Our pick of the best free events and activities around the UK this month: sports, festivals, music and exhibitions
Outdoor cinema, the story of John and Yoko and live music, children's activities and ping pong right across the country: make the most of summer with our bumper monthly round-up.
1. Play table tennis
National Table Tennis Day, 18 July
Hundreds of ping pong tables have appeared in new and surprising places in recent years, as Table Tennis England takes the game to the people. Wednesday 18 July is National Table Tennis Day when ping-pong-mania ramps up even further.
2. Ride your bike where you want
UK Let’s Ride, 1 July
The roads are closed at 14 locations across the country for a free day of family-friendly cycling and cycling-related fun at HSBC and British Cycling’s Let’s Ride festival. The website also has details of friendly local rides going on throughout the year, searchable by location.
3. Watch the World Cup at the cinema
Need a change of scenery as England march towards World Cup glory/doom? Showcase Cinemas are showing every game in the tournament live at their 21 locations across the country. It’s free but advanced booking is advised.
4. Celebrate 100 years of the RAF
The centrepiece of the RAF’s centenary celebrations will be a flypast of 100 historic RAF planes over Buckingham Palace on 10 July. You can also see the Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial flight for free at venues across the country including Folkestone (21-22 July), Hastings (21-22 July), and the Sunderland Air Show (27-29 July). Check the Red Arrows’ full summer schedule (including paid-for events).
5. Play tennis
Great British Tennis weekend, 22-23 July
Inspired by Wimbledon but don’t know where to start? The second of this year’s Great Tennis Weekends sees hundreds of clubs across the country throw open their doors for free to anyone of any age who wants to have a go; rackets and balls provided. Even David Lloyd leisure clubs (of ex-British Davis Cup star Lloyd) are taking part, and if you sign up before the weekend, you can have a go in the pool or take an exercise class too…
London and south-east England
© Kyung Hwa Shon, photo Tim Bowditch
6. See films outdoors
BBC Television Centre
See the best films of 1988 – including Die Hard and Beetlejuice – in the iconic outdoor setting of the old circular courtyard of BBC Television Centre at White City. You can also catch live action from Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the British Athletic championships, plus a streamed performance of the Royal Opera House’s production of Don Giovanni (July 12) and much more, all the way through to 2 September.
7. Lambeth Country Show
Brockwell Park, 21-22 July
An amazing weekend event that mixes traditional country fair attractions – flower shows, giant vegetables, sheep-shearing, horse-riding, jousting displays – with live music stages, kids’ activities, a fun fair and more. The inner-London borough celebrates the best of city and country.
8. Bexhill Great Gatsby Fair
Bexhill-on-Sea turns back the clock to the Roaring Twenties, with classic cars, mass Charleston lessons, live music, marching bands, children’s entertainers, a vintage fair and much more.
9. A Drive Through Time
West Park, Bognor Regis, 8 July, 11am-8pm
Hundreds of classic cars rally at the seaside, with children’s activities, stalls and live music. Plus the British Grand Prix from Silverstone live on the big screen – and from 5-8pm, open air cinema with the classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Midlands and eastern England
© Visit Nottinghamshire
10. Robin Hood: Hoodwinked trail
Across Nottingham, 7 July to 30 September
Nottingham gets its own sculpture trail, themed around local hero Robin Hood – except, being a master of disguise, you may not recognise him…
11. Jewellery Quarter Festival
Birmingham, 20-22 July
Performances, workshops, tours and activities, as over 50 craft studios open their doors to the public. There’s a full accompanying programme of food and face painting, live music and dance lessons… Full details of this year’s programme will be announced in early July.
• Also this month: Birmingham, Solihull Jazz Festival (July 20-29), has top players from around the world playing 200 (mostly) free gigs in restaurants, bars, public spaces, museums.
12. Cambridge Big Weekend
Parker’s Piece, Cambridge, 13-15 July
Three days of diverse free entertainments include a firework display (Friday, 10pm), ‘90s hitmakers Right Said Fred (just before the fireworks), and a French market (12-10pm every day). There’s also a children’s entertainment area, reggae maverick Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (Saturday), various silent discos and, on Sunday, the Mela, when the whole thing takes on an Asian flavour. Plus a celebration of the centenary of women getting the vote.
