The Best Things To Do In London This Autumn

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 10 months ago
The Best Things To Do In London This Autumn

Between the joys of summer's outdoor cinemas and bars, and the excitement of Christmas, there's a little thing called autumn. We've pulled together some of the best events happening in London in September, October and November 2021 to keep you going as the nights get darker and the days get colder.

Cultural events in London this autumn

TOTALLY THAMES: Totally Thames 2021 is a whole month of events celebrating our waterway. Talks, walks, live performances, film screenings, workshops and much more all feature on the programme. Learn about Rotherhithe's links to the Mayflower, take a boat trip to see the Illuminated River bridges, find out more about the mysterious Eel Pie Island, ogle beautiful vessels at the Classic Boat Festival, or try out all manner of activities on the water— and that's just a tiny snippet of the full programme. Various locations. 1-30 September 2021

OPEN HOUSE LONDON: This annual opportunity to get into, on top of, underneath and behind buildings which are usually closed to the public is like Christmas to London lovers. The lowdown: nine days (instead of the normal weekend!), more than 500 buildings which are normally off-limits, many free to visit. Here's a more detailed guide to Open House London 2021. All over London, 4-12 September 2021

Where will you visit for Open House London?

DOGGETT'S COAT AND BADGE: The Doggett's Coat and Badge Wager is a London tradition. Head to the banks of the Thames between London Bridge and Cadogan Pier to watch the boat race, organised by the Fishmongers' Company, with support from the Company of Watermen and Lightermen. It's one of London's oldest sporting events, having been established in 1715. 8 September 2021

PHOTO LONDON: The work of iconic and emerging photographers from all over the world is on display at Photo London at Somerset House. The fair includes and exhibition of works by war reporter Robert Capa, as well as workshops, artist talks and plenty of photos to admire. 8-12 September 2021

CHELSEA HISTORY FESTIVAL: If you thought Chelsea was all fancy shops and pastel-hued houses, Chelsea History Festival will make you think again. Spies, nursing, mudlarking and gardening in the local area are just some of the topics covered, with both in-person and virtual events, so you can join the fun even if you can't make it in person. 17-26 September 2021

Celebrate local history at Chelsea History Festival

LONDON DESIGN FESTIVAL: Installations, exhibitions, talks, workshops, guided tours and live art are just some of the events on the London Design Festival programme. One of the highlights is Medusa by Sou Fujimoto and Tin Drum, an installation at the V&A which moves and evolves based on the people visiting the space. More information on other events TBC. 18-26 September 2021

CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW: Normally you can set your watch to the Chelsea Flower Show, taking place in west London in May each year. But, things being what they are, it's taking place in September for the first time ever. Expect the usual mix of gorgeous gardens going head to head for recognition, including an NHS tribute garden, and pick up plenty of tips for improving your own green space. Plus, if you're visiting on the last day, hang around until the end of the day when the plants are all sold off — just think about how you're going to get that palm tree home on the tube. 21-26 September 2021

Same principle, different bridge: The Sheep Drive relocates to Southwark Bridge this year

SHEEP DRIVE: One of London's odder traditions, the Sheep Drive over the Thames is exactly what it sounds like — people herding sheep over the Thames crossing. This year the woolly creatures are being sent across Southwark Bridge rather than London Bridge. Places have sold out to have a go at the herding, but you can still turn up to watch (and consider making a donation to the Lord Mayor’s Appeal and the Woolmen’s Charitable Trust, as it's a charity event). 26 September 2021

UNDERBELLY: This year's Underbelly Festival finishes its first season at its new Cavendish Square location with a typically jam-packed programme. September highlight include 1940s-style party night Miss Kiddy and the Cads (get your gladrags on for that one), a live recording of comedy podcast Drunk Women Solving Crime, and cabaret comedy duo Frisky & Mannish. Kids are catered for too, with beatboxing and appearances by Basil Brush. Cavendish Square, until 26 September 2021

LONDON WONDERGROUND: Kids of all ages have until the end of September to enjoy giant fairground London Wonderground. Vintage rides, an urban beach, food and drink stalls, and live performances are all part of the fun. Our September picks include comedian Stephen K. Amos, a drag improv show, and late night variety show Stamptown. Until 26 September 2021

Find your new favourite artwork at The Other Art Fair

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: The 65th incarnation of the BFI London Film Festival takes place at various venues on South Bank and the West End, with some events also screened on BFI Player for those who can't make it in person. The full programme has yet to be announced, but will include red carpet nights, gala screenings and a special exhibition. 6-17 October 2021

ART FAIRS: Two of London's biggest art fairs take place in October, bringing members of the art industry from all over the globe back to the capital. Frieze London (13-17 October 2021) sets up shop in Regent's Park, with galleries showcasing work by contemporary artists in a variety of mediums. Over in east London, The Other Art Fair (14-17 October 2021) takes over The Old Truman Brewery, with a focus on artworks available for all budgets, from over 100 artists.

