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14086 Orchid Festival press launch photography
Photograph: Ines Stuart-Davidson

Things to do in London this week

Discover the biggest and best things to do in London over the next seven days

Rosie Hewitson
Written by
Rosie Hewitson
&
Alex Sims
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Give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve managed to slog it through the first, and what always feels like the longest, month of the year. Now the days are slowly getting longer and lighter, it’s less treacherous to walk around outside. It can only mean February is here and the promise of spring is just around the corner. 

As we transition into a brand new month, London’s cultural scene is packed full of events and things to do. This week, get ready for warmer days by visiting Kew Garden’s annual Orchid Festival. It’s got a Cameroonian theme this year and will see the hot and steamy Prince of Wales Conservatory filled with your fave floral animal sculptures. For alternative theatre head to ‘Saint Jude’, an immersive, AI-powered, choose-your-own-adventure tale – no we’re not making any of that up. Or, check out eye-popping art, including The Perimeter’s show dedicated to Joseph Yaeger’s paintings of found imagery and film snippets and the Castor gallery’s show of Clyde Hopkins’s big, splashy canvases. 

Head out of the cold and underground for more off-the-beaten-track happenings, like guided tours of the Postal Museum’s hidden Mail Rail tunnel and Vault Festival, London’s subterranean celebration of new theatre with over 500 theatre and comedy shows. Or, add a bit of cheer to the cold winter days by heading to the Grimaldi Clown Service – back in baggy-trousered person for the first time in two years. 

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Still got some gaps in your diary? Fill your eyes with neon at Battersea Power Station’s winter light festival. Make some time to check out London’s major art exhibitions this weekend like the National Gallery’s huge Lucian Freud retrospective, Tate Modern’s ambitious Cezanne exhibition, Tate Modern’s brilliant show of Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz’s towering fabric sculptures and the RA’s sprawling ‘Making Modernism’.

Head to one of London’s best bars or restaurants and take in one of these lesser-known London attractions. This is also a great time of year to explore London on a budget and without the crowds. Plus, lots of the city’s best theatre, musicals, restaurants and bars offer discounted tickets and offers. What are you waiting for? Put your coat on.

RECOMMENDED: Check out our guide to the best things to do in February.

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Kew

The Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens is getting a Cameroonian makeover this February, courtesy of a mind-bending new orchid display. You’ll get it all: the varied landscapes, the native wildlife and more. Visitors to the glasshouse will run into loads of ‘native animals’, carved out of plants across the horticultural displays. Giraffes, gorillas, lions and hippos. All your faves. Plus, look out for after-hours events, live music, food and drink. 

 

See dozens of clowns pay tribute to their late king
  • Things to do
  • Quirky events
  • Haggerston

After two years of the annual service being pre-recorded online, visitors can once again head down in person to All Saints Church in Haggerston to see clowns, dressed in full costume, gather to honour the king of the clowns, Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837). It’s best to arrive early: many Grimaldi and clown fans usually show up so the pews get packed. The service starts at 3pm and stick around afterwards for a clown show for adults and children.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Immersive
  • Westminster

This gripping immersive show from Swamp Motel really sneaks up on you. At first, we thought we’d signed up for an hour of light admin. But in the end, ‘Saint Jude’ takes a very different path: there’s more than a note of the classic Cold War conspiracy thriller to it, crossed with the golden age of choose-your-own-adventure novels. It’s an engrossing piece of storytelling and a good old-fashioned adventure that largely takes place in the most immersive place of all: your head.

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Clerkenwell

The Mail Rail in Clerkenwell is part of the London Postal Museum. It’s a unique, 100-year-old, underground railway, separate from the tube network, that was used to ferry post across the capital in the twentieth century. It was eventually closed in 2003. These very exclusive walking tours give access to the tunnels, tracks and station platforms of the railway. Expert guides tell the story of the line and no doubt offer a creepy anecdote or two. 

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
  • Bloomsbury

This young London-based American artist paints found imagery and snippets of films with washed-out realism, but all totally removed from context: cropped-in too tight, distorted and twisted. It’s a world of woozy, half-remembered snapshots of hands and eyes and faces. Yaeger is a very good painter. And somewhere in all these screenshots translated into paint, in these endless lenses and mirrors and haze and fog, there is a pretty accurate reflection of modern life.

