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Cultural things to do in London this May

Last updated on May 14th, 2024

With a few days to go until Coronation Day, the flags are out all over London and the city is revving it up with its Coronation fever. Londoness will be on the front line, armed with mucho excitement, sarnies and perhaps a thimble or two of gin. But there is more to just the Coronation going on this month and hopefully, some good weather to which we can look forward to. And let’s not forget it’s Eurovision month! Without further ado, here is a guide to some of the best cultural things to do in London this month (no nul points here), including art exhibitions, theatre, events, opera and music.

The Mall Coronation

Cultural things to do in London this May 2023

Free things to do in London this May

On 23 May, Tate Britain will open a complete rehang of its free collection displays. This will be the first time in ten years that the national collection of British art is presented anew. Visitors will discover over 800 works by over 350 artists, featuring much-loved favourites and recent discoveries, alongside brand new commissions.

free things to do in London this May

© Antony Gormley / photo: Tate

The first major exhibition in the UK to explore the life and legacy of Saint Francis of Assisi will feature paintings from across the National Gallery’s collection – by Sassetta, Botticelli, and Zurbarán – with international loans by Caravaggio, Murillo, and El Greco as well as works by Stanley Spencer, Antony Gormley, Andrea Büttner, Arte Povera artist Giuseppe Penone. 6 May to 30 July. Ground Floor Galleries.

New York-based artist Sarah Sze will transform a disused Victorian waiting room at Peckham Rye train station in south London with a new site-specific sculptural installation. Co-commissioned by Artangel, Sze’s new work will open on Friday 19 May, taking over a large, vaulted space above the main ticket office that has been boarded up for fifty years. More information here.

It’s London Craft Week this May, with workshops, exhibitions, talks and demos taking place across the capital. 8 to 14 May. More information here.

Isaac Julien’s latest work Once Again… (Statues Never Die) is the focus of a new exhibition of newly conceived photographic works at Victoria Miro. 2 May to 4 June. You can also catch the artist in a new exhibition at Tate Britain (but you need to pay for entry to this one).

The Museum of London Docklands will open a new free display, Indo + Caribbean: The creation of a culture, in its London, Sugar and Slavery gallery. Working together with Londoners of Indo-Caribbean descent, it will tell the underrepresented history of Indian indenture in the British Caribbean and explore Indo-Caribbean culture in London today.

Chelsea in Bloom

Chelsea in Bloom

It’s a ‘bloomin month all right in London this May with Belgravia in Bloom (22 to 29 May) Chelsea in Bloom (22 to 27 May) and Chelsea Barracks Spring Fair (25 to 27 May).

Royal Drawing School

Christopher Green, Westminster Abbey, The Spring Coronation (2023)

To mark the Coronation, the Royal Drawing School has commissioned alumni artists of its flagship postgraduate-level programme, The Drawing Year, to create works that are personal reflections on this momentous occasion, to be exhibited at Christie’s, King Street. These commissioned works on paper are exhibited alongside a selection of over 50 drawings by fellow Drawing Year alumni that form part of His Majesty’s archive of drawings from the School. 2 to 25 May.

Visit the Wimbledon Art Fair where you can choose from thousands of original and affordable artworks from over 150 artists. 11 to 14 May. Book your free ticket here.

Identified as ‘one to watch’ at this year’s London Art Fair, with work already in the collection of Charles Saatchi and a decorative mural commissioned by Brad Pitt at Chateau Miravel, Marie-Elisabeth Merlin’s debut London solo show – Mondes Hypothétiques – is hotly anticipated. This collection of 12 new paintings by the French artist, explores human and animal migration and the power of nature. 4 Cromwell Place. 30 May – 4 June.

Gregor Sailer’s photography exhibition The Polar Silk Road at the Natural History Museum explores the existing, potential, and unexpected impacts of the new global trade route and documents this fast-changing region at a pivotal moment in its history. Opens 26 May.

London Art and Exhibition this May

Sari Design Museum

Photo Ritika Shah

The Offbeat Sari, opening in May, will be the first large-scale exhibition in the UK to focus on the contemporary sari in India. The show will bring together over 90 examples of trailblazing saris made over the past decade, nearly all of which will be on loan from designers and studios across India and have never been seen in Britain before. 19 May to 17 September. Book here.

The Tower of London is unveiling a new display in its Jewel House, sharing the history of the world-famous Crown Jewels in the Coronation year. It will explore the origins of some of the objects for the first time, including the destruction of the original jewels under Oliver Cromwell. The display will evoke the spectacle and pageantry of the Coronation procession and Service.

In a global first, the resilience and innovation of 19th-century China is revealed in a major new exhibition. China’s hidden century will bring objects together for the first time – from cloisonné vases given by the Last Emperor’s court to King George and Queen Mary for their coronation in 1911, to a silk robe commissioned by the Empress Dowager Cixi. 18 May to 8 October. Book here.

things to do in London this May

Armlet © The Trustees of the British Museum

A major exhibition at the British Museum will explore the relationship between luxury and power in the Middle East and southeast Europe between 550-30 BC. Luxury and power: Persia to Greece moves beyond ancient Greek spin to delve into a more complex story of luxury and power in ancient Iran, Athens, and the world of Alexander. 4 May to 13 August. Book here.

Making History: the Ceramic work of Simon Pettet opens at the Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields. Simon was a gifted ceramicist who reimagined 17th and 18th-century blue-and-white pottery employing traditional techniques and historical references to create something new. Curated by Rupert Thomas, former editor of The World of Interiors, the exhibition extends throughout the house and is the largest selection of Simon’s work ever shown publicly. 4 May to 4 June. More here.

cultural things to do in London this May

Michael Bowles, Handel Hendrix House

Following an extensive refurbishment and expansion programme, Handel Hendrix House will re-open to the public on the 18 May. The ambitious ‘Hallelujah Project’ will present new exhibitions about George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix. The restoration includes the front façade of Handel’s home and the re-creation of his ground floor rooms and kitchen. More information here.

