The ultimate City of London arts & culture guide


The City of London is slowly waking up again. Restaurants, bars and pubs are reopening. Shops and gyms are filling up too. Even the large office towers are seeing workers return. But we are most excited for all the new cultural happenings in the Square Mile. Galleries, theatres, music halls and major landmarks are gearing up for the May 17 easing of restrictions.

We can’t wait to get back out there. To feed our hunger for cultural experiences. Bring back our live music, art exhibitions and theatre shows. They will inject joy into our repetitive lives. Get us out of our ruts. And breathe life back into the Square Mile, which has been deserted for far too long now. So, dig out your nice clothes, make yourself up and get back into the City. These are just our favourite bits.

Leadenhall Market

From Wednesday 26 May until the end of July, lights, neon signs and a great deal of action will come in to play at the City of London’s Leadenhall Market. Designed to inject a blaze of colour and joy back into the capital, the Victorian covered market will collaborate with Gods Own Junkyard on Electric City, an immersive technicolour production involving multiple units and installations.

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Check out all the neon art installations in the market this month

Gods Own Junkyard has worked on film sets for over 40 years and the exhibition will include signage highlights from Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Judge Dredd, Batman, Tomb Raider, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Dark Knight. In addition to the actual movie signs, Gods Own Junkyard will display film stills of the pieces in-situ in the windows of Leadenhall Market’s shopfronts.

Electric City is part of an exciting programme of events and activities to celebrate the full reopening of Leadenhall Market’s 35 boutique retailers, bars, restaurants and cafes after restrictions on indoor dining lift in line with step three of the government’s lockdown roadmap on no sooner than 17 May.
Gracechurch Street EC3V 1LTS

Somerset House

We were as bummed as you were when we found out the Somerset House ice rink was cancelled last year. Then came lockdown 3, and we lost DODGE. But we have our fingers crossed for its return in summer 2021. Because this is going to be one of the top things happening in the City (well just beyond the Square Mile’s strict borders).

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Don’t miss DODGE at Somerset House

DODGE is going to transform the famous Somerset House courtyard into a kaleidoscope of colour, sound and spectacle. Taking centre stage in the courtyard is a new interactive artwork from Anna Meredith. Bumps Per Minute sees the traditional fairground dodgems ride reinvented into a high-octane interactive sensory experience.

As visitors to Dodge race their bumper cars around the track, each bump, scratch and jolt is tracked by bespoke wireless technology, designed in collaboration with BAFTA-winning interaction sound designer and fellow Studios resident Nick Ryan.

The frenetic, random manoeuvres of the cars generate a unique audio-visual composition, resulting in explosive three-minute displays of light and sound across the courtyard approximately once every hour, featuring a new suite of music composed by Anna Meredith.

Drawing on the individual collisions of each bumper car, every performance of the musical composition and bold lighting display is different, creating spectacular, climactic musical moments for participants and spectators alike to enjoy around the site. We can’t wait to take a ride on this one!

But it doesn’t end there. Expect pop up food and drink stalls, boutique shopping stalls, more art installations and the infamous Somerset Lates. Ice skating might have been cancelled but this sounds so much better.

But it doesn’t end there for Somerset House. They’re hosting No Comply, a new exhibition celebrating skateboarding culture as the sport makes its debut at this summer’s Olympic Games. And the best in international design and photography are celebrated with London Design Biennale and Photo London.  Their on-site cafés and restaurants will be fully open alongside the open-air Somerset House Terrace with San Miguel which will return with a little taste of Spain throughout the summer. London is ready to re-emerge from its year-long slumber. Bring it on!
Strand WC2R 1LA

LSO St Luke’s

The much-loved free Friday Lunchtime Concerts are back up and running in May this year. The 45-minute informal concert take place at LSO St Luke’s and are perfect for just about anyone who wants to do something a little different with their Friday afternoons. Take a seat in Jerwood Hall and bask in the relaxing sounds of classical music.

There will be introductions from their presenter, who will tell you more about the music and the instruments, and you’ll have the chance to ask the musicians your own burning questions. Or you can just listen silently. Up to you. Each concert begins at 12.30pm and free tickets must be booked in advance
161 Old Street EC1V 9NG

Barbican Centre

The Barbican is back, baby! And they aren’t holding back this year. They’ve got new art exhibitions, theatre shows, musical performances, interactive talks and stacks of film screenings coming out this year.

Once they reopen on 17 May, the Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty exhibition will open to the public. One of the most provocative voices in postwar modern art, Dubuffet rebelled against conventional ideas of beauty, hoping to capture the poetry of everyday life in a gritty, more authentic way.

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. This is a must see.

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Claudia Andujar’s The Yanomami Struggle runs at the Barbican Centre from 17 June – 29 August.

But that’s not it for fine art. The Barbican Art Gallery is also presenting Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle – an exhibition dedicated to the work and activism of Brazilian artist Claudia Andujar.

