Visit London Blog » royal festival hall Enjoy the very best of London Fri, 18 Apr 2014 09:00:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Where to See Live Music for Free in London Thu, 20 Feb 2014 10:00:27 +0000 Ain't Nothing But... blues bar

In most cities, the only free music you’ll find is the odd busker. In London, you can find free gigs and concerts taking place every night across the capital – at prestigious arts centres, happening bars and even galleries.

The venues we’ve picked below offer everything from jazz and soul to classical and world music – some of their events are ticketed, but many are totally free. Check times and listings for full info.

Southbank Centre

The Southbank Centre is a fantastic community arts centre, so it’s fitting that it holds regular free musical performances in the Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall. February highlights include Argentian duo Sigamos (28 Feb).

St Martin-in-the-fields concert

St Martin-in-the-Fields

St Martin-in-the-Fields, located bang opposite Trafalgar Square, is known for its candlelit concerts. But this striking church also hosts regular free lunchtime concerts. Future participants include the NLSO Flute Trio (25 Feb).

The Forge

The Forge

A few minutes walk from Camden Town Station, The Forge is a bar/music venue, with an unusual central stage. Classical, jazz, world and folk music is on the bill here, with free jazz concerts every Monday night.

Royal College of Music performance. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

Royal College Of Music

Musicians studying at the Royal College of Music perform free lunchtime concerts at St Mary Abbots every Friday (1.05pm) and free ‘rush-hour’ concerts every Friday at the National Gallery (6pm) and V&A (6.30pm). Visit the RCM website for full listings of future events and participating venues.

Hip hop at Hootananny Brixton

Hootananny Brixton

About 10 minutes’ walk from the centre of bustling Brixton, Hootananny is the place to go for ska, roots, reggae and folk rhythms. Upcoming free gigs feature the likes of The Fontanas + Barking Bateria + New Street Adventure (22 Feb) and Rollo Markee & The Tail Shakers (26 Feb). Check the listings before you go, as some events are ticketed and others are only free until 10pm (or earlier).

Union Chapel

Union Chapel

A working church and community centre, Union Chapel is a wonderfully atmospheric venue for live music. As well as its popular concert series, the chapel puts on free music performances in its Daylight Music series. This month’s guests include Chris T-T & The Hoodrats + The Capybaras + Laura Cannell (22 Feb).

Katie Bradley and Chris Corcoran

Ain’t Nothing But…

This excellently named blues bar, tucked away just off Regent Street, is a real find. Every night at Ain’t Nothing But… there’s live music, and entry is free Sunday to Thursday – and before 8.30pm on Friday and Saturday. Singing (or playing) the blues this month is the Dust Me Down Blues Band (26 Feb).

Charlie Wright's

Charlie Wright’s

With the name and relaxed feel of an underground jazz club of yesteryear, Charlie Wright’s is an intimate music lounge/restaurant located close to Old Street Station. The venue has been serving up live music (and, somewhat randomly, delicious Thai food) since 1992. Today, entry is free on Mondays, when Charlie’s Comedy Club is followed by a late jazz jam session hosted by the Nikki Mackenzie Quartet, and also on Tuesdays, when drummer Shane Forbes hosts Charlie’s Jazz Jam.

Primo Bar

Primo Bar at Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London Hotel

A short walk from the London Eye, Park Plaza Westminster Bridge is a design-led hotel with a surprisingly packed live music calendar. Every night in the hotel’s glossy Primo Bar you’ll find free performances, from ‘Brazilian Vibe’ Wednesdays to ‘Chilled Jazz’ Sunday with the Spitz Collective. With views out onto Big Ben and a lengthy cocktail menu, it could become a new favourite.

Check out our listings for more live music bars in London

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Best Bus Routes for Sightseeing in London Tue, 28 Jan 2014 11:00:35 +0000

London’s famous double-decker buses are an ideal way to see the city if you’re on a budget. Buy a Travelcard for the day and take a self-guided city tour on London’s best bus routes. These four cover most of the major sights in the city. Their routes are described from west to east and the return journey passes the same sights in reverse.

