Outdoor Culture In London: Where To Find Theatre, Films And Live Music Al Fresco This Summer

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 12 months ago
Outdoor Culture In London: Where To Find Theatre, Films And Live Music Al Fresco This Summer
Photo: Kew The Music

It can be a chilly 9°c but if the sun's out, us Londoners are in the beer garden — and we'll deal with the resulting pneumonia later. Want to make the most of being outside in London this summer? Here's our guide to experiencing the city's outdoor culture, including where to enjoy cinema, theatre, live music and art al fresco.

Outdoor cinema in London

The Luna Cinema at Hampton Court Palace

Outdoor cinema has been A Thing in London for a few years now. We've watched films in parks, gardens, palaces, swimming pools and on rooftops across the capital, and y'know what — it never gets old (though it does sometimes get cold).

The Luna Cinema

If a cinema screen can be squeezed into a space, Luna Cinema has probably shown films there. London venues include Dulwich Park, Clapham Common, Wimbledon Park, and the grounds of landmarks such as Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace. It's a bring-your-own chair or blanket situation, and films span classics and new releases. Refreshments are available to buy at Luna Cinema sites too.

Luna Cinema has also extended outside of London, pitching up at palaces, castles — and even wildlife parks — across the UK.

Luna Cinema, from 7 July 2022 in London.

Rooftop Film Club

Rooftop Film Club at Roof East

Specialising on films with a side of epic views, Rooftop Film Club has had a few different venues in London, but the old faithfuls are on top of the Bussey Building in Peckham, and Roof East in Stratford. Screenings are a mixture of classics and new releases, although Grease, Dirty Dancing, Top Gun, Back to the Future and the like are staples of the season, each getting a few airings each summer. Seating takes the form of deckchairs, provided and already arranged in front of the screen.

Rooftop Film Club, 2022 dates and details TBC.

Outdoor theatre in London

Photo: Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

You could spend many hours wandering Regent's Park, and still never stumble across its Open Air Theatre, located within the park's Inner Circle. The auditorium is completely exposed to the elements, with tiered seating for around 1,200 audience members.

There are usually three-four shows on the programme each summer, and at least a couple tend to be family-friendly (Peter Pan has been a favourite in the past). For 2022, the line-up is Legally Blonde, 101 Dalmatians, and a delve into Greek mythology with Antigone. There's usually a Shakespeare play, but that's as yet unconfirmed for this year.

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 13 May-24 September 2022.

Shakespeare's Globe

Photo: Globe Theatre

Probably London's most famous theatre, Shakespeare's Globe is another open-air experience, and though it's not the original theatre that existed in Shakespeare's time, it replicates the original playing conditions Shakespeare and his actors would have known. The roof takes a wooden 'O' shape, leaving the audience exposed to the elements, and there's room for up to 700 'groundlings' to stand in the 'yard' (though seating is available too).

Much Ado About Nothing, Julius Caesar, Henry VII and King Lear are on the bill for summer 2022 at Shakespeare's Globe.

The above are the only permanent outdoor theatre experiences that we know of, though some venues offer pop-up theatre experiences throughout the summer:

Keep an eye on the venues' websites for details of upcoming events.

Wintershall Players perform The Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square

One day a year, a 100-strong cast of Wintershall Players perform The Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square, in a show that's free to watch. The 90-minute production, which tells the story of the final days of the life of Jesus, takes place twice on Good Friday, and draws sizeable crowds each time. We spoke to Jesus himself (well, the actor playing him), back in 2019.

Outdoor live music in London

Photo: Opera Holland Park

London's not short of a music festival or two — dozens happen each year, taking over parks and commons for days or weekends of live music across all genres. But what about when you're looking for something a little more sophisticated? Read on...

Opera Holland Park

For a couple of months each summer, a temporary canopied auditorium pops up in Holland Park, festooned with all manner of lighting and sound gear. It acts as the base for Opera Holland Park, a performing arts charity which works in schools, care homes and the like throughout the year, but really comes into its own for its summer festival. Both classic and newer shows are performed — the summer 2022 season includes Carmen, HMS Pinafore, and the UK premiere of an operatic adaptation of Little Women.

