From light shows to lunchtime concerts, there are lots of amazing free events (both in-person and online) happening in January to help you kickstart the new year
While sometimes there can be a bit of a lull in January, not this year! Join us as we take a whistle-stop tour of the most exciting free events to attend in January 2021. Offering something for everyone, these events will keep you in the festive spirit, well into the new year.
There's a whole programme of free events happening this month. Whether you want to take up a physical challenge, visit an art exhibition, listen to some rousing classical music or admire classic cars, you'll find plenty to add to your calendar. Happy new year!
Note: any activity that you do should adhere to the government guidelines for your local area and the area that you intend to visit.
We do our best to make sure our articles reflect the current government guidelines. However over the Christmas period our content is scheduled in advance so guidance may have changed since the feature was published.
1. Scare yourself silly
Viral, throughout January – Online
You may be tired of hearing about viruses by now, but if not, this short film from the Original Theatre Company is well worth a look. Available to stream now, Viral is a horror flick in the 'found footage' genre, tracing the disappearance of an online activist who gets caught up in a terrifying government conspiracy. Filmed entirely on iPhones while the UK was in lockdown last year, it's a tense experience that'll leave a lasting impression.
2. Keep the spirit of Christmas alive
Deck The Walls, until 4 January – Oxford
A lot of people will be taking their decorations down by now, but if you can't bear the thought of Christmas drawing to a close, you can still soak up the festive spirit at this charming exhibition. Held at the Sarah Wiseman Gallery in Oxford, Deck The Halls showcases seasonal work by a huge range of artists, helping to keep the Christmas spirit alive. Whether you want to buy something special for next year, or simply spend an afternoon admiring the talent on display, you're sure to get a warm welcome.
3. Stream a classical music concert
Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra: Free Concert, until 7 January – Online
In the late 1700s, two young composers took Paris by storm: first the child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and then violin virtuoso Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. In this concert – recorded live and available to stream online – the esteemed Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra pays tribute to the two musical greats, performing a selection of works by each. The programme includes a selection of Mozart's operatic arias, and Chevalier de Saint-Georges' rousing Symphony No. 2 in D Major.
4. Steer towards this eerie exhibition
Anne Roininen: Car Show, until 9 January – London
If you happen to be walking past London's Southbank Centre and you spot a load of abandoned cars emitting colourful lights, don't call Mulder and Scully. These are part of Finnish artist Anne Roininen's extraordinary installation Car Show, in which she explores how technology is impacting the relationship we have with these modes of transport. Eerie and challenging, it's like nothing you'll have ever seen before.
5. Revisit life in lockdown
Ophelia In Exile, until 22 January – London
Currently showing at London's Czech Centre, Ophelia In Exile is a dazzling multimedia installation by the talented Czech artist Tereza Stehlikova. Inspired by Covid-19, it focuses on the fictional character of Ophelia, who has been quarantined in her home for an indefinite period of time. Separated from the physical world, her only means of communication are social media and Zoom calls – sound familiar? An exploration of how important our senses are to the human experience, Ophelia In Exile is a unique and poignant piece of work.
6. Admire some spectacular stained glass
Centenary Exhibition of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, until 28 January – Bristol
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the British Society of Master Glass Painters is touring the UK, showcasing stained glass works from 60 different global artists – and throughout January, the display will be taking up residence at All Saints Church in Bristol. The works explore a wide range of important themes, from the climate crisis to the coronavirus pandemic, and will be accompanied on selected dates by talks, music and children's workshops. To find out what's on and when, check the All Saints calendar.
7. Take in some powerful art works
Contemporary Women Artists Of Japan: Six Stories, until 13 February – London
As the name suggests, this temporary exhibition at the British Museum in London is centred around six works by female Japanese artists. Created between the 1960s and the 2010s, these visually breathtaking pieces focus on the experiences of women in modern Japan, while highlighting the wider issues around gender inequality – a topic that came to the fore again recently when one of the country's male politicians praised the women in his team who didn't talk for long. Powerful and thought-provoking, Six Stories is well worth a visit.
8. Hear the work of a songwriting genius
Paul McCartney: The Lyrics, until 13 March – London
Throughout his illustrious career, Sir Paul McCartney has written lyrics that have resonated with people the world over. Tying in with the recently published book Paul McCartney – The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present, this exhibition at the British Library in London showcases some of his best work with The Beatles, Wings and as a solo artist. Also featuring previously unseen material, photos and works by some of the people who inspired the legendary songwriter, this free exhibition is an absolute must for music fans.