Costumes at the ready for MCM Comic Con

MCM COMIC CON: Dust off your cape, and check your superhero outfit still fits — MCM Comic Con is back at ExCel London. Immerse yourself in three days of all things pop culture, including a chance to meet TV and film stars, hear from industry insiders at panel discussions, take part in games, and show off your cosplay costume. 17-24 October

REMEMBRANCE: There are always special events in London around 11 November, to mark Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day. This year's details will be announced here in due course.

EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL: Get down with the trumpets as the EFG London Jazz Festival returns to live events following 2020's digital edition. It takes place at venues all over the capital, including Barbican, Royal Festival Hall and Cadogan Hall, and the programme includes a retrospective of the work of afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, and a joint performance by Dave Holland and John Scofield. 12-21 November 2021

Enjoy live music at the EFG London Jazz Festival

LORD MAYOR'S SHOW: If you like pomp and pageantry, don't miss the Lord Mayor's Show. The event marks the outgoing Lord Mayor being replaced by the new Lord Mayor, and takes the form of a river pageant, followed by a procession. Full details will be confirmed dependent on restriction in place at the time. 13 November 2021

FESTIVALS: If that's not enough to keep you busy, take a look at our complete guide to festivals happening in London this autumn, from music to food to history.

Exhibitions in London this autumn

Yinka Shonibare RA has coordinated the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition

GROUND ZERO: 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Imperial War Museum opens a photography exhibition about the aftermath. Wim Wenders: Photographing Ground Zero is a series of large-scale photographs taken by Wenders at the site in the two months after the attacks, as New York adapted to a new reality. 10 September-9 January

SUMMER EXHIBITION: After the last 18 months, seasons are meaningless, so the Royal Academy has shifted its famous Summer Exhibition into autumn and winter, with a theme of 'Reclaiming Magic'. Prints, paintings, sculpture, photography and film artworks are among this year's entries, which were coordinated by artist Yinka Shonibare RA. There's also an Architecture Room curated by David Adjaye RA, and new works by Phyllida Barlow RA, and William Kentridge RA. 22 September 2021-2 January 2022

KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI: Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai is best-known for his iconic print, The Great Wave. The British Museum's new exhibition is a chance to see beyond that, with 103 of Hokusai's drawings, dating from the 1820 to 1840s on display. 30 September-30 January

ONGOING EXHIBITIONS: Our pick of London's biggest exhibitions which are already open and continue into the autumn include:

Family-friendly events in London this autumn

Enjoy Ally Pally's Firework Festival

FIREWORK FESTIVAL: Ally Pally is leading the way in bonfire night events with its Fireworks Festival. Head to the north London behemoth for fairground rides, live music, food and drink, film screenings, an ice rink... oh, and a few whizzbangs thrown in too. 5-6 November. Keep an eye on our Bonfire Night guide, which we'll update with details of this year's events as and when they're announced.

ENCHANTED WOODLAND: Syon Park's grounds light up in all manner of colours as the Enchanted Woodland returns. The family-friendly trail winds through the woods and around the lake, with a variety of lighting effects to be seen, and ends in the great conservatory with a lively laser show, all set to music. Highly recommended if you've got kids to entertain. 12-28 November 2021

Wander through an Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park

CHRISTMAS AT KEW: Too early for the 'C' word? Probably, but after last year we all deserve to go big this year — and in our opinion, you can't do better than Christmas at Kew. The botanical gardens come alive after dark with twinkling fairylights, a photogenic light trails, laser shows, a fire garden and much more, all executed to perfection if previous years are anything to go by. 17 November 2021-9 January 2022

WINTER WONDERLAND: After taking a break in 2020, Winter Wonderland is back in Hyde Park, though things are a bit different this time round. You can still expect rides, an ice rink, circus shows, a Christmas market, food and drink stalls and much more, but this year, you'll need to prebook to enter the site. Entry fees depend on the time and day of your visit, though can be recouped if you spend £20 on rides etc. Hey, if it thins out the crowds a bit, that's no bad thing. 19 November 2021-3 January 2022

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is back - though you'll need to book your visit this year

ICE SKATING: London's Christmas ice rinks start opening from October — first up is the Natural History Museum, which usually opens in time for half term, and is entering its last ever season. We'll update our complete guide to where you can take to the ice this autumn and winter as details are announced.

Food and drink events in London this autumn

London Oktoberfest takes place in three venues across the capital

LONDON HALAL FOOD FESTIVAL: Now in its sixth year, the London Halal Food Festival brings more than 100 food stalls to west London, offering you a chance to sample Halal food from around the world. Watch celebrity chefs whipping up their own Halal dishes and, if you like what you see, stock up on ingredients at the Big Top Bazaar before you leave. Syon Park, 25-26 September 2021

OKTOBERFEST: Canary Wharf, Ealing and Canada Water are the chosen locations for three separate Oktoberfest London events. Head into the giant tent to enjoy live music, Bratwurst and of course, plenty of German beer.Various dates 30 September-13 November 2021

