The ultimate summer calendar: things to do, London, August 2021
The London summer season is finally here. From open-air cinema to music festivals, these are the unmissable events to help you make the most of the warm weather
Free things to do in London
Tate's Mega Please Draw Freely
Leave your purse at home and find the best of London's free, family-friendly entertainment this summer.
Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF) runs from Friday 27 August to Saturday 11 September, bringing with it a two-week programme of free outdoor theatre and performing arts comprising 52 events in total, all of which are taking place in the streets, squares and green spaces of Greenwich. Highlights include Dan Acher's Borealis, an artificial aurora inspired by the Northern Lights set to light up the sky each night in vibrant splashes of colour.
At Tate Modern, Mega Please Draw Freely by artist Ei Arakawa invites visitors of all ages to make their mark on the Turbine Hall floor or on a banner inside a theatrical pine forest.
Over on Greenwich Peninsula, Summer Sessions is offering three months of free activities, including live music, film screenings, family sports, workshops and DJ sets to raise spirits and keep the crowds mingling.
Swinging west, the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre is celebrating its grand reopening by hosting a two-day festival of free activities in Lyric Square. Lyric Fest (Friday 20 & Saturday 21 August) promises live music, theatre, dance, family activities and a Friday barbecue.
Wherever you end up roaming, if it's hot, you've got the kiddos with you and they need to cool off immediately, head to your nearest play fountain for some free, fun splashing.
Things to do with kids in London
With six (or more!) long weeks to fill, the summer holidays can see parents taking on a secondary role of full-time entertainers. Fortunately, there’s a host of thrilling attractions and schemes on hand to help ease that pressure.
Go-karting is the activity du jour in London, with two new experiences vying for our attention. At Somerset House, Dodge is a chance to bump around on musical dodgems to a backdrop of installations designed by Yinka Ilori. In Bethnal Green, Chaos Karts fuses go-karting with augmented reality to immerse players in their own live-action video game experience.
Kids' Week (which runs for the whole month of August), offers under-16s the chance to go free to some of the best shows that London has to offer. From returning West End favourites including Olivier award-winning musical The Lion King – an experience every Londoner should have at least once – to fleeting productions you won’t want to miss, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, you'd be surprised how many shows and experiences are taking part in the scheme.
From animals on stage to those in the wild, London Zoo is inviting little ones on a global wildlife safari – a chance to venture across the many continents and habitats present in its ecosystem.
Or, travel back to prehistoric times with Jurassic Encounter, which brings 50 life-size dinosaur replicas to London’s Grovelands Park this summer, including a giant 18-metre T.rex. Those who prefer their creatures mythical should head to Walthamstow Wetlands, where an enchanting Moomin nature trail awaits.
Pergola on the Roof, Shepherds Bush
Out with the dingy pubs of darker months. British summer is notoriously brief, so don't waste a moment of those precious sunny days. Make like a New Yorker and enjoy your post-work tipple from the vantage point of a rooftop bar. London is home to plenty of hidden gems (Willows on the John Lewis rooftop is a newbie worth venturing to this summer) as well as cult favourites (Peckham's Franks among them). And many of the most glamorous rooftop bars can be found atop chic hotels.
The lawns at Glyndebourne
Even those left cold by opera will be charmed by the country-house delights of Glyndebourne or Garsington. Gourmet picnics, champagne and the finest frocks are a perfect backdrop for world-class musical performances. However, you don't even have to leave the city for a country-house experience: Holland Park Opera brings the pastoral atmosphere to the centre of town.This year's highlights include Puccini's powerful Manon Lescaut with the hot new director Karolina Sofulakis.
Al fresco theatre
Who needs a roof when the sun's shining? Head to Regent's Park Open Air Theatre for a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical Carousel. Or, round up brave little ones and take them to see Derek Bond's magical production of Dragons and Mystical Beasts.
Soak up the afternoon sun like it’s 1598 with some top-notch Shakespeare at the Globe. With Ola Ince's trailblazing take on Romeo & Juliet (until Sunday 17 October) and Sean Holmes's colourful production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (until Saturday 30 October) already certified successes, there's reason to feel excited for Holmes's Twelfth Night (until Saturday 30 October). Click here for the full programme and to book tickets.
Wild swimming: London's hidden spots
Kenwood Ladies Pond, Hampstead
As seasoned Londoners we've learned our al fresco swimming lesson the hard way – you'll want to arrive early to secure a spot and avoid the queues. Hampstead Pond is the most central spot for wild swimming, while a short car or train journey will lead you to a number of secluded havens.
Prefer to bob around in waters a little more clear and filtered? The Serpentine is surprisingly quiet for somewhere so central, or try Brockwell, London Fields or Tooting Bec Lidos: all of which boast the buzz of a holiday destination and are great for an outing with family or friends.
After the whole 2020 season of summer festivals was cancelled due to you-know-what, dancing around a field covered in glitter with a pint of chilled cider in hand has never looked so appealing. Fortunately, you won't have to travel far to get the experience either. London alone plays home to a bumper crop of festivals this summer. Highlights include All Points East, which brings three days of music and a diverse line-up (London Grammar, Jorja Smith, Jamie XX, Foals and Bombay Bicycle are all headlining) to Victoria Park for the bank holiday weekend. On the Sunday of that same weekend, Victoria Park takes a break from APE to welcome Field Day, with Bicep and Floating Points the star acts.
For something a little more chilled but no less dazzling, head to Kenwood House for Heritage Live, a four-day bonanza (Thursday 19 - Sunday 22 August) set to delight the ravers of yesteryear. Rag'n'Bone Man, James, Feeder and Boy George are all performing.
As for golden oldies, look to Hampton Court Palace Festival (Friday 13 - Tuesday 24 August), which this year welcomes Bastille ReOrchestrated, Nile Rodgers & CHIC, Tom Jones, Keane, Van Morrison and Björn Again.
Nostalgic millennials chasing the peak pop of the 90s and 00s, meanwhile, should venture south of the river to Brockwell Park, where Mighty Hoopla (Saturday 4 September) welcomes Atomic Kittens, Artful Dodger, Cheryl and more, as well as proprietors of some of London's best-loved club nights: Sink the Pink, Horse Meat Disco and the Bongo's Bingo DJs.
Waterside dining at The Summerhouse, Little Venice
How to spot an Englishman abroad: identify the tourists who are lounging over lunch in outdoor terraces for lunch in spite of lobster-red cheeks. Yes, all-year-round sun deprivation makes us Brits lap up the rays at every opportunity. But for those rare sunny days, London offers plenty of outdoor dining spots, including large swathes of Soho which have remained pedestrianised with covered tables lining the roads since the lockdown eased. Tables are hard to come by in the hallowed gardens of The River Café and Petersham Nurseries, but there are hidden gems (try the garden at Mazi) and riverside marvels (we're looking at you, Towpath Café) waiting for your custom.
Beach East at the Park, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Can't wait until the bank holiday weekend to catch some seaside fun in the sun? Lucky for Londoners, city beaches are cropping up across the capital. We love the beach at Brent Cross, where families can enjoy customary seaside games or Limin' Beach Club on South Bank for deckchair lounging with a rum punch in hand.
Luna Cinema at Hampton Court Palace
Add some drama to your run-of-the-mill movie night by rolling out a blanket at one of the many pop-up screens across the city. Pop Up Screens is London's original al fresco cinema experience, while Luna Cinema specialise in screenings with spectacular backdrops such as Hampton Court Palace and Westminster Abbey. And never to be overlooked is Rooftop Film Club, which takes the action sky high.