25 free things to do in January 2018

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Avoid the elements with some arts and culture or brave the great outdoors: find something to do with our pick of the best free events around the UK

From cats in hats to Burns Night parades and synchronised swimming taster sessions, there's something for everyone in our monthly bumper round-up


1. Try something new

If you’re thinking of starting a new hobby, then January is a great time to find classes offering free taster sessions. Whether it’s tag rugby in London; a rock choir in Edinburgh; Mindfulness in Newport; roller derby in Gloucester or synchronised swimming in Bath, this is the perfect time of year to have a go at something new for free.

2. Make new friends on a bike ride

The nationwide Let’s Ride scheme 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 tailor-made outings for parents and children. Find one using the searchable database of what's coming up in your area.

3. National Dress Up Your Pet Day

14 January

What’s funnier than a cat in a hat? A pug in a rug? Here’s a special day dedicated to finding out. Even if you don’t have a pet yourself, the website with its bonkers suggestions of pet fashions is surely worth a minute of your time.

And if you live on the south coast, own a dog and love crime stories, then it really is your lucky day: Hastings’ True Crime museum is offering free entry (and photo opportunities) if you bring along your dog in a costume.

4. See amazing and rare films and footage

BFI Mediatheques, across the country

Great chunks of the national film archive are available to see for free in eight venues across the country. Turn up, grab a screen and choose from over 2,500 films and clips: not just documentary footage of Victorian street scenes, but pre-War football, early episodes of John Craven’s Newsround and nostalgia-inducing children’s classics.

The British Film Institute has Mediatheques in London, Birmingham, Bradford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Wrexham, Newcastle and Manchester.

5. A family walk in the park

The websites of the UK’s 15 National Parks have a “roster of routes” and suggestions for walkers of all ages and abilities. [http://www.nationalparks.gov.uk/visiting/outdoor-activities/walking/family-walks]


6. New Year’s Day Ceilidh

Clore Ballroom, South Bank Centre. 1 January, from 3pm

If New Year’s Eve has left you with any energy, get up the next day and carry right on with a huge, fun, free session led by the Ceilidh Liberation Front, who promise ‘ceilidh music as you’ve never heard it before’.

7. London New Year’s Day Parade

Piccadilly, Central London. 1 January, 12 noon start

Brazilian carnival performers; vintage Aston Martins; American high school bands; miniature steam trains; a 25-foot horse; majorettes; Eddie the Eagle Edwards waving from the back of a convertible…

There’s something for everyone in “London’s ever-expanding New Year’s Day carnival, which runs from Piccadilly, through Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall before finishing in Parliament Square.

8. See London lit up

There’s not one but two light festivals in London this month. Lumiere London (18-21 January) sees more than 40 light artists changing the look of six sites around central London, while Winter Lights (16-27 January) sees over 30 artworks lighting up the Canary Wharf skyline.

9. Brighton Royal Pavilion Free Day

Brighton. 14 January, 10am–5pm

George IV’s Indian palace near the seafront was bought by the city of Brighton in 1850 from Queen Victoria: she didn’t like visiting Brighton and was building a bigger, more secluded holiday home on the Isle of Wight.

To celebrate the Royal Pavilion coming into public ownership, admission charges are waived once a year, with a special day full of family activities and the chance to get up close to historical objects not normally on display.


10. Join a choir

If the Christmas carols have got you in the mood for a singsong, maybe your new thing for 2018 could be more of the same. Both Redditch Rock Choir (31 January) and Stourbridge Rock Choir (25 January) have free tasters and on 10 January, so does Birmingham Festival Choral Society: if you like it, you can join up to work on Bach’s St John Passion for an Easter concert.

11. The first festival of the year

Venues across Digbeth. 5 January

On the first Friday of every month, the streets of Digbeth come alive with late-night openings, special events, culture in unexpected spaces, live music, street food and more.

12. See work by local filmmakers

Film Oxford. 11 January

Join Oxford’s Open Screen group on the second Thursday of every month, as local film-makers show and discuss their latest work – you can even show one of your own.

13. Short story writing workshop

Waterstones, Birmingham. 15 January 6-8pm

A cross between a book group and a writer’s workshop, for all lovers of short stories. Go along to discuss short stories or share some work of your own. Part of Waterstones’ huge nationwide roster of talks, signings and events.


14. Listen to the sounds of time

Prescot Museum, Merseyside. Until 1 March 2018

What sound does a quartz crystal make? Normally, it would be inaudible. But not in this curious exhibition, which features sculptures based on timepieces through the ages, with the sounds of particular components isolated and amplified.

Prescot was the centre of the UK’s watchmaking trade until the early 20th century and the installation, by the art group Owl Project, was inspired by the Prescot Museum’s collection.

