25 fabulous free events to attend in May 2024

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From marvelling at masterpieces to motor shows, plus festivals brimming with food, flowers and family fun, this month offers plenty of free events for you to enjoy

With winter firmly in the rearview mirror and summer on the horizon – plus two bank holidays and half-term – we're sure you’re on the lookout for things to do over the month ahead. Happily, there's no shortage of free events happening across the country, and we've rounded them up to help you make the most of everything May has to offer – without denting your wallet!

Free nationwide events

Lay your eyes on a masterpiece

NG200: National Treasures, from 10 May

 NG200 National Treasures

In celebration of its 200th anniversary, the National Gallery is sending 12 of the collection’s most iconic works across the UK – and over half of them are free to view. From a Botticelli in Cambridge and Canaletto in Aberystwyth, to a Vermeer in Edinburgh and Caravaggio in Belfast, this is a rare chance to catch some of the most revered works of Western art. Plus, each hosting venue is set to celebrate their national treasure's arrival with special events, while Art Road Trip is sending free arty activities on nationwide tour. And, of course, there are plenty more festivities planned back at the gallery itself.

Free events in London & the South East

Embrace a centuries’ old tradition

May Morning, Oxford, 1 May

 May Morning Oxford

Photo: Tim Healey (www.maymorning.co.uk)

What finer way to ring in the new month than by partaking in a tradition dating back over 500 years? Every 1 May on the dot of 6am, Oxford’s Choir of Magdalen College belts out a traditional hymn from the top of the iconic Magdalen Tower, before the crowds disperse for a spot of early morning revelry.

Get into the festival spirit

Brighton Festival, Brighton, 4–26 May

 Brighton Festival

Photo: Brighton Festival

This annual performing arts festival is back with more free events than ever before, kicking off with its usual fiesta of colour, costume and live music as thousands of children parade their way to the seafront. Throughout the following three weeks, the city comes alive with outdoor performances, art exhibitions and more; be sure to stop by Royal Pavilion Gardens, where you can add your unique touch to an ever-evolving, interactive string installation. Plus, you could even join the Brighton Table Tennis Club in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the number of consecutive players in a table rally. Brighton Festival 2024 takes place from 4–26 May brightonfestival.org.

View thought-provoking art

Marc Quinn: Light into Life, London, 4 May–29 September

 Marc Quinn sculpture

Photo: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

In the latest exhibition to land at Kew, contemporary artist Marc Quinn showcases a captivating new collection that's sure to get you contemplating our relationship with the natural world. Discover stunning sculptures across the gardens – created in close collaboration with Kew’s scientists and horticulturists – plus a selection of indoor artworks. What's more, from 1 May, the weekend opening hours are extended right up until 8pm, offering you the chance to enjoy long, balmy evenings ambling around this botanical oasis.

Boundless membership gives you access to year-round savings – including unlimited entry to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Find out more about Boundless membership and how to join.

Fall in love with a classic

Magnificent Motors, Eastbourne, 4–5 May

 Vintage car show UK

Photo: Visit Eastbourne

Get your bank holiday weekend in gear at this seaside motoring spectacular on Eastbourne’s iconic Western Lawns – perfect for lovers of sea, sand, and sleek classic cars. There’ll be hundreds of vehicles to discover from all over the country, along with a whole host of live music, fairground rides and food and drink stalls.

Bust a gut

Comedy nights, London, 5 May

 Comedian on stage

5 May marks World Laughter Day, and if you’re in London you can get your comedy fix for free thanks to these nights of fresh talent in Hammersmith, Islington and Croydon. You never know – you may just stumble upon the next big thing…

Make some puppet pals

Covent Garden May Fayre & Puppet Festival, London, 12 May

 Puppet show

Since Samuel Pepys chronicled the first recorded sighting of Punch in Covent Garden in May 1662, this mischief-making puppet has gone on to achieve legendary status. This yearly extravaganza pays homage to the iconic puppet (and his partner Judy, of course). The festivities begin with a brass band-led procession around the neighbourhood, before puppeteers from all over the country entertain spectators throughout the day.

Rev your engines

Basingstoke Transport Festival, Basingstoke, 19 May

 Basingstoke Transport Festival

Photo: Gareth Lewis

Stroll around Basingstoke’s War Memorial Park in the company of hundreds of vehicles at this popular transport festival. There’ll be classic and vintage cars, buses, fire engines and more, while kids’ entertainment and refreshment stalls fuel the fun – making this a great day out for motoring buffs and casual visitors alike.