For over five decades starting in the 1970s, she devoted her life to photographing and defending the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous peoples. At a time when their territory is threatened more than ever by illegal gold mining, and as Covid-19 continues to sweep the globe, this major exhibition is especially relevant in the context of the humanitarian and environmental crises exacerbated by the pandemic.

Barbican Hall is also making space for socially distanced live music performances. Expect a wide array of classic and contemporary music from the likes of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Moses Boyd, the London Symphony Orchestra and Paul Weller. These shows will continue to be streamed live online as well.

Cinephiles are well catered for too. Highlights of the upcoming Spring/ Summer season include the return of Chronic Youth 2021 (now in its sixth year), the 2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films programme, the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Minari (USA 2020, Dir Lee Isaac Chung), and the documentary Sisters with Transistors (UK 2020, Dir Lisa Rovner), about the untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers. There’s also stacks of award-winning films streaming live on their Cinema on Demand platform.
Silk Street EC2Y 8DS

Museum of London

After five months of temporary closure, the Museum of London plans to open their doors on Wednesday 19 May, depending on government guidance. The main feature exhibition comes in the form of Dub London: Bassline of a City which celebrates dub reggae music and culture in the capital.

The display not only explores the music’s influence but its wider cultural and social impact including the origins of the record shop as a community space, the continuing role of sound systems at events like Notting Hill Carnival and the religious, political and spiritual themes that form the pulse of dub culture and music. This will be extended until 5 September 2021.

The museum’s comprehensive digital offerings, which has so far delivered family-friendly online content such as Museum of Fundon and the Great Fire of London: Live Stream as well as online displays and collections such as The Clash: London Calling Smartify tour, Disease X, Votes for Women and Windrush Stories, will continue for those who are unable to attend.
150 London Wall EC2Y 5HN

180 Strand

Fact Magazine and The Vinyl Factory, in collaboration with Audemars Piguet Contemporary, are presenting a new RYOJI IKEDA exhibition from 20 May – 1 August 2021.

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We can’t wait to get lost in this series of immersive art installations

The largest exhibition of the artist’s work ever staged, including numerous world premieres, RYOJI IKEDA invites viewers to immerse themselves in Ikeda’s dynamic digital universe. A subterranean exploration of sound and light, the show takes viewers on a sensory journey through 180 Studio’s labyrinth-like spaces. Get lost in this kaleidoscopic space.

The 12 artworks include the world premiere of Ikeda’s data-verse trilogy – a towering, triple-screen immersive project commissioned by Audemars Piguet Contemporary, and a site-specific, synapse-splitting new iteration of test pattern.
180 Strand WC2R 1EA

breaking news ukTower Bridge

After the longest period of closure since Tower Bridge opened its doors to the public over 125 years ago, London’s defining landmark will reopen on Monday 17 May.

And as this is London’s only major dog friendly attraction, visitors can bring their four-legged friends along to stretch their legs on the high-level Walkway and take in the view through the Glass Floor, 42m above the River Thames. They’ve even organised an extra pooch friendly day on 13 June, full of dog and owner games/ giveaways.

Moreover, for half term, they’re throwing a Tower Bridge Drawing Challenge on 1 June. Kids can test their knowledge of Tower Bridge and take on their family members in a drawing challenge. The kids will be able to explore Tower Bridge and find inspiration for the drawings (either inside the bridge or of the spectacular views).

The team here also hold special entry times for anyone who would like to explore the Bridge in a calm, tranquil atmosphere, including people with autism and any other needs, as well as their siblings, families and carers. Relaxed Opening takes place on the third Saturday of every month. Upcoming dates: Saturday 19 June, Saturday 17 July
Tower Bridge Road SE1 2UP

Sadler’s Wells Theatre

The team at Sadler’s Wells are gearing up for a big Spring- Summer season of dance. This includes hosting seven different productions which are scheduled between May and the start of September. Joining the previously announced and already on sale Singin’ in the Rain are performances

from our Associate Company English National Ballet, New Wave Associate Alexander Whitley, Rambert, Northern Ballet, Sadler’s Wells Breakin’ Convention and National Youth Dance Company (run by Sadler’s Wells).

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Alexander Whitley Dance Company’s Overflow is coming to Sadler’s Wells. Photo and feature image by Johan Persson.

The first six productions will have social distancing measures in place. Singin’ in the Rain is on sale without social distancing, following the UK Government’s roadmap. While we did love their Digital Stage offerings, we have been yearning for in-person performances by some of the greatest global dance companies around.
Rosebery Avenue EC1R 4TN

Guildhall Art Gallery

The Guildhall Art Gallery is expected to reopen on 2 June and Noël Coward: Art & Style will be the flagship exhibition, opening in mid-June and running until late December. It is a bit behind the rest of the Square Mile’s arts and culture venues, but it should be worth the wait.

