25 free things to do in the UK in April 2018

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Free space exhibition at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

25 free things to do in the UK in April 2018

Tim Peake's spacecraft, classic cars at the seaside and the story of circus: something for everyone in our monthly bumper guide…

Nationwide events

25 free things to do in April: tag rugby taster session

1. RAF centenary celebrations 

Starting 1 April, with many events throughout the spring and summer.

Easter Day – 1 April – marks the 100th anniversary of the RAF and the start of a summer of celebrations across the country. 

The RAF museums in Hendon and Cosford in Shropshire are both terrific free days out all-year round. Hendon features 100 aircraft, 4D theatre that simulates flight, and a new exhibition on World War I in the air, while Cosford has 70 aircraft, an exhibition on the Cold War and much more.

But Easter weekend will see the old airfields brought to life: at Cosford, on 1-2 April, there will be living re-enactments, and interactive activities including a chance to ‘scramble’ and even take aim in an anti-aircraft area; at Hendon on 1 April, there will be family activities, plus live theatre, bringing stories from World War I alive.

The Spitfire Museum, Manston Kent is also celebrating 100 years of the RAF. And many other local celebrations are taking place across the country through the summer, including an RAF 100 exhibition at Rutland County Museum. Don’t forget as part of the celebrations, we’re holding our very own 100th anniverary gala celebration in July.


2.Tag rugby taster sessions

London, Leeds, Manchester, Reading. Throughout April.

Inspired by the Six Nations but don’t fancy getting bashed and bruised? Tag rugby could be your new thing. With all the running and handling skills of ‘proper’ rugby, but none of the argy-bargy, the sport is on a push to spread the word via a series of free taster sessions this month at dozens of venues in London, Leeds, Manchester and Reading. 


3. St George’s Day celebrations

On and around 23 April.

Celebrations around the country include free activities, food stalls and children’s games in London’s Trafalgar Square on 21 April, and a St George’s Day parade (23 April) and market (21-23 April) in Nottingham. There’s also the 15th running of Manchester’s St George’s Day parade, plus many other local events, including the chance to try out archery, sword fighting, maypole dancing, willow weaving and other medieval pursuits in Aylesbury on 22 April


4. See TV's biggest stars for free

Apply for free tickets for shows including Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May’s Grand Tour; Britain’s Got Talent; Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway; Michael McIntyre’s Big Show and many more.


5. See amazing films not available on YouTube

BFI Mediatheques, across the country.


Great chunks of the national film archive are available to see for free in venues across the country in cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford and London. Turn up, find a screen and choose from over 2,500 films clips: not just early film pioneers Mitchell and Kenyon’s engrossing films of everyday life in late-Victorian and Edwardian England, but also vintage children’s TV, pre-War football and Ant and Dec’s first appearance in Byker Grove. Find your nearest British Film Institute Mediatheque and head out for some fascinating screentime for all the family. 


London and the South East

Free film festivals in London

6. London Marathon

22 April.

The 38th edition of one of the great London days out will see millions line the streets to cheer on elite athletes, have-a-go amateurs dressed as dinosaurs and ketchup bottles… and celebrities including Chris Evans, Gordon Ramsay, Scott Mills, Baasit Siddiqui from Gogglebox plus a team of 13 former Great British Bake Off contestants.

Last year’s race saw over 39,000 finishers and raised a record £61.5m for charity, taking the total raised over the years to £890m.


7. The Old Cinema, Chiswick

160 Chiswick High Road, London W4. 10-6pm Monday to Saturday. 12-5pm Sundays.

Like a museum where everything on display is for sale, West London’s The Old Cinema is a fascinating retro and vintage department store and was recently named as one of the 100 best shops in the world by Retail Week. You can enjoy 10,000 square feet of beautiful relics of yesteryear. From kitsch Americana to Indian carvings, the stock is – naturally – ever-changing, making this a honeypot for Hollywood props buyers and celebrities seeking eccentric homeware and furniture. 


8. West Norwood Free Film Festival

14-29 April.

A magnificent programme of free classic films in unusual venues across the South London suburb: from ET in St Luke’s Church to North by Northwest in a local pub and many more over the course of the fortnight. There’s also a make-your-own-film-in-48-hours competition.

9. Classic Cars on the Prom

Christchurch Quay, Dorset. 15 April, 11-5pm.

Up to 130 classic vehicles gather on a riverside site in the heart of Christchurch. There’s also a rally the previous Sunday on the prom at Bournemouth (8 April, 4-6.30pm, Beacon Road).

South-west England and Wales

25 free things to do in the South west

 Credit: Ensembles Rythmiques et Gymnastiques à Pékin. (Hayward Gallery Touring)

10. Collected Shadows photography exhibition

The Edge, Bath. 20 April to 16 June.

Amazing photographs from the full 170-year history of the medium, with a huge spread of styles and content: film stills, astronomical studies, aerial photographs of wars… and a giant turtle watching two men juggle tables with their feet.

11. Shakespeare’s birthday party

Stratford-upon-Avon. 21-22 April.

Two days of celebrations to mark the Bard of Avon’s 454th birthday, which actually falls on 23 April. There’s a birthday parade at 11am on Saturday 21 and a day of free shows and activities laid on by the Royal Shakespeare Company.


