England

The best festivals & fairs in London

by Roisin McAuley  |  Updated December 10, 2018

As one of the world’s great capitals of entertainment, it is little surprise that London plays host to a huge and diverse number of festivals and fairs throughout the year. A vibrant cultural landscape combined with a cosmopolitan outlook draws hundreds and thousands of visitors, while a population of over 8.5 million, including a large number of students and youngsters, means there are plenty of creative minds to help conceive of such events.

A scene from Vault, London’s first annual festival dedicated to comedy and immersive theatre (Photo: Vault Festival)

Artists, scientists, musicians, filmmakers and many more will showcase their work and ideas this year in London; a city that is renowned for hosting festivals and fairs that rival anywhere else in the world. We’ve put together our selection of the very best set to take place from January to June 2018. Hopefully you get a chance to attend at least some of them.

Re:Solutions

London is known for its hectic lifestyle and long working hours, so this health and wellness festival is a much needed escape for the community. The aim is to rest and rejuvenate for the year ahead, emphasising the relaxation process and refocusing on the mind and body. Re:Solutions has such a variety of classes that there’s something to appeal to most people, whether you relax more with yoga or by channeling your energy into dance classes. Speakers and wellness coaches are part of the programme, alongside workshops and evenings filled with live music. 

LOCATION Juju’s at The Old Truman Brewery, 15 Hanbury Street DATES 2-31 January 2019 

London Short Film Festival 

Now in its 16th year, the London Short Film Festival has established itself as one of the best UK and International film festivals. From documentaries and fiction to experimental moving image art, the creative, cross disciplinary programming runs alongside industry events to make LSFF top of both filmmakers’ and film lovers’ schedules.

LOCATION Various Venues DATES 11-20 January 2019

A still from a London Short Film Festival screening (Photo: London Short Film Festival)

London Art Fair

The 31st Anniversary of the London Art Fair brings together over 100 galleries exhibiting modern and contemporary art from across the globe. The main fair will be accompanied by two additional exhibitions: Photo50 dedicating its walls to contemporary photography practices, and Art Projects, which focuses on diversity by providing a platform for international galleries.

LOCATION Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street DATES 16-20 January 2019 

A visitor gazes at an exhibit at London Art Fair (Photo: London Art Fair)

Chinese New Year 2019

The London Chinatown Chinese Association brings in the year of the pig with this annual event, offering London a taste of Chinese culture. This is the largest parade outside of Asia with over 30 teams designing floats for the day’s celebrations. Trafalgar square hosts the main stage with performances from midday and other activities include calligraphy, Chinese music, martial arts performances and dressing up in traditional outfits.

LOCATION Trafalgar Square & Chinatown DATES 5 February 2019

Imagine Children’s Festival

A great half term event for those with younger children, Imagine Children’s Festival has over 12 days of fun-filed, action-packed activities, theatre shows and authors to entertain and inspire the next generation of creatives. The multi-arts programme is created for children from 0 – 12 with both free and ticketed events covering performance, illustration and talks.

LOCATION Southbank Centre DATES 13-24 February 2019

Knitted items at Imagine Children’s Festival (Photo: Southbank Centre)

Flamenco Festival

With a season dedicated to celebrating flamenco dance and music, this two-week festival injects the passion of the culture into London. The programme includes numerous unique shows exhibiting film, dance and music by some of the world’s best flamenco talent. A true celebration of the history and future of flamenco, the gala explores its gitano roots and showcases emerging talent who will continue the traditions of the culture. Tickets are sold for individual performances with different prices dependent on seating choices.

LOCATION Sadler’s Wells Theatre DATES 14-25 February 2018 

Gin Festival

The Gin Festival brings gin from across the world to London, including selected rare or limited edition bottles. Masterclasses are spread across four days, with distillers in attendance, so enjoy the great atmosphere and live music by heading to the cocktail bar for your favourite gin based drink. Any gin enthusiast would not want to miss this and tickets are very limited so book in advance! The event has both evening and day sessions.

