Our guide to the best May Bank Holiday activities
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The first May Bank Holiday only came into being in 1978, so is a relative youngster compared to the likes of Easter and Boxing Day. There was even a Government pre-consultation in 2011 looking at moving the day to another time in the calender. But while it remains in May we should all try and make the most of it! From free family festivals to world-class museum events; London has a huge amount to offer over the long weekend:
Family events in London
Park Jam , a free hip hop festival for families in Islington, has to be a must-visit on Bank Holiday Monday. Organised by Breakin’ Convention, who produce the critically-acclaimed International Festival of Hip Hop Dance Theatre at Sadler’s Wells, is taking the fun on the road to Spa Fields Park. Hosted by Mystro & Jonzi D and featuring acts such as The Beatbox Collective, Logic & RU1-Fam and Jeru The Damaja on the stage; and graffiti workshops and a dance exhibition area in the park, there will be plenty to get the kids inspired.(Monday 5 May, 12.30 – 4.30pm Spa Fields Parks, Islington, EC1R 0DF, nearest tube: Angel).
There are plenty of children’s events included as part of the Udderbelly Festival at the Southbank Centre during the Bank Holiday. If it is comedy you are after, check out “Little Howard and the magic pencil of life and death“, which was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival. This charming comedy is suitable for ages six and over (visit website to buy tickets – start from £10 + booking fee)
SPOTLIGHT ON: IWA Canalway Cavalcade at Little Venice
If you want vibrancy, colour and a huge amount of free fun; head to Little Venice. More than 150 canal boats from across the country, swathed in bright bunting, are expected to form a floating regatta for the annual IWA Canalway Cavalcade over the bank holiday weekend. One of the biggest waterways festivals in the country, and run entirely by volunteers from the charity, Inland Waterways Association; this has become a firm local favourite in the canal calendar.
For the little ones, there will be a Punch and Judy as well as a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, along with kayaking for the older children. Adults are not left neglected either with the chance to go on a boat trip, sample the real ales at a special beer festival as well as buy art and crafts along the riverbank. With music, Morris Dancing and specialist food stalls in tandem with the colourful narrow boats; this event is a real sensory spectacular.
Opening times and dates: Saturday, May 3 (10am-6pm), Sunday (10am-6pm + Music until 8.30pm followed by illuminated boat procession), Monday May 5 (10am-5pm)
Getting there: The festival is found at the junction of the Regent’s and Grand Union Canals at Little Venice, near Paddington, W2
Nearest Tube: Warwick Avenue / Paddington
Buy tickets: FREE!
The Docklands branch of the Museum of London (1 Warehouse, West India Quay, London E14 4AL) is hosting a May Day at the Docks on Saturday, May 3. There is a host of family events for youngsters, aged between three and eleven, including: creating flower bouquets and building a “Jack in the Green” (runs from 11am-4pm).
The British Museum is offering a free digital workshop (booking advised) on Sunday, May 4. The medieval animation workshop gives youngsters (aged 7+) the chance to get their hands on some cutting-edge technology, including stop-motion software, to create their own animated versions of mythical creatures (Sessions from 11am–1pm & 2pm-4pm at the Samsung Centre in the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG, nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road).
SPOTLIGHT ON: Alexandra Palace
There are not many places in London where you can go ice-skating in the spring, climb trees without being shouted at and also enjoy the thrills and spills of a fairground ride. Fortunately Ally Pally, as it is affectionately known, can deliver all three on May Bank holiday weekend. And there are not many parts of London that offer such a splendid view of the capital.
Wood-n’t miss it for the world
Why not aim for new heights by climbing up to the canopies in the park. Don’t worry you won’t just be free-styling (and then have that awkward moment when you realise you can’t get down!), you will be accompanied by skilled instructors. Aimed at all ages, making it perfect for adventurous families; you will literally be shown the ropes (and the knots and karabiners). For those feeling brave, the best way to return to the ground is by the zip wire!
The Great Funfair Bank Holiday weekend at Alexandra Palace (May 3-5) is all set-up for thrills and spills. Not only is there a fine selection of rides but you can also stock up on candy floss while you are catching your breath. The recent Winter Olympics in Sochi might have inspired you to don a pair of skates, but with winter a long way away enthusiasm often has a habit of waning. Fear not, you can give it your best Bolero all-year-round at their skating rink. And if you are feeling sporty, but don’t fancy the ice, why not try pitch & putt!
Opening times and dates: Tree climbing – Saturday, May 3 – Ice-skating – 7 days a week, see website for session times.
