Free London Summer Festivals 2009

Free London Festivals 2009

Other Free Events Worth Trying Out 2009

Other Paid Events Worth Trying Out 2009
Choose the 2009 London Festival for You!
  • For FamiliesLooking for a relaxed family day out? Most festivals in London have a family element to them, and the earlier you go the less chaotic things will be. However the best family day out is the Thames River Festival, with Shoreditch Festival being a good option too. Both are easy going and central to London. For more daring parents Notting Hill Carnival has its children's day on Sunday 30th August, catch it early to avoid carnival chaos.
  • 'Samfin Efnic'Looking for something different or 'efnic'? Try Carnival del Pueblo for Latin flavour or the London Mela for something Indian. A bit of travelling involved but its an experience seeing how Latinos and Asians celebrate.
  • High Brow Enterainment
    Try out the BP Summer Big Screen Performances, where you can see opera and classical concerts in public spaces in the evenings, or books tickets for various cheap events put on for the City of London Festival. The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival involves a range of visionary water-based interpretations of the area. This includes a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Baroque composer Handel with an outdoor son et lumiere inspired by the Thames entitled Water Music, as well as the UK premiere of French company Ilotopie’s Fous de Bassin, a poetic spectacle in which the performers literally walk on water.
Festivals In Depth

London is the coolest place to be on planet earth when the summer sun is shining! And there's no better way to enjoy it than joining in one of the many festivals that are put on show during the summer months.

On May 31st festivities kick off with A Taste of Spain on Regent Street. From twelve to six, the whole of Spain is condensed into Regent Street. A week later, the plethora of restaurants on Charlotte Streets in Fitzrovia open for an afternoon's fun for the Charlotte Street Festival.

The Blackheath Bike and Kite Festival runs from 12pm - 7pm, Saturday 13th June - Sunday 14th June 2009. June also sees the kick off in a series of Big Screen performances, screened around the whole UK, and in Trafalgar Square in London. The first screened performance will be the Royal Ballet’s Ondine, on eWednesday 3rd June at 7.30pm.

June 20th will be a big day in London, with three big festivals to choose from. June 20th marks the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession to the throne. Henry VIII was a bloodthirsty tyrant in the league of Saddam Hussein, London celebrates the Henry VIII Coronation Weekend. A Tudor river pageant will be held on the Saturday, where the royal procession of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon will start at the Tower of London, sail along the Thames one of a spectacular flotilla of boats, and finish at Hampton Court Palace.

On the same day, those with a more hedonistic bent can head for Victoria Park in Hackney which will be hosting the Paradise Gardens Festival. For those of a more adventurous nature who want to see how one of London’s roughest communities celebrate, Tottenham, will be having their carnival – a good crack but be prepared for plenty of aggressive looking gangs of young boys and sassy women amongst the otherwise civil crowds. And if none of that grabs, you then June 20th is the date of the Art of Recycling opening procession.

July 4th is Soho Pride well worth a gander if you are interested in how the gay community live and celebrate. You'll see alot of extravagant costumes and posing. But you'll also see alot of down to earth gay men, lesbians and straight people taking it easy. July also sees a variety of festivals taking place in the furthest reaches of London, including Greenford, Brent, Lewisham, Lambeth, Shoreditch, Ealing and Deptford. These festivals usually have less tourists and more local people, you can usually tell from the way everyone looks a little bit edgey and a lot poorer. They are well worth checking out though, if you'd like to get a genuine flavour of real London, and the types of people that inhabit the different parts of this great city.

In August two of the most significant festivals are Carnival del Pueblo and London Mela which are Latin and Asian festivals respectively. They are less based on the area in which they took place and more based on the area from which the people originally came. The biggest and best carnvial taking place in August is without doubt the Notting Hill Carnival which is a monster of a carnival, attended by up to a million people, and lasting for two whole days. You get the whole world there, but this really is the Carribbean's moment - its one of the few opportunities that most people will get to see Black Carribbean's really party. Children's Day is on the Sunday and is generally quieter, but can still get quite busy towards the end.