Technically, it's a covered venue, although the canopy does have open sides, so we're calling it al fresco.  There's no dress code, though organisers recommend layers in case it gets chilly.

Opera Holland Park. Summer 2022 season runs 31 May-27 August.

Kew The Music

Photo: Kew The Music

With its wide open spaces and lush vegetation, Kew Gardens is the ideal backdrop for a sophisticated summer concert or two. Cue Kew The Music, a series of picnic concerts taking place each July. A stage and large screen is set up at the north end of the gardens, close to the Elizabeth Gate. Bring your own picnic chair or blanket, pack a picnic or buy food and drink on site — and enjoy live music in a relaxed and (hopefully) sunny setting.

2022's line-up includes Van Morrison, Bananarama, James Blunt, Will Young and James Morrison.

Kew The Music, 5-10 July 2022.

Hampton Court Palace Festival

Photo: Hampton Court Palace Festival

If you thought Kew was an impressive venue for a concert, what about seeing world-famous musicians performing against the backdrop of Hampton Court Palace? The Hampton Court Palace Festival is a series of outdoor concerts taking place in the Tudor courtyard each summer — all tickets are seated. The East Front Gardens open before the concert each night, where concertgoers can enjoy a picnic before the music begins — or there are VIP experiences, giving you access to the State Apartments where you can dine like royalty.

For 2022, pick from Elbow, McFly, George Benson, Jack Savoretti, Kacey Musgraves, The Human League, Michael Ball & Alfie Boe, and Crowded House.

Hampton Court Palace Festival, 10-25 July 2022.

Royal Opera House screenings in Trafalgar Square

BP Summer Big Screens is a series of free screenings of productions from the Royal Opera House, by both The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera. Keep an eye on the website for 2022 details.

See also:

Outdoor art in London

A mock up of people walking in through the tall entrance on the cylindrical pavilion
Serpentine Pavilion 2022, Black Chapel, designed by Theaster Gates. Design render, exterior view. © 2022 Theaster Gates Studio.

London has plenty of permanent outdoor art and sculpture trails — The Line is one such example. But here are a handful that are only around for a limited time:

The Serpentine Pavilion

Every year, a temporary Serpentine Pavilion pops up in Kensington Gardens, close to The Serpentine Gallery. The structure is designed by a different team of architects and artists each time, and open to the public for a couple of months. Most memorable for us was The Mastaba, a floating plastic pyramid on the Serpentine Lake by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

The 2022 Serpentine Pavilion is called Black Chapel, and is reminiscent of the chapels and the kilns of Stoke-on-Trent. It's the work of Chicago artist Theaster Gates with Adjaye Associates, and is open for the public to explore, 10 June-16 October 2022.

Sculpture in the City

Bloom Paradise by Jun T. Lai is part of the 10th edition of Sculpture in the City.

Usually running from autumn through to spring, Sculpture in the City is a free art trail through the Square Mile. Artworks range from standalone sculptures in squares and public spaces, to smaller works mounted onto the walls of buildings or suspended from ceilings at Leadenhall Market, to video projections, plaques and more. The 10th edition runs until 22 April 2022 — after that, keep an eye on the website for the next instalment.

Frieze Sculpture Park

Photo: Frieze

Every October, as Frieze Art Fair takes over vast swathes of Regent's Park with huge marquees, sculptures also pop up in other parts of the park, for the accompanying Frieze Sculpture Trail. This is a free open-air sculpture exhibition open to everyone. Artists, themes and individual sculptures vary annually.

Frieze Sculpture Park, check website for October 2022 dates.

A couple of things to note:

  • Dress appropriately for an outdoor setting — layers are your friend. Even if it's been a scorching hot day in London, things get chilly as soon as the sun sets, and many of the above events go in late into the evening.
  • Check venues' booking conditions — most don't offer a refund for iffy weather unless it's bad enough that the performance or screening can't go ahead for safety reasons.

Last Updated 23 March 2022

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