London comes alive once the weather starts to pick up, and with the sun (mostly) shining and evenings getting longer, there’s a whole summer ahead to enjoy all the city has to offer. From thought-provoking exhibitions to raucous street parties, we round up 12 of the top cultural events not to miss this season.
Explore the creativity of African fashion
The Victoria and Albert Museum has opened its first African fashion exhibition, displaying designs, photographs, and films from 25 of the continent’s 54 countries. The exhibit is divided into two sections, with the first chronicling historical outfits and images from the late 1950s onwards, while the second spotlights the new generation of designers and fashion photographers working in Africa today.
Brush up on queer history at the UK’s first LGBTQ+ museum
Queer Britain, the UK’s only permanent LGBTQ+ history museum, opened its doors this spring after four years of planning. The free museum in Granary Square includes four gallery spaces and will host its first exhibition We Are Queer Britain, from July 20, marking 50 years since London’s earliest Pride march.
Delight in a daytime light show
Festive light installations are an annual Instagram favorite, but now you can experience sparkling trails in the summer with Canary Wharf’s free festival of art. Summer Lights features 17 outdoor installations rendered in colorful transparent glass, reflective metal, and other materials that play with natural light.
Dippy Returns: The Nation’s Favourite Dinosaur will be free to visit, and runs until January 2, 2023 © Natural History Museum
Welcome Dippy home
Having concluded his four-year nationwide tour, the Natural History Museum’s famous Diplodocus cast is back in London. Visitors can admire the 26m skeleton replica, along with reflections on the changing state of nature and biodiversity from Dippy’s UK tour, for free until the year’s end.
Take a herbology lesson in Professor Sprout’s greenhouse
The Warner Bros Studio Tour is a must-see for Harry Potter fans, and this summer brings an exciting addition: Professor Sprout’s greenhouse, where Hogwarts pupils studied herbology with the no-nonsense head of Hufflepuff House. An interactive display allows visitors to pull out a potted mandrake and admire exotic plants, including the Venomous Tentacula hanging from the ceiling.
Grab tickets for the Queen of Dragons’ West End debut
The West End boasts no shortage of starry talent, and one of the year’s most anticipated productions is Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull at the Harold Pinter Theatre. After cutting its 2020 run short due to Covid-19, Jamie Lloyd directs Game of Thrones’s Emilia Clarke in a modernized adaptation of the classic play.
Ballroom Culture at Somerset House © Vogue Rites
Get inspired by London ballroom culture
From August 1, the courtyard of Somerset House will play host to The Bright Land, a festival created by artists Gareth Pugh and Carson McColl. A 35m observation wheel will offer stunning views over the Thames. At the same time, weekends will see a selection of curated street parties, including weekly open-air vogue balls showcasing the best dance, fashion, and music of the city’s ballroom scene.
Top tips for first time visitors to London
Take a moment to reflect in a sleek pavilion
Each summer, the Serpentine Gallery commissions an internationally known architect to design its pavilion in Hyde Park, with free entry from June to October. This year, the Serpentine selected its first non-architect, Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, who has created an imposing, cylindrical 10m structure called the Black Chapel, inspired by traditional kilns found in England’s Stoke-on-Trent and the western US.
Enjoy an outdoor cinema experience in the center of London © Barbican Outdoor Cinema
Catch an open-air screening in a striking setting
Many London locations tempt fate with outdoor cinemas each summer, but our pick is the Barbican’s series. From August 23-28, guests can enjoy the iconic concert film Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii, Studio Ghibli’s animated fantasy Princess Mononoke and dreamlike multigenerational drama Daughters of the Dust against the stark Brutalist backdrop of the Sculpture Court.
Pump up the volume with top musical acts
Festival season is well underway in the city, and the best of them is in Victoria Park, where All Points East is staging six days of live music. This year’s headliners are Gorillaz (August 19), Tame Impala (August 25), The National (August 26), Disclosure (August 27), and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (August 28), plus a Field Day takeover featuring The Chemical Brothers and Kraftwerk (August 20).
Experience Europe’s biggest street party
Following a two-year hiatus, Notting Hill Carnival returns to the capital over the August bank holiday weekend. The festival celebrates the rich history of Caribbean culture in the UK and will see a vibrant parade of floats, trucks, and glittering costumed performers making their way through west London — with delicious food stalls and earth-shaking sound systems along the route.
Charon by Peter Hudson © Mitzi Peirone
Immerse yourself in outdoor arts
Close out the summer at the free Greenwich+Docklands International Festival, which brings together an array of theatre, art, dance, and circus performances from August 26 to September 11. Highlights include a 9.7m rotating zoetrope called Charon, originally created for Burning Man; the Royal Ballet’s production of Sleepwalker with differently-abled dancer Joe Powell-Main; and a wave of rainbow-colored foam by Stephanie Luning.
The best short breaks from London are just two hours by train