Billingsgate Roman House and Baths is booking for visits until November. Discovered in 1848, the remains of the large private residence and its adjoining bathhouse dates from around A.D. 150, after which it was extended, and occupied until the end of the Romans’ occupation of the then Londinium in the early 5th century A.D. Preserved as if City archaeologists had just left the site and viewable from walkways a few metres off the ground, visitors can study the remains of the house’s walls and courtyard, as well as the cold room (frigidarium), warm room (tepidarium), and hot room (caldarium) of the baths.

London Theatre and Stage this May

Cultural things to do in London this May

Stephen Fry (photo Elliott Spencer)

Award-winning BBC Radio 4 comedy, Bleak Expectations transfers to the Criterion Theatre. Each week a special guest star will take on the role of narrator including: Stephen Fry, Adjoa Andoh, Alexander Armstrong, Jo Brand, Julian Clary, Jack Dee, Stephen Mangan, Dermot O’Leary and more. 3 May to 3 September. Book here.

Olivier Award-winner Maureen Lipman reprises her critically-acclaimed performance as Rose, a woman whose tumultuous journey through anarchic times takes her from the devastation of Nazi- occupied Europe to the allure of the American dream. 23 May to 18 June. Book here.

Jane Asher leads an all-star cast, including Nicholas Le Prevost, in Somerset Maugham’s The Circle at the Orange Tree theatre.  29 April to 17 June. Book here.

what's on in London this MayPeter Morgan’s Patriots opens at the Noel Coward Theatre this month. Starring Tom Hollander, it’s a story of power-grabbing, ambition and betrayal in 1990s Russia. 26 May to 19 August. Book here.

Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges star in this brand-new adaptation of Annie’s Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain opening at Soho Place.10 May to 12 August. Book here.

David Harewood (Homeland) and Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) star in James Graham’s  drama about the first televised debate in America that changes politics forever. Best of Enemies will be in cinemas from 18 May (and five stars from me when I went to see it on-stage). More here.

London Opera and Classical Music this May

Be quick and grab only one of a few of the tickets left for the great Sir Simon Keenlyside at Wigmore Hall. He will be performing songs by Schubert and will be joined by Malcom Martineau on the piano. Book here.

Opera Holland Park opens this month with Verdi’s Rigoletto. The season continues with Humperdinck Hansel and Gretel, Piccini’s La Boheme, Jonathan Dove’s contemporary opera Itch and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore. More information here.

Cultural things to do in London this MayAcross ten days, from Friday 12 to Saturday 20 May, St John’s Smith Square will host the London Festival of Baroque Music 2023: Kaleidoscope. The Festival includes everything from Baroque Cabaret to intimate solo performances, a harpsichord masterclass with Steven Devine to the contrasting programming of Le Concert de L’Hostel Dieu and the timbres of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. More information here.

The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra will perform the third event in the 2023/24 International Orchestra Series at Fairfield Halls next month, with a programme that includes Britten, Rachmaninov, Musgrave & Sibelius. Thursday 25 May. Book here.

British Afro-Caribbean experimental vocalist, movement artist and composer Elaine Mitchener will become the first woman in the UK to perform Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s 1969 music-theatre landmark Eight Songs for a Mad King during a late-night concert on Friday 26 May, London’s Wigmore Hall. Using exceptionally challenging vocal techniques and musical experimentation, Maxwell Davies creates a powerful and unsettling portrayal of King George III’s descent into madness. Book here.

Head over to St Giles Camberwell for a one-hour concert with the Callia Quartet. The concert includes Haydn, Shostakovich and a selection of Nordic Folk songs. 21 May. Book here.

London Dance this May

The English National Ballet School will be performing their own choreographic works, set to music in the intimate surroundings of the Wallace Collection galleries. A drink is included. 17 May. Book here.

London Events this May

The Chelsea Flower Show is back this month with its gorgeous floral displays and inspiring garden designs. More information here.

The Spring Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair is back in Battersea Park Featuring 140+ exhibitors offering traditional and informal antiques, 20th century design and works of art, plus a seasonal focus on garden and exterior-related decoration including furniture, objects, planters and statuary. 9 to 14 May. Book tickets here.

We have two doggie events this May. First up is the Greenwich Dog Show on Sunday 28 May in the iconic Old Royal Naval College’s beautiful riverside grounds.  It’s free to attend for all, with a £5 show entry fee per dog, per category, and promises to be a pawtastic day out for southeast Londoners and their furry friends.

Goodwoof 2023Further afield near Chichester is Goodwoof, the annual pooch-related event which takes place in the grounds of the Duke of Richmond’s Goodwood Estate. Expect a Poodle Parade, demonstrations, talks from dog experts and celebrity owners, competitions, wellness workshops, dog yoga, massages and even reiki. 20 and 21 May. Book here.

The West End Flea Market, in aid of theatrical charity Acting for Others, is back at St Paul’s Church and Churchyard where you will get a chance to meet West End stars. This year’s event will take place on Saturday 20 May from 10am to 2pm. Entry £5.

Feature image: Photo by John Angelillo UPIAlamy Live News

A London arts and culture blog featuring articles about art, theatre, opera, dance, music and design.

One Comment

  • Marjolein

    April 30, 2023 at 8:30 pm

    Such great ideas! Thanks for posting this super helpful guide. And you’re so right: with the Coronation being so central at the moment, you’ll almost forget about all the other lovely things May has to offer.


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