Chelsea in Bloom, 2023
Photograph: Dave Benett

The best things to do this May bank holiday in London

Make the most of those sweet three days off

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Sure, summer might not technically start until June 21. But spiritually speaking, the late May bank holiday definitely feels like the beginning of summer in London. There’s at least a reasonably good chance that the sun will be out, turning the city into a bright, beautiful land of fun once more. 

Consider these three days off work your chance to be reunited with Summer in the City™. Make the most of them and make a beeline to one of the capital’s best beer gardens, cool off with some outdoor swimming, dine alfresco, explore London’s lush green spaces or browse one of the city’s bustling markets

Check out our guide to the best events and things to do across London for the Bank Holiday weekend falling betweeen Saturday May 25 to Monday May 27 2024. 

RECOMMENDED: Read our full guide to the bank holiday in London

Awesome May bank holiday events in London

  • Drama
  • Whitehall
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Denise Gough’s astounding performance in Duncan Macmillan’s addiction drama won her an Olivier Award for Best Actress when it transferred from the National Theatre to the West End back in 2016. Seven years after last touring the play, the critics’ favourite reprises her role as chronically unreliable drug-addled actress Emma in this 14-week West End run opening over the bank holiday weekend, with director Jeremy Herrin also returning. Expect a masterclass in nuance and subtlety from Gough, in what is arguably the best stage performance since Mark Rylance in ‘Jerusalem’.

  • Things to do

Is it warm enough to swim outdoors yet? Well, kinda? The end of May marks the crossover between the period where only the truly hardcore swim outside, and the period where hobbyists in impractical swimwear flood London's watering holes. It's the perfect time to test your nerve, before the crowds descend.

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From swanky skyscrapers to casual warehouse hangouts and hidden pub terraces, London has a real crush on a rooftop bar. To enjoy a heatwave high, we are blessed with all kinds of rooftops which offer a winning combination of wicked city views and perfect drinks. So take your pick from stylish Shoreditch, buzzing Soho and Covent Garden, trendy Peckham and more – it’s time to soak up those sunsets, with rooftop bar season now upon us.

  • Outdoor theatres

There’s perhaps nothing more magical than seeing a play or musical in the open air, and London is absolutely the city for it. In defiance of the weather gods, our outdoor theatre season now stretches from March to late October: we’re are just that tough. Or at least, optimistic about the weather. Substantially it revolves around a few key theatres. There’s Shakespeare’s Globe, which will be staging an Elizabethan dress production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ by in-house artistic director Sean Holmes over the bank holiday. And there’s the delightful Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, which is also staging a Shakespearian comedy over the bank holiday; a version of mistaken identity shipwreck jaunt ‘Twelfth Night’ helmed by RSC veteran Owen Horsley.

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  • Attractions
  • Farms
  • Surrey Quays

When it comes to baby animals to cuddle up to in spring, tiny lambs are obviously the GOAT. Surrey Docks Farm, a sweet little site right next to the Thames with its own blacksmithery, puts on lamb-feeding sessions almost every day during the season. You’ll have to book your slot a week in advance in case the little guys need a rest (they’re pretty tiny after all).

  • Barbecue
  • Hackney

BBQ connoisseurs will know all about From The Ashes, the meat-sizzling duo behind some of the city's most mouth-watering pop-ups and festivals. Great news – the team have found a permanent home for their smoky fare at Hackney's Five Points Courtyard, creating the perfect combo of pints and piles of meat. Get down to the brewery for moreish, veggie-friendly starters and sides and all the delectable, smoky slices you can fit in your belly.

 

 

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  • Musicals
  • South Bank
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

‘Little fish, big fish/swimming in the water/come back here man/gimme my daughter’ hissed a demonic 25-year-old Polly Jean Harvey in her 1995 hit ‘Down By the Water’. That was a long time ago. But where so many middle-aged pop stars’ forays into musical theatre feel like bored attempts to crack new markets, the cycle of 13 songs Harvey has written for the National Theatre’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s ‘Our Mutual Friend’ slot seamlessly into her body of work. ‘London Tide’ deliberately plays to non-traditional strengths. With all its parts combined, this story from the city is something special: Dickens’s late class drama turned into a work both elemental and righteous.

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • South Kensington

The Natural History Museum’s big exhibition for 2024 is this massive new celebration of our avian pals. As you can doubtless glean from the title, ‘Birds: Brilliant & Bizarre’ focuses on the weirder end of the feathered spectrum, from actually strange-looking birds to exploring things like the links between pigeons and T-rex, or daring you to sniff a stinky seabird egg. While some of the NHM’s permanent exhibitions can look a little tired these days, its big temporary exhibitions are typically cutting-edge, interactive and hugely fun.

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  • Drama
  • Charing Cross Road

‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ is, of course, Graham’s adaptation of Alan Bleasdale’s seminal ’80s drama about five unemployed men trying to negotiate their way through Thatcher’s decade. Kate Wasserberg directs the show, which will return to Liverpool for a run prior to a short transfer to the Olivier theatre for 21 performances only then straight on to the West End’s Garrick Theatre.

Not floating your boat? See what else is going on

  • Things to do
Bank holiday in London
Bank holiday in London

If lying in bed with a box set was your initial bank holiday plan, scrap it – there’s too much going on to stay indoors.

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