Whether you've got time to kill before meeting a friend or catching a train, you're staying out late to avoid annoying housemates, or you just fancy doing something different but don't have much cash to splash, here's a guide to free things to do every evening in London. Well, it beats mooching around Westfield again.
Some events are weekly, others are monthly — always worth checking with the venue before you go, to make sure it's not been cancelled that particular week.
Know of something we're missed? Share it in the comments and help your fellow Londoners out.
Alibi Film Club (weekly)
Every Monday night, The Alibi in Dalston screens a film for free. Amelie, Tron, Layer Cake, Juno, Clueless and Godzilla are just some of the films that have made appearances in the past — keep an eye on the events page to see what's being screened this week. It's followed by free karaoke. Free entry, just turn up, weekly, from 6.30pm
The Make Escape (monthly)
The Make Escape is a free craft night. It usually takes place on the first night of each month, at Hackney Attic. Make something based on that month's theme, or bring your current project to work on. Stay for the whole evening, or just drop in for a little while — it's pretty relaxed. Free entry, just turn up, monthly, 7.30pm-11pm
John Soane's Museum late opening (monthly)
On the first Tuesday of every month, Sir John Soane's Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields opens late, letting visitors explore the collection by candlelight. This one's always popular, with long queues, so get there well ahead of the opening to guarantee entry. Free, just turn up, monthly, 6pm-9pm
City of London Police Museum late opening (weekly)
Did you know that the City of London Police are the proud holders of an Olympic medal? Find our more at the City of London Police Museum, which tells the history of the force through interesting stories and objects — and stays open later on Wednesday nights. Free, just turn up, weekly, until 7.30pm
I Knit London (weekly)
If you're at one with your needles, head to I Knit London, the knitting shop on Lower Marsh in Waterloo, to meet like-minded knitters and have a pint or two as you crack on with your latest project. Weekly, Wednesday and Thursday, 5.30pm-8.30pm
South London Gallery late opening (weekly)
South London Gallery, on the Peckham/Camberwell border, stays open late every Wednesday for an extra chance to see the ever changing contemporary art collection. The museum's cafe, The Habit, is also open late, offering special deals on food. Free entry, just turn up, weekly, until 9pm
Around once a month, usually on a Wednesday, PubSci ('Pub Science' to the uninitiated) brings an interesting guest to their meeting, usually a pub in London Bridge, to talk on a certain topic. Past guests have included museum curators, rainforest ecologists, authors, science writers, zoologists, funeral embalmers and more. Talking on topics as broad as burial rituals, the number of different species on earth and the refurbishment of historic buildings. Usually the first Wednesday of the month, but check the website for details of future events. Free (although there's usually a whipround to cover the guest's costs, to which donations are appreciated), just turn up, monthly, 6pm-7pm
National Army Museum late (monthly)
The recently renovated National Army Museum in Chelsea stays open until 8pm on the first Wednesday of every month. Explore the galleries after the daytime crowds have gone home, and find out what it's like to serve in the military, learn about military traditions and see artefacts including the skeleton of Napoleon's horse. Free entry, just turn up, monthly, until 8pm
Science Museum late (monthly)
On the last Wednesday of the month, Science Museum is open late for adults only. There's a different theme each time with talks and events along this theme — or, just explore the museum without any kids underfoot. You will have to pay for some of the events and access to certain exhibitions, but other than that, it's free. You'll find us on the dancefloor at the silent disco. Free entry, just turn up (there may be a queue to get in at busy times), monthly, 6.45pm-10pm
Whitechapel Gallery late opening (weekly)
This east London art gallery keeps its doors open late every Thursday. Occasionally there are special events coinciding with the late opening, usually giving further insight into one of the current exhibitions, but there's often a charge for these. Free entry, just turn up, weekly, until 9pm
National Portrait Gallery late opening (weekly)
Thursday and Friday is late night opening at the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square, giving you three extra hours to ogle paintings and drawings of people you don't even know. Handy if you've got time to kill before meeting a friend in the West End, or catching a train from Charing Cross. Free entry, just turn up, weekly, until 9pm
Wellcome Collection late opening (weekly)
We're big fans of Wellcome Collection, the self-declared "destination for the incurably curious", and have often taken advantage of its late opening on a Thursday as an extra chance to catch whatever exhibition's currently on (an exhibition you'd probably have to queue to see at the weekend, especially if it's recently opened or closing soon). Handily located if you've got spare time before catching a train from nearby Euston. It also has lates on the first Friday of some months. Free entry, just turn up, weekly, until 10pm