9. Have a chuckle
Laughing Matters: The State Of A Nation, until 28 March – London
Humour has played a vital role in British society throughout time, helping people to deal with a wide range of key issues, both personal and political. This free exhibition at London's V&A Museum explores some of the different ways in which we've 'seen the funny side' over the years, with everything from costumes to scripts, and puppets to music making up the display. If you're game for a laugh, then you'd best get yourself to the capital before it draws to a close.
10. Rev your engines
Vintage Stony, 1 January – Stony Stratford
If you love classic cars and bikes, then the annual Vintage Stony show is the perfect way to start off the new year. The 2021 event was called off due to the pandemic, but it looks like the Market Square in Stony Stratford, near Milton Keynes, will once again be humming with the sound of pre-1940s vehicles in 2022. Awards will be handed out for the best vehicles, food and drink stalls will keep people refreshed – and don't miss the traditional 'minute of noise' at midday, when everyone revs their engines. Though this event is free to both exhibitors and visitors, donations to Willen Hospice will be much appreciated.
11. Burn some calories
UK Special Forces Virtual Running Challenge Series, 1-28 January – Online
Want to get fit after all that Christmas excess? Well, here's a good place to start. The UK Special Forces Virtual Running Challenge Series is a programme of activities that you can participate in at home. Open to all ability levels, the challenges must be taken outside – although the organisers state that a treadmill can be used if, for any reason, you're unable to do that. With sprints, hill climbs and more to get stuck into, you'll be shedding the pounds before you know it.
12. Take a glimpse into the past
We Love History Live, 6, 13, 20 & 27 January – Online
Some people say that you shouldn't live in the past, but it can be fun at times! Just ask anyone who's experienced one of Historic Environment Scotland's online Q&A events, streamed live every Thursday at 3.30pm. Each week, the focus is on a different aspect of Scottish history – whether that's Robert the Bruce or the country's ancient stones. And with actors often dressing up in period costume to bring the stories to life, the sessions are accessible for all ages.
13. Let the good rhymes roll
Poetry Lit!, 7 January – Online
It's been enchanting and amusing people for centuries – and poetry's appeal shows no sign of abating as we roll into 2022. Once a month, Poetry Lit! sees people from all over the world gather online to celebrate the medium in all its many forms. Each session, two featured poets recite some of their latest work, before the virtual stage is opened up to all-comers. Whether your preference is limericks or love sonnets, you're sure to have a great time.
14. Walk on the wild side
Arthur's Secrets, 9 January – Edinburgh
If you're planning a trip to Edinburgh in the new year, why not drop by Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park for this special guided walk? You'll learn all about the landmark's turbulent past, get an insight into the people who've worked at the park over the years, and discover the incredible wildlife that call this part of the city home. The walk is suitable for people aged 12 plus and, due to track and trace, must be booked ahead.
15. Learn how to make a Thai feast
Thai Cookery with Chef Jethro Carr, 13 January – Brighton
Once you've tasted the sweet, subtle flavours of Thailand, you'll never forget them – and you can learn how to make a wide range of dishes at this online cooking tutorial, hosted by Brighton's Community Kitchen. Jethro Carr will show you how to make a sumptuous Thai feast, including a vibrant Thai green curry and a spicy Thai salad, which you can then eat yourself or serve up to your dinner guests. Prior to the session, you'll be emailed a list of ingredients, and you'll also have opportunities to ask questions. Exclusive to Boundless members, it's one you won't want to miss.
16. Enjoy a family day out
Hylands Estate Open Day and Farmers' & Craft Market, 16 January – Chelmsford
A grade II-listed site near Chelmsford in Essex, Hylands Estate is home to a spectacular stately home, along with over 500 acres of historic parkland. Today, visitors are invited to take a look around both. Discover the secrets of this amazing property in the library exhibition, explore The Stables with its vibrant community of artists and makers, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride. At the same time as the Open Day, there's a Farmers' & Craft Market, where you'll find a whole host of locally produced and handmade goodies.
17. Plan the perfect UK holiday
Family Staycations – Thinking Outside the Box, 18 January – Online
Due to the uncertainty around foreign travel, a lot more people are enjoying caravan and motorhome holidays here in the UK. But if you're not used to this type of activity, how can you ensure that you're making the most of it? In this online talk – an exclusive for Boundless members – award-winning travel blogger Claire Hall will tell you everything you need to know about planning a staycation, from the most important things to take, to the realities of being holed up for a week with your partner, children and pets.
