25 Free things to do in January

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Something for everyone in our bumper monthly round-up of the UK's free days out and events

1. Welcome the Year Of The Rooster

Central London, 29 January

London hosts the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside Asia. Thousands descend on the West End to wish each other "Xin Nian Kuai Le" (Happy New Year in Mandarin) or "San Nin Faai Lok" (in Cantonese). The Chinese New Year festivities in Central London are free to attend and take place in Trafalgar Square, Chinatown and other places across the West End on January 29 and subsequently (although the New Year itself starts the previous day, on 28 January). 


2. Visit Hull – City of Culture 2017

A year-long programme of events kicked off at New Year, all designed to challenge people’s perceptions of Hull and offer different ways to experience the city. Full details at hull2017.co.uk/whatson/events/look

3. Make new friends on a bike ride


The nationwide Sky Ride scheme – tied in with Team Sky – brings together cyclists of all abilities for social (and more serious) rides: there are big, mass participation events, but also smaller, more local rides, guided rides and women-only rides, as well as outings tailor-made for parents and children. Have a look at their searchable database of what's coming up in your area at their site: goskyride.com

Meanwhile, Liverpool City Council's wide range of cycling events for all abilities is particularly good: it has a programme of guided rides in different areas of the city and some of them even provide free bikes and helmets. Find out more here: liverpool.gov.uk .

4. Brighton Royal Pavilion Free Day

Brighton Pavilion, BN1 1EE. 15 January

Always wanted to explore the inside of Brighton's quirky Pavilion? Now you can, for free. To celebrate the purchase of the Royal Pavilion by the town of Brighton in 1850, admission charges are waived one day a year, and this year Sunday 15 January is the chosen date. Come on down!


5. Explore the universe

World Museum, William Brown Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L3 8EN 

Explore millions of years of the Earth’s history through thousands of exhibits and hands-on activities, including an exhibition of animal mummies.  The trip includes free entry to a planetarium, with the planetarium, which currently attracts about 90,000 people per year. Shows cover various aspects of space science, including the Solar System, space exploration and there are special children's shows too.


6. Zaha Hadid’s architectural visions exhibition

Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Hyde Park, London, W2 3XA. To 12 February

The visionary architect Dame Zaha Hadid, whose best-known works include the London Aquatic Centre (pictured), passed away in March 2016. This exhibition brings together a collection of her paintings and drawings that give an insight into her architectural inspirations; there’s also a specially created Virtual Reality section – and all housed in a gallery she designed herself.


7. See TV's biggest stars for free

Apply for free tickets for shows including Britain's Got Talent; Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway; David Walliams' new version of Blankety Blank; Jeremy Clarkson and co's Grand Tour and many more...


8. Get outdoors

Sheringham Park, Norfolk

Sheringham has 1000 acres of woodland and open spaces with stunning sea views, especially from the lookout tower and gazebo. Where better to ponder how those New Year resolutions are coming along?


9. Investigate your food 

MSI Manchester, 14 January, 10.30 am – 3.30pm

This month, the excellent Manchester Museum of Science and Industry's (MSI) interactive science day for school-age children focuses on food, exploring the environmental impact of different foods via quizzes, interactive apps and games.


10. Starry starry night

Galloway Forest Park, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.

 Visit the UK’s first Dark Sky Park, designated in 2009. So few people live within the Forest Park that the nights are inky black, making it a brilliant place to enjoy the stars. Or go during the day for family friendly walks and a great visitor centre.


11. Reacquaint yourself with a literary legend

Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea, SA1 1QP

At the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea you can find all there is to know about the iconic writer's life and work, with exhibitions, studies and events. The interactive exhibition explores Dylan’s life and work through a variety of media and includes letters, books, worksheets and photographs. Open daily.

Dylan Thomas Centre 

12. Light up your life

Mousehole seafront, Cornwall, TR19 6PG. Until January 7

Mousehole's Christmas lights were started in 1963 by Mousehole-based artist, Joan Gillchrest, with a string of coloured bulbs along both quays to make the village a bit brighter at Christmas time – and the tradition (and size of the display) has grown since then. Today the Christmas lights in this little seaside town draw thousands of visitors each year, and extend a little beyond New Year too. It's a stunning sight, with floating displays of lights in the harbour. visitcornwall

• During the day you could check out Mousehole’s Wild Bird Hospital, full of birds being cared for by volunteers. helpwildlife.co.uk

13. Enjoy Cornish gardens

Fox Rosehill Gardens, Falmouth TR11 4DE

This peaceful sub tropical garden is a legacy from the Fox family who gave part of the garden for public enjoyment at the end of World War II. Species from Australia, New Zealand and South America have been successfully introduced to the mild Cornish climate, including Lemon, Banana and Eucalyptus Trees, Bamboos, Agaves and a wide variety of Palms.

