From West End musicals to photography workshops and classic car shows, this month promises free entertainment galore – with both online and in-person events.
Fill your diary with fantastic free events, festivals and shows this September. Whether you love comedy, history, science or jazz – or just want to try something new – here’s where to look.
Our diaries are bursting with free shows, talks and workshops happening in September, featuring both online and in-person events. There really is something for everyone – so, where will you begin?
You can master the art of astrophotography, explore heritage properties, join a garden party, admire classic vehicles, and sing along with the musicals – all without spending a penny...
1. See a Scottish sunset
Doon The Water, until 5 September
Credit: South Ayrshire Council
From storm-whipped seas to hazy days on the beach, this online exhibition reveals the many faces of South Ayrshire’s coastline – as painted by the likes of William Muir, William Crosbie and William Drummond Bone. With pieces dating back to the 1800s, it’s fascinating to see how each artist has captured the landscapes and people in their own unique style.
2. Meet the curators
Art Unlocked, 1 & 8 September
Credit: Jonty Wilde
Taking you behind the scenes of the UK’s best-loved cultural institutions, Art Unlocked presents a series of talks by curators, artists and trustees – highlighting a new museum or gallery every week. This month, the Stanley Spencer Gallery (1 September) and Yorkshire Sculpture Park (8 September) are in the spotlight, with Zoom talks and Q&As live from the collections.
3. Catch contemporary art in the capital
Greenwich+Docklands International Festival, until 11 September
Credit: We are watching / Miguel Bueno
Whether you love art, design, theatre or music – or everything! – this festival presents live outdoor shows throughout Greenwich and East London, for audiences of all ages. Highlights include Future Cargo (3 & 4 September), a sci-fi dance story performed at the Royal Docks; and Borealis (until 5 September), an after-dark art show inspired by the Northern Lights.
4. Listen to a new band – or an old favourite
Tim's Twitter Listening Party, throughout September
Since the UK went into lockdown last March, Tim Burgess – frontman of the Charlatans – has presented ‘listening parties’ on Twitter, inviting his followers to play an album and tweet their thoughts, memories and reviews in real time. This month, records by the likes of John Lennon (9 September), Amy Winehouse (14 September), and The Polyphonic Spree (19 September) are in the spotlight. Follow along via #TimsTwitterListeningParty.
5. Discover the Orkney isles
Orkney International Science Festival, 2–8 September
Credit: Selena S Kuzman
The wild, windswept islands of Orkney lie just off the northernmost tip of mainland Scotland – an archipelago famed for its world-class whale watching, stargazing and science festival, now in its 31st year. Happily, this far-flung event can also be enjoyed from the comfort of your home, with talks covering everything from space exploration to renewable energy. This year's theme is Scotland's Coast and Waters, so there'll also be expert lectures on tidal power, the secrets of shipwrecks, navigating the oceans by stars – and much more. Most events are free, but donations are welcomed.
6. Take a trip to Transylvania
Góbéfest, 3–5 September
Credit: Lehel Kelemen
A weekend of foot-stomping, bottle-balancing and thigh-slapping folk dance, Góbéfest celebrates Transylvanian and Eastern European culture – with performers travelling from Hungary, Poland, the Balkans and beyond. It all takes place at Manchester’s Cathedral Gardens, with plenty of palinka (fruit brandy) keeping the party swinging ’til the small hours.
7. Cross the threshold
Open House London Festival 2021, 4–12 September
Step inside some of the capital’s most famous addresses – including 10 Downing Street, Southwark City Hall, and Walter Segal’s ‘self build’ houses – in this week-long celebration of architecture, design and urban life. There will also be free walking tours throughout key London boroughs and areas, including Covent Garden, Richmond and Kensington.
8. Sing some golden oldies
Dulverton Vintage Fair, Exmoor, 5 September
With jazz bands, lindy hop dancing and a polished parade of classic vehicles, the Dulverton Vintage Fair will whisk you right back to the 1940s and ’50s. Get in the mood with songs from the fabulous Liberty Sisters – who perform on ‘Buttercup’, their 1953 GMC pickup – alongside stalls offering military memorabilia, wartime fashions and period hair-styling.
9. Hit the shops
Stafford Walking Street Market, 9 September
At this community event you’ll be serenaded while you shop at Stafford’s market square, with live performances by local bands and singers. Look out for the raffle giveaway and dancing mascots, as well as stalls galore selling crafts, food and gifts. If you can’t make this event, there’ll be a Christmas-themed one on December 9.
10. Tick off England’s historic highlights
Heritage Open Days, 10–19 September
Credit: Heritage Open Days / Chris Lacey
Every September, heritage landmarks all over England open their doors to the public, for free tours, workshops and more. Maybe you’ll ride a steam railway, discover a secret Cold War bunker, stroll award-winning gardens, or explore a Medieval castle? There are over 1,000 events to choose from, in some of the country’s most treasured – or little-known – cultural corners.
11. Step back in time
Diana Forster: Such A Long Journey, 10–25 September
In 1940, 1.7 million Polish people were forced from their homes at gunpoint, and sent to labour camps in Siberia. Among them were Diana Forster‘s mother and grandparents. Through paintings, mixed-media and sculpture at Oxford’s North Wall Arts Centre, Forster reveals the human stories behind the atrocity – a dark story, yes, but told with lightness, love and hope.
