71 Marvellous Things To Do In London In May 2023

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71 Marvellous Things To Do In London In May 2023

Things to do this month is sponsored by Go City.

Events in London in May:  two people standing on a canalboat surrounded by bunting at the Canalway Cavalcade
Head to Little Venice for the Canalway Cavalcade. Photo: garryknight via creative commons

1. BANK HOLIDAYS: Monday 1 May is a bank holiday, as is Monday 8 May and Monday 29 May, so you'll be needing our guide to spending a bank holiday weekend in London.

2. CANALWAY CAVALCADE: If you go down to the canal over the May Day bank holiday, you're in for a big surprise. Dozens of canal boats moor up in Little Venice for the Canalway Cavalcade, a vibrant festival with live music, children's activities and boat-based fun. FREE, 29 April-1 May

3. DEPTFORD JACK: It wouldn't be a bank holiday in London without a bizarre tradition taking place somewhere. Enter the Deptford Jack in the Green, a traditional procession around the Deptford area which was revived by the Blackheath Morris Men in the 1980s. The central character is the Jack in the Green, a man covered in a frame of greenery. Starts and finishes at the Dog & Bell. FREE, 1 May

4. ROCKY HORROR: Legendary musical The Rocky Horror Show opens at The Peacock Theatre at Sadler's Wells for a six-week run starring Strictly Come Dancing winner, Ore Oduba. From 3 May

5. ARAB WOMEN FILMMAKERS: Holborn's The Garden Cinema hosts Mukhrijat: Arab Women Filmmakers, a film festival showing recent key feature films made by Arab women directors that tell everyday human stories from the Arab world. Q&A sessions and other events also feature on the progamme. 4-19 May

Events in London in May:  a woman pulling a pint at Brew LDN beer festival
Brew LDN holds its last ever event at Printworks

6. DUNKIRK AT THE DOCKS: Over the Coronation weekend (more on which below), St Katharine Docks hosts a Dunkirk at the Docks Classic Boat Festival,  thought to be 'the largest UK gathering of Dunkirk Little Ships in years'. 35 of the vessels used in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 are on display, with a tea dance and other events taking place on dry land over the weekend too. 5-8 May

7. BREW LDN: Beer festival Brew LDN is back, taking over Printworks in Rotherhithe for two days of craft beer, cider, food and music — it's last time the event will be held at the venue, which is closing soon. Sample drinks from a range of breweries — including Badger Brewery, Cloak and Dagger Brewing, Freedom Brewery, Toast Ale, and more. 5-6 May

8. THE TACOVER: Apparently London's only taco festival, The Tacover is at Signature Brew in Walthamstow, celebrating Mexican Street food. Held in association with the Mexican embassy, the foodie event champions authentic Mexican owned brands from across the UK, with 30 taco vendors (including vegan and Halal options) present at four sessions across two days. 6-7 May

9. CORONATION WEEKEND: The biggest event in London in May 2023 is of course the coronation of King Charles III. We've got the lowdown on what's happening for the coronation, royal-themed events that weekend, special coronation afternoon teas — and how to avoid the coronation altogether if it's just not your thing. 6-8 May

10. GARDEN OPEN DAYS: Did you know that on a few weekends each year, you can visit the Hampton Court Palace  gardens for free? The Garden Open Days offer free access to the grounds (excluding the maze and Magic Garden playground), and there are three of them this month (though note that the first one is part of a coronation screening event, so likely to be very busy, plenty of Union Jacks, that kind of vibe). FREE, 6 and 20-21 May

Events in London in May:  a taco at Tacover Festival
Taco look at what's on offer at The Tacover

11. LONDON CRAFT WEEK: Quilts? Tick. Paper flowers? Of course. Keyrings made from eggshells? Naturally. Find out about some of the more unusual things being made here in the capital at London Craft Week. Workshops, demonstrations, talks and workshop tours feature in the programme, showcasing the handiwork of London's makers. 8-14 May

12. PHOTO LONDON: International fair Photo London is back at Somerset House for a celebration of all things snap happy. As well as a chance to collect and purchase photos from around the world, there are talks, tours and workshops on all aspects of photography. 10-14 May