Admire vintage vehicles

Isle of Wight Steam Railway Festival of Transport, Isle of Wight, 19 May

 Isle of Wight Steam Railway Festival of Transport

Photo: Isle of Wight Steam Railway

It’s not only those on the mainland who’ll get their transport festival fix this month, with the Isle of Wight Steam Railway museum bringing an extravaganza of vintage trucks, old-fashioned bicycles and modern day motors to the island. For an extra fee, you can step back to a bygone era of transport by hopping aboard one of the museum’s steam trains.

Free events in the South West & Wales

Lace up your walking shoes

Bristol Walk Fest, Bristol, 1–31 May

 Women smiling and walking

Photo: Alex Rotas

May brings not only warmer weather but marks National Walking Month, so what better time to take a stroll out in the fresh spring air? If you’re local to Bristol, a plethora of events are being put on for the city’s annual month-long walking festival, and most of them are free. Whether you’re drawn to historical tours or nature walks, you’ll discover new corners of the city and the myriad benefits walking can bring – whatever your age and ability. And if a solo stroll is more your style, you can try out a downloadable audio walk to complete at your leisure.

Peek into artists’ studios

Spike Island Open Studios, Bristol, 3–5 May

 Spike Island Open Studios Children

Photo: Spike Island

Once a year, this tea-packing-factory-turned-contemporary art centre opens its studio doors to the public. As you explore the creative spaces of independent artists, filmmakers, photographers and more, you’ll get to see works-in-progress and catch a rare glimpse of the processes that usually happen behind closed doors

Seek seaside thrills

Victorian Extravaganza, Llandudno, 4–6 May

 Steam engine rally

If you’re eager to start embracing the spirit of summer, a trip to the seaside is a must – and this free family event brings a whole host of street entertainment and vintage attractions to Wales’s north coast. You’ll have to pay to take a spin on the fairground rides, but soaking up the fantastic atmosphere won’t cost you a penny. 

Party in a historic city

The Bath Festival, Bath, 17 May

 Person playing guitar

Bath’s music and literature festival kicks off with the city’s biggest free party of the year – and you’re invited. From rock and folk to jazz and classical, a jam-packed programme of live music is set to take over outdoor stages and historic venues, churches and museums across this charming city.

Free events in the Midlands & East

Marvel at Malvern’s decorated wells

Malvern Well Dressing, Malvern, 4–12 May

 Malvern well

Photo: Jan Sedlacek @Digitlight

Every year, wells and springs across Malvern are imaginatively decorated for this popular festival, and this time the town is going green with the theme of ‘trees’. You can discover these arboreal creations by foot, bike, or on a self-drive tour around this picturesque setting.

Catch some outdoor entertainment

Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Norfolk, 10–26 May

 Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Photo: Eric Combeau

Among a lineup of free events and art installations, this festival’s opening weekend programme brings theatre, dance, circus and comedy to the city’s streets. Plus, you can catch free live music at the historic bandstand in Chapelfield Gardens on both weekends. Don’t forget to pack a picnic…

Free events in the North of England

Discover the magnificence of moths

Moth Trapping at WWT Martin Mere, near Ormskirk, 1 May–31 August

 Butterfly on daisy

Moths are often overlooked as brown, boring versions of their butterfly cousins, but they’re just as fascinating – especially if you look closely. From the brilliantly coloured to masters of camouflage, the UK is home to around 2,500 species, and the summer months are the best time to spot these winged wonders. If you head to WWT Martin Mere in Lancashire, you can see which moth species have been lured into their overnight light trap every morning at 10:30 until the end of summer.

Boundless membership includes free entry to top attractions and exclusive events, as well as year-round savings – including unlimited access to all nine WWT centres throughout the UK. Find out more about Boundless membership and how to join.

Let off some steam

Bolton Steam Museum Steaming Days, Bolton, 5 & 6 May, 26 & 27 May

 Bolton Steam Museum

Photo: Chris Allen

Steam engines revolutionised textile manufacturing in the early 19th century, propelling Lancashire as world-leading cotton producer. But as production shifted overseas and the local industry declined, these once bustling cotton mills grinded to a halt. That’s when the Northern Mill Engine Society stepped in to preserve their rapidly vanishing heritage, and today, its impressive collection of steam engines are housed in the Bolton Steam Museum. The museum is open year-round, but as a special bank holiday weekend treat, you can witness these fascinating machines running in steam

Taste your way through the bank holiday

Malton Food Lovers Festival, Malton, 25–27 May

 Malton Food Lovers Festival

Photo: milnerCreative on behalf of Visit Malton CIC

Dubbed “Yorkshire’s Foodie Glastonbury”, Malton’s gastronomic extravaganza brings together artisan stalls and irresistible street food from across the region’s food capital, alongside talks, tastings, celebrity chef demos, live music and more. It’s like one big – and totally delicious – street party.

