Things To Do In London Between 5pm And 7pm On A Weekday

By Sandra Lawrence Last edited 86 months ago
Things To Do In London Between 5pm And 7pm On A Weekday
Evening descends on the City. Photo: Wendy Dobing

So you've finished work and you've got plans for later. But there are still two hours to kill. It's too late for cafés, too early for supper and you don't belong to a private members' club. Sure, the pubs are open but the good ones are standing room only.

In Paris, cinq à sept — five to seven o'clock in the evening — is a delicious opportunity. A time for meeting with friends, book signings, talks, exhibition previews and — if you're an old-school French politician — assignations with your mistress before returning to your country estate and the family meal. Here in London, it's l'heure de la mort.... or is it?

Here are a few suggestions for a capital cinq à sept in the centre.

Visit a museum

The obvious cultural choice. Most National collections and several smaller museums host a late opening one night of the week or month.

A late at the National Portrait Gallery


British Museum: Fridays, until 8.30pm. A civilised way to start the weekend.

Wellcome Collection: One of the very best places for a refined rush hour, the collection is open to 10pm on Thursday nights and, once a month, Fridays too.

National Portrait Gallery: another top choice. Thursdays and Fridays to 9pm, often with extra events.

National Gallery: Fridays, to 9pm

V&A: Fridays, to 10pm but can get crowded.

Tate Modern: Fridays and Saturdays to 10pm

Museum of London and Museum of London Docklands: an exception with no weekly late opening. However their galleries close at 5.40pm (for a 6pm kick-out) so you can at least enjoy 40 minutes of culture. Like most other museums they have one-off late events.

Royal Academy: another gallery with no regular late opening, though again open to 6pm, last entry 5.30pm

Hooray! The Wellcome Collection is open late on Thursday. Photo: Mac Spud


Wellcome Collection: First Friday, in addition to the regular Thursday lates.

Science Museum: Last Wednesday, until 10pm, though annoyingly it doesn't open until 6.45pm

Natural History Museum: Last Friday, to 10pm

Sir John Soane Museum: First Tuesday, by candlelight. Requires queuing; admission for first 200 people.


Tate Britain

William Morris Gallery

Hang out with the Newton statue at the British Library. Photo: Darrell Godliman

Visit a library

The traditional choice for losing that awkward couple of hours. Westminster's libraries are usually open to 7pm/ 8pm on weekdays.

Westminster Arts Reference Library: a delightful way to cram a little culture. Upstairs in Westminster Reference Library, it boasts arts-specific books that go way beyond Google...

Barbican Library: on Tuesdays the library is open to 7.30pm.

British Library: You'll need a reader card to visit the library itself, but the free exhibitions in the foyer galleries are open to 8pm Monday -Thursday

Attend a platform event

The National Theatre holds regular early evening events, from talks and courses to free foyer concerts.

Hear an organ recital

London has a thriving circuit of (mainly) free organ recitals in (mainly) church/cathedral settings. Check the schedule for dates and times.

Play the piano

More interested in playing than listening? At Westminster Music Library you can play the digital Yamaha piano for free, book a music room, browse the sheet music or check out Edwin Evans's 44,000-strong, historical press cuttings collection until 7pm on weekdays.

Play the ukulele

The splendid all-comers-welcome Ukulele Wednesdays jam has been going for more a decade. Turn up at 6.30pm if you want food and a gossip first.

Attend a lecture

In 1597 Sir Thomas Gresham founded a series of free lectures and, for the past 400 years some of the world's finest speakers have spent an hour speaking on all manner of strange subjects to any Londoners who care to listen. Sometimes held in Barnard's Inn Hall, Guildhall or the Lloyds Building, the Gresham Lectures are now so popular they usually take place at the Museum of London, usually at either 1pm or 6pm (the latter perfect for cinq à sept).

Take a swim

Many swimming pools are open in the Awkward Hour, including the central and open-to-all Camden Oasis and Marshall Street Baths. In the warmer months, go for Serpentine Lido or Hampstead Ponds.

Oasis Leisure Centre. Photo: Matt Brown

Go bowling

Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes will throw in a karaoke room for half-price if you book a lane for weekdays before 6pm.

Coffee and culture

Of course there are some cafés that don't close at 5pm, not least the venerable Bar Italia (which never seems to close) and the delightful Coffee, Cake and Kisses in Fitzrovia, which stays open to 6pm. A particularly fine choice is the Camera Museum in Museum Street which, in addition to a repair shop and teeny-tiny museum of — obviously — cameras, serves good coffee, has comfortable up and downstairs seating and is open until 7pm Monday to Saturday, 6pm Sundays.

Listen to a debate

The House of Commons and the House of Lords often debate into the night. UK residents and visitors can sit in the public gallery to witness proceedings. At busy times there will be long queues, other times you can walk straight in. Westminster Hall debates are also free and, on Mondays, go on until 7.30pm.

Photo: Martyn Photographyy

Go for a walk

There are hundreds of guided walks pounding what has to be every London pavement at every hour of the day with every conceivable theme. It's not within the remit of this feature to even scratch the surface of all the offerings but London Walks is as good a place to start as any.

Spend, spend, spend

Gone are the days of Late Night Shopping on Thursdays. In Oxford Street Land the stores open every evening until 9pm. Thursdays now see Ultra Late Night Shopping, until 10pm (Sundays 6pm). Go on pay day.

Cocktail hour

Yes, yes, we know we said we're avoiding pubs. But cocktail bars are different, no? Here's Londonist's pick of the best cocktail happy hours.

London Cocktail Club

Quaff some oysters

Like the champagne you'll be drinking them with, oysters don't count as proper food, so necking them at a pound a pop during Oyster Happy Hour at Wright Brothers won't ruin your appetite for dinner later. Honest. 3pm-6pm every day.

Find yourself a lover

Take a leaf out of French politicians' little black books, find a lover and rediscover the romantic charms of cinq à sept. Of course if you're only looking for somewhere warm and dry between 5pm and 7pm you might want to make sure they live in zone 1.

We welcome your suggestions for other things to do in the dreary perineum of a London day…

Last Updated 03 February 2017