25 Free Things to do in May

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morris dancers

Something for everyone in our monthly bumper guide

1. Celebrate Morris dancing...

Trafalgar Square, London, 6 May 

London's annual celebration of Morris dancing will fill Westminster's streets and culminate in a huge spectacle in Trafalgar Square from 2-5pm (pictured). Local and regional Morris teams will dance side by side in handkerchief-waving glory.


2. ... or celebrate beer and bread

Beer and Bread Festival, Brixton Windmill, London, 1 May

Brixton’s Beer and Bread Festival returns for a second year this May Day with a range of ales, beers, breads, pastries and cakes from local businesses, alongside live music. 


3. Song and dance

Magdalen Bridge, Oxford, 1 May from 6am

Magdalen College choir will sing from the Great Tower as the sun comes up, followed by bells-a-ringing and Morris dancing and other springlike activities all day long.


4. May Fayre and Puppet Festival

St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, 14 May

This annual festival is celebrating  its 42nd anniversary in 2017. Punch and Judy professors come from around the country for a day of jolly old-fashioned fun, including a procession at 11am led by a brass band, folk music, maypole dancing, clowns and refreshments.


5. Caerphilly Food Festival

Caerphilly, Wales, 6 May

The sixth Caerphilly Food Festival hopes to draw visitors from nationwide – as well as from around Wales –  with the high street hosting a feast of entertainment for all ages. A farmers' market, with over 20 traders, and a craft fair will run alongside the festival.


6. Explore electricity

Wellcome Collection, London NW1 2BE, throughout May

Trace electricity’s pivotal role in the modern world at 'Electricity, The Spark of Life', an exhibition exploring humankind’s contradictory relationship with electricity and looking at how the fields of science and spectacle overlap. Quirky.


7. Free comedy, circus, art and culture

Brighton festival, various venues, 5 May-5 Jun

Brighton is the place to be in May if you don’t mind the crowds – the city’s annual celebration of music, theatre, dance, circus, art and film ensures the atmosphere is buzzing. There are hundreds of free events, including free comedy nights, exhibitions and installations all around the town. www.brightonfestival.org

For a handy guide to all that’s free in the Fringe, click here

8. London Craft Week

Venues around London, 3-7 May 

This annual event showcases the best in British and international creativity and craftsmanship. There are over 230 events spread across the capital’s iconic buildings, institutions and off-the-beaten track side streets, many of which are not normally open to the public.


9. Rise and shine

International Dawn Chorus Day, 7 May 

IDCD falls on 7 May this year and there are tons of free events nationwide on and around this date, such as Sizewell Belts nature reserve in Suffolk.

Or join the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales to wake up with the birds at Gelli Hir Woods on the Gower Peninsula. Bring a flask and join in with breakfast round the camp fire after a walk in the woods.


10. Embrace the well-dressing season

Derbyshire villages, 1 May-16 September

The ancient custom of decorating, or ‘dressing’ wells, springs and other water sources with pictures made of growing things began with the Celts, and many villages in Derbyshire celebrate with processions all through the month (and right into September).


11. Bloomin’ Jewels

Contemporary Applied Arts, London SE1 0HX, 27 April-3 June 

A new exhibition celebrating the floral motif in contemporary jewellery in the UK. A series of talks and events accompanies the crafters’ works.


12. Eurovision party time

Your house, nationwide, 13 May

The music extravaganza that is Eurovision will be broadcast live from the Ukraine, providing the perfect excuse for many a household to dress up and party while, er, Oleksandr Skichko, Volodymyr Ostapchuk, and Timur Miroshnychenko channel the late Sir Terry. Get a bottle of Lambrusco in.


To get you in the mood, here's the UK song, by Lucie Jones...

13. Play tennis for free at your local club

Great British Tennis Weekend, nationwide, 13-14 May

GBTW is a mass participation campaign in which over 1000 clubs and other venues host open days and provide opportunities for 40,000 plus people to play tennis for free. (Also runs 22-23 July)


14. See science in action

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester

Stare into the mirror of infinity, create a tornado and watch your own skeleton ride a bicycle. Play with 25 hands-on exhibits and learn more about the Industrial Revolution.


15. Visit a vintage ‘Flea market’

Flat Iron Square, Union Street, London SE1 1TD

A weekly vintage and makers market with heaps of antiques, clothing, homeware, books, bikes and cameras to search through every Sunday. There’a a lot more on here than you’d expect.


16. Ravi Shankar exhibition

Southbank Centre, from 18 May

Explore the performance world of sitar master Ravi Shankar and his long history with the Southbank Centre at this free exhibition which runs until 18 June as part of the Alchemy Festival. RaviShankar/southbank

17. Howard Hodgkin: Absent Friends

National Portrait Gallery, London, to 18 June

The first time the artist’s paintings have been brought together for a solo show. (Sadly he never got to see the final result, dying just two weeks before the opening of this exhibition.) Every Thursday and Friday the gallery stays open until 9pm, and you can take part in drawing classes, talks and discussions after work.


18. LightNight

Liverpool, various locations, 19 May

Liverpool's free one-night arts and culture festival. Expect large-scale light projections and live music to workshops and spoken word, art, crafts and theatre, street performance, walking tours, dancing and late-opening exhibitions. In total, there are over 100 free events for all ages.


19. Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors

Gagosian Gallery, Mayfair, to August 25

Picasso was a huge fan of bullfighting. This exhibition takes a look at how it figured in his art and overlapped with his use of mythological subject matter.


20. Go butterfly spotting

May is a good time to see butterflies. The South Downs, north of Brighton, is one of many locations for spotting, particularly the Brighton Blue, Adonis Blue and the quintessential Downland butterfly. For other tips on good locations, go to nationaltrust.org.uk/butterfly-spotting

21. Visit Lincoln’s Collection

The award-winning archaeology museum has interactive exhibitions, events, talks and guided tours. Come face to face with Lincolnshire’s earliest inhabitants, and explore the art collections in the Usher Gallery across the road. visitlincoln.com/the-collection

22. Have a picnic in Cambridge

... or wherever else you fancy!

If you want to eat strawberries by the River Cam go to the Mill Pond at the bottom of Mill Lane to watch the punters and the world in general go by. Or walk round the grounds of Wimpole Hall. Going into the house has a charge but the grounds are free and quite magnificent.  


23. Walk this way

Chesterfield Area Walking Festival, 6-14 May

Follow a fairy trail at Creswell Crags, combine a walk with a boat trip along the Chesterfield Canal, or discover steam pioneer George Stephenson’s connection with Chesterfield. For a challenge, the Chesterfield Round Walk is a 34-mile trek through the countryside. Most of the walks are free, check out the itinerary here.

24. Calling food lovers

Malton Food Lovers Festival, 27-28 May

Celebrity chef and British-Jamaican reggae musician, Levi Roots will be joined by a host of culinary celebs including Prue Leith plus Yorkshire’s finest local talent including Stephanie Moon.
Talks and tastings, stalls and street food, vintage fun fair and children’s zone with pizza-making and family fun.


25. Groom some horses

Penny Farm, Lancashire, FY4 5JS

Meet horses and ponies and explore the fields and paddocks and an activity trail around the farm. Penny Farm is home to around 65 horses at any one time, and volunteers will show you round and introduce you to the horses. 


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