13. Stratford-upon-Avon River Festival
30 June – 1 July
A packed weekend of fun and activities on the banks of the Avon, with two music stages, children’s activities, food and drinks stalls and a firework display on the Saturday night.
South-west England and Wales
14. Bristol Harbour Festival
A massive free festival, with three days of music kicked off by Jimmy Cliff and Grandmaster Flash on the Friday evening plus a continental food market, boat races (including a cardboard boat race…), circus acts, and balloon tossing championships. There will also be races for babies, sea shanties, steel bands and mermaids telling seafaring tales. Truly, something for everyone.
15. Cardiff International Food & Drink Festival
Roald Dahl Plass, Cardiff, 6-8 July
Wales’s largest free food festival brings together hundreds of food and drink stalls from Wales and across the world, plus live music on the banks of the Taff.
16. Taste the future
Arts Café, Andrew Brownsword Gallery, Bath, 20 July – 24 August
A full-on and futuristic gallery takeover, with interactive fun around the subjects of Artificial Intelligence, motion capture, virtual reality, gaming, 3D printing and more at the intersection of arts, digital and science.
17. Alice in Wonderland Day
Story Museum, Oxford, 7 July
A day of storytelling, walks, talks, performance and exhibitions to commemorate the Oxford boat trip in July 1882 during which Lewis Carroll first entertained young Alice Liddell with his tales of Wonderland.
North of England
© Mark McNulty
18. John Lennon and Yoko Ono exhibition
Museum of Liverpool, until 22 April 2019
A major new exhibition produced with Yoko Ono and including many items from her personal collection, telling the story of her relationship with the late Beatle and of the art and political campaigns they created together. The exhibition includes handwritten Lennon lyrics, items from the couple’s famous 1969 ‘bed-ins’ and the copy of Yoko’s book Grapefruit that she gave to Lennon in 1964.
19. Festa Italiana
Cathedral Gardens, Manchester, 13-15 July
A celebration of all things Italian, inspired by traditional festivals across Italy, with food, drink, live music, chef demonstrations, children’s activities and more. Bellissima!
20. Oliver Postgate exhibition
Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, until 29 July
See behind the scenes of the golden age of children’s TV, from Bagpuss and The Clangers to Ivor the Engine. This V&A exhibition uncovers the magical stop-frame worlds of (narrator) Oliver Postgate and (puppeteer) Peter Firmin.
On 7 July, there is also a free talk by Sandra Kerr, who wrote music for the pair’s shows.
21. South Tyneside Festival
Bents Park, South Shields, Sundays throughout July
A month of free concerts on South Shields seafront with pop belter Pixie Lott and ex-JLS singer Aston Merrygold headlining on 8 July, then The Vamps on 15 July, Scouting For Girls (and Eurovision veterans The Fizz) on 22 July, and Heather Small and Atomic Kitten on 29 July. There’s also a supporting bill of name acts and local bands. Priority £5 tickets are available (giving access to a VIP area with its own bar and toilets…) but otherwise, it’s free entry. Gates open at 12.45.
Scotland and Northern Ireland
22. Edinburgh Free Fringe
29 July – 26 August
Over 9000 performances of over 400 shows are free at the Edinburgh Free Fringe, including children’s shows. Other events include various shows themed around growing up with 90s pop, the life of Dad’s Army star John Le Mesurier, and Board Game Smackdown, in which the best comedians from across the fringe play board games against each other. There’s also the truth about being a 16-year-old nerd (as told by 16-year-old stand-up Kate Talbot).
23. Edinburgh Jazz Festival Carnival
Princes Street/Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, 15 July, 1.30-4pm
Over 800 performers bring music, dance, circus, acrobats and puppetry from all over the world to the streets of Edinburgh to mark the start of the Jazz Festival.
24. Kelvingrove Bandstand Family Festival
Bandstand and Amphitheatre, Kelvingrove Park, 3-22 July
Three weeks packed with free family events at the terrific restored bandstand/amphitheatre in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park, next to the University.
25. Summer Twilight Market, Belfast
St George’s Market, Belfast, 31 July – 1 August, 4-11pm
Four times a year Belfast’s weekend covered market has two nights of late opening midweek, with live music, chef demonstrations and bars open to 11, alongside the usual food and craft stalls. Check the website for details of the theme and line-up closer to the date.