Last updated on April 23rd, 2023
Are you looking for a guide to what’s on in London this month? Get your October diaries out and get planning with my guide to some of the best cultural things to do in London this month including art exhibitions, theatre, events, opera and music.
Free things to do in London this October
On 11 October, at the Chapel Royal of Saint Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London, the Genesis Foundation presents A Tribute to the Life and Reign of Elizabeth II: A Garland for the Queen. This hour-long choral concert by The Sixteen, conceived and conducted by the group’s founder Harry Christophers, will be attended by an invited audience and live-streamed globally on Classic FM’s Facebook page. The programme of ‘choral crown jewels’ is built around music, both sacred and secular, from collections assembled for Elizabeth II and for her Tudor predecessor, Elizabeth I. Watch the concert live on Classic FM’s Facebook Page on 11 October 2022 7pm.
Join the City of London for a spectacular immersive theatre day – one of London’s biggest free events – which takes place on Saturday 15 October. The must-see adventure, called The Golden Key, will run from midday to sunset, and feature over 30 independent theatre companies and 200 performers bringing London’s stories to life in an extravaganza of fun. St Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard, the historic Guildhall Yard, and the London Wall High Walks will host street festivals, featuring giant puppets, circus performers, contemporary dancers, jugglers, storytellers, and interactive theatre. And in a dramatic end to the event at sunset, there will be three ‘fire finales’ at each festival, with performances, flaming beacons, and a fire garden.
Later in the month, a free, six-day festival will materialise at London Bridge, an area of the capital that has been a home of pioneering medical development for nearly 1,000 years. Medi-Culture will bring live events, talks, walks, workshops, stories and stand-up to a string of venues from London Bridge to Westminster. Medi-Culture will jump from live Victorian surgery at the world’s oldest surviving operating theatre to medical stand-up and stories, delivered by comedians and health-care scientists; from talks on menopause, gene therapy, alcohol and convalescence, to anatomical drawing classes; from a Thames-side walk through medical history and modern health, to a beer-centric, yet medicinal, crawl of the area. 20-26 October. More information here.
Luke Jerram’s Gaia is coming to Southwark this month. 11 to 30 October. More information here.
The Legend of King Arthur: A Pre-Raphaelite Love Story explores the legend of King Arthur within the Victorian imagination, presenting national myths and legends through the eyes of Pre-Raphaelite artists. On at the William Morris Gallery 14 October to 22 January 2023.
Dominican artist Lidia León is to transform St Mary le Strand in Aldwych into an autumn garden with major art installation. Conexión will occupy the length of the nave, comprising panels constructed from tobacco leaves. Together, the panels form a collage inspired by ancient stained-glass windows and create a dynamic space in which visitors can find a connection with nature. Opens 15 October.
What do we leave behind and what story does it tell? Human debris can be physical or emotional, ephemeral or permanent, but it always tells a story of what has been. Can it also reveal what is to come? In a joint exhibition at Orleans Gallery, Anna Blom and Pía Ortuño create a dialog around discarded emotions and derelict objects. Residue opens on Saturday 15 October at 10am and the artists will be welcoming visitors into the show throughout the day. They will be giving a talk about their work, accompanied by drinks, at 3pm (no booking needed). On until 27 November,
The theme of the London Luminaries Autumn Series is all about food and drink with 14 talks exploring how food was produced and consumed in the past in some of west London’s great houses. From the Material Culture of Tea at Marble Hill House to Ham House’s Aphrodisiac Pies and Taffety Tarts, it promises to be a deliciously decadent series. 5 October to 17 November. The talks are all free and online but there is a suggested donation of £5.
A major exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands explores the phenomenon of public executions in London’s history through the stories, objects and legacies of those that lived, died and witnessed the events first hand from 1196 to 1868. Executions is on from 14 October to 16 April 2023.
Chilean artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña is creating an exciting new artwork for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. 11 October to 16 April 2023.
This year’s Myra Hess Concert at the National Gallery sees harpsichordist and organist Marco Mencoboni harness the spirit of the pianist’s solo performances. The repertoire ranges from the archaic Rocco Rodio to the joyful music of Joseph Haydn, all passing through the visionary genius of Giovanni Maria Trabaci, the music of Girolamo Frescobaldi and the wonderful intimacies of his pupil Johann Jakob Froberger. 6 October. First come, first served.