LOCATION Tobacco Dock, Wapping Lane, St Katharine’s & Wapping DATES 16-18 February 2019 

Gin Festival is the original, biggest and best UK festival dedicated to the famous liquor (Photo: Gin Festival)

Craft Beer Rising

Last year, the UK’s biggest craft beer festival sold over 25,000 pints and this year it looks like the event will be even better than before. The 175 breweries attending offer a selection of craft beers, ales and ciders, and a variety of food stalls and BBQs keep craft beer enthusiasts fuelled all day. The incredible beers, complimenting international tastes and live music combine to make this event unmissable. Tickets can be bought in advance. 

LOCATION The Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane DATES 21-23 February 2019

Orchid Festival

One of the nation’s most-loved plants celebrates its Thai origins and culture at Kew Gardens’ Orchid Festival. Escape from the busy streets of London into what seems like another world with its serenity and exoticness. Floral displays, embellished arches and authentic Thai ephemera decorate the gardens; pleasing more than just the eye with tours, talks and activities that share insights into the endangered flower and its use across Thai cuisine, medicine and culture.

LOCATION Kew Gardens DATES 10 February-11 March 2019

Delicate displays and authentic Thai ephemera feature at the Orchid Festival in Kew Gardens (Photo: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew)

Women of the World Festival

Celebrating the power of women and girls across the world, the WOW- Women of the World Festival aims to highlight equal rights and discuss a complex question: why is gender equality taking so long to achieve? Off the back of a year where the #metoo campaign reached almost every industry, the WOW festival is well positioned to debate contemporary problems and celebrate women’s successes. Speakers include female artists, writers, politicians and activists who have been selected for a programme of talks, concerts, art installations, performances, workshops and much more.

LOCATION Southbank Centre DATES 7-11 March 2019

A panel discussion at a previous edition of Women of the World Festival (Photo: Southbank Centre)

Vault Festival

Interested in comedy? Or dance? Maybe theatre or film are more your thing? Whatever you enjoy, Vault Festival has curated a programme that presents artists across disciplines showcasing new ideas. Over eight weeks displays, diverse in both genre and themes, appear in bars and venues across Waterloo, making this London’s biggest arts and comedy festival. The comedy shows will feature some this year’s most highly-anticipated acts with Edinburgh Comedy Award Winners, stand-up heavyweights and TV panel show stars all showcasing new material.

LOCATION Various Venues, Waterloo DATES 24 January-18 March 2019

Chivaree Circus presents Becoming Shades at Vault Festival (Photo: Vault Festival)

St Patrick’s Day Festival

London’s annual St Patrick’s Day Festival runs for three days, bringing the best of Irish food, music, dance, art and culture to the capital. A one-day parade is at the heart of the festival, with activities for all ages including family treasure trails and partner community fairs. Experience both old and new film, poetry and music, where the atmosphere always promises to be fantastic. Best of all, no tickets are required to enjoy any of the weekend’s events, so everyone is free to join in. 

LOCATION Trafalgar Square DATES 16-18 March 2019

Head of the River Race

Join spectators on the banks of the Thames to cheer on over 400 national and international rowing crews over two separate weekends in March. The Thames Championship Course is a 4.25 mile section of the river from Mortlake to Putney, but you don’t need to be rowing to enjoy the race. This is usually a popular event, so arrive in plenty of time to pick your spot or head to one of the many riverside pubs to see who will win 2019’s fiercely competitive boat races. 

LOCATION Thames between Mortlake and Putney DATES 16-17 & 30-31 March 2019

Head to the banks of the Thames and hope for sunshine to enjoy this year’s boat race (Photo: The Head of the River Race)

London Coffee Festival

Masters of the coffee industry host a festival that combines coffee and creativity for a weekend, inviting attendees to sample enough coffee to power them through to next year’s exhibition. Open to everyone from industry professionals to individuals who simply love coffee: live music, DJs, exhibitions and coffee based cocktails feature throughout the weekend. Highlights include the bottomless tastings of fresh coffee, world class baristas and specialists, live latte art and labs demonstrating everything you will ever need to know about the caffeinated pick-me-up.