For many the Notting Hill Carnival is the end of the summer and festival season. However this award really should be made in September and go to the Thames River Festival which is a series of small scale events culminating in the night time light parade around the Thames. Its ideal for tourists being situated in the Centre but is enjoyed by Londondes alike. A big fireworks display rounds the weekend off nicely. As if not to be outdone the Brockwell Urban Green Festival takes place on September 20th.

A Taste Of Spain, Regent Street
31st May 2009
Under what must have been an Iberican sun, tourists and Londoners alike meandered around a half mile stretch of Regent Street, pedestrianised and peppered with a variety of stalls, shows and attractions for the afternoon. Food was on the agenda, with two giant paellas being prepared, slices of Iberican harm being carved from the bone and a churros con chocolate stall causing swooning and mild fever amongst homesick Spaniards.

The most stunning show of the afternoon was without doubt the dressage show put on by four Mallorcan horsemen. It was strange to see their beautiful beasts performing an equine ballet slap bang in the heart of Regent Street under the Londinium sun. Asturian dancing, flamenco, futbolin (table football) and a rock concert was also provided.

There were various freebies on offer, including pates of paella and Spanish straw hats. On the hat front those that arrived late looked enviously and hatlessly on at those that had arrived early, and of those that arrived early several had two or three hats stacked on top of their hoarding little heads.

This event was organised with the Spanish tourist board, so anyone who cares to think about these things, knowing that nothing comes for free, was aware that the whole experience was more than likely an attempt to brainwash them into going on holiday to Spain. There is a danger with events like this that the organisers focus on the hard sell - rather than the entertainment - and end up putting people off than turning them on. But no fear here. The Spanish have a tradition of organising entertainment heavy industry fairs and here the philosophy seemed to work at subliminal level to leave people with the sense that the Spanish really know how to have fun. To be sure, they achieved that here.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Photo: Bellaphon.

Taste of Spain, Regents Street, 2009, MW.

Queues for churros con chocolate, 2009, MW.

A giant paella, 2009, MW.

Asturian dancing, 2009, MW.

Flamenco, 2009, Roberto Aloi @

Charlotte Street Festival
6th June 2009

Charlotte Street is a small street in the heart of central London, sitting just north of its most popular shopping street, Oxford Street. It is remarkable for being packed full of a variety of restaurants selling food from around the world. If you can't find something you fancy in Charlotte Street you may as well not eat.

So its perhaps to celebrate and advertise the incredible diversity of food on offer in Charlotte Street, that someone somewhere thought it would be a good idea to hold a festival for the street.

It sound like a good idea on paper but in practice, on what was a disappointingly grey day, the atmosphere matched the weather. The first problem was that there simply wasn't enough going on. Aside from the outdoor seating that the various restaurants were making available on the day, there really was very littlel to liven the spirits. There was an assortment of inongruous stalls and activities liberally spaced out along the street. There was for example, a scalextric type game set up underneath a canopy, a YMCA second hand clothes stall in a tent and a game organised by a charity, where you threw a frighteningly realistic rubbery model of a shit into one of four toilet bowls. The plastic turd game was completely vile game, and supposedly about water awareness, although in all honesty I think the only thing that it teaches you is that going to the toilet would be a whole lot more fun if you shat in your hand and then aimed it at the toilet bowl from a distance. What does all this add up to? Naff. In other places along the length of the street there were stalls set up advertising their services. Everyone seemed to be holding a white balloon courtesy of Hudson Properties - making the thing feel more like a business fare rather than a festival.

Another weak point was that there was no free food. Sure there was food for sale, but really all the festival seemed to amount to was al fresco dining. Maybe the restauranters have less resources to make food freely available - but I would have thought it would have been the best way of advertising. If as a festival goer I had had a bit of food, a goblet of wine, and a flier remindining me of the place that had me feel so good, I would have returned with a group of friends to cross the restaraunter's palm with silver. Instead what we got is a lot of uncomfortable lookin restaraunt staff wishing they didnt have to be serving everyone under a grey and quite cold summer's day. In some places staff seemed very reluctant to engage the general public.

