where, every spring, locals conduct an elaborate bun-based ritual to ward off evil spirits and bring luck to their community. It’s now a major tourist draw: by day the bakers flog their wares and local kids participate in the ‘floating colours’ parade (dressed in amazing, gravity-defying costumes), while by night carefully vetted locals scramble up an enormous bamboo tower studded with buns. The highest climbers claim the title ‘king and queen of the buns’. It’s how they roll. Various locations. May 11-15.

15. Get Close to greatness… at the Coliseum

Richard Hubert Smith

Glenn Close reprises her Tony-winning star turn in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of ‘Sunset Boulevard’, the tale of a torrid tryst between an impoverished screenwriter and a fading silent movie star in 1940s Hollywood. It’s presented by the English National Opera, so expect top-drawer orchestral arrangements. With a strictly limited run of 43 performances (plus tickets as cheap as 12 quid), book before the sun sets on this surefire hit. London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES. Apr 1-May 7.

16. Get turnt… at FYF in LA

The subtly named ‘Fuck Yeah Fest’ is a two-day jolly held in a park opposite the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The 2016 line-up is yet to be confirmed, but if last year is anything to go by they ain’t afraid of eclecticism: Kanye headlined the Saturday and Morrissey the Sunday. Elsewhere there’s EDM galore, and a food market if you’re among the minority of people there who want to eat. Aug/Sep TBC.

17. Contemplate beauty… at the New Tate Modern

The best place for a cheap date in London is about to get even better. Tate Modern’s beguiling new ten-storey annexe (that whopping great ‘Blade Runner’ doohickey out the back) will add 60 percent more floorspace to the institution from June. Conscious of a long-standing bias towards art from the northern hemisphere, curators have scoured the furthest reaches of the planet seeking new additions to the collection, and with additional performance-centric pieces planned – plus an all-new observation deck to ogle London from – it seems there’s plenty of electricity in the old girl yet. Bankside, SE1 9TG. Jun.

18. Go all gooey… at Festa de Sant Jordi, Barcelona

By George! Did you know the Catalan people have the same patron saint as us? Barcelona honours the dragon-slaying legend with ‘Festa de Sant Jordi’, which is also effectively their version of Valentine’s Day. It’s known alternatively as the ‘Day of Roses, Romance and Books’, and men traditionally give women roses (red, to symbolise dragon blood), while in return receive a book (as national hero Cervantes died on April 23). Over the course of the festival some six million roses and €20 million in books is likely to be sold. Various locations, Barcelona. Apr 23.

19. On your marks, get set… Rio!

Four years after London utterly nailed it, it’s Rio’s turn to host the Olympic Games. Their opening ceremony is being reportedly done on a bit of a shoestring, though even the most lavish of budgets is no guarantee of eclipsing Danny Boyle’s jaw-dropping spectacle. Highlights of the Games proper will include us Brits thrashing everyone at the cycling again, and Usain Bolt’s final Olympic 100m sprint. We expect nothing less than supersonic from the Jamaican record-breaker, but with stiff competition, it’s bound to be a close shave. In true Brazilian fashion. Various locations, Brazil. Aug 5-21.

20. Magic up tickets… for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’

© Simon Annand

Muggles rejoice: the boy wizard is back. This all-new play by crack screenwriter John Thorne (‘Skins’, ‘This Is England ’86’) picks up from where ‘The Deathly Hallows’ left off: our hero, now a middle-aged, overworked salaryman at the Ministry of Magic, tries to help his son Albus cope with the burden of the illustrious Potter name. Worry not, superfans: the tale was conceived by JK Rowling herself, and we imagine there’ll be further adult-Harry adventures in the pipeline. Harry Potter and the Misplaced Spectacles, maybe? Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5AY. Summer.

21. Snoop around a palazzo…. at Giornate FAI, Rome

Similar to London’s ever-popular Open House Weekend, this weekend-long voyeuristic treat gives locals and tourists alike a chance to snoop around hundreds of beautiful buildings normally off limits to Giuseppe Public. It’s held on the weekend closest to the first day of spring, and previous programmes gave nosey parkers a chance to gawp at the inside of the Bank of Italy’s ‘museum of money’, the RAI television studios and the residence of Italian premier Matteo Renzi. And it’s all gratis: mamma mia! Various locations, Rome. Mar 19 and 20.

22. Get undressed… at the V&A

This spring, the V&A cordially invites you to get into its pants. ‘Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion’ will explore the history of undies, from terrifying whalebone corsetry all the wa-hey to David Beckham’s bestselling briefs. Engineering aficionados may well feel a stirring over Aussiebum’s ‘genital-enhancing’ smalls, while the rest of us just linger by lingerie from Agent Provocateur having a good old-fashioned perv. V&A, Cromwell Rd, SW7 2RL. Apr-Feb 2017.

