History, art and culture
Matthew Pearson

London Lates: The Best Museum and Gallery Late Openings

Our guide to the best London lates, after hours museum and gallery openings, including...

  • The Big Three in West Kensington
  • London Lates at the Tates
  • Lates at the Nationals
  • London Lates at the Britishes
  • Lates at the Smaller Places

London lates, the evenings when the city’s museums and art galleries stay open a little later, throw on some extra entertainment, some music, temporary installations, workshops, wine. Making heritage institutions more accessible and relevant to people who might feel excluded or alienated from their traditional remit and repertoire. Hosting debates and talks, bringing together disparate voices, encouraging quieter ones, silenced ones, newly emboldened ones. London lates are there to be explored, open to everyone, hosted by most of the biggest cultural institutions in town. But it’s pretty easy to miss out on London lates. Then it’s often another month to wait until they swing by again. So here’s our guide. Not much meat on the bone, because lates held in London’s museum and galleries are rarely the same two months in a row. But these are the places and the dates to keep in mind. Head over to the official websites to see what’s happening at each place’s next late. We’ve put a weekly planner at the bottom, so you can see—at a glance—when in the week each gallery and museum holds their late. It’s up to you to work out which Thursday in the month is next Thursday.

The Big Three in West Kensington

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum lates feature pop-up exhibitions, talks on ecological issues and natural history, as well as science demonstrations. Held on the last Friday of the month, their lates often tie in with the museum’s latest temporary shows. It’s free to enter, but some individual aspects require the pre-booking of free tickets so that the debates, screenings and exhibits don’t get too crowded. Still other aspects do charge, experiences such as guided tours of lesser-spotted areas of the NHM collection. After the late, in an event probably called a ‘really late’, the Natural History Museum hosts a silent disco in the entrance hall. You’ll be dancing underneath Hope, the Blue Whale skeleton, the world’s most formidable bouncer. Tickets for the really late silent disco cost around £22. For details of the Natural History Museum’s upcoming lates, look HERE. Free to enter, but some aspects require pre-booking of free tickets, others charge. Last Friday of the month, 18.00 - 22.00 [caption id="attachment_5952" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

nhm.ac.uk[/caption]

V&A

The V&A was the setting for the big shift in London lates. The moment the notion of ‘opening up’ traditional cultural spaces went beyond simply leaving the lights on for a couple extra hours on a Friday. When gal-dem took over the V&A for a Friday late in 2016, the magazine and cultural collective run by women of colour and non-binary people of colour showed just what a late could represent. A real opening up, to voices and stories too often excluded and alienated and absent from art spaces. The V&A has continued to orchestrate a programme of lates that showcase underrepresented voices, challenge damaging orthodoxy and keep pace with ideas on contemporary design. For details on the V&A’s upcoming lates, look HERE. Free and drop in, unless otherwise stated. Last Friday of the month, 18.30 - 22.00

Science Museum

The only thing standing between you and a PhD in astrophysics is all kids getting in your way at the Science Museum. If it wasn’t for all the screaming four year olds, you’d understand gravitational rays by now. For goodness sake, you’d be lecturing on them. But the sad fact is that kids are allowed to like science too and, therefore, the reasons for banning them from the Science Museum seem sadly out of whack with modern sensibilities. UNTIL NOW. Science Museum lates are adults-only, 18+, no Albert Kleinsteins allowed. The themed evenings offer up plenty of entertaining exhibits, special screenings, interactive elements (games for adults) and talks and panel discussions. Regular events include a £2 silent disco (drop in on the night) and Talkaoke, an open talk show structured around the evening’s main themes. For details on the Science Museum’s upcoming lates, look HERE. Free, but ticket required. Some events and activities require extra payment on the night, some are best to book in advance (special screenings etc.) to make sure you can get in. Last Wednesday of the month, 18.45 - 22.00