London Cocktail Week lasts a whole month

LONDON COCKTAIL MONTH: Though it's officially called London Cocktail Week, the booze-fuelled celebrations last a whole month. Buy your festival wristband (£15) to get access to £7 signature cocktails in participating bars throughout the event. Special menus, pop-ups and cocktail tours are also on the programme, with details TBC. 1-31 October 2021

LONDON RESTAURANT FESTIVAL: London Restaurant Festival runs for the entirety of October. Restaurants across the capital run special menus, and there are usually special events including restaurant-hoping tours, tastings and masterclasses. Keep an eye on the website for this year's details. 1-31 October 2021

Get festive at Taste of London

TASTE OF LONDON: A perpetual favourite with London's foodies, Taste of London returns with a festive edition at Tobacco Dock. For four days, more than 60 London restaurants serve up tasters of their menus, with live entertainment and 'fire-fuelled theatrics' going on around you. 18-21 November 2021

THANKSGIVING: As always, Thanksgiving falls on the last Thursday in November. Plenty of London restaurants usually serve up traditional feasts for American expats, and anyone else who fancies getting in on the action. This year, with many Americans in London unable to travel home, we suspect the celebrations here might be bigger than ever — we'll keep you updated with details as they're announced. 25 November 2021

Free events in London this autumn

Covent Garden has had a neon makeover

NEON WONDERLAND: Covent Garden's had a makeover, courtesy of artist Chila Burman. She's filled the South Hall of the historic market building with neon lights and signs, including peacocks, flowers and snakes. Do You See Words In Rainbows? is the official title of the installation, and it's free to visit. Until the end of October

CLASSIC BOAT FESTIVAL: Permission to step on board? Ogle 40 vintage vessels at the St Katharine Docks Classic Boat Festival, and see inside a few of them. Dunkirk Little Ships; the Havengore (which carried Winston Churchill's body during his funeral procession), and the Royal Rowbarge Gloriana are among the boats on display, and there's also live music and other entertainment. St Katharine Docks, 4-5 September

FRIEZE SCULPTURE: If Frieze Art Fair (mentioned above) is out of your price range, there's art to be ogled for free. For several weeks, sculptures are dotted around Regent's Park for Frieze Sculpture, a free trail that's open to everyone.  A giant head, a painted bronze pineapple and a piece made from recycled plastic bottles are among this year's line-up. Plus, the park looks fantastic as the leaves begin to turn. 14 September-31 October 2021

Enjoy free performances at West End Live

WEST END LIVE: If you love musicals, West End Live is THE festival for you — and it's free. For two days, Trafalgar Square hosts the stars of London's biggest musicals for a programme of lively sing alongs. Performers from & Juliet, The Book of Mormon, Hamilton, Mamma Mia!, Matilda the Musical and dozens more shows all take to the stage for renditions of their tunes. Note that although the event is unticketed, you'll need to show proof of your Covid-19 status to gain entry — more details on the website. Trafalgar Square, 18-19 September

FLOWER FESTIVALS: Traditionally, May is when London goes mad for flowers, thanks to the Chelsea Flower Show. But as that's moved to September this year, so too have its fringe festivals, Chelsea in Bloom and Belgravia in Bloom. Both are free, and both involve decadent floral arrangements appearing around the area on a certain theme (Chelsea: Extraordinary Voyages/Belgravia: Floral Fairground). Our tips? Wear comfy shoes, take a camera, and download a map from the respective website before you go. Chelsea 20-25 September/Belgravia 20-26 September

Ogle vintage vehicles on Regent Street

REGENT STREET MOTOR SHOW: Whether you're a massive petrolhead, are looking for a few new snaps for Instagram, or just enjoy the novelty of a traffic-free Regent Street, head down there to see vehicles dating back through 125 years of motoring. Classic and veteran vehicles as well as motorsport cars are all on show, and the event precedes the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run which takes place the next day. 6 November 2021

AUTUMN WALKS: London's parks and open spaces look fantastic as the leaves begin to change. We've picked some of our favourite places to walk in autumn, to catch the trees in their orange, red and gold finery.

Sports events in London this autumn

We've missed the sight of London Marathon runners passing the capital's landmarks

ICE HOCKEY: September sees the start of the ice hockey season again, with four teams to watch here in London. Here's everything you need to know before you go to your first match.

LONDON MARATHON: Another one that normally takes place in spring, the world-famous London Marathon has been moved to October this year, after missing 2020 entirely. The route remains the same, beginning in Blackheath and passing landmarks including the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace. If you're spectating, bear in mind that it may be wise to avoid larger crowds and opt for a quieter spot instead this year. 3 October 2021

ROYAL PARKS HALF: The Royal Parks Half Marathon takes runners on a route through four of the eight Royal Parks (Hyde Park, Green Park, St James's Park, Kensington Gardens), and other closed roads around central London. Get yourself a place via a charity, or turn up on the day to support the runners. 10 October 2021

NFL IN LONDON 2021: Tottenham Hotspur's stadium hosts two NFL games as part of the NFL in London series — see the New York Jets take on the Atlanta Falcons, or the Miami Dolphins face off against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Full details on getting tickets available here. 10-17 October

Last Updated 02 September 2021

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