  • Things to do
  • The Mall

Founded in 1947 by a collective of poets, artists and critics, the ICA moved to its current location on the Mall in 1968 offering Londoners exhibitions, arthouse cinema, performance art, philosophical debates, art-themed club nights and anything else that might challenge convention. To mark its 75th birthday its turning its ground floor into a one-night-only visual experience with seven artists bringing music, performance and moving images to the mix, including – according to the organisers – “emotion-driven and sensory live sets at the forefront of experimental music”. Take to the dancefloor and prepare for a spirited evening. 

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  • Things to do
  • Piccadilly

Watch everyone from masters of the keys like Jools Holland, John Grant and Nadine Benjamin to exciting new pianists pack out the programme of the Piccadilly Piano Festival. They’ll all be flexing their fingers over St James’s famous Fazioli grand piano for some epic concerts over three weeks. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
  • Fitzrovia

In the 1990s, painters like John Hoyland and Frank Bowling doggedly pursued their craft of big, splashy, gestural canvases. Now those artists are getting a long-overdue reappraisal. Clyde Hopkins certainly fits into this group well. This show at Castor gallery (which has boldly moved from Deptford to Fitzrovia) consists of a dozen works from the late ’80s and early ’90s. They’re a curious but effective mix of intensity and floaty whimsy. 

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  • Things to do
  • South Kensington

Luxury Korean car brand Genesis hosts this huge one-off arcade gaming experience at the V&A as part of the museum’s ‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’ exhibition. Book a slot to drive a Genesis electric GV60 car around a track inspired by the high-octane streets of Seoul with neon colours and iconography celebrating Korean culture. It’s basically a massive IRL Mario Kart. I mean, what are you waiting for? 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Art
  • Fitzrovia

Ever wanted to become so entwined with someone that you become one person? Rats know all about that desire. There’s the myth of the Rat King, a mass of rats whose tails have become knotted together, creating one giant (dead) mega-rat. Young English artist Jenkin Van Zyl’s installation is all about this kind of mutant animal surrealism. You reach it through a giant silver inflatable rat’s mouth and there are hectic films of rat-human hybrids. It proves that he’s one of the most exciting young artists in the UK today.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Covent Garden

‘The Lehman Trilogy’ returns to the West End in 2023 after success on Broadway in 2022 and hit London runs in 2018 and 2019. It has been completely recast, but remains an epic three-actor play that charts the story of the titular brothers and the institutions that would go on to bear their names. It’s an elegantly told voyage through American history that sheds plenty of light on the country’s present, turbulent shape.

  • Theatre
  • Experimental
  • Waterloo

Vault Festival will stage over 500 theatre and comedy shows, from experimental plays about upskirting in South Korea and the exploitation of blindness by the entertainment industry, to work-in-progress pieces from big-name stand-ups like Luisa Omielan and Jordan Brookes. There’s even a one-day wrestling festival within the festival, because why not?

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  • Theatre
  • Experimental
  • London

The jugglers, circus people and clowns are on their way to London… one last time. Back to being a full live event for its final edition, the long-running London International Mime Festival will be much missed but let’s enjoy it’s grand finale, which features a typically wide variety of shows, from dance to puppetry to ‘mask performance’. See classic stories reimagined and some exclusive international films.

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Battersea

Brighten the gloomy winter evenings with a trip to Light Festival at Battersea Power Station, featuring eight spectacular installations by international artists that will glow up the iconic grade-II listed building. See a massive illuminated bath plug (it’s a comment on water waste, fyi), a huge slinky curving around the building and a ‘post-apocalyptic sunset’ along the Coaling Jetty. Ooh!

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  • Art
  • Piccadilly

You want Giovanni Vespucci’s 1526 map of the world? Porque no? Masterpieces by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya? Si, por favor. Sculptures, silk textiles, ceramics, lustreware, silverwork and precious jewellery from across Latin America? Ay caramba! It’s all being loaned to the RA by the Hispanic Society Museum & Library in New York for this ambitious exhibition about the art and creativity of the Spanish-speaking world. Muy bien.

WTTDLondon

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