It feels like a golden age for young museum- and gallery-goers in London. Even the most Victorian of our cultural institutions have loosened their ties, let their hair down and learnt how to party – if the cultural elites of 19th Century London were to pop into the National Gallery on a Friday night today, they would be in for a shock.
Culture bosses have realised that late openings and themed parties are a huge draw, particularly when they tie into a special exhibition – think DJs, live bands, cocktail bars and fancy dress.
Would our Victorian ancestors would have approved? Well, these events feature talks, tours and workshops too, so they aren’t all about dressing up and socialising. The point is to offer a lively, engaging experience that brings visitors into contact with the museum’s cultural mission. When it works, it’s as satisfying an evening as you can have in this or any other city.
Here’s a selection of upcoming museum lates close to the Strand:
The National is open until 9pm every Friday, with free entry to the regular collections and live music from Royal College of Music students from 6pm-7pm. Look out for music, talks and special cocktails to tie in with the exhibition Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (until 12 January 2014).
There’s also an irregular programme of ‘Late Social’ events, which begin with a glass of wine in the cafe, followed by a gallery talk on a particular theme. On 31 January the event will focus on framing, and include a rare tour of the National’s framing studio. Tickets are £32.
- Address: Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN
- Walking time: 7 minutes
National Portrait Gallery
Running every Thursday and Friday night until 9pm, the NPG’s Late Shift is one of the most well-established lates series in town. The standard programme has talks, debates and music from resident DJ Edward Otchere on Thursdays, and drawing workshops and live bands on Fridays. We’re particularly looking forward to the 23 January lecture The First Bohemians, which promises to delve into the social life of 18th Century Covent Garden, and a screening of Antonioni’s classic thriller Blow-Up, showing on 20 February to coincide with a new exhibition of Derek Bailey’s celebrity photographs.
- Address: St Martin’s Place, WC2H 7HS
- Walking time: 6 minutes
London’s largest collection of antiquities is open until 8.30pm every Friday. Every second Friday of the month brings BM/PM, which includes a longer bookable lecture or performance. Some are resolutely highbrow, such as Guardian writer Charlotte Higgins’ discussion of Roman Britain on 17 January; some are accessible and entertaining, such as a comedy tour of gallery objects by duo The Gentlemen of Leisure, scheduled for 14 February.
- Address: Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG
- Waking time: 15 minutes
London Transport Museum
This gem of a museum doesn’t do regular lates, but when it does one, it does it properly. On Friday 14 February it will be celebrating a new exhibition of illustrations inspired by London stories – expect exhibition tours, drawing workshops and storytelling sessions aboard the museum’s vintage buses and train carriages. There’ll also be a bar and DJ. Tickets are £8.
- Address: Covent Garden Piazza, WC2E 7BB
- Walking time: 3 minutes
The Royal College of Surgeons’ museum is one of London’s most challenging, and its next late opening session is no different. Scheduled for 5 February, it’s a hybrid of drama, comedy and cabaret written and performed by actor and musician Mat Fraser, and will use museum objects to explore the history of disability.
- Address: 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3PE
- Walking time: 10 minutes
This trove of antiquities and art resides in a stately terraced house on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the house itself is preserved almost exactly as it was left by its former resident, the celebrated architect Sir John Soane. On the first Tuesday of each month its ornate, cluttered interiors are lit by candlelight from 6pm-9pm. It is a strictly first-come-first-served event with a limit of 200 visitors, so arrive well ahead of time – tickets are distributed at 5.30pm.
- Address: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP
- Walking time: 12 minutes