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Winterfest 2019
Photograph: Chris Winter / Wembley Park

Free things to do in London this week

Patiently waiting for pay day? Make the most of these free things to do in London

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Things To Do Editors
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Bank balance looking a little bleak? A free lunch might be hard to come by, but there are plenty of things to do in the capital that won’t cost you a penny. If the weather’s on your side, you can explore the city’s best green spaces. And if it’s raining? Seek refuge indoors at London’s world-class free museums, brilliant free exhibitions and attractions. Whatever you fancy doing, we’ve put together a list of excellent and totally free things to do in London this week. 

RECOMMENDED: The best free things to do in London

Christmas by the River
  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
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  • Tower Bridge

London Bridge City’s annual Christmas market is back from November 16. You can expect extremely scenic views over the river and a bunch of lovely winter cabins offering pop-up boozers, street food and festive craft items. There will, as per usual, be lots of workshops and events organised, so keep an eye on official announcements.  Local bars will be serving up Christmas cocktails, warm cider, mulled wine and craft beers, while over 60 traders will be on hand selling gourmet treats and handmade gifts. Find more festive fun with our guide to Christmas in London

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  • Exhibitions
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  • Greenwich

These photographs show the wind-swept and punishing world of the maritime industry. The exhibition ‘Exposure: Lives at Sea’ explores those who work on the ocean all over the world. See the Mexican reefs, Artic ice and much more, all while learning how people use the high seas for food, transportation and energy.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Mayfair

Welcome to goth Blockbuster. South African artist Candice Breitz’s installation at Goodman Gallery is row after row of VHS tapes, all painted pitch black, their covers buried in thick, patterned, tar-coloured plastic, except for one single verb nicked from the film’s title, left behind in gleaming white.  1999’s Robert Deniro hit ‘Analyze This’ becomes just ‘Analyze’, ‘Bewitched’ becomes ‘Bewitch’, ‘South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut’ becomes simply ‘Park’. It’s fun with grammar, Breitz verb-ifying all these films, turning them into commands, orders.  Then she groups them thematically: rent, trade and inherit on one shelf, murder, massacre, and butcher on another. One wall even tells the story of a love affair in film titles: love, vacation, mother, cheat, abandon, etc.  And the whole time you look for cultural signposts, signifiers in the typography as to what the original films are that have been encased in these black coffins. It’s really, really smart, because it forces you to look for emotional narratives, conceptual structures and cultural allusions. You’re desperately trying to figure out the themes, the feelings and the films.  The work is described as a ‘multi-channel video installation’, which is ridiculous, because these are static sculptures. And that’s a good thing. Every single one is a love letter to typography, to Hollywood, to design, to physical mediums that are now long dead. That’s where this contemporary art version of Blockbuster gets really goth: when y

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  • Bank

It’s like Trigger’s Broom down in the London Mithraeum. The ancient Roman Temple of Mithras was discovered in the 1950s, moved about a bit, covered in crazy paving, moved into storage and then moved back a few metres from where they first found it, reassembled piece by piece each time. If you move a building from where it was built, is it still the same building? If you rebuild it, is it still itself? That’s one of the questions Korean artist Do Ho Suh is contending with upstairs, where he’s built his own recreation of an ancient temple: the long lost Sach’onwang-sa from the city of Gyeongju.  He’s recreated it based on a single account, imagining how it would have looked in its heyday. A square of stones marks the base and a frame above holds a rainbow of taut, shimmering fabric with a structure of twisting crystalline orange forms hung from the middle. It’s not an especially impressive work - if anything, it looks like a tarted up Argos gazebo - and it feels a little bit like it was just plonked in the space without much care. But what it lacks in that department it goes some way in making up for with its ideas, because a movable temple makes so much more sense when considered in the context of the Temple of Mithras, an ancient place of worship and revelry and prayer that has been endlessly moved and shifted and pushed about. Do Ho Suh’s structure takes that idea as a leaping off point to explore a world of rituals, prayer, transitoriness and power (the original temple was

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Art
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  • Hyde Park

Hervé Télémaque saw the political potential of Pop, and pushed it to bursting. Born and raised in Haiti, Télélmaque spent a few years immersed in the abstract expressionism of New York before settling in Paris in the early 1960s. There, he set about building a visual language that would fuse pop aesthetics, found imagery and abstraction, all with a singularly political purpose.  The 1960s paintings here are angry, intense, colourful things. He takes aim at racist tropes in French culture, pictures of police brutality and military imagery. It’s brutal, impactful stuff, like a vicious mix of Tintin, Lichtenstein and radical politics. The self-portrait, playing on comic book depictions of black people, is the perfect distillation of all those ideas. Earlier works are rougher and harsher, full of angry brushstrokes and graffiti-like marks, a sort of proto-Basquiat. The later paintings are a little too bloated and aimless to have anything like the same impact. They’re not as clear in their intentions or targets, and sort of stumble as a result. It’s the 1950s and ’60s works that really standout. Radical, personal, passionate, and with a defined aesthetic. Pop perfection.

