Theatre shows on trains, bicycle ballet, owl-spotting – and tango nights: amazing free things happening all over the UK in September
Make the most of the last month of warm weather and discover something different to do; we have something for everyone in our bumper monthly round-up of free days out around Britain.
1. Heritage Open Days
6-9 & 13-16 September
England’s largest festival of history and culture features 5000 free events across the country with – for instance – a Victorian schoolroom experience in Reading; a handbell taster session in Bristol; bicycle ballet in Milton Keynes and live theatre on the train from Chester to Manchester. Plus guided tours of theatres, churches and gasworks, displays of Victorian agricultural machinery and much more. There’s a searchable map for the closest events to you.
2. Dippy the dinosaur on tour
Birmingham, to 9 September; Ulster, from 28 September
Since 1905, the giant skeleton of a diplodocus has been on display in London’s Natural History Museum. This year, Dippy – in fact, a 21m long and 4m high plastercast of a skeleton found in Wyoming in 1898 – has embarked on tour. After a summer at the Birmingham Museum, Dippy moves on to the Ulster Museum until January, with stops after that in Glasgow, Newcastle, Cardiff, Rochdale and more in the next two years.
3. Tour of Britain cycle race
Divided into eight stages, this year’s Tour of Britain route begins in Carmarthenshire and finishes in Central London, with routes around Devon, Bristol, Warwickshire, Cumbria and Nottinghamshire including Nuneaton, Mansfield, Cockermouth and Barrow-in-Furness. A roster of cycling’s biggest names will be there, including Team Sky and the French Direct Energie squad. Free to watch at roadside, with plenty to enjoy in the stage towns, beyond the racing itself.
London and south-east England
4. Open House London
Free entry to over 800 buildings usually closed to the public (though advance booking is advised for the most popular ones). The palatial working conditions of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are a must-see, as is 10 Downing Street (if you can get in) and backstage at Wilton’s, London’s oldest surviving music hall; but there are many unsung delights to reward exploration of the massive list. See the full programme here.
5. The Great River Race
River Thames, 8 September
Over 300 boats compete in London’s river marathon, over a 21.6 mile course westward from Docklands to Ham, Surrey. The first boat sets off at 9.50am. It's part of the month-long Totally Thames festival, which features dozens of events, both free and paid-for.
6. Forgotten London
London Metropolitan Archives, Clerkenwell, to 31 October
The ghosts of lost London buildings and even entire areas (such as the original Chinatown in Limehouse) come to life in this collection of photographs, films, maps and drawings
7. Faversham Hop Festival
Faversham, Kent, 1-2 September
The bringing in of the Kent hop harvest has always ended with a big celebration and in Faversham, the tradition continues, with five stages of music, street performers, processions and general merriment in the medieval streets of the town over the first weekend of September.
8. NFL Festival on Piccadilly
London W1, 30 September
Piccadilly is closed to traffic for a celebration of the new American Football season, with live music, a Kids’ Zone, interactive games, and signing sessions with NFL legends. There’s also a wide range of American food, including specialities from the six areas whose teams are coming to play in London this autumn; there are games at Wembley on Sundays: 14, 21 and 28 October.
9. Bexhill Festival of the Sea
Live music stages, local food and wine, cooking demonstrations, a children’s fair and... advice on angling: all the fun of a seaside festival, just down from the de la Warr Pavilion.
10. Isle of Wight International Classic Car Show
Newport IoW, 15 September; Ryde IoW, 16 September
Hundreds of classic cars from UK and all Europe converge on the island for the 17th annual Isle of Wight Classic Car Show.
South-west England and Wales
11. Bath Minerva owls sculpture trail
To 10 September
Your last chance to visit the 82 owl sculptures placed around Bath: download the app, answer a question about every owl and you’ll be in with a chance of winning some great prizes too. There are puzzles, competitions and activities attached to various individual owls as well.
12. Dealer Day with David Dickenson
Tropicana, Marine Parade, Weston-super-Mare, 15 September
Bring your (possible) antiques and valuables for a free valuation from a team of experts, led by David Dickinson, as he films his ITV afternoon show, Real Deal. And you may get to appear on the telly.