Number 74
Starting in Putney, this route travels past London’s museums hub in South Kensington where the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum sit side by side. It then passes luxury department store Harrods and the boundary of one of London’s largest green spaces at Hyde Park Corner. You can catch a glimpse of The Dorchester hotel just after, followed by the famous haunt of public rhetoric – Speaker’s Corner at Marble Arch. The final stop is Baker Street, home to both the Madame Tussauds wax figure museum and the Sherlock Holmes Museum, at the site of the fictional detective’s residence.

Number 9
The number 9 is one of only two routes operating the old-style Routemaster buses on part of its route. Leaving from Hammersmith, it passes Kensington Palace (you’ll have to get off to see it) followed by the beautiful Royal Albert Hall and the monument to Queen Victoria’s husband which sits opposite it. Like the number 74, the 9 passes the museums in Kensington, Harrods and Hyde Park corner. It takes a different route afterwards to visit St James’s Palace, Trafalgar Square, The Savoy hotel and arts and cultural centre Somerset House.

Number RV1
The RV1 is a favourite route for us here at VL Towers! Despite being a single decker, it still passes through some of the best parts of London, giving you a great cultural tour of the city. Soak up some shops and street theatre at Covent Garden before taking the RV1. Hopping on it will take you to the South Bank where you’ll see the London Eye and Royal Festival Hall. The London Bridge stop is metres from the London Dungeon and City Hall is the next sight on the route, which crosses Tower Bridge to finish up at the Tower of London.

Number 24
The 24 sets off from Camden Town which offers alternative fashion and food. The bus then heads to the more mainstream Leicester Square in the centre, calling in at Trafalgar Square and Horse Guards Parade. The political heart of London is next as the bus passes Parliament Square where you’ll find Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, as well as the nearby Westminster Abbey where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were married in 2011. The final site is the city’s policing headquarters at the iconic New Scotland Yard building.

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Christmas Family Events in London Tue, 17 Dec 2013 13:00:07 +0000 School is almost out for Christmas and the holidays are here, so take a peek at our fun family activities and start making some festive plans!

Slava’s Snowshow at the Royal Festival Hall

Internationally-acclaimed spectacle Slava’s Snowshow is returning to London’s Royal Festival Hall this Christmas after a sell-out winter season in 2013. This award-winning show combines theatrical clowning and stunning spectacle to create a visual masterpiece loved by children and adults alike. 17 December to 6 January

Christmas at ZSL London Zoo

For a very merry day out, look no further than ZSL London Zoo – a winter wonderland in the heart of the city. Children can meet Santa himself and join in with a host of festive activities including gingerbread decorating. Another must-see this Christmas are the Zoo’s reindeers! Until 24 December

The Harrods Christmas Grotto 2013

A visit to The Harrods Christmas Grotto is the perfect way to start the festive season. Meet Father Christmas in a magical library setting. Children will be given an exclusive Harrods book, badge and Christmas chocolate. Until 24 December

Hogwarts in the Snow at Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Visit Hogwarts in the Snow at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London –The Making of Harry Potter.  This special feature allows visitors to see the Harry Potter film sets as they would have been during Christmas scenes for the first film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. See the Great Hall decorated for a festive feast and sip butterbeer outside Privet Drive under light snow fall.  Until 2 February

Kensington State Apartments

Aimed at the whole family, young princes and princesses are invited to try their hand at the games of court in the King’s Gallery and the King’s Drawing Room at the Kensington State Apartments. Until 6 January

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park

Festive family favourite Winter Wonderland has returned to London’s Hyde Park with ice skating, big top shows, the observation wheel and a huge Christmas market. Until 5 January

Seussical The Musical at the Arts Theatre

Prowling the stage in a colourful show for youngsters, the immortal creation of Dr Seuss is joined by his pal Horton the Elephant, who has discovered an entire small world passing by on a speck of dust. It’s Seussical The Musical of course! Until 5 January

Festive Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

This afternoon tea will bring out the kid in you! With golden eggs, gingerbread pops and playful flavoured candy floss, every item reflects the wit and wonder of Roald Dahl’s classic tale. Until 5 January

See more information about Christmas in London.

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Southbank Centre: Festival of Neighbourhood Fri, 31 May 2013 17:30:54 +0000 Festival of Neighbourhood at Southbank Centre Beano in Beanotown Queen's Walk Window Gardens Allotment Project Trees line Mandela Walk Herb Garden Murals decorate the walls Mural by Grems Topiary: Tribute to Riot cleaners

The Southbank Centre is being transformed into a London neighbourhood, where you can tend plants in the allotments, buy produce from the market, attend street parties… and even get a pint in “The Neighbourhood Arms”.

