25 free things to do in the UK this month

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Huge illuminated float staged by the Harlequin carnival club, makes its way through the streets at the Glastonbury Carnival

The best free events, exhibitions, celebrations and activities in the UK over the next 30 days

Main photo: Glastonbury Carnival (Getty Images)

1. Fireworks!

There’s no need to fork out for fireworks with a number of spectacular free displays around the country, this year marking the 411th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot. Including:

A spectacular harbourside pyrotechnic extravaganza at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth (10 November) with live music and entertainment – plus the switching on of the Christmas lights. 

The biggest Guy Fawkes celebration comes in the Sussex town of Lewes on 5 November, with giant effigies, a procession through packed streets and a raw pre-modern atmosphere.

In London, there are free displays at venues including  Blackheath (with funfair and stalls; 5 November, from 8pm)Coram Fields (4 November, with fair rides, food stalls and fireworks at 5.15pm – you have to go with a child to get in...) and Southwark Park (5 November – free but advance tickets required).

And don't forget the Lord Mayor's fireworks at 5.15pm on 12 November, after the Lord Mayor's show.

2. Guy Fawkes carnivals


If you want to celebrate Guy Fawkes' downfall on another level, Somerset's world-famous night carnivals are possibly the best in the world: have a look at last year's Bridgwater Carnival [above] to see the spectacle of the illuminated floats. Starting with Bridgwater on 5 November and ending with Glastonbury on 19 November, there's eight big events in the county, with each procession lasting two to three hours and fireworks to follow. Bridgwater regularly attracts crowds of 150,000, so aim to arrive at least an hour before the start.



3. Wildlife Photographer of the Year

To 19 February 2017. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, EH1.

The 100 most breathtaking shots from an original entry of 50,000 photographs worldwide are on display over the winter in Edinburgh. It's a touring exhibition but this is the only chance to see it in Scotland.

Photo: Scarlet ibis birds in north-east Brazil, shot by Jonathan Jagot from France: the winner in the 15-17 years old category of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year.


4. Lord Mayor’s Show

Locations throughout London. 12 November

After several centuries, the Lord Mayor’s flotilla is back in the water. From 9am, the new Lord Mayor will lead the procession in traditional Thames barge QRB Gloriana, along with 24 other boats – the familiar procession through the streets of the City will follow, from 11am. Family activities, events and exhibitions all day are followed by a fireworks finale on the River Thames at 5.15..


5. The remarkable life story of a Tyneside ship

Discovery Museum, Newcastle NE1. To 13 November

'Armstrong's to the Arctic: the 100th Anniversary of the Icebreaker Krasin' celebrates the history of an icebreaker ship, from its construction on the River Tyne in 1916, through its heroic participation in the Arctic Convoys of WWII, to its current incarnation as a museum ship on the River Neva in St Petersburg, Russia

Free entry, donations welcome.


6. London to Brighton Veteran Car Run

6 November

Free to view all the way along the route, the world’s longest motoring celebration kicks off at sunrise in London and ends in Brighton late afternoon. Veteran cars can be admired from the sidelines and there’s a nice vibe at the ceremonial finish for the veteran cars. Originally held in 1896 to celebrate the increase of the speed limit to 14mph, there's usually a smattering of celebrity drivers involved – but the cars, all built before 1905, are the stars. 


7. Get in the festive spirit

Christmas Past at Geoffrey Museum, London E2, 22 November to 8 January

Step back through the centuries and discover the origins and meanings of some of the rich and vibrant traditions of Christmas past, from feasting, dancing and kissing under the mistletoe to playing parlour games, hanging up stockings, sending cards, decorating the tree and throwing cocktail parties.


8. The story of Soho exhibition

Getty Images Gallery, 46 Eastcastle St, London W1W 8DX. To November 26

London’s heart of bohemia and the arts (and erstwhile seediness) is the subject of a free exhibition at the Getty Images Gallery, capturing life in the area over more than a century.

Picture: Soho's 2i's coffee bar, photographed in 1966. The cafe was held to be the birthplace of British rock'n'roll, having been the site of early performances by Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele.


9. Herring Fair

Hastings, 5-6 November.

Celebrate the humble herring with cooking demos, a beer festival and live music - all held in a marquee on the Stade.


10. Bath Christmas Market

From 24 November

One of the twinkliest celebrations of the festive season in the country, featuring 170 wooden chalets selling high-quality artisan products surrounding the beautifully lit Abbey.