23. Be scouse proud… at Liverpool Biennial

Alex Maguire

Some might mock the tracky-bottomed folk of Merseyside, but Liverpudlians are anything but uncultured. Case in point – the Liverpool Biennial, a giant festival of contemporary art boasting hundreds of fresh, exciting works. Big themes for 2016 include ‘Ancient Greece’, riffing off the many neoclassical buildings in the city centre, and ‘Chinatown’, which explores the notion that all the Chinatowns in the world are magically connected by their entrance arches. And if that all seems a bit heavy, calm down, our kid: there’s also a glow-in-the-dark skate park. Various locations, Liverpool. Jul 9-Oct 16.

24. Behold beauty… at Art Basel, Miami

The American sister of the respected Swiss contemporary art fair shows there’s more to the Strip than shapely arses and Will Smith, as for four days at the start of December sophisticates and celebrity pseuds alike descend to talk, trade, see and be seen. Collins and Soundscape parks are regularly co-opted as venues, and filled with large-scale pieces, performances and film screenings. If you’re unable to blag an afterparty, Miami’s design district and comely art deco architecture prove to the travelling aesthete Miami is more nice than vice. Various locations, Miami. Dec 1-4.

25. Party in the park… at Lovebox

London’s foremost weekend of beats, bands and bacchanalia will be returning to Victoria Park in July. First established by Groove Armada and still solidly rooted in its dance heritage, Lovebox is always two days of riotous and unmitigated fun, with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Cypress Hill keeping things, uh, ‘hazy’ last year. The 2016 line-up won’t be revealed until February, but given the festival is marking its tenth birthday, we’re expecting something particularly special. More special than a Sainsbury’s caterpillar cake, anyway. Victoria Park, E3. Jul 15-16.

26. Whip up a frenzy… at Folsom Street Fair

Like a kinkier – much kinkier – Notting Hill Carnival, this San Fran street party lures in lovers of leather, latex, spanking, fur and other fetishes, and gives them a banging soundtrack to parade to for seven hours one Sunday in September. Some 400,000 fun-loving freaks are expected to descend this year (including gimps), while 200 exhibitor booths will be erected, flogging priapic props and rubber riding crops. It’s free to get in, but if you chuck them a $10 donation you get $2 off every drink you buy. Bottoms up! Various locations, San Francisco. Sep 25.

27. Raise the Bard… at Shakespeare’s 400th

Zounds! ’Tis 400 years since Shakespeare shuffled off this mortal coil. The Bard’s hometown Stratford-upon-Avon is being revived as a heritage landmark, as is his olde-worlde oak-beamed schoolroom. The plays take centre stage though – obvs – so the RSC is putting on special productions of ‘Hamlet’, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and more, plus workshops and a chance to explore the RSC’s 30,000-strong costume archive. For as a wise man once said:
‘…the apparel oft proclaims the man’. Various locations, Stratford-upon-Avon.

28. Meet an old flame… at the Museum of London

Museum of London

Early on the morning of September 3 1666, lord mayor of London Thomas Bloodworth awoke to news of fire rampaging though the city. ‘Pish!’ he’s said to have retorted before dozing off again. ‘A woman might piss it out!’ This exhibition at the Museum of London explores how the Great Fire, which went on to destroy a third of the city and leave 100,000 homeless, made modern London. Talk about a hot ticket. 150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN. Jul 23-Apr 2017.

29. Dine out in style… at Nuno Mendes’s new restaurant

The executive chef of celeb-happy haunt Chiltern Firehouse is currently crowdfunding to launch his own place on the Thames. ‘Viajante’ – meaning ‘traveller’ in Mendes’s native Portuguese – is set to open at Wapping’s Metropolitan Wharf, and guests will supposedly arrive at the eatery via boat when the pier gets funded. Got £100k kicking about? Mendes will whip up a feast for you and 11 compadres. TBC. Go to

30. Worship a wang… at Kawasaki’s penis festival

‘Vagina dentata’: what a wonderful phrase. According to Japanese legend, a case of demonic possession caused a sharp pair of teeth to grow inside a lady’s hoo-hoo, which had dire consequences for a couple of unfortunate blokes. Hence – or so the story goes – an iron phallus was forged to shatter these unwelcome pubic pearlies, and this annual celebration arose to commemorate all that is fabulous about false members. Avoid if you’re not a dick fan, but play along and you’ll be helping support HIV/Aids research. Various locations, Kawasaki. Apr 3.

Dreading January already? Here are the best things to do next month.

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