London Lates at the Tates

Tate Modern

Tate lates mix art, music, film, workshops and talks to explore the work of a particular artist or one of the gallery’s temporary exhibitions. The music on offer is unashamedly eclectic, the line up usually put together by trend-setting boundary-ignorers NTS Radio. Modern art installations, some popping up just for the late, offer immersive and engaging routes into the evening’s main themes. Staff and volunteers host ten minute art talks, setting you on a personal journey into individual artists or separate art movements. Contemporary art often takes on an extra dimension or ten after hours. For more details on the Tate Modern’s upcoming lates, click HERE. Free, but some events require a free ticket, usually available to collect from the Level 0 ticket desk on a first come, first served basis on the night. Last Friday of the month, 18.00 - 22.00

Tate Britain

Bucking the trend for being tardy, Tate Britain lates take place on the first Friday of the month, rather than the last. So that’s two Fridays a month sorted. The gallery puts on a diverse set of workshops, alternative tours of the collection, musical performances and film screenings, designed to respond to aspects of the collection, new commissions or major retrospectives. Exploring issues surrounding social activism, cultural identity, race and class in the Britain of the now and the Britain of the past, Tate Britain lates help the gallery’s canon-heavy collection find new meaning in contemporary conversation. For more details on Tate Britain’s upcoming lates, look HERE. Free, drop-in. First Friday of the month, 18.00 - 22.00 [caption id="attachment_5953" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

tate.org.uk[/caption]

Lates at the Nationals

National Portrait Gallery

Lates at the National Portrait Gallery are particularly well-loved for their drop-in drawing events. These totally free, semi-guided drawing classes focus on different artworks from the gallery’s collection and give you the opportunity to pick up the techniques used and attempt to emulate or incorporate them into your own work. For everyone, from absolute beginners to professionals, the drop-in drawing events take place between 18.30 and 20.30, but you can drop in whenever you like, staying for the whole thing or just a ten minute slot. All equipment is provided, but feel free to bring your own. National Portrait Gallery lates also feature paid life drawing classes and film screenings, which need to be booked in advance. Other free events on the night include DJ sets in the Ondaatje Wing Main Hall and talks exploring ideas about art, culture and society. It’s also just a great opportunity to see the main collection after hours. And it’s every Friday. For more details on the National Portrait Gallery’s upcoming lates, look HERE. Free, drop-in, but some individual aspects charge and require pre-booking. Every Friday, 18.00 - 21.00 [caption id="attachment_5955" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

standard.co.uk[/caption]

National Gallery

The National Gallery stays open until 21.00 every Friday. It’s on this day that it puts on many of its extra-curricular events, some ticketed, some not. From musical performances under the eyes of the gallery’s most famous artworks, to interpretive dance takeovers, workshops, DJ sets, lectures and tours, the gallery puts on a varied programme throughout the year. For more information on what's on, look HERE. Free to enter, but individual events may charge and require pre-booking. Every Friday, open until 21.00 [caption id="attachment_5956" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

nationalgallery.org.uk[/caption]

London Lates at the Britishes

British Library

This isn’t a regular London late, but the British Library occasionally puts on evenings of gigs, talks, curator tours and more. Also, Monday to Thursday, the whole place is open until 20.00, so you can see the permanent exhibitions once the crowds have died down. I guess 20.00 is still technically late. Although irregular, the British Library does put on some stellar events, diverse in nature, tone and subject, usually to coincide with new exhibitions or wider cultural festivals happening throughout the capital. For more information on upcoming late events at the British Library, look HERE. Events and exhibitions are all individually priced. To see the permanent exhibitions, it’s free.