11. LightPool 2016

Blackpool Illuminations are complimented until 7 November with live shows of fire and light. Displays are free, and visitors can enjoy interaction and diversity. Three stunning 3D shows will be projected onto the base of Blackpool Tower, while the LightPool Village will be on the Promenade day and night.


12. Cornish Winter Fair

Royal Cornwall Events Centre, Wadebridge, 19 November .

Learn how to milk a (pretend) cow, buy gifts and visit the stalls of an array of Cornish food and drink producers.


13. Create a play in a day

Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London. 5 & 12 November.

Young people aged 14 and over can learn about acting from a professional director and perform a new show at the end of these free workshops.


14. Be starstruck

Fen Drayton Lakes Nature Reserve, Cambridge CB24. 4 November, 5.30 – 7pm

Join astronomer Neil Parker for a free magical tour of the night sky, spotting planets, constellations and other exciting sights along the way. Bring a torch and warm clothes.


15. Manchester Christmas lights switch on

Albert Square, Manchester. 4 November.

Manchester's switch-on party will officially open six weeks of festive celebrations and attractions in the city, with performances from 7pm from various celebrities you may or may not have heard of.


16. Sea monsters and the smells of the past

The Museums Quarter, Hull. Four different museums, free. Throughout November

Journey back 235 million years at the Museums Quarter in Hull's Old Town to encounter sea monsters, Romans and a life-sized woolly mammoth at the Hull and East Riding Museum of Archaeology. Streetlife Museum of Transport brings history to life with all the sights, sounds and smells of the past. Can you visit all four in a day? 


17. All Saints day

The Mall at Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, BS34 5DG

 All Saints will headline The Mall’s Christmas Charity Concert in aid of BBC Children In Need, and switch on the Christmas lights. The Mall are giving away 10,000 free tickets (There’s a £2 suggested donation with 100% of the proceeds going to BBC Children In Need.)  

Visit the website to request a ticket


18. Learn to roller-skate!

Doug Ellis Sports Centre, Birmingham. Monday evenings

Ever wanted to learn to skate? Fancy a team sport? Roller Derby wants you! Every Monday evening, Central City Rollergirls hold lessons to teach people to skate and learn about the sport roller derby. The first session is completely free. Go down. Maybe it will change your life. Check out their website anyway. It's fun: centralcityrollergirls.co.uk

19. Warhol comes to Manchester

Whitworth Gallery, Manchester. From 19 November

Fans of Andy Warhol should head to Manchester for this extensive exhibition of the 60s iconic artist which runs until April next year.


20. Fine Art Valuation Day

University of Birmingham, Edgbaston B15. 10 November

Ever wondered how much that painting over the fireplace or an heirloom you inherited was worth? Bring it along to this valuation day, with experts from valuers and auctioneers particularly keen to value paintings, drawings, prints or sculpture.


21. Tate Britain vs photo-journalism exhibition

Tate Britain. To 27 November.

An award-winning free interactive exhibition that matches up-to-the-minute photojournalism with art from the Tate collection, using new recognition software. Sounds complicated – but the effect is intriguing: see some of the match-ups here: http://recognition.tate.org.uk and find out more about the exhibition at tate.org.uk

22. Hay Winter Festival

Venues around Hay-on-Wye. 25-27 November 2016 

Festive magic for all the family, with a winter weekend of wondrous stories, rigorous debate and great company. Events include Ben Fogle talking about Land Rovers, Daisy Goodwin on Victoria, and Nic Compton on the shipping forecast. Lots of fun for kids too.


23. World Press Photo

Royal Festival Hall, London SE1. 4-21 November.

Over 82,000 photos, from 128 countries were entered for this year's World Press photo awards – come and see the best.


24. The inside story of the Stones

Proud Galleries, London SW3 5XP. To 27 November

Just around the corner from the Wetherby Arms on the King's Road, where he first met the rest of the band in 1962, Rolling Stone Bill Wyman celebrates his 80th birthday with an exhibition of his photographs. 'Around the World in 80 Years' has many previously unseen pictures documenting the Rolling Stones' life and times from the inside.

Photo: The Rolling Stones begin their world tour at the Apollo Theatre, Glasgow, in 1976. Photo: PA.


25. Step inside your own mouth

There's an exciting new, interactive science-themed attraction coming to London in 2018, right next to London Bridge. In the countdown to the opening of the Science Gallery, there are a series of pop-up seasons giving you a taste of what's to come: quite literally in the came of Mouthy, an installation that runs until November, with spin off exhibitions that continue throughout the month. Find out more: london.sciencegallery.com/mouthy/

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