Its true to say that if it had been good weather it might have been good. But its not really the thing that you'd up sticks and head down town for to attend, its more like the kind of event that would be a pleasant litle thing to bump into.

Rating: 1 out of 5 (it was crap - even with good weather it would have been crap)

The BP Summer Big Screens: The Royal Ballet Ondine at Trafalgar Square
3rd June 2009

At seven in the evening, on what was another grey summer's eve in London, Trafalgar Square became a cacophany of traffic, sirens and general chit chat. Londoners, and in particular a lot of very fertile young women, had collectively colonised most of the north eastern part of the square,in front of a big screen. People were consuming an assortment of Mediterranean and American snacks with the rapaciousness of an aphid. The energy being consumed seemed to be roughly matched by that invested in gossip to the extent that a gentle conversational hum hoverred above everyone's heads like a low lying mist.

This was, of course, all in anticipation of the screening of Ondine, one of several Royal Opera House events due to be screened both in and around the country during the summer of 2009.

Before the show started the skies get progressively darker. This of course played into the hands of British Petroleum, who being sponsors of the events had had hundreds of plastic ponchos made up, emblazoned with their logo. BP's astute eye for marketing, and the threatening skies turned a quarter of the audience into adverts.

The lugubrious weather didn't stop several children from racing around the edge of the ponds in Trafalgar Square, contemplating the benefits and disadvantages of dipping themselves into the water.

As the show got underway, an audible clapping was emitted from the Royal Opera House. Very few people in Trafalgar Square followed suit, it was just too cold, and besides no-one seemed sure whether at events like this the show is the focal point, or whether its just high-brow background noise to the picnic. Its not like being in a cinema, no-one feels a compulsion to be quiet.

It has to be said that both the sound and the image were very good - its more than just background noise. After ten minutes I leave, its too cold, its grey and I don't have any food. But I do think I'll be back for a more sunnier occasion.

Rating: 2 out of 5 (up to 3 with the sunshine).

Photo: Bobcat Rock.

Blackheath Bike and Kite Festival
13th-14th June 2009
Blackheath Bike and Kite Festival is definitely one of the more bizarre festivals in London, combining the twin disciplines of biking and kiting. The weekend long even includes display arenas, entertainment and traders. The UK mountain bike stunt display team were present to demonstrate leaps, jumps, hops and balancing skills. A bike doctor was also present, repairing bikes for free.

Guided bike rides were also offered, they went to the O2, Surrey Docks city farm and the 2012 Olympic site. The event, sponsored by Transport for London, was held during National Bike Week.

According to one blogger, who attended on the Saturday, it lacked atmosphere. Truth be told one wouldn't think the concept would work in practice, who would be moved to go to a bike and kite festival? There are very few people who are into both, and no-one who was interested in neither would think to pop along really, unless they lived closed by. In all honesty it may have more mileage in focussing on cycling, I really like the idea of going down getting your bike done up and then going on a guided bike ride somewhere, maybe combined with some industry event where you can get discounted products for the day. Could be very popular on that basis.

Rating: 2 out of 5 (although this is based on hearsay rather than first hand experience - and if anyone has an alternative judgement please email

Photo above: Stu Mayhew, photos in the middle: Violent Silence, bottom: Ryan McClean

Henry VIII Coronation
20th June 2009

June 20th marked the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession to the throne. Henry VIII was a bloodthirsty tyrant in the league of Saddam Hussein. He was the kind of guy that Bernie Ecclestone and any human being with a dominant-passive complex would just love, someone who could come in and make things black and white, and stick the knife into anyone who disagrees. Genuinely dangerous and powerful. Whilst we criticise people like Bernie Ecclestone for admiring dictators of Henry's nature, we hide behind the pomp and ceremony, and fact that just like Bernie we all have a soft sport for murderers, dictators and people who value their own authority over others' right to existence despire their disagreement and difference.

