25 free things to do in the UK in October 2017

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25 free things to do in the UK in October 2017

Our pick of the best free events around the UK this month

Halloween, Japanese cooking and your chance to read the news: there’s something for everyone in our monthly bumper round-up


1. See Michael McIntyre live

See one of the UK’s top stars for free as he records Michael McIntyre’s Big Show for the BBC at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Or maybe you would like to see the all-new series of old panel-show favourite Blankety Blank? Or be in the audience for Game of Thrones discussion show Thronecast? There’s many other TV recording tickets currently up for grabs: see here for the latest availability.

2. Pick your own pumpkin

Over four million pumpkins are sold in the UK at Halloween. Why not get properly into the spirit by going to pick your own? An increasing number of farms across the country are staging pumpkin weeks with events and activities ties in with picking-your-own. 

Farms who have been making something of Halloween for a while include Beluncle Farm (pictured, near Rochester in Kent). Entry to the pumpkin fields is free, but you have to pay for your pumpkins. You can also pick Halloween pumpkins at Secretts Farm in Milford, Surrey and Craigie’s farm at South Queensferry in Edinburgh

There’s also a great searchable roster of pick-your-own farms nationwide at this link. As always, check details before setting out. 

3. Libraries Week

9-14 October

The first-ever week devoted to celebrating libraries, with special events all round the country. Check your local library for full info as the week approaches.

4. Take part in the world’s largest festival of drawing

1-31 October, venues nationwide

There are Big Draw events all across the country, with David Hockney, Lord Foster and Andrew Marr among the patrons of an event that has now become international.  Not all events are free, but many are. Check out the searchable map of what’s going on.

Visit a Fun Palace

5. Visit a fun palace

7-8 October, venues nationwide

Now into its fourth year, the annual Fun Palace weekend sees hundreds of pop-up art-meets-science events across the country. See a 3D printer in action in Dunfermline; play giant board games in Camden; make a Polish paper chandelier in Crumpsall; meet guide dogs in Braintree; press apple juice in Swindon – we could go on. For full details of events in your area, explore this searchable map.


6. Pop-up sculptures in Regent’s Park

Until 8 October

A series of 23 sculptures by many acclaimed international sculptors have been on show in London’s Regent’s Park this summer, coinciding with the two (paid-for) Frieze art fairs. Enjoy them on a sunny autumnal walk through the park.

7. See medical research

13 September- 28 October, Francis Crick Institute, London

There’s 1500 researchers working at the Francis Crick Institute near Euston, working daily to cure cancer, tuberculosis, flu and other nasties. Find out exactly what that involves and how far they’ve got in this intriguing exhibition about the future of human health.

Canterbury Festival Parade
©Tim Stubbings

8. Canterbury Festival Parade

14 October

Not just a parade, but also live music stages, drumming workshops, flashmob opera and more to kick off the three-week Canterbury Festival, which has a tremendous programme including many free, family events.

9. Early bonfire nights 

The fifth of November can’t come soon enough for the Sussex hotbed of Guy Fawkes celebrations: there are so many towns that go big on Bonfire Night that their celebrations have to be staggered throughout the preceding months. So, if you’re a fireworks/effigies/torchlit procession fan, head for Eastbourne (7 October), Hastings (14 October), Northiam (21 October) and Littlehampton (28 October). Check the full itinerary for details of other towns having early Guy Fawkes celebrations.


Solihull Food and Drink Festival

10. Solihull Food and Drink Festival

29 September-1 October

Tickets for cooking demonstrations by the star attraction Hairy Biker Dave Myers cost £5, but there’s loads of free stuff going on in Solihull this weekend, including a free kids cooking workshop with Katy Ashworth of CBeebies’ I Can Cook; demonstrations of Japanese cooking by Wagamama chefs; cocktail-making shows, live music, dance classes and over 50 stalls. 

11. Musical Picnic

14 October, Birmingham Symphony Hall 

Each month, a virtuoso musician leads a Musical Picnic on a Saturday morning in the Symphony Hall’s Café Bar, with interactive music and story-telling show for younger children 

This month, it’s Brazilian-born percussionist Adriano Adewale.

12. An autumn walk in Whipsnade’s Tree Cathedral

Whipsnade, Bedfordshire. Open daily, dawn to dusk

There’s something magical about the Tree Cathedral, conceived as a memorial to his World War I comrades by Edmund Blyth in the 1930s. It’s a nine-acre garden, with trees and shrubs planted to recreate the plan of a medieval cathedral, now looked after by the National Trust. If you’re looking for more than a short walk in a garden, you could stop off here while taking on part of the Icknield Way Trail, a waymarked mountain-bike/walking trail that links Suffolk to Buckinghamshire. 