13. OPEN AIR THEATRE: The Regent's Park Open Air Theatre kicks off its season with a production of Once On This Island, a musical about prejudice, set in the Caribbean. Watch the show at the open-air auditorium, located in the middle of Regent's Park. Read our guide to outdoor culture for more al fresco fun this summer. From 10 May

14. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN: 2005 film Brokeback Mountain has been made into a 'play with music', coming to Soho Place for two months. It's the story of cowboys Ennis and Jack who take isolated jobs in 1960s Wyoming, and find themselves in a complex relationship. Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges star in this world premiere production. From 10 May

15. QUEER COMEDY CLUB: Have you heard? London's getting a dedicated LGBTQ+ comedy club, offering a safe space for LGBTQ+ comedians. The Queer Comedy Club in Archway has its inaugural show on Thursday 11 May, featuring Josh Jones, Dee Allum, Ben Pollard and Kathy Maniura. 11 May

Events in London in May:  a woman taking a photo of a display of artworks at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead
Prices start at £50 at the Affordable Art Fair.

16. WIMBLEDON ART FAIR: More than 150 artists exhibit at Wimbledon Art Fair, giving you a chance to purchase artworks directly from their creators. There's also a rare opportunity to go inside artists' studios. FREE ENTRY, 11-14 May

17. AFFORDABLE ART FAIR: In fact There's a double dose of art fairs this weekend as the Affordable Art Fair pitches up in Hampstead, selling thousands of contemporary artworks with prices starting at £50. 11-14 May

18. DISNEY 100: This year marks 100 years since the founding of the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, so there are plenty of Disney 100 events taking place around the world, including an immersive Disney experience right here in London. The Wonder of Friendship involves four themed rooms, namely: the Alice in Wonderland Garden of Mystery; the Lilo & Stitch Ohana Bay; the Lion King Orchestral Oasis; and the Mickey and Friends Wonderverse, and is recommended for people 18+. From 12 May

19. MRS DOUBTFIRE: HELLO poppets! Legendary Robin Williams film Mrs Doubtfire has been turned into a stage musical, making its London debut at the Shaftesbury Theatre, telling the story of a separated father who assumes the role of nanny Euphegenia Doubtfire in a bid to see his children. From 12 May

20. KENSINGTON DOLLSHOUSE FESTIVAL: Experience life in miniature at the Kensington Dollshouse Festival. 120 top miniaturists from around the world exhibit and sell their works for anyone looking to kit out their own dolls house, plus there are displays, kids' activities and more. 12-13 May

Events in London in May:  three women looking at tiered wedding cakes at the Rock N Roll Bride Live Wedding Fair
Rock And Roll Bride Live is not your normal wedding fair

21. DULWICH FESTIVAL: Theatre, music, talks, dancing, fairs, exhibitions and more form part of the full-to-brimming Dulwich Festival programme, which celebrates the history and culture of the local area. Highlights include the artists' open house weekend, and Dulwich Park Fair. Some events FREE, 12-21 May

22. EUROVISION: If you're partial to sequins, disco balls and cheese by the truckload, put 13 May in your diary. That's the date of the Eurovision final, and the celebrations are likely to be bigger than ever this year, as the action is held on home turf in Liverpool — on behalf of last year's winner, Ukraine. Here's our guide to London Eurovision parties and screenings. 13 May

23. RUISLIP LIDO RAILWAY: Choo choo! The Ruislip Lido Railway (which we're partial to riding ourselves) holds a Gala Weekend, where the public can get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to keep the railway running. Visit the workshop and yard, sit in some of the locomotives on display, and — if you like what you see — find out about becoming a volunteer there.  13-14 May

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Forget messing about with multiple tickets or the stress of tracking your budget while you're out and about — with Go City you make one simple purchase and you're done. There's the Go City London Explorer Pass, which lets you pick from a set number of attractions (2-7). It's valid for 60 days, so it's a great shout for London locals as well as those visiting from further afield. But if you really want to cram in as many experiences as possible, you'll want to opt for the London Pass. This one gives you unlimited access to Go City's list of attractions across 1-10 days. PSA: there's plenty to tempt you, so don't be surprised if you finish your trip with very tired legs.