British Museum late opening (weekly)
Did you know that the British Museum stays open late once a week — or at least, certain galleries do. Again, it's a chance to have a wander around without the usual tourist crowds. Free entry, just turn up, weekly, until 8.30pm
National Gallery late opening (weekly)
Trafalgar Square's National Gallery stays open late every Friday, if you prefer to start your weekend with culture rather than cocktails. See work by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Van Gogh for free, with fewer tourist crowds than you'd get in the daytime. Free entry, just turn up, weekly, until 9pm
Next door, the National Portrait Gallery is also open until 9pm every Friday (see Thursday section for further details)
Tate Modern late opening (weekly)
If the Trafalgar Square behemoths don't offer enough late night culture for you, go a bit more contemporary at Tate Modern. The riverside gallery is open until 10pm every Friday and Saturday night. Once you're done with the art, head upstairs for the views, over the river, St Paul's Cathedral... and the neighbours. Free entry, just turn up, weekly, until 10pm
Natural History Museum late (monthly)
On the last Friday of the month, enjoy exhibitions, talks and science demos at the Natural History Museum's late night opening. Explore the galleries after hours for free, or pay a little extra to view the current exhibitions or take part in other events. There's a bar, and snacks available to buy too. Free entry, just turn up, monthly, 6pm-10pm
V&A Museum late (monthly)
Once you're done at the Natural History Museum, why not pop across the road to the V&A, which also stays open late on the last Friday of the month. Again, explore the museum when the daytime tourists have left. Talks and other events take place throughout the evening. Free entry, just turn up, monthly, 6.30pm-10pm
Comedy troupe The RH Experience puts on a free show in London Bridge, usually on the first or second Friday of the month. RH & Friends showcases new and established comedians, and takes place at The Miller pub. Check the schedule for upcoming events. Free entry, just turn up, monthly, 7.30pm-10.45pm
Tate Britain late (every other month)
Stay late at Tate Britain roughly every other month. Late at Tate is an opportunity to explore the gallery after hours, often with live music, plus plenty of hands-on activities. Free entry, just turn up, alternate months, 6pm-10pm
God's Own Junkyard (weekly)
If you find yourself at the northern end of the Victoria line with time to kill, head to neon art warehouse God's Own Junkyard. It's the sort of place that has to be seen to be believed, and it's open until 9pm on a Friday. Free entry, just turn up, weekly, until 9pm
Friday Night Skate
Got energy to burn, as well as time to kill? Get your skates on for the London Friday Night Skate, a free, group skate — everyone's welcome, as long as they've mastered the basics of skating. It starts at Hyde Park Corner, with specific route information published mid-week. A word of warning — if the weather's iffy, check before you go, as it's sometimes cancelled. Free, just turn up, weekly, from 8pm
If that's not enough to keep you busy, or you've got a specific date in mind, take a look at what's on at these venues and institutions:
- The British Library is open until 8pm Monday-Thursday every week, although different parts of the building close at different times.
- Gresham College runs some excellent free lectures on a range of topics, from history to politics to maths, and much more. Lectures run in term time only — some take place on weekday lunchtimes, while others take place in the early evening, at various locations around London.
- Similarly, LSE regularly hosts lectures by its experts on a variety of topics. They're normally on Wednesday or Thursday nights, but check the programme to see what's coming up.
- If you can stretch to the price of a drink or two, Drink, Shop & Do in King's Cross holds regular quirky events. Plenty of them are free entry, including craft events such as making your own Beyonce style halo, and building a robot out of Lego.
- Namco Funscape in County Hall (by the London Eye) is trying to be what the Trocadero used to be (*nostalgic sigh*). It's got loads of video games, plus all manner of other amusements. Entry is free — how much you pay once you get in there is up to you. It's open until midnight every night.
- If you're killing time on South Bank, perhaps waiting for a train out of Waterloo, or a show at Southbank Centre itself, head inside and take a ride on London's singing lift.
- Angel Comedy often puts on free comedy nights across its two venues. There's usually no admission fee for the RAW and Pro Night events — although do check before you turn up, and it's worth getting there early for the free events, as the venues are intimate and seating limited.
- Book shops are an excellent source of free events — author talks, discussion groups, book launches. Waterstones and Foyles are the big ones in London, but it's worth keeping an eye on the city's indy bookshops too.