12. Women of World War I exhibition

Bristol Cathedral. 6 April to 1 July.

No Man’s Land is a touring exhibition presenting female perspectives on World War I, including rarely seen battlefield photographs taken by women working on the frontline; the work of the remarkable Olive Edis, the first official female war photographer to be sent to a war zone; and nurse Florence Farnborough’s pictures of the Eastern Front, taken while working with the Russian Red Cross. It also includes modern female artists and soldiers’ work, in response to events of World War I. 


13. Drop in on a male voice choir 

Across Wales.

Take in the magical, evocative sound of a Welsh male voice choir in its natural setting: a village hall on a spring evening. Visitors are welcome to drop in and listen to rehearsals, by arrangement, and there are dozens of choirs to choose from around the country.

Midlands and East of England

Art exhibitions in Birmingham

14. Field to Fork Family Festival

Telford, 28 April.

The first Field to Fork festival, with 80 food and drink stalls plus live music and kids entertainment, all celebrating and exploring how we can feed ourselves better – both for our own health and for the planet’s. Enjoy tractors galore, go karts, zorbing, and locally-produced beer – something for everyone.


15. Ghosts of 1960s Birmingham

Ort Gallery, Birmingham. Until 28 April. 

In the late 1960s American filmmaker and photographer Janet Mendelsohn spent several months documenting the everyday life of Balsall Heath, Birmingham. Her images of that lost world are now being exhibited at the Flatpack Festival.

A second exhibition, shot by Mendelsohn’s then partner Richard P Rogers, follows the Birmingham artist Frank Cook from 1960s working class Ladywood to art school in London. This can be seen at nearby MAC Birmingham.  

Both events are part of the Flatpack Film Festival (13-22 April), featuring a diverse collection of over 100 events at 20 venues across the city. 


16. Go back to 1540

The Weaver’s House, 121 Upper Spon Street, Coventry. 14 April.

Experience how a 16th-century weaver and his family would have lived: the Weaver’s House and garden, part of a surviving terrace built in 1455, has been restored to how it would have looked in 1540, and there will be talks and demonstrations at this open day bringing the house back to life.

17. Abingdon head of the river race

Rye Farm Meadow, Abingdon Bridge. 8 April, from 9.30am.

Around 360 boats from across the UK race 2,000m against the clock on the Thames at the Abingdon Rowing Club Spring Head. Weather permitting, you take in the spectacle, interrupted only by the bankside entertainments, including Morris dancing, beer/tea tents and barbecues. The first breath of summer.

Northern England

See Tim Peake's spacesuit in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

18. See Tim Peake’s spacecraft

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester. Until 13 May.

Get a close look at the Soyuz TMA-19M descent module in which the British astronaut Tim Peake returned to Earth in 2016, after six months on the International Space Station. It’s touring the country – see it in Manchester until May, alongside Tim’s spacesuit and a virtual reality experience that provides a taste of how it feels to fall to Earth from 408km. 

19. Decades of Delight: 250 Years of Circus

Cartwright Hall, Bradford. Until 7 June.

In 1768, in what is now the Waterloo district of London, daring equestrian Philip Astley put on a show in a circus ring for the first time. Soon, he had evolved the mix of acts we know as circus. This exhibition celebrates the art form, telling the stories of the first human cannonball, the trapeze artist who gave his name to the leotard, the invention of the big top, and about Astley himself too.

Where to see acrobats at a circus for free


20. Heritage on the Dock festival

Albert Dock, Liverpool. 5-8 April.

Walks, talks, live music and entertainment celebrating the past and present of Albert Dock. Look out for a steam-powered time machine, Titanic-themed story-telling and workshops at the Merseyside Maritime Museum – and have a go on an aquascope, giving underwater views of the Dock: there are eels and jellyfish down there, apparently.


21. Marsden Cuckoo Festival

Marsden, near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. 20-21 April.

Traditional Yorkshire celebration of the start of spring, with a procession, stalls, live music, maypole dancing and, yes, a duck race.

Scotland and Northern Ireland

Free things to do in Scotland

22. Portrait of a Century exhibition

Market Place Theatre, Market Street, Armagh. Until 5 May.

Irish photographer Kim Haughton presents portraits of people born every year from 1916 to 2015 in this intriguing photo project, shot in the UK, Ireland and the US, that took two years to complete.


23. Edinburgh International Science Festival

Venues across Edinburgh. 29 March to 15 April.

The 30th Science Festival includes dozens of terrific, free interactive events, suitable for most ages: geoscientists explain satellite technology and help you to make your own; while biologists reveal recent discoveries in the natural world and let you have a look down their microscopes. You can also find out what a supercomputer is (and have a go on one); and discover how our actual age compares to the information given by our bodies – plus plenty more illuminating and fun events and activities.


24. Glasgow International art festival 

Venues across Glasgow. 20 April to 7 May.

Scotland’s largest festival of contemporary art sees 90 exhibitions and 80-plus events, workshops and activities, spread over 78 venues across Glasgow, many of them free.


25. Visit the Scottish Parliament

Royal Mile, Edinburgh.

Catalonian architect Enric Miralles’ award-winning (and controversially expensive) building makes for an intriguing visit. Buy parliamentary shortbread in the gift shop or play spot-the-politician in the café. Guided tours and tickets to attend debates are free, but must be booked in advance.

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