So, what exactly could you be getting up to then? Explore the likes of Hampton Court Palace, Tower Bridge Shakespeare's Globe. Climb aboard the Cutty Sark — or over the roof of The O2! Or just take it easy with a round of crazy golf followed by a chocolate cocktail. That's just a smidgen of what Go City has in store for you in London alone — and it's available in 30 cities worldwide, so you can make use of it on other adventures, too!

24. BRIDGES OF BRITAIN WALK: Sign up to walk seven miles across 11 London bridges in aid of charity Lymphoma Action. Join the route in person and walk from Vauxhall Bridge to Tower Bridge, or sign up to walk a similar distance remotely, in your own local area. 14 May

25. ROCK N ROLL BRIDE: Planning your wedding, but not much of a traditionalist? Rock N Roll Bride Live is probably the wedding fair for you, specialising in alternative wedding suppliers, (think rainbow cakes, skull rings, neon signs), plus talks, workshops and goody bags. 14 May

Events in London in May:  a display of books in glass cabinets at the Firsts rare book fair at Saatchi Gallery
Shakespeare is the focus of this year's Firsts rare book fair. Photo: Clare Hughes Photography

26. PUPPET FESTIVAL: One of those unique London events we love, the Covent Garden May Fayre & Puppet Festival is back. It celebrates the first recorded production of a Mr Punch show, as seen/recorded by Samuel Pepys in Covent Garden in 1662, and draws puppeteers from all over the country for a procession, church service, shows, stalls and workshops. FREE, 14 May

27. URBAN VILLAGE FETE: Live music and dancing, street food stalls, crafting workshops, and talks on topics including sports and sustainability are all part of the Urban Village Fete. It's a family-friendly event taking over Greenwich Peninsula. FREE entry (charge for some workshops), 14 May

28. MODEL RAILWAY OPEN DAY: Head to King's Cross for the Spring Open Day at the world's oldest model railway club. Chat to current members and see some of their layouts in action, as well as others still under construction. Free, 14 May

29. MAUSOLEUM TOUR: Take a rare tour of the Kilmorey Mausoleum in Twickenham and the surrounding garden — listening to stories about its secret tunnel from local guides. There's also a plant sale, and tips from wildlife experts. 14 May

30. KITE DAY: Let's go fly a kite... at the annual Streatham Common Kite Day. Watch demonstrations by kite-flying experts from all over the world, with models of up to 30 metres in length taking to the skies. Take your own kite along to join in, or simply wander around enjoying live music and food stalls, while the action takes place overhead. FREE, 14 May

Events in London in May:  a photograph of seven women sitting down, wearing saris in different prints and colours - part of The Offbeat Sari at Design Museum
The Offbeat Sari opens at Design Museum. Photo: Bikramjit Bose

31. GRAND FLANEUR WALK: 'The most dandified walk of a lifetime' is how organisers describe the Grand Flaneur Walk, a stroll without purpose, with participants wearing their finest dandy, flaneur or fop outfits — think top hats, handlebar moustaches, pocket squares, pocket watches, the works! FREE, 14 May

32. HOT AIR BALLOONS: We've got our fingers crossed that the weather conditions are ideal for the Lord Mayor's Hot Air Balloon Regatta, which sees dozens of balloons gliding over the London skyline early one Sunday morning. It hasn't taken place since 2019, and there are two dates in May and one in July set aside for it this year. FREE, 14/21 May

33. HUNTERIAN REOPENS: Closed since 2019, the Hunterian Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields finally reopens this month. It contains 14,000 specimens belonging to 18th century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter, and tells the history of surgery using various instruments, drawings, models and the like. FREE, 16 May

34. DEF LEPPARD: All five members of rock band Def Leppard take time out from their current tour to appear on stage together at Southbank Centre for the launch of new book, Definitely: The Official Story of Def Leppard. The book is narrated by the band and features photographs from their personal archives. 16 May

