It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for! Theatres, musical venues and museums can finally swing open their doors again. And with not one but two May bank holiday weekends, there’s even more reason to start planning some fun outings in the shiny, newly-opened capital. Here’s a round-up of some of the best things to do in London in May including art exhibitions, theatre, events, opera and classical music.
WHAT’S ON IN LONDON THIS MAY
New art exhibitions
Fall down the rabbit hole with Alice at the V&A this summer. The major immersive exhibition will feature over 300 objects charting the evolution of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, from manuscript to a global phenomenon beloved by all ages. Opens 22 May. Book here.
Naturally Brilliant at Kew Gardens will explore the origin of colour in an evolutionary journey dating back more than 500 million years. It will feature a large-scale kaleidoscope and will show how botanical artists have depicted the brightest and most intense colours in nature. Opens 17 May at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. Included with entry to the garden.
Immerse yourself in Tudor history as Hampton Court reunites stunning works of art, gold, weapons, manuscripts and clothing from the Field of Cloth of Gold, Henry VIII’s legendary encounter with his great rival François I of France. Gold and Glory will star a never-before-seen tapestry which sheds rare light on people of colour in the Tudor period. 20 May to 5 September. Book here.
Tate Modern re-opens with a major exhibition: The Making of Rodin. Featuring over 150 works, many of which have not been seen outside of France before, this unique collaboration with the Musée Rodin, will offer insight into Rodin’s processes, highlighting the crucial role of plaster in his work, exploring lesser-known pieces and new aspects of his masterpieces. Opens 18 May. Book here.
During the pandemic, Hockney “painted” 116 new works on his iPad charting the unfolding of spring from his home in Normandy. The Arrival of Spring will be a reminder of the constant renewal and wonder of the natural world – and the beauty of spring. 23 May to 26 September. Book here.
A new exhibition celebrating Thomas Becket opens at the British Museum. It will mark the 850th anniversary of Becket’s brutal murder, presenting his tumultuous journey from a merchant’s son to an archbishop, and from a revered saint in death to a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of Henry VIII more than 350 years later. Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint opens on 20 May. Book here.
The Art of Banksy will feature works associated with one of the most intriguing and talked-about artists in modern history. Opens May 20. Book here.
Matthew Barney: Redoubt at the Hayward Gallery will include a group of monumental sculptures, and more than 40 engravings and electroplated copper plates. 19 May to 25 July. Book here.
Whitechapel Gallery re-opens with Eileen Agar, a retrospective of painting, collage, photography and sculpture from the artist who used to hang out with Picasso, Man Ray and Dora Maar. Opens on May 19. Book here.
A remarkable rare collection of famed illustrator Aubrey Beardsley’s works is being exhibited at Shapero Rare Books. The incredible collection is nearly 100 years old and in exceptional condition. It includes Beardsley’s magnum opus, the illustrations for Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Also part of the exhibition is an extremely rare illustrated first edition of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, in which Wilde himself makes several cameos among the illustrations. More information here.
Orleans House Gallery in Richmond has announced a bold new exhibition, Remember the Future, to address the current environmental crisis. Five artist residencies will see studios set up in the historic gallery to investigate how we can improve our damaged relationship with the environment. The first residency will be visual artists Ackroyd & Harvey, whose research will highlight the importance of storytelling as a tool for combating the climate crisis and explore ecocentrism. More information here.
The first major UK exhibition of the work of French artist Jean Dubuffet in over 50 years, opens at Barbican Art Gallery. Drawn from international public and private collections, Brutal Beauty brings together more than 150 works: from early portraits, lithographs and fantastical statues to enamel paintings, butterfly assemblages and giant colourful canvases. Book here. 17 May to 22 August.
In a new outdoor exhibition, Gunnersbury Park Museum celebrates the life and work of Ealing Studios stills photographer Roy Gough. Shooting Stars: Behind the scenes at Ealing Studios showcases some favourites from the 2000+ prints from the Gunnersbury Park Museum’s Archive and explores Roy Gough’s career at Ealing Studios. On until 11 July. More here.
An exhibition of J.M.W. Turner’s original maritime watercolours and prints is to open in his former home in Twickenham, thanks to a loan from Tate. Turner’s English Coasts focuses on the artist’s engagement with English marine and coastal subjects at a pivotal time in his career when he was living at Sandycombe Lodge. Opens 22 May. Book your visit here.
What’s on at the theatre
The Globe Theatre re-opens its doors on 19 May with a series of socially-distanced performances. These include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. Book tickets here.
Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond is re-opening with Shaw Shorts: How He Lied to Her Husband and Overruled. The double bill of Bernard Shaw’s short plays is directed by Artistic Director Paul Miller. On from 22 May to 26 June. Book here.
Creation Theatre presents the world’s most famous star-crossed lovers in an expansive multi-platform digital production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Mixing LIVE real-time performance, pre-filmed scenes and choose your own adventure style gameplay. On from 12-23 May (online only). Book here.
Audiences are invited to dust off their flares and become a Dancing Queen with Abba Mania! The world’s number one touring ABBA tribute concert is back by popular demand and heading to Shaftesbury Theatre. The perfect party as we come out of lockdown, this ABBA-solutely unmissable production is on from 21 May – 6 June 2021. Book here.
Opera and Classical Music
The Royal Opera House re-opens on 17 May with Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. Public booking opens on 7 May.
Fidelio Cafe on Clerkenwell Road reopens with a calendar of internationally-renowned artists. Concert-only Intermezzo tickets including one drink are £15 per person. Full price three-course dinner packages start at £100 per person, with 50% discounts for under-30s using entering UNDER30 at checkout. Book here.
The London Mozart Players kick off the new live programme at St John Smith’s Square. From 26 May. Book here.
The Barnes Music Festival is back with a lineup that includes Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Rowan Pierce, James Way and Gyles Brandeth. Book here.
NW Live Arts returns with The Belonging concert marks the culmination of a three-part project exploring identity and our sense of place. The imaginative programme for this unusual combination of instruments ranges from contemporary music to familiar and less familiar classical music, middle eastern music as well as improvisations. 21 May. Book here.
Feed your caffeine addiction with a coffee-themed event of witty music, poetry and refreshments as The Vache Baroque Festival and Milton’s Cottage bring you J.S. Bach’s Coffee Cantata. Book here.
Waterperry Opera Festival booking opens on 3 May for performances starting on 12 August. Book here.
Events in London
The London Library is bringing together some of the brightest stars in the literary firmament for an eclectic and thought-provoking bank holiday weekend of digital talks, workshops and performances, exploring libraries and The London Library in particular, as open places of community, discovery and refuge. The literary lineup includes Salman Rushdie, Simon Schama and Tom Stoppard. 1-3 May. Book tickets here.
A Celebration of Slytherin is back at Warner Brothers Studios. Discover the secrets behind some of the iconic costumes and props belonging to your favourite cunning Slytherin characters. 17 May to 15 September. Book here.
GoBoat London is opening up a new route in Canary Wharf on May 17, and the Paddington and Kingston routes are already open. You can read more about the GoBoat self-drive experience here.
Opera Prelude is a charity dedicated to supporting the professional development of early career singers, with a programme of opera related events which include lecture recitals and concerts. Find out more about Opera Prelude here. You can also support them by buying an operatic trinket from their delightful shopfront.