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

Last Updated 10 May 2024

Outdoor Culture And Activities In London: Where To Find Theatre, Films And Live Music Al Fresco This Summer
Outdoor activities London: two women taking a selfie in the Opera Holland Park auditorium
Opera Holland Park is a highlight of the summer culture scene. Image: Ali Wright

Doesn't matter if it's a chilly 9°c; if the sun's out, us Londoners are out too — and we'll deal with the resulting pneumonia later. Want to make the most of being outside this summer? Here's our guide to experiencing the city's outdoor culture — think cinema, theatre, live music and art al fresco, plus other outdoor activities.

Outdoor cinema in London

Outdoor activities London: people sitting in deckchairs watching a large cinema screen on a rooftop
Rooftop Film Club shows films at two al fresco venues

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).

Summer 2024 is looking like a good'un for fans of al fresco films — Rooftop Film Club and Adventure Cinema are among the roving movie theatres popping up in the capital, and there are plenty of free outdoor movie screenings too. Read our guide to outdoor cinemas in London and get booking!

Outdoor theatre in London

A full house at the Regent's Park amphitheatre
Regent's Park's outdoor theatre seats 1,200. Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

You could spend many hours wandering Regent's Park, and still never stumble across its Open Air Theatre, hidden 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 or 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). The season's longer than ever this year, beginning in March and running through until the end of September. For 2024, we're treated to no fewer than five different productions; Bear Snores On, Twelfth Night (they always slip a Shakespeare work in there somewhere), The Enormous Crocodile, The Secret Garden and Fiddler on the Roof. Comedy, film and music is sometimes hosted here too.

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 23 March-21 September 2024.

Things to do outdoors in London: the exterior of Shakespeare's Globe
The OG outdoor theatre. Image: Shakespeare's Globe

Shakespeare's Globe

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

Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, The Taming of the Shrew, Antony & Cleopatra and the Comedy of Errors are on the bill for summer 2024 at Shakespeare's Globe. In addition to these works from the Bard's own quill, look out for Rough Magic, a family-friendly production based on the Weird Sisters from Macbeth, and Princess Essex, a new play about an Edwardian seaside beauty pageant. Top tip: if you're on a budget, hold out for the £5 Rush, which sees a limited number of last-minute £5 groundling tickets made available every Friday at 11am.

Two cast members from Much Ado About Nothing,  posing in costume in front of a wall of flowers
Much Ado About Nothing is on the summer 2024 programme. Image: Shakespeare's Globe/The Other Richard

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

Outdoor live music in London

Outdoor activities London: exterior of Opera Holland Park
Opera Holland Park has its own pop-up venue. Image: Ali Wright

London's not short of a music festival or two — dozens take over parks and commons for days or weekends of live music across all genres, and we've covered them in our guide to London music festivals 2024. 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 2024 season include a double dose of Puccini (Tosca, and Edgar), Handel's Acis and Galatea, The Barber of Seville, and performances by the Royal Ballet School. There are even free lunchtime recitals on selected Fridays, taking place on the steps in Holland Park and open to anyone.

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 but organisers recommend layers in case it gets chilly.

Opera Holland Park. Summer 2024 season begins 28 May.

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.

2024's line-up includes Mika, Ronan Keating, Passenger and Beverley Knight. Also part of the series is an evening with gardener Monty Don. We're assuming no singing will take place as part of that show.

Kew The Music, 8-14 July 2024.

Outdoor culture in London: bandstands and a stage set up in front of Hampton Court Palace
Image: Hampton Court Palace Festival

Hampton Court Palace Festival

If you thought Kew was an impressive concert venue, 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 show each night, where concertgoers can enjoy a picnic — or there are King's Dining VIP experiences, giving you access to the State Apartments, where you can dine like royalty.

For 2024, Tom Jones, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Jack Savoretti, Sam Ryder, Bjorn Again, Sheryl Crow, Deacon Blue, Paloma Faith and Jessie J are on the line up.

Hampton Court Palace Festival, 11-21 June 2024.

See also:

Outdoor art in London

Artist's impression of the 2024 Serpentine Pavilion
Serpentine Pavilion 2024 designed by Minsuk Cho, Mass Studies. Design render, exterior view. Photo © Mass Studies Courtesy: Serpentine

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 2024 Serpentine Pavilion is Archipelagic Void, designed by  Seoul-based architect Minsuk Cho and Mass Studios. The structure is reminiscent of a shooting star or fairy wand when seen from above. It features five themed 'islands' designed around an open space, which is apparently inspired by a form of traditional Korean house It'll be in situ 7 June-27 October 2024.

Wild in Art free sculpture trails

Even if you've not head of Wild in Art, odds are that you've seen their work. They specialise in themed sculpture trails popping up all over London and beyond, usually for charity. For summer 2024, that includes Paws on the Wharf in Canary Wharf (until 17 May), Kingston Bear Hunt Trail (until 7 June), and Big Fun Art Adventure (17 August-13 October). All are free to view.

School children gathered around a Guide Dogs sculpture on a plinth
Paws on the Wharf is one of three Wild in Art sculpture trails in London this summer. Image: Matt Crossick/PA wire.

Sculpture in the City

Usually running from summer through to the following 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 12th edition finished in spring 2024 — keep an eye on the website for details of the next round.

Frieze Sculpture Park

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. Check the website later in the year for October 2024 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.