So I thought, London was going to pull out all the stops to celebrates the Henry VIII Coronation Weekend. A Tudor river pageant, they said, will be held on the Saturday, where the royal procession of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon will start at the Tower of London, sail along the Thames one of a spectacular flotilla of boats, and finish at Hampton Court Palace. Spectacular is what they said, and imagined the Thames full of huge old style boats, with flags unfurled and fluttering in the wind, jesters, festivities, women in olde english gowns, steak pies and jugs of ail.

The actual event, at least from what has been recorded on the internet, for I managed to miss the whole thing, preferring to wake up late, seemed like an embarassing damp squib of a celebration - and perhaps fittingly so for Henry VIII was by all acounts a nob, and to think that he might have looked down at this pathetic tribute. Instead of a huge flotilla, regaling the river Thames with some kind of ancient splendour, there was a very small boat, almost canoe like in its proportions, with some guy ressembling Henry looking like a particularly happy and smug Scandinavian tourist happy to be in London having read so much about it, and smiling somewhat gormlessly at the river bank.

An ignorant passerby would have thought that the smattering of small row boats was the remnants of the support team of a boat race.

Why was there no ship with big sails?

Photos: Top: Su-lin, Middle: Shimmer 2, Below: Patrick Wallace

Paradise Gardens Festival
20th June 2009

Photo: Loopzilla

It had all the grit, grime and dedication to cheap human pleasure befitting of a Hackney festival. Paradise Gardens was more than just an attempt at a food and music festival. Someone had made a genuine effort to give it a bit of style and character, almost to give it a Victorian feel or a feel from some other bygone era. The festival had a circus, avant garde dance and an 'ideas bar'. It was like a festival from the olden days with the wall of death, which featured motorcyclists ripping around a vertical wall on their bikes. It looked like a lot of fun, not that I would know, because I was on a money saving mission, hoping to enjoy just the freebies, and because some of this fare stuff I sometimes think might end up being a bit naff.

There was the usual festival bands at the music tent, featuring kletzma - which is like Jewish ska for those who have never heard it - but which in fact has been around for long enough for some to claim that it was the forefather of jazz music.

The concept of Hackney both scares and me and draws me to it. Hackney to me has always been deepest darkest to the more civilised and accessible environs of north London. I don't know why but I've always got the impression that people in Hackney love to party, they are one of the most hedonistic communities in London, and yet they seem to have an edge about them, a certain unpredictability. This is reflected in all the squats, squat and other informal makeshift parties that seem to take place there. Whether right or wrong, I can't help but view Hackney festivals through these eyes. Paradise Gardens seemed to ooze Hackney character. There were hardened tatooed geezers, lying on the grass and drinking their strong brews. Twenty thirty something designers and artists, supping away and taking it easy. Thirty, forty, fifty somethings all slightly withered through decades of partying and experience, living up the Hackney life, generally happy and yet you feel each one with a bite to match their bark. And all of this dressed up with style and eccentricity and difference.

Photo: Penny JB

Amongst all this I cannot help but notice one or two very vulnerable looking loners, no doubt isolated and lonely as hell, all trying to hold it together mentally, coming to the festival to escape the torture of their hell, and remember what it means to be a human and social. Late at night a very vulnerable looking African kid in a Premiere League football shit is dancing on his own clapping his hands. He looks around nervously, seeking to make eye contact with everyone and anyone who would spare him a millisecond's consideration.

Photo: Surprise Truck.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Street Pianos Project
I was sitting in Soho Gardens, ten o'clock on a weekday morning, when I heard the gentle tinkle of piano keys. Immediately something in me relaxed, like when you listen to a windchime late on a summer evening. Only the tune being knocked out was Nellie the Elephant. This was then surpassed with a stuttering rendition of Sigur Ros' hauntingly beautiful Hoppopilla. Despite the imperfection I found the whole thing beautiful. A week or so later walking from St Pauls down to the Millenium Bridge I heard another pianist playing the piano with considerable depth and feeling, something beautiful that I didn't know, classical, which made me feel so good as the breeze from the Thames refreshed me and flustered my hair. There is something touching and intimate about the fact that someone, some stranger can invest his time and effort into making your life that bit more beautiful, and that he or she is doing it in the knowledge that everyone walking past will be touched in some way.