35. BEATING THE BOUNDS: We love London's many unusual traditions and customs, including Beating the Bounds, an ancient ritual still observed at the church of All Hallows by the Tower and scheduled for 18 May 2023. Watch as members of the Clergy and Livery Companies visit each parish boundary to pray for protection and blessings — including boarding a boat to reach a boundary marker in the middle of the Thames. FREE, 18 May

Events in London in May:  a black and white photo of Indian indenture ship SS Chenab, part of the Indo-Caribbean display at Museum of London Docklands
Indo + Caribbean: The creation of a culture opens at Museum of London Docklands. Image: Indian indenture ship SS Chenab by A.G Linney © Museum of London

36. KINGSTON BEER FESTIVAL: Kingston Workmen's Club and Institute — just a few minutes' walk from the station — hosts the Kingston Beer Festival. Sample some of 70 ales — many brewed locally — and 11 ciders and perries. The event supports charity Princess Alice Hospice. 18-20 May

37. RARE BOOKS: Books, original manuscripts, letters and rare items are all for sale at the annual Firsts: London's Rare Book Fair. Taking place at Chelsea's Saatchi Gallery, this year it has a theme of 'Shakespeare: 400 Years of Influence',with special focus on rare editions and objects related to the Bard's works. An original Peggy Fortnum illustration of Paddington Bear, a first edition of Moby Dick, and a rare signed presentation copy of Karl Marx's Das Kapital are among the other highlights.  18-21 May

38. CHINA'S HIDDEN CENTURY: The British Museum opens a new exhibition, China's hidden century, about events in the country in the 19th century, when 2,00 years of dynastic rule came to an end and modern republicanism took over. The show illuminates the lives of individuals — an empress, a dancer, a soldier, an artist, a housewife, a merchant and a diplomat — and contains items including cloisonné vases given by the Last Emperor's court to King George and Queen Mary for their coronation in 1911. 18 May-8 October

39. THE OFFBEAT SARI: Hopping from China (above), to India, The Offbeat Sari is Design Museum's newest exhibition. It looks at the multiple definitions of the modern Sari — worn by some as an everyday garment, and others only for more formal occasions — and how its unstitched form has allowed designers to experiment with it over the years. From 19 May

40. INDO + CARIBBEAN: Museum of London Docklands opens a free new display, Indo + Caribbean: The creation of a culture, which explores the underrepresented history of Indian indenture (people being contracted to work without salary for a specific period) in the British Caribbean. Timed to mark the 75th anniversary of Empire Windrush arriving in London, it draws on family histories to explore Indo-Caribbean culture in London today, and features contracts, shipping company records, postcards, and papers from the Parliamentary Archives. FREE, 19 May-19 November

Events in London in May:  a man wincing while his friend points and laughs, at the Hot Sauce Festival
The face of regret at the Hot Sauce Festival. Photo: Alistair Veryard Photography.

41. CHEAM CHARTER FAIR: Rumour has it that the Cheam Charter Fair dates back to 1259 — though even the modern-day organisers can't verify that. Either way, head to the London-Surrey border for a traditional fair of stalls, kicked off with a procession at 9am. 20 May

42. GROUNDHOG DAY: Tim Minchin's Olivier Award-winning musical Groundhog Day returns to London, gracing the stage of the Old Vic with the story of a TV weatherman getting stuck in a timeloop when sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in the small town of Punxsutawney. From 20 May

43. MOONWALK: Sign up to take part in the London Moonwalk on Clapham Common, raising money for breast cancer charities. Walk 15.1 or 26.2 miles at night, with decorated bras and themed outfits very much encouraged. 20 May

44. HOT SAUCE FESTIVAL: How hot is too hot for you? Find out at the Hot Sauce Festival in Peckham, where hundreds of small-batch sauces from 40+ traders are available to try and buy, along with live music, games, street food — and a bar for those all-important, palate-cleansing drinks.  20 May

45. CHELSEA FRINGE: Tying in with the Chelsea Flower Show (see below), the Chelsea Fringe is a gardening festival run by local people, for local people. Events this year include a guided walks, talks and art events. 20-28 May

Events in London in May:  a poet on stage in a yellow shirt at Roundhouse
Roundhouse Poetry Collective is part of The Last Word Festival