Not quite free but nearly: as a response to the cost-of-living crisis the National Gallery has introduced its first Pay What You Wish scheme for an exhibition. On Friday evenings throughout the run of Lucian Freud: New Perspectives visitors will be able to pay as much or as little as they like. For slots between 5.30pm and 9pm on Fridays, tickets for the exhibition, which opens on 1 October 2022, can be booked for a minimum payment of £1. Visitors will also have the opportunity to attend Gallery Friday Late talks and events and enjoy later opening hours at the Gallery’s shops, bars and restaurants.
This autumn, Serpentine will present Infinite Folds, an exhibition featuring over 30 works by American-born visual artist, sculptor, novelist and poet Barbara Chase-Riboud. On display at Serpentine North from 11 October to 29 January 2023, this is the artist’s first institutional solo presentation in the UK.
If you can’t make it down to Southbank for the London Literature Festival this month, you can watch Greta Thumberg’s event, live-streamed at home for free. More details here.
Barbican Art Gallery presents Rebel Rebel, a site-specific installation for The Curve and the first major UK commission by Iranian artist Soheila Sokhanvari. The exhibition features a series of 27 exquisite portraits of feminist icons from pre-revolutionary Iran, painted in egg tempera onto calf vellum with a squirrel-hair brush 7 October to 26 February.
Pick of the Month
Leighton House re-opens this month after an extensive redevelopment which has seen the restoration of its historic interiors, new exhibition spaces and displays, and made Frederic Leighton’s extraordinary studio house accessible to everyone. Artist Shahrzad Ghaffari has has created the museum’s first permanent contemporary artwork, an 11m-high mural inspired by the iconic Arab Hall. Also re-opening is its sister historic property, Sambourne House, the family home of Punch cartoonist and illustrator, Edward Linley Sambourne. You can read more about that here.
London Art and Exhibition this month
A landmark exhibition is being staged by the National Gallery to mark the centenary of the birth of the major 20th-century artist Lucian Freud. Lucian Freud: New Perspectives is the first significant survey of his paintings in 10 years and will bring together a large selection of his most important works from across seven decades – spanning early works such as Girl with Roses from the 1940s; to Reflection with Two Children (Self-Portrait) in the 1960s and right through to his famous late works, such as The Brigadier. Book here. To 22 January 2023.
An immersive exhibition at the Science Museum invites visitors to discover how scientists and science fiction creators have inspired each other to imagine and build new worlds to better understand our own. Visitors will embark on an adventure through the cosmos travelling aboard an extra-terrestrial spaceship, gaze over planet Earth from the stunning observation deck and touch down on a mission to an unexplored world. Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination is on from 6 October to 4 May 2023.
The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion, opens at the Saatchi Gallery this month. The groundbreaking exhibition features 15 international Black photographers contributing to a new vision of the Black figure and reframing representation in art and fashion. 28 October to 22 January 2023. Book here.
The Cezanne exhibition at Tate Modern will bring together around 80 carefully selected works from collections in Europe, Asia, North and South America, giving UK audiences their first opportunity in over 25 years to explore the breadth of Cezanne’s career. It will feature key examples of his iconic still life paintings, Provençale landscapes, portraits and bather scenes, including over 20 works never seen in the UK. Book here. 5 October to 12 March. Book here.
The spirits, phantoms and spectres which lurk within the stories of Charles Dickens are about to be disturbed by a new exhibition opening in his London home later this year. To Be Read At Dusk: Dickens, Ghosts & the Supernatural will celebrate the writing which helped form the ghostly genre and will reveal Dickens’s own intense interest in the paranormal. 5 October to 5 March 2023. Book here.
One of the most original and eccentric artists of the 18th-century, Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), will be the subject of a new exhibition at The Courtauld. Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism will reveal the artist’s secret lifelong obsession with the female figure through fifty of his strange and striking private drawings, many of which depict the spectacularly extravagant hairdos and fashions of the day. The exhibition will unpick Fuseli’s fascination with female sexuality and the modern woman – as a figure of mystery, transgression, and dangerous allure. 14 October to 8 January 2023. Book here.