For all of those who wonder about theft and vandalism, the BBC revealed, "The instruments are locked to the nearest bench, bollard or railing and a tuner will travel to all the sites daily to maintain the pianos." The Director of one of the organisations, Sing London, organising the event said: "Our projects are about increasing a sense of public spirit in a city which often feels cold. We trust Londoners to share and we trust them to take care of them, to look after the songbooks and cover the piano when it rains."

The Street Piano Project, which lastes from 23rd June to 14th July 2009, involved locating twenty pianos across streets in London. The pianos were available for anyone who wanted a tinkle, and were also used for planned performances.

The organiser of the event Luke Jerram was quoted in This is London as saying, "“The pianos belong to the people of London, including the drunk ones. The interesting thing is that you can't tell how someone plays until they sit down.Some people play wonderfully, and a crowd will gather, while others are just awful.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tapas Fantasticas
June 27th-28th 2009
Didn't make it along to this, but Chris Osborn from the Londonist did. He said, "This year’s event still offered a brilliant opportunity to sample some of Rioja’s best wine and to get acquainted with some of London’s best Spanish restaurants. But the new location (round the corner from Brick Lane, just off Buxton Street) was crowded, and the representation from Spain didn’t seem as solid as a year ago. Oh well. The massive queue and throngs of cheery faces we noticed on Saturday suggested that most peeps attending didn’t mind the downgrade."

The purpose of Tapas Fantasticas is to promote the wines of La Riojoa and other Spanish produce.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Greenwich and Docklands International Festival
June 25th-28th 2009
The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival bought together dance, art and movemen, with music and water and light shows, to bring together a variety of free shows dotted aroung the river in the East End of London.

Reviews on the internet suggest that the quality of the shows on offer was of the highest orders, especially the show provided by Fous de Bassin at Millwall Outer Dock and Pi-Leau at Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. Photographs of illuminating light shows at night on the Thames support that.

Monika Hestad said of Fous de Bassin, "Fous de Bassin was described as ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It lived up to this description. The show was presented on the water just after sunset. It started gently. A small Fiat 127 broke down and created smoke. Then, even more surrealistic figures entered the scene. A clown, a bed with oars, and angels. Then suddenly the atmosphere changed to wild and diabolic. Beauty queens, a monkey and fallen angels were whirling around. Fireworks, fire and dramatic surrealistic music… Breathtaking, impressive with a grand finale!"

Rating: 4 out of 5 (on the basis that this is what the Guardian gave it)

Tottenham Carnival
20th June 2009
Tottenham Carnival isn't anywhere near as well known as Notting Hill, but who knows in years to come it may become the place to have a carnival. Especially given that Notting Hill Carnival, which is getting bigger and bigger, and each year you here reports of 'if there's any trouble this year it could be the last one' which suggests that the problems are getting bigger and bigger each year.

Tottenham is one of the most multi-cultural areas in London, but it still has a large contingent of British Caribbean and Caribbeans, whose culture and interests are, just like Notting Hill, and not least because carnival is an import from across the Atlantic, the dominant motifs.

The event starts at mid-day with a procession that starts at the bottom of Tottenham High Road, works its way up Bruce Grove and ends up in the grounds of Bruce Castle.

80,000 people were expected at the 2009 carnival.

Tottenham can be experienced as a thoroughly scarey area. Its the only place that I have experienced where two people independently approached me and beseached me to do something about the crime, on the basis that I was wearing a white shirt and they thought I worked for the Council. There are numerous muggings, hold-ups and murders taking place on a weekly and monthly basis. With that in mind I would hesitate to tell anyone that their safety could be guaranteed at the carnival. But it has to be said, that with the occasional bit of aggravation between groups of young people, the carnival is generally safe. The Haringey Independent reported the following of the 2009 carnival, "The Metropolitan Police confirmed there were no arrests for any public disorder, but there were two arrests for possession of cannabis."