LOCATION The Old Truman Brewery, 15 Hanbury Street DATES 28-31 March 2019

Barbour & Parlour are one of many specialists exhibiting at the London Coffee Festival (Photo: Hope & Glory PR)

Sonica

It’s difficult to sum up what you’ll experience at Sonica; exhibitions showcase diverse and boundary pushing ideas experimenting with sound based art. Sonica launched in Glasgow in 2012 and since then has toured across the world becoming a permanent biennial event in both its native city and London. Prepare for all your senses to be stimulated, as emerging and established international artists produce multimedia performances combing music, sonic and visual art.

LOCATION Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross DATES 20-21 April 2019

Cyril Leclerc and Elizabeth Saint-Jalmes’ Slow Pixel at Cryptic’s Sonica (Photo: Courtesy of the Artists)

London International Ska Festival

Ska’s origins date back to Jamaican Independence in the early 1960s and since that time the genre’s influence has spanned every corner of the world. This 4-day festival celebrates all things ska – not to mention its progenies such as rocksteady, reggae, dub, 2Tone and skapunk – with some of the world’s most acclaimed performers drawn here by Londoners’ enduring passion for ska music. Among the line-up for 2019 include rhythm & blues legend Georgie Fame, Misty In Roots, 2 Tone Records 40th anniversary Thames cruise and rocksteady stars Keith & Tex and Rudy Mills.

LOCATION O2 Academy Islington & Dixie Queen paddle steamer DATES 18-21 April 2019

Crowds gather round the man with the mic at London International Ska Festival (Photo: Peggy Golec)

London Marathon

Whether participating in the race or cheering from the sidelines, the London Marathon draws thousands of people to the streets of London every year. Previous years have seen over a quarter of a million people from the UK apply to race, with many raising money for charity or achieving personal fitness goals. For those not running, the city transforms into a 26.2 mile street party. Head to the pub, enjoy a drink and maybe a bite to eat- the party or run, depending which criteria you fit, will go on all day.

LOCATION Greenwich – Buckingham Palace DATES 28 April 2019 

London Burlesque Festival

The burlesque, cabaret and variety show returns for another year. Bold and memorable performances make up a programme that is recognised as one of the most prestigious of its kind internationally. Since its debut in 2007, the festival has built on its reputation every year continuing to attract international audiences of burlesque fans and intrigued newcomers to the genre. Whatever your knowledge, the festival is choreographed to astound, entice and entrance; pushing the boundaries of burlesque and the expectations of the audience.

LOCATION Shaw Theatre, 100-110 Euston Road, Kings Cross DATES April-June 2019

Alchemy

Now in its 10th year, Alchemy returns to the Southbank Centre celebrating South Asia and its cultural connections to the UK. Over 11 days, the largest festival of South Asian culture outside of the subcontinent will feature the thought provoking work and ideas of both British and international artists. Themes of art, politics and society are explored through its multidisciplinary programme comprised of dance, music, theatre, visual art, comedy and literature.

LOCATION Southbank Centre DATES May 2019  

London Craft Week

A relatively young arts festival, Craft Week creeps into hidden studios and even the House of Lords to showcase the craft and artistry of hundreds of independent makers worldwide. Marvel at demonstrations and attend workshops, talks and tours to discover both new practices and innovative ideas on traditional craft. London Craft Week is a not-for-profit event so anyone can attend to access new techniques and learn practices themselves. 

LOCATION Venues across London DATES 8-12 May 2019

Eleanor Lakelin at Cockpit Arts during London Craft Week (Photo: Alun Callender Photography)

PhotoLondon

With world renowned photo festivals taking place across Europe, London decided to host its own to cement its cultural capital status. Now in its third year, the fair gives opportunities to both established artists and galleries and emerging photographers, through the Discovery section and talks programme. Somerset House welcomes an audience of photographers, curators, art dealers and exhibitors, as well as the public to enjoy and celebrate the contemporary photographic medium and its past.