18. Experience the illuminations
Winter Lights, 19-29 January – London
What better way to cheer yourself up on a cold, dark night than by visiting a spectacular light show? Returning for a seventh consecutive year, Winter Lights will see Canary Wharf sparkle with more than 25 installations by some of the world's most prominent light artists. Highlights (pardon the pun) will include a family of mammoths in Harbour Key Gardens, a projection show that brings a greenhouse to life in Jubilee Park, and a dozen illuminated swans performing ballet in the dock. There will also be food and drink stalls to keep you refreshed while you admire the illuminations.
19. Listen to a sweet symphony
LSO Discovery, 21 January – London
If you're looking for a gentle introduction to classical music, then look no further than this free lunchtime concert by the London Symphony Orchestra. Held at Jerwood Hall – part of LSO St Luke's – the informal 45-minute show will see a presenter introduce each piece of music and the role the different instruments play in it, and there will also be a chance for the audience to ask questions. At the time of writing, the programme hadn't been published, but it's sure to be an entertaining and educational session.
20. Sample some locally made goodies
Farnham Farmers' Market, 23 January – Farnham
If you're trying to slim down a bit after the Christmas indulgences, then you might want to give Farnham a swerve today. From 10am till 1.30pm, the Surrey town's central car park will be bustling with local farmers and makers selling their delicious produce (unless government advice changes). From artisan loaves to stinky cheese, organic honey to rustic cider, there are sure to be lots of things to tempt those tastebuds. Hey, you could always start the diet again tomorrow.
21. Have a wee dram or two
Burns Night Online, 25 January – Online
Due to the pandemic, there may be fewer physical events celebrating the legendary Scottish poet, but don't worry as this online shindig hosted by the Nest Collective enables you to mark the occasion in the comfort of your own home. Don your kilt, cook up some neeps and tatties, and enjoy the entertainment on offer: with live ceilidh music, poetry readings from special guests, and of course the ceremony itself, it promises to be an evening to remember.
22. Wave goodbye to those winter blues
Have A Go At... Wellbeing, 27 January – Online
A lot of us suffer from winter blues at this time of year, where the cold weather and long, dark nights leave us feeling gloomy and glum. Help is at hand, though, in the shape of this member-exclusive online talk by broadcaster, life coach and bestselling author Anna Williamson. In her friendly and engaging way, Anna will explain why paying attention to your mental wellbeing is just as important as managing your physical health, and offer some tried-and-trusted tips on banishing that seasonal sadness forever.
23. Get your ration of fashion
Mini, Midi or Maxi: 1970s Fashion at M&S, 28 January – Online
Fanatical about fashion? Then you won't want to miss this pre-recorded online talk. Mini, Midi Or Maxi will take you on a nostalgic trip back to Marks & Spencer in the 1970s, focusing on the garments that hung on its racks and the celebrities who shopped there. If you were around back then, this 30-minute presentation is sure to rekindle a few memories. If you weren't, prepare to be fascinated and bemused in equal measures.
24. Ready yourself for a road trip adventure
January Motorhome & Campervan Sale, 28-30 January – Peterborough
In summer 2021, we ran a series on planning a motorhome holiday. If reading that has given you the urge to go out and buy one of these vehicles, you now have the perfect opportunity. For three days, the East of England Arena & Events Centre in Peterborough is playing host to the January Motorhome & Campervan Sale, a massive showcase featuring dealers from all over Great Britain. As well as being able to size up a huge variety of holiday vehicles, you'll get the opportunity to seek advice from people in the know.
25. Hunt for rare volumes
January Online Book Fair, 29 January – Online
There's a good chance that by the end of January you'll have read all the tomes you got for Christmas. If that's the case, you might want to head over to this book sale, organised by the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA). The fun begins at midday, with private sellers from across the UK showcasing their wares in a busy online space. It's free to browse – however, with everything from rare and antiquarian books, to maps, prints and manuscripts expected to be on display, you'll be hard-pushed to keep your wallet in your pocket.
Do more with Boundless
If you are a public sector worker, you can make some fabulous year-round savings on holidays, motoring services, insurance, shopping and much more by joining Boundless. To find out more, visit our dedicated membership page.