46. LONDON TO BRIGHTON: Get down to Cheam Recreation Ground early doors to see the London to Brighton Mini Run setting off, with Minis of all ages and conditions joining the route, organised by the London & Surrey Mini Owners Club. You'll need a ticket to access the start line, but if you're in the surrounding area, you might catch a glimpse of them setting off. Exact time hasn't been announced, but they start gathering from 5am (!). 21 May

47. CHELSEA IN BLOOM: West London gets a floral glow-up as free flower festival Chelsea in Bloom returns. The theme this year is Flowers on Film; expect to see large-scale floral installations at shops, restaurants and other businesses around Chelsea, including a giant Oscars statue on Pavilion Road. FREE 22-28 May

48. BELGRAVIA IN BLOOM: While Chelsea gets all floral, neighbouring Belgravia adopts an 'Into the Wild' theme for its own flower festival, Belgravia in Bloom. Again, expect to see plenty of large-scale installations, including flower arches and sculptures, as you wander around. FREE, 22-29 May

49. LAST WORD FESTIVAL: Spoken word festival The Last Word takes over The Roundhouse in Camden for poetry events, theatre, live podcasts and more. It kicks off with the heats of this year's Poetry Slam.  22 May-18 June

50. CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW: A calendar highlight for any green-fingered Londoner, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show takes over the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, with gardeners from all over the country showing off their work; stalls where you can buy flowers and plants to take home; and a chance to pick up tips from gardening experts. 23-27 May

Events in London in May:  two Chelsea Pensioners, one pushing a wheelbarrow full of flowers, the other carrying a potted plant and a shovel, at the Chelsea Flower Show
May in London means... Chelsea Flower Show. Image: RHS

51. SADIQ KHAN: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has written a book — and you can hear him discuss it at Southbank Centre this month. Breathe focuses on air pollution and the climate crisis, also touching on politics, life, and the future of London.  24 May

52. PODCAST SHOW: Make a podcast? Want to make a podcast? The Podcast Show is the place for you, featuring live podcast stage shows, 350+ speakers, 150+ panel sessions, networking events and more, all taking place at the Business Design Centre in Islington. 24-25 May

53. SPITTING IMAGE THE MUSICAL: Fans of satirical puppet show Spitting Image are in for a treat, as Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image The Musical comes to the Peacock Theatre. Over 100 puppets feature, including likenesses of  Tom Cruise, Greta Thunberg, Meghan Markle, Tyson Fury, RuPaul, Angela Rayner, Idris Elba, Ant & Dec, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Keir Starmer, Stormzy, Vladimir Putin... and many more. From 24 May

54. DARTS: The season semi-finals and final of Premier League Darts takes place at The O2, the result of 17 nights of the sport played at venues all over the UK. See the final four players battle it out for the top prize of £275,000. Wouldn't be surprised if security's tighter than usual at this one — it's sponsored by Cazoo, who also sponsored the snooker at The Crucible which was interrupted by Just Stop Oil protesters in April. 25 May

Events in London in May:  Louis Theroux chatting to a woman on stage at last year's Podcast Festival
After last year's inaugural event, The Podcast Show returns.

55. MCM COMIC CON: Dust off your cape — MCM Comic Con is back at ExCeL London. Highlights include guest stars, author talks, costume competitions and more. 26-28 May

56. POLAR SILK ROAD: The Natural History Museum opens a new, free display, The Polar Silk Road, displaying the work of artist and photographer Gregor Sailer. View 67 photographs and a short film discussing the wide-ranging impacts of the climate crisis, including how melting ice across the Arctic is opening shorter sea routes in an area becoming widely known as the Polar Silk Road. FREE, from 26 May

57. SOAPBOX SCIENCE: Leading scientists take to their soapboxes to discuss their areas of expertise; Soapbox Science pops up on South Bank, with sharks, DNA and brain tumours among the topics covered by representatives from ZSL, UCL, the University of Cambridge and other eminent institutions. FREE, 27 May