Have a bloomin’ marvellous time

Manchester Flower Festival, Manchester, 27–29 May

 Manchester Flower Festival

Photo: Manchester Flower Festival

If you’re planning a trip to Manchester, the second bank holiday is perhaps the best weekend of the bunch. For four days, the city centre transforms into a picture-perfect paradise as shop windows, balconies and public squares are adorned with fabulous floral installations.

Delve into some Yorkshire history

Let's Walk: Historic Canal Walk, Sheffield, 2 & 16 May

 Sheffield Canal

Photo: Canal & River Trust

Tucked between the busy city centre and the constant roar of traffic along Sheffield Parkway, the Victoria Quays canal basin is today a tranquil haven. Yet the coal merchant’s offices and 19th-century warehouses still stand as a reminder of the canal’s bustling heyday. To help you uncover the area’s 200 years of history, you can join a volunteer from the Canal & River Trust on this 90-minute guided walk, held every first and third Thursday of the month at 11am.

Free events in Scotland & Northern Ireland

Walk on the wild side

Wildflower Meadow Walk, Dumfriesshire, 1 May – 31 August

 Wildflower meadow Dumfries

Photo: Alex Hillier for WWT

As the warmer weather (hopefully) makes its presence felt, WWT Caerlaverock invites visitors to make the most of its abundant wetland flora and fauna at this time of year with a wildflower meadow walk. Connecting with nature can have profound benefits on wellbeing, so a meander through the centre’s flower-filled meadows, along the banks of the Lochlar Water and past wild orchids as you look out for orange-tipped butterflies is worth making time for.  

Boundless membership includes free entry to top attractions and exclusive events, as well as year-round savings – including unlimited access to all nine WWT centres throughout the UK. Find out more about Boundless membership and how to join.

Enjoy the craic

Festival of Fools, Belfast, 4–6 May

 Festival of Fools

For one weekend the streets of Belfast come alive with awe-inspiring acrobatics, side-splitting comedy and jaw-dropping juggling in the biggest festival of its kind on this side of the Irish sea. 

Inspire the whole family

Edinburgh International Children’s Festival: Family Encounters Day, Edinburgh, 25 May

 Edinburgh International Childrens Festival

Photo: Ruth Armstrong

Edinburgh’s Children’s Festival kicks off at the National Museum of Scotland with this day of free family fun, including pop-up theatre performances, walk-about characters, treasure hunts and more. 

Go barking mad

Top Dogs, Balloch, 4 May

Dog jumping on beach

Attention all dog lovers! If you’re canine crazy, this is the pawfect day out for you. For one glorious day, tails will be wagging at full speed as market stalls offer everything from doggy food to the latest canine fashion, plus activities for you and your furry companion to enjoy together. Even if you don’t have a four-legged friend of your own, it’s worth a visit just to see the gorgeous pooches and soak up the spectacular views of Loch Lomond.

Free online events

Plan your next road trip

Top tours and driving holidays in Britain and Europe, 2 May

Car driving along coastal road

Embark on the ultimate driving adventure this summer with a little help from BBC Top Gear magazine journalist and Boundless car reviewer, Paul Horrell. In this member-exclusive online talk, Paul will steer you through the top driving holiday spots, plus insider tips and expert advice to make your trip unforgettable – be it finding the most scenic routes, or the best places to visit, stay and eat along the way. Whether you're planning a scenic journey through Britain, a jaunt across the Channel, or a car hire adventure abroad, you’ll leave feeling confident to hit the open road and turn your driving tour dreams into reality.

Interested in this online talk but not yet a Boundless member? Boundless membership includes free entry to top attractions and exclusive events, as well as year-round savings. Find out more about Boundless membership and how to join.

Do more with Boundless

If you're working in or retired from the public sector or civil service, Boundless has two great membership options to choose from: Boundless and Boundless Plus.

With Boundless, you get unlimited access or discounted entry to many of the UK’s top attractions including Kew Gardens and Wakehurst and WWT centres across the UK, as well as year-round deals on restaurants, holidays, shopping and much more. With Boundless Plus, you can enjoy additional benefits including unlimited access to Historic Royal Palaces sites, National Trust for Scotland places, access to The Ramblers' extensive walking community, and peace of mind with roadside assistance and local recovery by LV= Britannia Rescue. 

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