Featuring 23 international artists working across recent decades, Strange Clay at the Hayward Gallery examines the plasticity and the possibilities of ceramics. The artworks on show encompass fantastical creatures and uncanny representations of the everyday, as well as ranging from small abstract works to large-scale installations that take the medium beyond the kiln. 26 October to 8 January 2023. Book here.
Discover the natural world in all its wonder and diversity at the newly redesigned Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, where 100 remarkable photographs illustrate the precious beauty of our planet. On at the Natural History Museum from 14 October to 2 July. Book here.
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2022 is the leading international competition and celebrates and promotes the very best in contemporary photography. For the second year, the exhibition will take place at the arts hub Cromwell Place, in South Kensington London while the National Portrait Gallery building in St Martin’s Place is closed until 2023 for major redevelopment works. Book here.
Enter a magical and playful world of rusty robot characters at Pitzhanger Gallery with a Sense of Wonder. Journey through this audio-visual exhibition with its otherworldly soundscape spanning 100 years, from Judy Garland to the Beatles to Billie Eilish. 14 October to 12 February 2023. Book here.
This October, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew invites visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrant culture and astonishing biodiversity of Mexico. The Mexico festival sees Kew’s iconic Temperate House transformed by a vivid array of art and horticultural installations, each showcasing the unique spectacle of this North American nation, home to 12% of the world’s biodiversity. Included with entrance to the gardens.
180 Studios is hosting two major exhibitions by award-winning artist Richard Mosse and digital art collective, Universal Everything. Mosse’s most ambitious project to date, the immersive video installation Broken Spectre is the result of three years of careful documentation of environmental crimes across remote parts of the Brazilian Amazon, using a range of scientific imaging technologies. While Universal Everything’s largest UK solo show, Lifeforms will see 14 characterful and futuristic moving image artworks inhabit the vast subterranean spaces of 180 The Strand, using cutting edge generative technology to create digital life. Book here.
For the first time in a major UK exhibition, Surrealism’s relationship to the design world will be told up to the present day. Artworks and objects from Man Ray, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp and Leonora Carrington will be seen alongside pieces by Sarah Lucas, Björk, Tim Walker and Dior. Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today will survey the ground-breaking Surrealism movement and how it not only revolutionised art, but also design: from decorative arts and furniture to interiors, fashion, photography and film. 14 October to 19 February 2022. Book here.
Discover a richer history of London life in the eighteenth century, through newly uncovered stories of African and Asian children in the care of the Foundling Hospital. On until 19 February 2023. Book here.
Somerset House presents The Horror Show! a landmark exhibition that celebrates the greatest cultural provocateurs and visionaries. Featuring over 200 artworks and culturally significant artefacts, plus a series of new commissions from some of our country’s most provocative artists, The Horror Show! presents an alternative perspective in three shapeshifting acts – Monster, Ghost and Witch. 27 October to 19 February 2023. Book here.
Hieroglyphs unlocking ancient Egypt opens at the British Museum, looking at one of the most important moments in our understanding of ancient history: the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs. The exhibition brings together over 240 objects and will explore the inscriptions and objects that helped scholars unlock one of the world’s oldest civilisations, exactly 200 years since this pivotal moment. 13 October to 19 February 2023. Book here.
Alexander the Great takes centre stage at the British Library this month. From astrological clay tablets, ancient papyri, and medieval manuscripts, to Hollywood and Bollywood movies and cutting-edge videogames, this major exhibition crosses continents to explore the fantastical stories that turned legacy into legend. 21 October to 19 February. Book here.
London Opera and Classical Music this June
Richard Jones’ production of La Bohème is back at the Royal Opera House and features a stellar line-up including Juan Diego Flórez, Danielle de Niese and Freddie De Tommaso. 14 October to 17 November. Book here.
Andrés Orozco-Estrada shares a last, gorgeous glimpse of that opulent world, as imagined by Richard Strauss in the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Twilight in Vienna. And he follows the former Viennese golden boy Korngold into wartime exile in the USA – where Arabella Steinbacher brings all her sensitivity and panache to his bittersweet, desperately romantic Violin Concerto: music written in Hollywood, but singing of a vanished home. 29 October. Book here.
This Halloween, discover the music of storms and Sicilian peasants, of noble heroes and heroines, and of bandits, witches and ghosts in this intimate lecture-recital at the Wallace Collection. Inspired by the music recitals that bewitched the residents and guests of London’s townhouses in the 18th and early 19th centuries, you are invited to explore the music of Gothic: works composed for plays, melodramas and ballets. 28 October. Book here.