58. ALLY PALLY 150: This month marks 150 years since Alexandra Palace was first opened to the public, to mark Queen Victoria's 54th birthday. They're throwing a big party to mark the anniversary with live music, palace tours, cinema screenings, a silent disco and more. 27 May

Events in London in May:  a red hut or tent completely surrounded by white - a photo on display at The Polar Silk Road at Natural History Museum
The Polar Silk Road opens at Natural History Museum. Image: EastGRIP I, Northeast Greenland Ice Sheet, Ice Core Project, 2019, © Gregor Sailer

59. FOODIES FESTIVAL: Head to Syon Park for Foodies Festival, a three-day celebration of all things edible (and quaffable), with a side of live music. Fleur East, Scouting For Girls and Sophie Ellis-Bextor are among the performers, with live demos by celebrity chefs, street food and artisan markets, kids' cookery sessions, pop-up bars and more. 27-29 May

60. MAY HALF TERM: The final week of May, running into June, is May half term, when the kids are off school. Keep an eye out for our May half term events guide, for plenty of ways to keep them entertained. 27 May-4 June

61. HAYES CANAL FESTIVAL: Hop on a boat and cruise along the Hayes Canal — just one of the events at the Hayes Canal Festival, which also includes exhibitions about the canal's history and sustainability, live music, kids' activities, and a food and drink tent. (Crucial info: it's the Hayes in the Borough of Hillingdon, NOT the Hayes in the Borough of Bromley). FREE, 28 May

62. RIDELONDON 2023: Large parts of central London go traffic-free for RideLondon 2023, a free and family-friendly bike ride that's open to everyone. Ride past the likes of St Paul's, Trafalgar Square and Westminster without the usual traffic. 28 May

Events in London in May:  two women ordering food or drinks from a pastel blue catering van at Foodies Festival
Save your appetite for Foodies Festival in Syon Park

63. OPERA HOLLAND PARK: Another of our favourite outdoor cultural events in London, Opera Holland Park's summer season gets under way. First on the programme is Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto. The City of London Sinfonia and the Opera Holland Park Chorus perform. From 30 May

64. MUSIC FESTIVALS: London's music festival scene really ramps it up a notch towards the end of May when Gala, Slam Dunk, Wide Awake, Cross The Tracks and City Splash all pitch up.

65. WISTERIA HYSTERIA: The bulk of #WisteriaHysteria should be in bloom in London throughout May, with the gorgeous purple (other shades available too) flowers draped over walls, fences and pagodas — here's where to see London's wisteria at its finest.

66. SMELL THE ROSES: May is rose season too, and London has a fair few of the thorny flowers tucked away — these are our eight favourite rose gardens in London.

Events in London in May:  three jackets on mannequins in the foreground, with various artworks on the walls behind at Beyond The Streets London exhibition at Saatchi Gallery
Last chance to see Beyond The Streets London at Saatchi Gallery

LAST CHANCE: A few things are closing this month too. It's your last chance to see:

  • 67. EXTINCTION BECKONS: Mike Nelson: Extinction Beckons is filled with references to film, politics and colonialism, leaving viewers to draw their own narratives. Our art critic described the Hayward Gallery exhibition as "an invitation to get lost in the worlds Nelson has created — a mind blowing mix of immersive and conceptual art. Unforgettable". Until 7 May
  • 68. BEYOND THE STREETS: Taking over the whole of Chelsea' Saatchi Gallery, Beyond The Streets London is the most comprehensive graffiti and street art exhibition to open in the UK, featuring over 100 international artists. Until 9 May
  • 69. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: The stage adaptation of Harper Lee's novel To Kill A Mockingbird is only on at the Gielgud Theatre Until 20 May
  • 70. ALADDIN SANE: David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust fans won't want to miss Aladdin Sane, an exhibition at Southbank Centre marking 50 years since the album was released — with an accompanying programme of events. Focus is largely on the iconic lightning bolt cover photograph. Until 28 May
  • 71. PEAKY BLINDERS: Love TV show Peaky Blinders?  This is the final month of Peaky Blinders: The Rise, an immersive experience which takes you into the dark world of Tommy Shelby, where you meet the characters, explore the sets, and take part in challenges. Until 28 May

Last Updated 23 May 2023