Fox Rosehill Gardens, Falmouth

14. Cathedral dreams 

Rochester Cathedral, Rochester ME1 1SX

Have a spiritual moment in the UK's second oldest cathedral with its stunning architecture from 604 AD. Its walls hum with the prayer of a thousands of years. Recently updated with spectacular audio visual projections, state-of-the-art audio tours and guided tours.


15. Enjoy spectacular light installations

Winter Lights, Canary Wharf, London 16-27 January, 4pm-9pm daily.

Last January, central London was mobbed with visitors flocking to see the Lumiere series of light shows and artworks that took over the West End: this year, Lumiere moves to Durham . But fans of light displays in the capital need only travel out to Canary Wharf for something equally magical: the Winter Lights festival brings together art and technology to create a series of 30 sculptures/displays/artworks, appealing to all ages. canarywharf.com

Check out the video of last year's Winter Lights.

16. A tour of the City of London

Here’s a great thing to do on a (dry) Sunday, when the streets of the City will be all but deserted. The City of London Corporation has produced a series of free-to-download self-guided tours, including an architectural guide round 30 of the City’s most impressive buildings.

From St Paul’s Cathedral to the Monument to all the glass-and-steel wonders/monstrosities that have sprung up in the last 20 years, you can explore one of the world’s most architecturally spectacular square miles. The following Sunday, you can take a tour of London's film locations or follow a trail around the history of finance.

A terrific resource, written by experts and all free: see the full list here cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do

17. Wildlife Photographer of the Year

To 19 February 2017. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, EH1

Scarlet ibis birds in Brazil, one of the winners of the Wildlife Photography of the Year competitionThe 100 most breathtaking shots from an original entry of 50,000 photographs worldwide are on display over the winter in Edinburgh. It's a touring exhibition but this is the only chance to see it in Scotland.

Photo: Ruffs on the Norwegian tundra, shot by Czech photographer Andrej Pelanek, winner of the 2015 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.


18. Tour a working windmill

Ellis Mill, Lincoln LN1

Ellis Mill dates from 1798 but there has been a mill on this site from at least the middle of the 17th century. The Mill is still in full working order and provides flour... subject to sufficiently windy days. The mill is now managed by Lincolnshire County Council but run by a team of devoted  volunteers.


19. Walk around Dickens’ London – free App

Free App/audio walking guide, written by Dickens expert Richard Jones, that takes you on a route between Temple tube station and Holborn, with recommended stops for liquid refreshment on the way.


20. Follow in the footsteps of Jane Austen

Around Bath

Download the tourist office's free audio guide, following in the footsteps of Jane Austen and her characters, and enjoy a walk around beautiful Bath, where she lived from 1801 to 1806. (Two of her six published novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were also set in the city). For the audio guide, got to this link; for a range of other Austen-related things to see and do in Bath, go to this link

21. Celebrate England winning the World Cup!

National Football Museum, Manchester M4 3BG. To 23 April 2017. 

Players, officials, fans and bystanders share their experience, while new tech recreates the atmosphere inside Wembley that magical July day. Immersive, interactive and nostalgic all at once.


22. Performance art taster session

Newcastle College, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE4 7SA. 7 January

Newcastle College runs performing arts tuition for children ages 4 to 18, including musical theatre, pop singing, commercial and street dance. On 7 January parents get a chance to bring their children along to try out some classes free. (Limited places - booking essential)


23. Free comedy in Brum

Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham. 118 Great Hampton Street, B18 6AD.

Free Form Frogs present free improvised comedy on the third Monday of every month. Come along for a selection of improv games, unrehearsed and improvised - entirely live. 


24. See Napoleon's toothbrush

Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE

Take older kids to see a wonderfully weird collection of historical objects at the Wellcome Collection, including Napoleon’s toothbrush and Darwin’s walking stick. 


25. Fly solo

Cranwell Aviation Heritage Centre, North Rauceby, Sleaford NG34 8QR

Opened in 1916, Cranwell was the first-ever Military Air Academy. The Heritage Centre, near Lincoln, tells its story via artefacts and interactive displays, including a flight simulator.


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