Burgh House in Hampstead continues its first annual Queer Georgian Social Season with a salon concert, Farinelli: Operatic Castrato Sensation. It features ‘Les Bougies Baroques’ (conducted from the harpsichord by Ian Peter Bugeja and led from the violin by Sam Kennedy) and mezzo-soprano Maria Ostroukhova and is followed by a social and light supper. 13 October. Book here.
Opera fans are in for a treat next month when internationally acclaimed British soprano Lucy Crowe shares her secrets during an Opera Prelude Masterclass. 22 November at the Garrison Chapel. Book here.
London Theatre and Stage this month
Enjoy a thrilling evening of dark comedy and suspense at Old Royal Naval College this autumn. 1797: The Mariner’s Revenge is a haunting theatrical tale set in the never-before-seen attics of the historic Admiral’s House. It’s 1797 and Admiral Nelson has returned to England and dines in the grand rooms of Admiral’s House at Greenwich Hospital. Upstairs in the dark attic rooms, an injured mariner and a mercurial albatross plot revenge. Pre-show, audiences will have the chance to enjoy a complimentary rum cocktail and explore the rarely opened Lord Admiral’s House, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. 13 October to 12 November. Book here.
Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Kate Prince celebrates 20 years of her phenomenal company ZooNation with a new show. Mixtape – Celebrating 20 years of ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company. 5 to 8 October. Book here.
David Tennant returns to the West End alongside Elliot Levey and Sharon Small in a powerful and timely reimagining of C.P. Taylor’s acclaimed play, Good, directed by Olivier Award-winner Dominic Cooke.
Sonia’s life has always been a bit of a double act, brought up as one half of a Shirley Bassey tribute act. alongside her overbearing mother Gloria, she left a trail of sequins across the working men’s clubs of East Anglia. Now she’s divorced, battling through the middle-age jungle, wrangling unimpressed teenagers and navigating rocky friendships. But the unexpected arrival of Sonia’s half-brother Naim from Manchester brings a refreshed sense of belonging and cultural identity, as he introduces her to her Pakistani side she had never known before. Inspired by a real-life, Glitterball is a midlife coming of age comedy about motherhood, identity and finding your time to shine. On until 8 October at Riverside Studios.
Oscar Wilde’s uproarious vaudeville spectacular The Canterville Ghost is coming to haunt audiences at the Southwark Playhouse this autumn. Wilde’s spooky story of the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville, who vanished without a trace 300 years ago, is on from 11 October to 5 November. Book here.
London Events this October
Join the Soane Museum (with drink in hand) for a Soane Late as they delve deeper into the architectural history and design of the unique museum, house, and studio. The whole museum is yours to explore as you wander corridors lined by Sir John Soane’s architectural drawings, sculptures, paintings, and treasures. 28 October. Book here.
The Decorative Arts fair is on in Battersea Park from 4 to 9 October. Book tickets here.
The London Literature Festival is back this October with a stellar line-up which includes Greta Thunberg, Graham Norton, Ai Weiwei, Jon Snow, Minnie Driver. Book here.
The BFI London Film Festival returns this month, featuring 160 films over 12 days. The festival takes place at the Southbank Centre, Royal Festival Hall and BFI Sputhbank with screenings also taking place around the country. 5 to 16 October. Book here.
Out of Towners
The Oxford Lieder Festival will celebrate its 21st birthday this autumn, coming of age in a fortnight that focuses on song as an intimate art form with its origins in friendship and conviviality. World-leading singers will appear in around 80 events both inside the traditional concert halls and into some of Oxford’s smaller venues for a more informal and intimate concert experience. 14 to 29 October.
Two of the country’s most absorbing and involving writers – Deborah Levy and Juno Dawson – will create new work especially for this year’s edition of the Creative Folkestone Book Festival, after taking up residence in the remote cottage that provided inspiration to artist, writer and filmmaker Derek Jarman. There’s a great festival lineup with a finale in the company of Miriam Margolyes. More information here.
Defaced! Money, Conflict, is the first major exhibition to present a world history of protest through currencies that have been mutilated as cries of anger, injustice, or despair from the last 250 years. 11 October – 8 January 2023 at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Book tickets here.