British Museum

The British Museum burns the 20.30 oil every Friday, drinking four espressos back-to-back in order to finish their essay on the Ancient Egyptians. Join them for an enjoyable cram session, with paid lectures and talks focusing on the museum’s current exhibitions, free 20 minute spotlight tours taking in different zones of the museum and its core collection, film screenings, discussions and performances. The popular Great Court Restaurant stays open too, and (weather permitting) there’s the chance to pick up some street food from the trucks on the museum’s forecourt. For more information on upcoming events at the British Museum, look HERE. Free to get in, but with many paid events, which are best to book in advance. Every Friday, open until 20.30

Lates at the Smaller Places

Horniman Museum

South London’s Horniman Museum hosts occasional lates with talks, music and workshops. Usually tying in with a theme suggested by their most recent exhibition, the lates are either free or cost around a fiver. The museum also puts on nights devised for teenagers, which are usually free. For more information on upcoming lates at the Horniman Museum, look HERE. Free or £5ish. Sporadically throughout the year, usually on Thursdays, 18.30 - 21.30 [caption id="attachment_5958" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

wikipedia.org[/caption]

Wellcome Collection

The free museum devoted to health, life, medicine and our place on the planet, the Wellcome Collection stays open until 21.00 every Thursday, offering guests more time to look around their exhibitions without so many people jostling for space. They also put on occasional themed lates and regular special events, so it’s worth keeping up to date with what’s happening down in Euston. For more information on upcoming lates and events at the Wellcome Collection, look HERE. Thursday late openings are free, as are the occasional themed lates, but special events are ticketed and should be booked in advance. [caption id="attachment_5959" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

ft.com[/caption]

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane’s Museum puts on themed lates each month. These candlelit paid events feature specially curated runs through the highlights and secrets of the collection, often with a drink included in the admission price. These evenings also see some of rarely seen items come out from their hiding places, curator talks and performances. The rich and varied collection, along with the unique setting of the house museum, really come into their own after hours. For information on upcoming lates at Sir John Soane’s Museum, look HERE. Around £25. Definitely book in advance. On a Friday each month, hour long visiting slots available between 18.00 and 20.00 [caption id="attachment_5960" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

soane.org[/caption]

Dulwich Picture Gallery

After hours at Dulwich Picture Gallery see the gallery stay open late for a number of different activities, including drawing sessions, craft lessons and curator talks. Events often hinge on individual items in the gallery’s main collection, a temporary exhibition or calendar events, like Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s Day. These are ticketed events that need to be booked in advance. They take place every month or so, usually on a Friday, in the main gallery or in the Pavilion Bar during the summer. For more info on upcoming events and lates at Dulwich Picture Gallery, head HERE. Tickets must be booked in advance, usually costing around £12. Occasional lates throughout the year, usually on Fridays. [caption id="attachment_5961" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk[/caption]

Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Gallery stays open until 21.00 every Thursday, giving you the chance to see their changing exhibitions in a new light, with fewer obstructions and with an alcoholic accompaniment. The gallery is also a leading member of the First Thursdays initiative, when over 150 galleries in East London come together and open up for free events, exhibitions, talks and private viewings. As the name suggests, these events take place on the first Thursday of every month. Link up these late opening events as part of a walking tour, or book to take a bus tour between some of the open venues, which starts and ends at Whitechapel Gallery. You get a drink thrown in with your ticket. For more info on upcoming exhibitions at Whitechapel Gallery and the First Thursdays strand, click HERE. Free entry to Whitechapel Gallery, tickets for the bus tour are around £15 and should be booked in advance, because they sell out. Whitechapel Gallery stays open until 21.00 on Thursdays, First Thursdays are on the first Thursday of the month. [caption id="attachment_5962" align="alignnone" width="1000"]

whitechapelgallery.org[/caption]

Weekly Planner

Wednesday

Science Museum Late: Last Wednesday of the month.

Thursday

Whitechapel Gallery: Open late every Thursday and runs bus tours to late opening East London galleries on the first Thursday of each month. Wellcome Collection: Late opening every Thursday, occasional lates on other days.

Friday

Natural History Museum: Last Friday of the month. V&A: Last Friday of the month. Tate Modern: Last Friday of the month. Tate Britain: First Friday of the month. National Portrait Gallery: Every Friday. National Gallery: Every Friday. British Museum: Every Friday.

Occasional

British Library Horniman Museum Wellcome Collection Sir John Soane’s Museum: Monthly, usually on Fridays and Saturdays Dulwich Picture Gallery

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