Entertaining after-hours events have become a regular fixture at many of London’s top cultural attractions. Here are the top 10 to check out.
Whitechapel Gallery First Thursdays
Numerous galleries, museums and studios in East London participate in the cultural extravaganza of First Thursdays. Venues open late for the event, with some offering free workshops, talks and private viewings. Visitors can sign up in advance for the free Art Bus Tour, with a lottery deciding who will win a place on the bus. The tour, led by an experienced guide, travels to three specially chosen events and exhibitions, beginning and ending at Whitechapel Gallery. Each month, curators also produce a suggested route for a Walking Tour of selected venues. In addition to the many culinary hotspots of East London, delicious food is served in the Whitechapel Gallery Café/Bar and Dining Room.
First Thursdays are on the first Thursday of every month
Science Museum Lates
More than 3,000 adults pass through the doors of the Science Museum for its famous Lates events. Three floors are transformed by themed shows, talks and interactive activities, many of which are free. Experts showcase some of the latest technology and talk about topics like climate change, space exploration and forensic science. Diverse make-your-own activities take place, which in the past have included building a volcano or a motorised Dalek. Some of the regular crowd-pleasers are the pub quiz, comedy show, silent disco and speed dating. For those who want an unusual experience, there’s the opportunity to don a cockroach costume for an unconventional tour of the museum. Thrill seekers are kept amused with rides on the RAF Typhoon and Red Arrows flight simulators. If exhaustion sets in, there are several bars and food outlets to re-fuel at.
Science Museum Lates are on the last Wednesday of every month (except December)
V&A Friday Late
At the V&A Friday Late, free events are themed around the latest exhibitions. Visitors are invited to dress up and join in the fun with DJs, installations and performance artists. Talks, workshops and screenings add an intellectual flavour, while creative types will enjoy taking part in imaginative craft activities. The elegant V&A Café, the world’s first museum restaurant, provides an appetising range of food and drink on the night.
V&A’s Friday Late is on the last Friday of every month (except May and December)
Natural History Museum Lates
Adults can live out their childhood dreams by exploring the Natural History Museum at night with Lates. The museum allows after-hours entry to current exhibitions and famous galleries. The Central Hall is taken over by free live entertainment with open-mic performances from London’s fresh talent. Speed-sketching sessions, hosted by Crazy Artistes, provide another popular attraction. Tasty meals and seasonal drinks are served in bars and restaurants on the night.
Natural History Museum Lates are on the last Friday of every month.
Late at the British Library
Visitors can make as much noise as they want at special Late events hosted by the British Library. In the past, DJ sets from famous electro-dance act Hot Chip and live music from the band Public Service Broadcasting have provided highly sought-after entertainment. Exciting demonstrations, workshops, talks and performances are inspired by the British Library’s current exhibitions. Late exhibition opening, food and drink can also be enjoyed on the night. Late at the Library has sold out on previous occasions, so book early to avoid disappointment.
Late at the Library is held on selected Fridays to coincide with major exhibitions.
Late at Tate Britain
Responding to current exhibitions and rehangs of its collections, Late at Tate Britain offers free music, art, performance, fashion shows and films. Contributors include young creatives from the Tate Collectives group, who develop fresh ideas for the evening. Past events have allowed guests to swap fashion items, ‘perform’ architecture and participate in installations. Tate’s Whistler Restaurant provides luxurious dining with menus such as the seasonal tasting menu, where five courses are matched with five wines.
Late at Tate Britain is held bi-monthly on the first Friday of that month
Late Shift at the National Portrait Gallery
The ever-popular Late Shift has become a regular fixture at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursdays and Fridays. Thursdays are for discussion and contemplation with talks, tours and philosophy salons. Discussions often focus around the lives of the famous faces adorning the walls, such as Elizabeth I or Benjamin Britten. Fridays feature artist-led drawing sessions, suitable for all artistic abilities. Materials are provided at these free drop-in sessions, which last for as long as the creativity flows. DJ sets or live music provide entertainment inspired by portraits and exhibitions at the gallery. Every four months, guest-curated and themed evenings dictate the programme for Late Shift Extra. Special events on these nights include film screenings, workshops and performances. Drinks are provided at the Late Shift bar, or in the Portrait Restaurant for those seeking rooftop views of the city skyline.
Late Shift, in partnership with FTI Consulting, is every Thursday and Friday
British Museum Friday Lates
Late exhibition viewings, lectures and discussions are just a few of the attractions at the British Museum’s Friday Lates. Free 20-minute spotlight tours also introduce selected areas of the collection. Some Friday Lates in the past have been produced on an ambitious scale, such as Sound Histories, which featured more than 200 musicians performing 100 different scores across the entire ground floor. Monthly BM/PM events boost the programme further, with performances ranging from stand-up comedy to Shakespeare. The Court Cafés, set in the stunning Great Court, offer refreshments and a quick bite to eat.
British Museum Friday Lates are every Friday (except Good Friday), with BM/PM events taking place on the second Friday of the month
National Gallery Friday Lates
At Friday Lates, the National Gallery opens its doors for talks, guided tours, life drawing classes, live music and late exhibition openings. Concerts by the Royal College of Music, among others, respond to paintings in the collection. Guests can book a table at the award-winning National Dining Rooms or sample the modern European menu in the National Café. Drinks can be enjoyed at the bar in the Sainsbury Wing Foyer.
National Gallery Friday Lates, sponsored by Credit Suisse, are every Friday
Friday Late at the Royal Academy of Arts
Culture enthusiasts can soak up the latest exhibitions at the Royal Academy. Special Friday Late events often feature talks and discussions on current exhibition topics, with tailor-made talks for deaf and hard of hearing visitors. The gallery occasionally hosts lively Friday Late evenings, with attractions such as sculpture workshops, interactive installations, live music and DJs. There is a variety of places to eat and drink, including the Royal Academy Restaurant, Gallery Café and the restaurant and lounges in the adjoining Keeper’s House.
Every exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts has a one-off RA late, check out their website for programme details.