The summer-long celebration of neighbourhood and communities asks you to question what makes a good neighbourhood and what it means to live side by side. As part of the festival, communities local to the Southbank Centre will be celebrated, including an exhibition dedicated to Lambeth.

I went along this morning and was welcomed by a cheeky Dennis the Menace in Beanotown, as he celebrates his 75th anniversary this year. Within this iconic imaginary neighbourhood you’ll find themed food, a museum showcasing the Beano’s archives, comic drawing sessions, plus the “prank you very much stage”.

This is the centre’s third festival with MasterCard following the Festival of Britain and the Festival of the World. Artistic director Jude Kelly tells us the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Neighbourhood aims to show community cohesion and local commitment, by being a space for everyone.

A series of 42 flags adorn the roof of the Royal Festival Hall, designed by Bob and Roberta Smith. The flags are printed with questions further encouraging people to think about the meaning of neighbourhood.

As you walk around the site you’ll see reminders of your local neighbourhood such as doorbells and For Sale signs. Murals created by street artists decorate the walls, wheelbarrows are planted as mini gardens and Mandela Walk is lined with trees which, in the theme of communities, will go to local projects at the end of the festival. Several large topiary figures tower above the street, one depicting two people sweeping, a tribute to the volunteers who helped clean up London after the riots in August 2011.

This year sees the return of the popular urban beach, featuring a miniature town in the sand, which was already proving popular with adults and kids alike in today’s sunny weather. The Queen’s Walk Window Gardens allotment project provides opportunities for volunteers and communities to be involved in building and tending to plants and the herb garden, which will grow to a soundtrack created by Yoko Ono, will be used in food served by the Festival Hall’s café.

You will never be short of something to do at the festival, as the summer is filled with a range of exciting activities and events, such as comedy at Udderbelly and cabaret at London Wonderground, and weekends will be themed, from a celebration of street culture to a village fair.

Festival of Neighbourhood at the Southbank Centre, 1 June until 8 September



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London Theatre News: Punchdrunk; Curious Incident; Slava’s Snowshow; and Henry Winkler Thu, 09 May 2013 13:00:47 +0000 The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable by Punchdrunk

Yesterday one of the most closely guarded secrets in theatreland has been revealed: the location of Punchdrunk’s new show. The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable will take place in the largest space the innovative theatre company have ever taken over: a massive empty building next door to Paddington Station. Subject to licensing and planning permission, Punchdrunk will transform 31 London Street into the forgotten world of Temple Studios for its latest immersive theatrical experience. The show has also extended its London run to 31 December with 50,000 extra tickets now on sale.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-TimeNext up, great news for fans of the multi-award winning The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. The National’s hit show has extended its booking period at the Apollo Theatre to October 2014, releasing an additional 250,000 tickets for the celebrated show. If you haven’t done so yet, book tickets to see it now! It’s a fantastic piece of feel-good theatre, with a real star at the centre of its cast in Luke Treadaway.

London’s theatre offering also expanded today with the opening of a brand new theatre in Finsbury Park. The Park Theatre is run by artistic director Jez Bond, and the first performance will be Melanie Marnich’s These Shining Lives, starting this week. Like last year’s new arrival, the St James theatre in Victoria, there are two spaces in the venue: a 200-seat theatre and a flexible 90-seat space. The Park Theatre will operate as a charity, relying on local support to keep it running. If you’re in the area – pop in! There’s a bar and a café inside too.

And speaking of the St James Theatre, I have news of their latest show. The American Plan is a transfer from Theatre Royal Bath, and will open at the Victoria venue in July. Richard Greenberg’s 1960s-set play is a tale of broken dreams, twisted motives and deceit. It stars Diana Quick as an overbearing mother intent on controlling her daughter’s life.

Finally, this year’s Greenwich+Docklands international theatre festival line-up has been announced. Organised by Bradley Hemmings, one of the team responsible for last year’s Paralympic Opening Ceremony, the festival will feature the best UK and international performers to streets, parks and public spaces in and around Greenwich. If you like immersive, unusual and eclectic performance, then make sure you’re in London between 21 to 29 June. And best of all, it’s all free!