12. Fill your basket
Artisan Market, 11 September
Entry to Aylesbury’s Artisan Market is always free, but you’ll be glad you brought your wallet. Buckinghamshire’s best food producers are all represented here, their stalls laden with everything from chocolate cake to farm-fresh carrots – plus cheeses, pies, conserves and organic meats. There’s a real festival atmosphere too, with live music and entertainment all morning.
13. Watch an outdoor show
The Civic Garden Party, Barnsley, 11 September
Credit: Anna Bean
Featuring dancers, comics and clowns, Barnsley’s Mandela Gardens will host a family-friendly day of outdoor theatre, with performances by three professional troupes. There’ll be circus hijinks, slapstick dance stylings, and a comedy retelling of The Three Musketeers – and each household or ‘bubble’ gets their own bench to watch from.
14. Marvel at vintage motors
Isle Of Wight Classic Car Extravaganza, 11 & 12 September
The Isle of Wight’s famous festival of vintage, classic, custom and retro cars returns for its 19th year – billed as the ‘biggest and best ever’ by organisers. The action takes place on Ryde’s seafront Esplanade, with a gleaming static display of over 700 veteran vehicles from all over the UK and Europe.
15. Explore Cornwall’s arty side
St Ives September Festival, 11–25 September
From stand-up comedy to lantern-lit ‘ghost walks’, this 15-day festival is packed with live theatre, art and music events – and while most are ticketed, many are complimentary too. Free highlights include a blues music night (9 Sept), local history talk (16 Sept), and bell-ringing workshops in local churches (11 & 18 September) – as well as the artists’ open studios trail, where you can observe St Ives’ painters and sculptors at work.
16. Taste Devon’s delicacies
Heritage Food Festival, 12 September
From artisan gins and award-winning ice cream, to a traditional Devonshire cream tea (jam first, then cream – naturally), the Heritage Food Festival celebrates the south-west’s top recipes and delicacies. As well as featuring food and drink producers from all over the region, events include craft workshops, cooking demos and folk dancing too. A fun-filled knees-up, and all for free.
17. Enjoy the beach – and some classic motors
Beachside Classic Car Show, 12 September
After the summer crowds have departed, Beachside Holiday Park hosts its annual Classic Car Show, with the glorious Brean Sands as its backdrop. While the festival is free, it raises money for the Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance – so all donations are appreciated. If you’d like to display your own vehicle, contact the organisers: all heritage cars, bikes and self-builds are welcome.
18. Run for the cure
Wilmslow Running Festival, 12 September
With its 10K and half marathon races, this running festival usually costs more than £30 to enter – but The Christie Charitable Fund is offering free places for everyone who raises over £200 in sponsorship. As part of ‘Team Christie’, all of your fundraising will support life-saving cancer treatment and research.
19. Get to grips with plastic
The Blue Paradox, 15–27 September
We all know that plastic pollution is wrecking our oceans – but what can we do about it? This London exhibition is immersive in more ways than one: as well as revealing the truth behind the environmental crisis, it’ll take you deep underwater via stunning 360º projections. For every attendee, sponsor SC Johnson will make a donation to Conservation International's ocean protection efforts, too.
20. Spy classic cars at the seaside
Sidmouth Classic Car Show, 18 September
Presenting vintage vehicles from all over the UK, the Sidmouth Classic Car Show is a family-friendly, informal gathering of those who love them best – set in the town’s beautiful sea-view cricket ground. Open to any motors registered before 2001, it’s always an eclectic event; as well as the static display, there’ll be a jazz band and other live entertainment throughout the day.
21. Celebrate the NHS and key workers
Rocking In The Free World, 18 September
If you’re NHS staff or a key worker in the public sector, you can grab free tickets to this all-new pop festival – whose line-up includes Emile Sandé and Karen Harding, alongside DJs, food stalls, and music from local Sunderland band Sons of Eden. Hosted in Herrington Country Park, tickets will be allocated via a ballot: sign up to hear when it opens, and who can apply.
22. Dance along with the musicals
West End LIVE, 18 & 19 September
While the full line-up of West End LIVE hasn’t yet been announced, you just know it’s going to be star-studded. Since 2005, almost every big-ticket show has been represented at this London festival, with songs and scenes from the likes of Chicago, Mamma Mia!, Wicked and Les Misérables (pictured above). A must-watch for anyone who loves musical theatre.
23. Mark the Midlands’ motoring legacy
Hinckley Classic Car Show, 19 September
One of the largest town-centre motor shows in the country, Hinckley’s annual classic car event will feature live bands, family entertainment and food stalls – alongside a display of hundreds of heritage vehicles. In 2019 over 900 vehicles took part, and this year’s exhibitor slots are already fully booked.
24. Feel the power of art
Art By Post: Of Home And Hope, 20 September–3 October
Credit: Morley von Sternberg
Throughout 2020, Southbank Centre provided at-home art activities to people at risk of social isolation and loneliness. Over 4,500 Britons took part, and now Royal Festival Hall presents a free curated exhibition of their paintings, poetry and drawings. After its London stint, the show will tour locations in Banbury, Sunderland and Manchester until January 2022 – also for free.
25. Snap the stars
Photography Masterclass: The Night Sky, 28 September
Exclusively for Boundless members, award-winning photographer Anna-Marie Coster reveals the dark art of astrophotography – showing you how to capture incredible snapshots of the moon, stars and Milky Way. In this interactive workshop she’ll share her expert insight into choosing the best equipment, setting up your camera, selecting a subject – and even planning the right time and location for a stellar photoshoot.
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Photos: Getty Images, unless otherwise stated