Getting there: Alexandra Palace Way, London, N22 7AY
Nearest Tube: Wood Green
Buy tickets: Visit the website to buy tickets for tree climbing (£15.50, 10.30am to 4.30pm) and ice skating (with prices starting at £6.50 for children and £7.50 adults).
May Bank Holiday Weekend for culture vultures
SPOTLIGHT ON: The Geffrye Museum
When you think Shoreditch and Hackney, you usually imagine a vibrant, urban sprawl. However The Geffrye Museum’s series of period gardens and award-winning walled herb garden in the heart of hipsterville are a welcome oasis. Just newly opened in time for the warmer weather, this is an idyllic place to spend a hectic Bank Holiday weekend. The period gardens, or ‘outdoor rooms’ are chronologically arranged in as similar fashion to the museum’s main display of middle-class period rooms, and highlight the style of town gardens over the past four centuries. You can also visit the scented walled herb garden, home to 12 beds with over 170 types of herbs. These have been divided into traditional uses such as culinary, cosmetic and medicinal. The gardens also feature some wonderful geometric paths along with arches covered with roses and honeysuckle. The central fountain in the gardens was created by local ceramicist Kate Malone.
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris – influential designer and craftsman.
The Geffrye also has a special exhibition opening – “useful + beautiful: contemporary design for the home”, ideal for any Bank Holiday DIY enthusiasts looking for inspiration. This special showcase hones in on innovation and creativity in domestic design from London and beyond. It will give visitors a sneak peak at what’s new in the design world and what we might expect to have in our homes in the future!
General admission and gardens:
FREE! The “useful + beautiful: contemporary design for the home” special exhibition costs £5 (£3 concessions).
Getting there: Kingsland Road, London, E2 8EA
Nearest Tube: London Overground to Hoxton or Liverpool Street
If you need further furniture inspiration, then why not visit Grand Designs Live at London’s ExCel (Victoria Dock Road, London, E16 1XL) from Saturday, May 3 through until the 11th. Hosted by Kevin McCloud, who presents the sister Channel 4 series, you will find all the latest trends and technology for the home.
From design inspiration to a showcase of the mastery of the art of taking pictures at Somerset House; who are hosting the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition (1 – 18 May 2014, Saturday – Monday 10am-6pm, £7.50 / £5 concessions, Strand London WC2R 1LA, nearest tube: Charing Cross or Temple). The exhibition features everything from ground-breaking photojournalism to travel and lifestyle images and is a chance to see the world from a different angle.
The Victoria and Albert Museum (Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL, nearest tube: South Kensington)has a stellar exhibition opening for the May Bank Holiday weekend. Wedding Dresses 1775-2014, starting on May 3, will trace the development of the fashionable white wedding dress through the centuries. Expect to see creations from top fashion designers like Norman Hartnell, Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood and Vera Wang. Dresses on show include the purple dress worn by Dita Von Teese for her marriage to Marilyn Manson and the outfits worn by Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale on their big day.
Festival fun and musical magic
Head to East London to see Ms. Dynamite and the living legend that is Goldie, who are set to headline StreetFest 2014 on Sunday, May 4 (Forman’s Fish Island, Hackney Wick). Enjoying its 7th birthday, this fabulous art and culture festival has a focus on offering new and emerging talent a platform to shine on. Tickets are available from the website for c£20 and this is an amazing chance to hear some bright, fresh acts appearing alongside some old skool heroes; and all within viewing distance of the Olympic Stadium!
Now for a key change of pace, how about checking out one of London’s best live classical music events? St Martin-in-the-Fields, near Trafalgar Square, is holding a free lunchtime concert on Bank Holiday Monday at 1pm until 2pm. This super venue boasts amazing acoustics and the featured artists are Dan Racoveanu and Fernanda Romila, who are part of a Romanian Cultural Institute Series.
And from the musically sublime to the slightly ridiculous (although heaps of guilty fun), the Prince Charles Cinema is hosting a Sing-a-long the Sound of Music on May 2 for a pre-Bank Holiday. Join in the fun with the Von Trapps as you try and “solve a problem like Maria” and discover the “hills are alive”.
If you are thinking of visiting a top West End show this bank holiday, but can’t decide which one to see – lets us help you find a theatre show.
To find out all the latest news and travel information, visit the Transport for London website for Bank Holiday weekend updates (including line closures and planned engineering works in London).
Visit London also has a handy page with free London travel maps and other tips for getting around the capital. If you are planning on visiting central London on a spontaneous break, why not check out our Covent Garden map; this is our fun and interactive guide to the best things to do in this fun and vibrant part of the city.
If you are planning on spending more than a day in London, then we have plenty of places to stay in London to choose from, whether you are just stopping for one night or taking advantage of the long Bank Holiday weekend.