Henry Winkler will play Hook at the Hampstead Theatre this ChristmasChristmas London Theatre News

Is it too soon to get excited about the festive season in London? Perhaps. But if you’re the type of person who loves to plan ahead, you might fancy putting one of the following into the very end of your 2013 diary:

  • Slava’s Snowshow returns to the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre for the third year running in December. The award-winning production, which mixes theatrical clowning and stunning visuals, will hit the venue just in time to create a white Christmas, playing from 17 December to 5 January
  • And this week’s other Christmas announcement is that the legendary Henry Winkler will play Hook in Peter Pan at the Richmond Theatre from 6 December. Start practising your booing now!


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London Video of the Week: London for Free by Rob Eagle Wed, 30 Jan 2013 10:00:17 +0000

Rob Eagle’s video highlights some of the brilliant free things to do in London, from the British Museum to the Hunterian Museum.

The film won the Raindance Film Festival award in UCL’s London for Free competition.

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Celebrate International Women’s Day 2012 in London Wed, 07 Mar 2012 12:45:08 +0000

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women everywhere. Find out how you can mark this important date in London:

March over Millennium Bridge: Join celebrities, activists, and Women for Women supporters on Millennium Bridge as part of the Join Me on the Bridge campaign, promoting peace and equality. Meet on the south side of the bridge at 10.30am, then march across it, along Victoria Embankment and into the ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall for speeches. 8 Mar

Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre: Five days of gigs, films, talks, theatre, poetry and more, coinciding with International Women’s Day. Highlights include Equals Live 2012, a concert hosted by Annie Lennox; speed mentoring; and keynote speeches by Eve Ensler and Mary Portas. 7-11 Mar

Support Creative Women at Spitalfields: Spitalfields Market is holding an International Women’s Fair this weekend where you can browse books, arts and crafts by creative women and enjoy free entertainment including comedy, music and ballroom dancing. Free tours of the Women’s Library take place at 12pm and 2:30pm. 10 Mar

Invest in You at Inner Space: Wellbeing centre Inner Space is hosting an afternoon of free talks for women with a theme of Invest in You. Register at 10 Mar

Know of another Women’s Day event? Tell us in the comments below.

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Cyprus in London: The Philhellenes Dancing Group and the Yasar Halim Bakery Tue, 21 Feb 2012 12:30:54 +0000

Journalist Marina Soteriou is a long-term London resident. Writing as part of our World in London series, Marina adds her experiences of Cypriot culture in the capital.

Every Thursday evening at a church hall in Waterloo, a group meet to perform dances which have been danced for centuries. They are the Philhellenes Dancing Group.

I joined nearly three years ago as I wanted to feel closer to my family on the other side of Europe, in Cyprus. The only thing I can remember from my dancing class at primary school in Nicosia was somebody finding a centipede in their shoe, but last October I performed seven Pontic dances at the annual Dance Around the World Festival at Cecil Sharp House in Regents Park.

The group has been running for 21 years, and has performed in Cyprus, Athens, Lesvos and Andros. In London, they’ve danced at the Royal Festival Hall, the Barbican and the British Museum.

Cypriots love a debate and since the so-called “Cyprus problem” has remained unsolved since 1974 – as a result of a Turkish invasion which followed a coup by the junta ruling Greece at the time – we are never short of a topic. Following the division, thousands of Cypriots came to live in London, when the Greek Cypriots fled to safety in the south and the Turkish Cypriots went north.

My grandfather, Andreas Soteriou, was from the beautiful village of Agios Epiktitos in the Kyrenia district in the North, perched high with breathtaking views of the coast. But being born in 1982, these lands were not known to me. The Cyprus I knew stopped abruptly where the rusty barbed wire and UN soldier was. The bullet holes in the Nicosia church we went to every Sunday morning were testament to the violence which was followed by decades of stalemate.

It was not until 2003 when the border crossings opened that the link with my ancestors could be restored and I could visit the house where my grandfather was raised, see his father’s grave and share gifts and stories with the Turkish Cypriot neighbours.