Rating: 3 out of 5

Shoreditch Festival
18th July 2009
It was good to see the Brits and the Britified foreign element do what they do so well - congregated - huddled up - under the foreboding Shoreditch sky - ready for the second part of the Shoreditch Proms - courtesty of the Royal Philharmonic - amongst whose members violin players manifest cold fingers. Young and old alike were there, the usual festival mix impregnated with white haired ladies, looking very seriously at the stage and dressed in pacamacs. The conductor was charm personnified and took the audience through a wonderful medley including Lark on the Rise and O Sole Mio. He played us what he called ‘Verde’s own particular interpretation of summer’, I looked up at the gloom and laughed ironically at Shoreditch’s particular interpretation. It was a rare opportunity to bob up and down in the open air to classical music, a young Somali girl started impersonating the conduct, her mother initially motioned for her to stop, and then decided to impersonate the conductor roo, the grandmother wadressed in sheets and sat down on the floor as if she might have been in some far off Somali dester canmp. The crowd called for and received several encores, but they soon forgot about the orchestra as the final clash of the symbol announced a fireworks display, beatiful, but whose conders and embers the crowd spend most of the dipplay dodging. It was a beautiful quanit huddled and shared experience. Here’s to the damn it, lets got out and enhoy this miserable summer’s evening mentality!

Rating: 8 out of 10 - there was a beautiful atmosphere.

What We Didn't Get This Year
It has to be said that 2009 has seen some of the old festival fixtures hit on the head. Stokefest, Camden Green and Rock Against Racism have all been cancelled. But fear not, for if you have love, will travel, then London, from north to south has got something to offer, almost every week.
London Festivals - an alternative look

London is the coolest place to be on planet earth when the summer sun is shining! And there's no better way to enjoy it than joining in one of the many festivals that are put on show during the summer months.

Getting out to one of London's festivals you get to see the whole world out on show, in all its glorious technicolour - skin, body and bits. Watch bodies gently undulating to the music, friends and families working their way languidly through the urban lanscape or one of London's many parks.

Even the staunchest of BNP supporters has to stop and reconsider the benefits of immigration during the festival season.

And what of all these free festivals? We party on nonchalantly, caring little about the reasons and the motives.

And yet underpinning the work that makes for the environment in which we enjoy our fesivals, our music and our shows is the fact that the powers that be well know that their bellies are filled to the brim and over, by the continuous flow of finance and touristst through this honeypot known as London. What better to keep the talent and the tourists in this place than to splash out on so many free events, for the whole country it is often said, and yet for Londoners, their friends and their visitors in practice. Rotherham, Yeovil and Aberdeen - do you know anything like this?

London financial centre of Europe, and some euphemistically say the world, capital of the United Kingdom, London draws in the money, the people, the expenditure, the taxes, and the wealth. The great capitalistic state machines, finds several reasons to make a tourist vacuum out of so many gratuitous festivities at great expense to someone somewhere – during the sunshine brightly times. But whilst you are here in the Big Smoke enjoy the festivities.

Business interests in these festivals.

  • A Taste of Spain is supported by the Spanish Tourist Office, Regent Street Association and The Crown Estate.
  • The event is at present part-financed by London Borough of Lewisham, with sponsorships from individual companies and revenue from individual stallholders. It is a non-profit making event and is put on for the benefit of the residents and to promote the area as a visitor destination. Mark Wynne-Pedder, Festival Special Events 01825 840818 Liz Bannister, London Borough of Lewisham 020 8314 8246
  • Paradise Gardens is supported by Tower Hamlets Council and produced by Remarkable Productions with Tower Hamlets Arts
  • The project is run by Sing London and facilitated in Westminster by the council's Arts Service. In total 20 pianos will be delivered across London.