LOCATION Somerset House DATES 16-19 May 2019

MCM Comic Con

For three action-filled days, pop culture enthusiasts from around the world gather at the MCM Comic Con, attending fascinating panel sessions, meeting special guests and plenty more. This extravaganza will see some of the most creative costumes and dedicated fans immerse themselves in everything to do with comics, movies, gaming, anime, television and gadgets.

LOCATION ExCeL London DATES May 2019

Crowds at MCM Comic Con (Photo: MCM Expo Group)

All Points East

All Points East is a ten day celebration of music and entertainment, encompassing a three day music festival, a community focused programme and three additional headline shows. Opening the festival will be The Chemical Brothers, who will top a lineup that also includes Hot Chip, Primal Scream, Spiritualized, Little Dragon and Danny Brown. Meanwhile on closing duties will be Bon Iver.

LOCATION Victoria Park DATES 24 May 25 – 2 June 2019 

Field Day

This year Field Day Festival will debut at a new location; moving away from its home of 11 years in East London. Known as one of London’s best music events, the festival also hosts street food stalls and local brewers within its fields so festival goers are spoilt for choice in terms of drink, food, music and activities. The line up has yet to be announced, but with its popularity building and headliners only getting better year-on-year, invest in a ticket now to be sure you don’t miss out.

LOCATION To be announced DATES June 1-3, 2018

Aphex Twin played The Barn at the 2017 edition of Field Day (Photo: Max Miechowski via Fanatic Live)

Mighty Hoopla

Returning to a yet to be announced location in London, this one day festival has a reputation for staging extravagant shows with the best pop and guilty pleasure acts from across the world. Each stage is curated by different clubs and many are returning off the back of a brilliant festival last year. Promising to be a show-stopping day out, the energy of the audience is almost as unmissable as the music; the atmosphere an unfettered celebration of freedom and diversity.

LOCATION To be confirmed DATES 8 June 2019

One day festival Mighty Hoopla returns (Photo: Luke Dyson)

Open Garden Squares Weekend

Rooftop conservatories and city centre plantations open their gates for one weekend this June. Across the entire city find little rural paradises and hidden natural gems, flowering in London’s summer weather. Larger public gardens that participate in the event also host guided walks, family activities, entertainment and food and drinks stalls for guests to enjoy, making this the perfect day out in the city.

LOCATION Venues across London DATES 8-9 June 2019

Roof Garden Canary Wharf © Nunzio Prenna (Photo: Open Garden Squares)

Stone Free Festival

Stone Free Festival is an all day celebration of classic rock, which has previously dedicated its stage to legends Alice Cooper, Rick Wakeman and the Darkness, not to mention German rockers Scorpions. Taking place over two 12-hour days, much of the lineup for this relatively new festival is still to be announced but, with high profile musicians regularly joining the bill, rock fans are advised not to wait too long to buy their tickets.

LOCATION 02 Arena DATES 16-17 June 2019

Taste of London

A lineup of London’s most exciting restaurants and world class chefs unite for the summer edition of Taste. For five days, a foodie paradise will evolve in Regent’s Park where attendees will get the opportunity to craft their own cocktails, follow live cooking demonstrations and shop at over 200 food and drinks stalls. So, whether you decide to attend a lunch or dinner session, your picnic in the park might just reach new levels of sophistication and flavour.

LOCATION Regent’s Park DATES November

(Photo: Taste of London)

Great Exhibition Road Festival

Imperial College brings its annual Festival out onto Exhibition Road for a weekend of art and science. Collaborations with 20 neighbours across the so-called ‘Albertopolis’, including some of the world’s most iconic museum’s and institutions, will create a unique festival fusing art, science, technology and curiosity, invoking the spirit of the first Great Exhibition in 1851.

LONDON Exhibition Road, South Kensington DATES 29-30 June 2019