13. Bristol Old Library Birthday Party
The Old Library, Eastville, Bristol, BS5, 15 September, 1-6pm
An afternoon of fun, activities, live music and more to celebrate the second birthday of Eastville’s Old Library: re-imagined as a community hub, after it was closed by the local council in 2016.
14. Narbeth Food Festival
Live music, children’s activities, street theatre – and, of course, plenty of food stalls and chef demonstrations, largely celebrating the produce and cuisine of Wales and Pembrokeshire in particular.
15. Step back to the time of Jane Austen
Bath, 14-23 September
Ten days of events celebrating the life of Jane Austen, in Bath’s annual festival devoted to the author. Among a packed programme of paid-for events are some free activities: the chance to watch a costumed parade on Saturday 15 September, plus there's a daily public reading at Waterstones on Milsom Street from Austen’s novel Persuasion.
Midlands and eastern England
16. Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival
South Quay, Great Yarmouth, NR30, 8-9 September
Brass bands, street theatre, loads of sea shanties, children’s entertainment and plenty of historic craft to see. It’s all free, though there are admission charges if you want to board any of the vessels.
17. Hinckley classic car show
16 September, 10am-4.30pm
Hundreds of classic cars and other vehicles fill the streets of Hinckley for the annual show. Free to enter, free to watch.
18. Worcester Music Festival
Not just hundreds of free gigs across the city but also free interactive music events and workshops, from drum clinics to instrument-taster sessions to the chance to sing in a pop choir. See the full line-up here.
19. Lincoln Morris Festival
Central Lincoln, 1 September, 10.30am to 4.30pm
The centre of Lincoln is taken over by hundreds of Morris dancers, as teams from across the UK come together to dance, sing and clash sticks in colourful costumes in the traditional manner.
20. Yorkshire Wolds Walking and Outdoor Festival
Choose from a number of guided walks and cycle rides exploring the countryside of East Yorkshire. Many of the walks have an historical theme; almost all are free. Download the full programme here.
21. Great Exhibition of the North 2018
Across Newcastle and Gateshead, to 9 September
Dozens of free events as the Great Exhibition reaches its finale, including free abseiling; plus an exhibition using Virtual Reality to show what our homes will look like in the future, a steel band in Baltic Square on 9 September… and more free fun and infotainment for all ages.
22. Be a sports commentator
National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, to 30 September
The museum’s special Action Replay exhibition looks at how technology has changed the way we watch sport on TV. There’s plenty to enjoy – how exactly are games beamed around the world? Where do eSports fit in? But the highlight is surely the chance to have a go at being a commentator yourself.
23. Fabric of Football
National Football Museum, Manchester, M4 3BG, to 15 September
A selection of match-worn football kit showing classic designs from the English top division, all drawn from a unique collection of thousands of old shirts. Other temporary exhibitions at the Football Museum include The Game: Stuart Roy Clarke’s brilliant photographs of football fans (which runs to March 2019) and Red Stars: a history of Russian football (which runs to 23 September). Plus the whole permanent collection, interactive skills tests and more.
Scotland and Northern Ireland
24. Culture Night
Belfast, 21 September, 1-10pm
Belfast city centre is transformed as hundreds of events take place in and out of venues across the city centre. There will gigs, talks, tours and activities; this year is the 10th anniversary, with over 300 events.
25. See the largest Lego bridge in the world
St Enoch’s Centre, Glasgow G1, to 28 October
Made of 200,000 bricks and spanning the length of three double-decker buses, come and marvel at (or be inspired by) the Guinness World Record-breaking Lego bridge, brought to Glasgow by the Institution of Civil Engineers.
26. Free brunchtime concert
Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Leith, EH6 8RG, Saturday 8 September, 11.30am-2.30pm
Live music at the Drill Hall Arts Café, with a range of Edinburgh bands providing sounds to complement a laidback brunch. And if you enjoy it, it’s a monthly event – so you can come back in October.
27. Free music and free wine
Studio Souk, 27 Castle Lane, Belfast, BT1, 6 September and first Thursday of every month
A chance to hear local acts playing in the intimate setting of Studio Souk – a treasure trove of local handmade products. And there’s free wine and nibbles, too.