Noël Coward: Art & Style will celebrate the dazzling visual side of Coward’s life and work by taking a fresh and vibrant look at the glittering world that Coward created. Bringing together never-before-seen materials from the Coward Archive, the exhibition demonstrates vividly the enormous impact that he and his creative circle had on the fashion and culture of his time, and how his legacy and influence still resonate today.

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Explore the Guildhall Art gallery and stunning Guildhall Yard this summer

And, come 23 July, Guildhall Art Gallery will open the Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America exhibition. Wampum belts are stories of communities and culture. This touring exhibition centres on a newly-crafted wampum belt created by the Wampanoag people of Massachusetts alongside historic material from the British Museum.

This touring exhibition unites contemporary indigenous artists and educators in the USA with museums and historic collections in Britain. Together, they explore the history, art and culture of the Native Americans who met the passengers of the Mayflower. Wampanoag artists share their story through images, ideas and wampum – the sacred shells of Native America. Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America is a major commission that acknowledges our cultural connection to the Wampanoag people who met the passengers of the Mayflower and ensured the survival of the new English settlers.
Guildhall Yard EC2V 5AE

Sculpture in the City

Sadly, because of the pandemic, the Sculpture in the City installations have not been updated since 2019. Usually, new public works of art are put up all around the Square Mile, for residents, workers and visitors to see. But we are going to get a whole set of new installations this summer.

This year will be the tenth anniversary edition of Sculpture in the City, so as well as the outdoor exhibition of public artworks amongst the architecture of the City Cluster (from artists including Laure Prouvost, Alice Channer, Eva Rothschild and Mark Handforth), there will also be an outdoor public exhibition (opening 16 July) in Aldgate Square, celebrating highlights from across the ten editions and showcasing the five shortlisted artist proposals for the first Aldgate Square Commission.

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Reza Aramesh’s sculpture by the Gherkin

We’ve been a huge fan of Sculpture in the City and can’t wait to see the new series. But, until then, we will just have to wait in anticipation, and get one last look at the current installations dotted about the City.We are sure you’ve seen plenty on your commute to work or daily walks around the City, but you can get a better, more in depth understanding of these artworks by using their app.

The guide is available through the free digital app, Bloomberg Connects and offers a new way to explore Sculpture in the City virtually and in-person. No tour guide is needed here. Learn a little bit about the artist and their art before the 10th edition takes over in June.

Open City Tours

These guys are best known for their massive yearly Open House festival, where private spaces in London are open to the public for a full weekend. It celebrates architecture, design and local culture.

But they don’t just hibernate in between festivals. They run countless tours and talks around the Capital. With one of our favourites being the Through the lens: City of London photography tour.

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Learn about the future of the City’s iconic skyline. Photo by Didier Madoc Jones of GMJ and City of London Corporation

Led by acclaimed architectural photographer Grant Smith — member of world-famous architecture imaging agency VIEW — this mid-morning walking tour will examine different ways of observing and photographing the City of London’s ever-changing built environment.

The tour will cover a range of core skills and topics — including the optimum time of day to photograph the Square Mile’s buildings and monuments as well as photographers’ rights to create images in public. By the end of this event, participants will be able to confidently identify the City’s various enigmatic architectural styles and will have discovered the key approaches to creating high-quality, thought-provoking architectural photography.
Meet at the City of London Information Centre EC4M 8BX

Guildhall School of Music & Drama

These guys won’t be opening any major in-person theatre performances for a little while now, but they have plenty of free live streamed shows. From 20-25 May, they’ll be performing Mr Burns: a post-electric play. When everything we know has been stripped away, we’re always left with a story… After the collapse of civilisation, a group of survivors recount an episode of The Simpsons.

Seven years later, this and other snippets of pop culture have become the live entertainment of a post-apocalyptic society which is sincerely trying to hold onto its past. Seventy-five years later pop songs, sitcom plots and jingles are the myths and legends from which new forms of performance are created.

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Guildhall School of Music and Drama aren’t doing any in-person shows yet, but there’s plenty going on online.

Award-winning theatre maker Chelsea Walker directs Anne Washburn’s imaginative, music-filled dark comedy, which explores the relevance of culture on a society that has none left.

And, from 22-27 May, they’ll be showing Gone Too Far! Nigeria, England, America, Jamaica; are you proud of where you’re from? When two brothers from different continents go down the street to buy a pint of milk, they lift the lid on a disunited nation: a world where everyone wants to be an individual, but no one wants to stand out from the crowd, and where respect is always demanded but rarely freely given.

Winner of the 2019 JMK Young Director award, Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu directs this comic, vibrant and perceptive exploration of identity and culture by Bola Agbaje, described as “an iconic dramatist for an entire generation of young playwrights” by Simon Stephens. Gone Too Far! premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 2007 and won an Olivier Award the following year for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliated Theatre.

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