13. Read the news

BBC Birmingham Visitor Centre, The Mailbox. Daily, 10am-5pm; Sunday 11am-5pm

Think you could do better than Huw Edwards? Have a go at reading the news at the BBC’s Birmingham Visitor Centre. There’s also a brand new exhibition about The Archers (opening 23 September) as well as a chance to sample some of the new technology the BBC is currently working on (Red Button-plus, for example.) Full, paid-for tours of the studios are also available.


14. See the future (and Matt Lucas)

18-20 October, Future City Festival, Bristol

‘What will cities of the future look like?’ is a question explored in this year’s Bristol Festival of Ideas. There’s free talks and walks (as well as some paid-for events) and even a free warm-up event (on 9 October) involving the not-obviously-connected comedian Matt Lucas talking about his new book… Advance booking of your place is advised.

15. Marconi radio museum

Mullion, Cornwall, Sundays 1.30-4.30; Tuesdays and Fridays 7-9pm

Already acclaimed as the inventor of radio, Guglielmo Marconi was still only 27 when he sent the first Transatlantic radio signal in 1901. Marconi’s remarkable story is told in a small but acclaimed museum on the Cornish cliffs from where he sent that first message. Staffed by volunteers, it's not open every day, so be sure to check the website before you set out. 

The Story of Cardiff

16. The Story of Cardiff

26 October 6-8pm, The Old Library, Cardiff 

A free evening tour of The Cardiff Story museum, ending on the roof with views across the city. Part of the national Museums at Night weekend, which has loads of great events, mostly paid-for and related to Halloween ghoul-summoning.

17. Falmouth Oyster Festival

12-15 October

Cookery demonstrations, sea shanties, a town parade, live music, boat races and marquees full of Cornish produce: it’s the 21st annual celebration of Cornish seafood and, in particular, the last remaining traditional oyster fishery in Europe still dredging by sail and hand punt. 


Manchester Science Festival

18. Manchester Science Festival

19-29 October, venues across Manchester

England’s largest science festival is described by its organisers, the excellent Museum of Science and Industry, as ‘part-laboratory, part-playground’. True to their promise, it has a massive imaginative programme including a warehouse-sized spider’s web made of sticky tape, plenty of robot stuff, playgrounds for grown-ups, a film season featuring classic sci-fi and alien-hunting… and much more. The website is pretty good too.

19. Road Sign Exhibition

2-29 October, Humber Street Gallery, Hull

Hull’s year as the UK’s City of Culture continues apace with a “packed daily programme” [https://www.hull2017.co.uk/whatson]. But can there be a more intriguing event than this exhibition celebrating classic UK road signage? Leading artists and designers led by Sir Peter Blake have produced new works inspired by road signs (seriously) to make us consider their classic design qualities rather than their everyday meanings. Go!

20. The Juice Festival

20-28 October, venues across Newcastle

Half-term films, workshops and activities programmed and produced by young people for young people.

21. Orla Guerin free talk

26 October, 6pm, Eleanor Rathbone Theatre, University of Liverpool

The BBC foreign correspondent has reported from more than 60 countries and has long experience of the world’s troublespots. She is currently based in Cairo, but is giving this free talk about her career as part of the Liverpool Irish festival.


Scottish International Storytelling Festival
Courtesy of Royal Geographical Society

22. Scottish International Storytelling Festival

20-31 October, Edinburgh

A celebration of story-telling in all its forms: from a day of family-friendly yarns in the National Botanic Gardens to an intriguing tour tracing the secret stories of a cemetery and an exhibition tracing Shackleton’s Antarctic voyage through the haunting work of his official photographer. Those are all free and there’s plenty of other events, both free and paid-for.

23. Halloween and Fireworks Display

29 October, Belfast Titanic Quarter 

Belfast’s biggest Halloween event: not just a grand fireworks display, but also live music, fairground rides, street theatre and fire-eating.

24. Ian Rankin/Rebus exhibition

Until 21 January 2018, The Writers Museum, Edinburgh

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of his first Inspector Rebus novel, author Ian Rankin has put together a special free exhibition, exploring his and Rebus’ Edinburgh, featuring an exclusive interview with Rankin, as well as manuscripts and memorabilia. 

John Mcfarlane exhibition

25. John Macfarlane exhibition

5-28 October, Compass Gallery, Glasgow 

Glaswegian artist John Macfarlane has made a name for himself as one of the world’s leading stage designers for opera and ballet. Now, he returns to Glasgow with a special exhibition of his art.


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