15. Free university lectures

Sheffield University Students’ Union. 25 January

A taster day for those over 21 who have no traditional university entrance qualifications: six talks and an optional tour. But the talks look good fun, so you could maybe sneak in even if you’re over-qualified…

Among the subjects are Britain’s relationship with Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s as expressed through cartoons; ‘How to Save Millions of Lives with a Bar of Soap’ (the history of public health); and how to apply sociological analysis to social media.

16. Free guided walks in the Peak District

Starting in Castleton, Derbyshire. 6-7 January

A weekend of free taster walks led by the outdoor/adventure holiday company Will4Adventure. Saturday offers a 15-mile route, including the Peak District’s highest hill, at Kinder Scout. Sunday’s walk, also from Castleton, is a little less demanding.

17. Salford Lads Club open days

Saint Ignatius Walk, Salford. Daily, 11am-2pm

The UK’s third most-visited music tourism destination (after Abbey Road and The Cavern) is free and 10,000 visitors a year come to Salford Lads Club to recreate the cover photo from the Smiths’ The Queen is Dead album. Built in 1903 to ‘brighten young lives and make good citizens’, the Lads Club is still going strong.

Learn about its remarkable history and look round the special room dedicated to The Smiths, with volunteer guides on hand to answer questions. A souvenir shop raises funds for local youth groups.


18. Exhibitions at the Royal Cambrian Academy

Academy Crown Lane, Conwy

This buzzing and historic gallery has its roots in the 1880s when the Conwy Valley (on the north fringes of Snowdonia) became home to an artists’ colony – which in turn attracted new waves of tourists coming to see all the artists painting in the open air.

The members’ Christmas exhibition runs until 6 January and The Open exhibition 6 January until 10 February, both featuring original works from artists across Wales.

19. National Storytelling Week

St Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff. 28 January

To kick off 2018 as being the Year of the Sea in Wales, go and hear fireside tales of romance and adventure on the high seas told by storyteller Tamar Williams, in Welsh (11.30-12.30) or in English (1.30-3.30pm). Suitable for families.

20. Ladies at Leisure exhibition

Victoria Art Gallery, Bath. 13 January-14 March

Artist Mo Lancaster makes bold and colourful poster images by hand printing with linocuts. Check out her work for free at the Victoria Gallery [https://visitbath.co.uk/whats-on/mo-lancaster-ladies-at-leisure-p2373963], right next to the famous Pulteney Bridge in Bath.

21. Punch and Judy

Slapstick Festival, Colston Hall, Bristol. 27 January 2-3.45pm

Expect sausages, silly voices and senseless violence in this free afternoon of children’s entertainment. It’s just a small part of the (otherwise paid-for and ticketed) Bristol Slapstick Festival, which includes plenty of silent films accompanied by live music, the peerless Marx Brothers, and a Sunday afternoon featuring Jo Brand talking about her favourite comedy moments from TV and film.


22. Robbie Burns Lantern procession

Dumfries, 25 January. From 5.30pm

Burns Night will see huge celebrations across the country, not many of them for free. However, Dumfries, where Burns spent his final years, has a now-traditional procession, featuring thousands of homemade lanterns, as well as live music and street performers.

There is also lantern-making at the Spiegeltent on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 from 10am until 4pm, with materials supplied.

The procession is part of the Big Burns Supper festival, which features a 10-day programme of (paid-for) shows, this year including Bill Bailey, Camille O’Sullivan and, naturally, Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers.

23. Danny Kyle Open Stage

Glasgow. 19-31 January

Glasgow stages its 25th Celtic Connections Festival from 18 January to 4 February, with over 300 events including folk/roots performers from around the world. Alongside the paid-for concerts and big names, there is a “daily Open Stage” early every evening (19 January to 3 February) at the Royal Concert Hall, featuring new acts – the best of which will be chosen to appear at a showcase on the final night.

24. Free talks by the Scottish Ballet

Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness

Scottish Ballet’s acclaimed production of The Nutcracker moves on from Edinburgh to Glasgow (4–13), Aberdeen (17–20) and Inverness (24–27) in January. At each venue, on certain evenings, there’s a chance to hear talks from production insiders on the music and dance aspects of the show. Talk Ballet is free, but space is limited and advance booking is advised.

25. Game of Thrones Tapestry

Ulster Museum, Botanic Ct, Belfast. Until 28 February 2018

TV’s cult sword-and-sorcery saga is retold via the top-rated story-telling medium of the Middle Ages: tapestry. The Ulster Museum’s 77-metre long linen epic depicts the story of the first six seasons of GoT, with new sections on Season 7 being added, too.

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