There is something restorative in folk dancing, knowing these intricate steps, double steps and jumps have been replayed for thousands of years and that now is just another dot on the timeline. Although we do not know what the future holds for Cyprus, we know these dances will survive.

Whenever I go back to Nicosia, one of the first things I like to do is go to Ledra Street in the city centre and buy a Papaphilippou ice cream and do as the locals do and promenade.

On one such visit, the first thing I saw was a group of Pontics in traditional costume performing their dances in the public square, the very same dances I have performed with my Bulgarian, Greek, English and Cypriot friends in the church hall in Waterloo on a rainy Thursday night.

For another slice of Cyprus, you can choose one of the many Cypriot restaurants all over London, but I prefer the hive of activity at the Yasar Halim Bakery in Haringey. The bakery was opened by a Turkish Cypriot in 1981 and has everything you can imagine, from the sweet Tahini tachinopites, to the Cypriot doughnuts dipped in syrup, “loukoumades”, which are eaten with the semolina-filled shiamishi at fairs.

To join the class or attend a Greek folk dancing workshop visit or email The next Dance Around the World folk dancing festival, which has performances and workshops, takes place on 20 and 21 October. Visit to find out more.

Do you know any other instances where you can sample Cypriot culture in London? Let us know in the comments below.

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Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre Mon, 20 Feb 2012 10:51:36 +0000

School was out and fun was in, especially along London’s South Bank.

The Southbank Centre has been playing host to the ever popular Imagine Children’s Festival, which returns this year with even more attractions than usual. The good news is that although half-term may be over for most, the action-packed festival continues to run until Sunday 26 February.

I have never braved the Tube on my own with all three of my young men. Yet I felt compelled to conquer my fear of excitable little ones on busy platforms and venture up to Waterloo. I packed a bag with activity books, sharpened pencils and a delectable array of goodies. There was no moaning, no crying and the journey went remarkably smoothly.  

But when we arrived at the Royal Festival Hall, my heart sank. For there in the foyer was a lengthy queue of fed up parents, all surrounded by kids and similarly stuffed backpacks. They were all there for the free Become a Superhero workshop. Staff were on hand to help aspiring Supermen and Wonder Women create their very own super hero persona, complete with superpower and dazzling costume. The problem was that you needed to be super patient to stick out the lengthy wait of one hour or more! As patience has never been my super strength, my boys sadly missed out.

Another free attraction, the Imagine craft pavillion, was inundated too. So we went in search of a bespectacled man in a stripy red top called Wally. Yes, that’s right, he of Where’s Wally fame. The kids loved racing around the Royal Festival Hall in search of the popular book character, though they only found two “injured” cardboard cutouts behind the ticket desk. Probably not quite the idea, but they enjoyed themselves all the same.

After a quick pitstop for some ice cream sundaes at nearby Giraffe, we headed over to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for James Campbell’s Comedy 4 Kids. If you’re wondering what Comedy 4 Kids is, it’s exactly as it sounds. Comedian James Campbell performed an hour-long stand up set especially for those aged six and up. James, a father himself, clearly knows what makes kids tick and he really gets down to their level. He made jokes about scooters, school and the double entendre that is the Nintendo Wii! Of course, this led to a good 10 minutes of toilet-related humour, which obviously had the kids tickled pink (there were a many adults chortling away to themselves too).

The packed-out comedy performance was unfortunately a one-off at Imagine, but there is much, much more in store for families this week. Highlights include a chance to meet bestselling author Jacqueline Wilson and the London Book Swap.

Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre until 26 February 2012. Read more

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In Pictures: Crazy Coffins at the Royal Festival Hall Wed, 25 Jan 2012 14:12:30 +0000 Death isn’t all doom and gloom you know! Not with these colourful, unique and even humorous coffins currently on display at the Royal Festival Hall.

Boxed: Fabulous Coffins from UK and Ghana is a free exhibition displaying bespoke coffins from the collection of Pa Joe in Ghana and Crazy Coffins in Nottingham.

The display is part of the Southbank Centre’s Death-themed festival four days of music, performance, talks and poetry aiming to lift the (coffin) lid on the subject of death.

Boxed: Fabulous Coffins, in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall until 29 January 2012. Death Festival at the Southbank Centre, 27 to 30 January 2012

Photos by Baynes Media

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