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  • Euston

Happiness isn’t hip. We like tortured artists, not happy ones. Think of the countless millions of sad songs about loneliness, heartbreak and misery. Then think of the happy ones. It’s ‘Walking on Sunshine’ and that’s it. Well, the Wellcome Collection doesn’t care, it absolutely loves Katrina and the Waves, and its new shows are all about happiness. ‘Tranquility’ comes first and you’re immediately confronted by Jasleen Kaur’s yoga-critical installation made of giant crystals and palo santo, taking aim at the exploitative, culturally insensitive practices of the wellness industry. It’s followed by old Taoist, Buddhist and German images of quiet, contemplative isolation, and sci fi master Octavia E Butler’s notes to self, filled with pleas of empowerment, before you find a thirteenth century book about centering the body that reads like it’s straight out of a 2018 juice bar.  You then get to sit silently in Chrystel Lebas’ immersive installation of photographs of ancient forests as the sound of a river burbles by. It’s forest bathing as photography. It’s calm, tranquil, but you can’t help thinking: do we really need an artist’s recreation of a forest when we can just, you know, go to a forest?  Upstairs, the ‘Joy’ exhibition tackles ideas of ecstatic happiness. Harold Offeh’s dancers in yellow are isolated but trying to lose themselves. David Shrigley does his usual wry, sardonic thing with drawings of rants and skulls and thumbs. Then there are ancient illustrations of whirling

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
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  • Borough of Bromley

Despite being tremendously popular in his time, artist and illustrator Louis Wain has been somewhat overlooked of late. Luckily enough, he’s soon to receive the Hollywood treatment, being played by Benedict Cumberbatch in an upcoming film, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain. And while that film is sure to invigorate Wain’s legacy with the respect it deserves, you can get ahead of the curve by heading over to the Bethlem Museum of the Mind. Wain is best known for capturing cats in all their various forms, and the Bethlem’s exhibition is a glorious display of some of his finest illustrations. Expect a vibrant, characterful world of felines, ranging from the anthropomorphic to absurd. Animal Therapy: The Cats of Louis Wain is free, but you can still support both the exhibition and the Bethlem Museum of the Mind by buying from their online shop or via direct donations. The Bethlem Museum of the Mind is open Wednesday to Friday and the first and last Saturdays of month, 10am to 5pm. See the museum’s visitor page for more details

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  • Markets and fairs
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  • King’s Cross

Pick up handmade crafts and fresh local produce from King’s Cross’s weekend market. It’s found new digs in swanky Coal Drops Yard while its usual home is used as a car park for key workers. There won’t be any hot food, but you can still pick up provisions and unique pieces from designer-makers, including jewellery from Audra’s Brooches and blooms from English Flowerhouse. So wholesome.   

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  • Things to do
  • Quirky events
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  • Peckham

Love belting out showtunes to a crowd of strangers? Then Peckham Skylight's West End Open Mic Night has got your name all over it. Bring your own sheet music – fancy! – and Josh Cottell will accompany you on piano as you holler along to any number of Broadway bangers, from Cats' Memories to Wicked's Defying Gravity. There'll also be special West End hosts, bringing a little razzle dazzle from London's theatre district all the way to Peckham. You can book a table if you like, but walk-ins are also accepted and the sign up sheet is first come first served. 

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  • Oxford Street

The latest pop-up to occupy the ever-changing Corner Shop in Selfridges Oxford Street, Universe is a wavy new exhibition exploring the work of Victor Vasarely, a groundbreaking French-Hungarian artist who was a key figure within the mid-twentieth century Op-art movement. A collaboration between the Vasarely Foundation, fashion house Paco Rabanne and Selfridges, the exhibition showcases Vasarely’s seriously wavy optical illusions and explores the artist’s enormous influence on both his contemporaries (like Paco Rabanne himself) and the tastemakers of today. Alongside checking out 55 seriously trippy op-artworks and sculptures — some of which are even available to purchase — you can also shop an exclusive collection of Vasarely-inspired products, as well as the Paco Rabanne Spring Summer 2022 collection, for which creative director Julien Dossena took inspiration from some of Vasarely’s geometric patterns. Wavy!

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