10 Dates for your London Diary

There's never a dull day in London, and there's always a dizzying cornucopia of events to excite and delight across the city. Here are 10 of my favourite to put in your diary:

1. Eel Pie Island Open Days

Eel Pie Island is a private island on the Thames near Twickenham that's home to an eccentric group of artists who work in studios housed in old boats. In the 60s, it was also home to a famous jazz and blues venue where The Rolling Stones and George Melly played, and it still has a massively mysterious and anarchic vibe.

The island is only accessible by a private footbridge, and you can only visit twice a year when the studios open their doors to the public, once in summer and once in winter. You can go and meet the artists in their studios, buy their art and homemade Pimms, and get a rare glimpse of this weird and wonderful place. Visit the artists' website for open studio dates: www.eelpieislandartists.co.uk (Free to visit)

2. Lambeth Country Show

One weekend every July, Brockwell Park near Brixton hosts to the incredible Lambeth County Show. Part traditional country show, part music festival, part giant funfair, there's something for everyone: vegetable sculpture competitions, livestock shows, eclectic food stalls, fun fair rides, several music stages, stalls from community organisations...you name it, it's there. There's event a showground which hosted a quidditch match in recent years. The show attracts hundreds of thousands of people, making it one of the biggest free public events in Europe, and celebrates the amazing diversity of Lambeth and London. Visit the website for dates: http://lambethcountryshow.co.uk (Free to visit)

3. Found Footage Festival 

Every couple of years, a pair of eccentric Americans bounce into town as part of their never-ending quest to find and screen the most bizarre and obscure bits of lost VHS footage. From old adverts and music videos to weird home movies and public safety videos, the duo are on a mission to find just the strangest clips ever committed to tape. The shows are hilarious and invariably sell out, so keep you eye out for when they're next coming to London and where they're playing. Visit their website: www.foundfootagefest.com

4. The Globe Midnight Matinees

The Globe puts a midnight performance of each of their main shows on over summer, and it's a magical experience. Standing tickets in the yard are as usual just £5, and you can watch the plays under the stars in what must be the most atmospheric theatre performances of the year. We saw the midnight performance of Dr Faustus in 2011 and the sublime performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2016. I stood with my chin resting on the edge of the stage in the small hours of the morning gazing up at the flower-drenched set as a sitar player gently played above, and I remember thinking that at very that moment, I don't think I'd ever loved London more. Visit the website to get tickets: www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on/s/midnight-matinees

5. Walthamstow Garden Party

On one of the other July weekends to the Lambeth Country Show, there's a big summer bash in lovely Lloyd Park in Walthamstow, home to the William Morris Gallery. Expect live music, local crafts (for which Walthamstow is famous), local craft beer and plenty of hipsters. Last year, I spotted a 'how to grow your own fungi' demonstration, which I found exceptionally endearing. Visit the website: http://walthamstowgardenparty.com (Free to visit)

6. Red Bull Soap Box Race

Again, every couple of years Ally Pally hosts the ridiculously fun Red Bull Soap Box Race. Teams from across the country bring their rickety and hilariously-themed contraptions to hurtle down the steep palace boulevard, cheered on by thousands of on-lookers. Oh yes, and they add jumps to make it even more fun (well, dangerous), though the year we went, they had to lower some mid-race as so many of the competitors were landing with a trouser-splitting thump. You have to enter a ballot for tickets, so sign up for updates for when the next race will be on. Visit the website: http://www.redbullsoapboxrace.com


7. RHS Harvest Festival 

Each October, the Royal Horticultural Society hosts a magnificent Harvest Festival in the Horticultural Halls in Westminster, the crowning glory of which is the Giant Pumpkin Competition. Marvel at each year's entries and argue about just how they manage to get them there. The show is also a great opportunity to buy seeds for green fingered relatives (or for yourself if you're lucky enough to have a garden) and check out the exquisitely presented entries to the hotly contested fruit and vegetable growing competitions. It's particularly surreal for me as I had my uni finals in these halls and probably sat in the same spot as a pumpkin. Visit the website: www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-london-shows/rhs-harvest-festival-show (Free to visit)


On-going events throughout summer:

8. Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 

For me, the highlight of the London art calendar is the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, this year celebrating its 250th year. Anyone in the world can submit their objet d'art, and each year thousands of artists hope that their work will be selected by the experts to hang on those famous Piccadilly Walls. The show is extremely fun and unstuffy, and the hundreds of pieces on show fill several eclectic rooms and are a great antidote for people previously put off art by compulsory trips to dull exhibitions. One thing you can guarantee is that the exhibition will be buzzing with lively conversations, helped in no small part by being given the price guide at the start and getting to see which works have the telltale orange 'sold' dot next to them. You'll see works by famous RA members as well as unknown artists, and it's always a fun game to try and guess the most expensive piece on sale. Visit the website: www.royalacademy.org.uk/summer-exhibition

9. Sensational Butterflies at the Natural History Museum

From late spring to early autumn, the Natural History Museum sets up a temporary exotic butterfly house next to the museum. As you wander round the sweltering miniature jungle, you can see chrysalises developing and watch giant, brightly coloured butterflies basking on tropical plants and feeding on fruit.

If you're lucky, the butterflies will come and land on you and you can examine their beautiful wings and delicate antennae up close. Visit the website: www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/sensational-butterflies.html


10. Midnight Apothecary

This regular event throughout the warmer months is held at the incredible Brunel Museum, home to the grand entrance hall to Brunel's Thames Tunnel, the first tunnel ever dug under a river. The evening kicks off at dusk with a cocktail party in the museum's rooftop garden with drinks made from London-grown herbs and a large brazier fire to sit round, and after dark, there's folk music in the vast subterranean entrance hall which once hosted Victorian theatre shows and concerts. Though it's not a cheap night out, it's a wonderful opportunity to spend the evening in a beautiful location steeped in history at an event that's part garden party, part old English bacchanalia. Visit the website: www.thecocktailgardener.co.uk/midnight-apothecary 



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