London’s cultural venues suffered greatly during lockdown but now crowds are back in full force and hungry for entertainment. It may seem too early to start talking about Christmas but it’s worth putting the Nutcracker in your diary, which this year takes place at the London Coliseum and features talented dancers from our very own English National Ballet. This timeless production is a family classic that’s sure to delight and inspire viewers of all ages.
Another classic story – albeit definitely less PG-13 – is Cabaret, the hit musical-turned-film based on the semi-autobiographical tales of writer Christopher Isherwood’s escapades in the Weimar Republic. The Playhouse Theatre has been completely transformed into Cabaret’s seedy Kit Kat Club for a unique and immersive viewer experience. With Oscar-winning actor Eddie Redmayne playing Emcee alongside newcomer Jessie Buckley as Sally Bowles, tickets for this West End revival are unsurprisingly selling like hot cakes.
English National Ballet Artists as Snowflakes in Nutcracker ©Laurent Liotardo
Another A-lister treading the boards this autumn is singer-turned-West End sensation Lily Allen. Her critically acclaimed turn in new play 2:22 A Ghost Story sees her star alongside Hadley Fraser, Julia Chan and former Eastender Jake Wood in a chilling contemporary ghost story centred around a young couple who experience paranormal activity at the same time every night. The play’s limited-edition run at the Noël Coward theatre finishes on 15 October – so there’s still time to grab some last-minute tickets!
How to get there
London’s glittering West End is a doddle to reach from London City Island. The easiest route is via the Jubilee Line from Canning Town to Waterloo, then changing to the Northern line to reach Leicester Square. The Playhouse Theatre is closer to Embankment station, which is only a 10 minute walk from Leicester Square, or why not arrive in style by getting the River Boat service to Embankment Pier.
Singer Lily Allen stars in 2-22 A Ghost Story, photo ©Helen Murray
‘London’s cultural venues suffered greatly during lockdown but now crowds are back in full force and hungry for entertainment’
Garden lovers have patiently been awaiting the return of the Chelsea Flower Show after its cancellation in 2020 (the first time the show has been postponed in its 108-year history). After a virtual show in May, the world-famous gardening bonanza is back for six days in September at The Royal Hospital, Chelsea. A new season (and rather unpredictable weather) will give horticulturalists and designers new challenges, alongside the introduction of new categories and an NHS tribute garden.
The Chelsea Flower show returns this September. Photo ©Luke MacGregor
Just as impressive is London’s influential Open House Festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Taking place from 4-21 September, this annual event allows people to get a glimpse inside some of London’s most iconic buildings, residential homes and hidden gems. The programme also includes in-person and virtual events, walking tours and talks from industry leaders. Locally, you can nose around the colourful Container City at Trinity Buoy Wharf and get stuck into ‘canal crafts’ at the East India Dock Basin.
Speaking of London’s Docks, September also sees the return of Totally Thames for a special 25th anniversary edition. Totally Thames director Adrian Evans describes rivers as ‘arteries’ that ‘run through our communities and are a source of inspiration, of joy and delight.’ This month-long celebration of the Thames includes numerous free exhibitions and events, including mudlarking at St Paul’s Cathedral, a flagship exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, and the Lighting up the Lea festival at nearby Cody Dock over the weekend of 4-5 September. It also fittingly marks the completion of Illuminated River, an ambitious public art programme, which has seen artist Leo Villareal introduce colourful LED lighting to nine of London’s major bridges. Officially the longest public artwork in the world, the Illuminated River Foundation has curated a three-night programme of events from 23- 25 September as part of the Totally Thames festival.
How to get there
Totally Thames and and Open House are all happening locally, or locations are easy to access via the island and involve walking along the Thames Path. Technically, you could walk or cycle along the Thames (for the most part) from the island to Chelsea if you’re up for the challenge. Otherwise, take the Jubilee Line and change at Westminster for the Circle Line to Sloane Street, taking just over 20 minutes.
‘Nose around the colourful Container City at Trinity Buoy Wharf and get stuck into ‘canal crafts’ at the East India Dock Basin at this year’s Open House Festival’
If Chelsea Flower show taking place in autumn has raised an eyebrow then wait till you hear about the Royal Academy’s legendary Summer Exhibition, which this year is taking place in late September. Officially the world’s largest open submission art show, the Summer Exhibition has been hosted by the Royal Academy every year since its inception way back in 1769 (yes, it even went ahead in 2020). The show brings together art from both up-and-coming and established artists, and members of the public, across many mediums; from prints and painting to film, sculpture and photography. Coordinated by acclaimed British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, this year’s exhibition centres around the theme of ‘reclaiming magic’ and celebrates the joy of creating art.
Bill Traylor Man with Barking Dog (Blue and Red Construction) Photo ©Eric W. Baumgartner, courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Moder
Prestigious art showcase Frieze London returns this October
October sees the return of the contemporary art fair Frieze London – held in Regent’s Park every autumn alongside Frieze Masters, which focuses on art made pre-2000, and invites galleries from all over the world to participate. The event is a must for collectors and art lovers, and even if you don’t know your Manet from your Monet, it’s worth going down for a fantastically immersive experience and to discover some truly out-there artworks (and spot an arty celeb or two).
Closer to home, September sees the return of the Unity Arts Festival at London City Island. Back for the fourth year, the festival is a celebration of creativity within London City Island with exhibitions, installations, performances and workshops.
Sokari Higgwe, founder of the island’s London Lighthouse Gallery has been busy planning the gallery’s latest exhibition, Bird, by London-based artist and scientist Annabel MacIver, which will run throughout September. On Thursday 23 September, MacIver will be at the gallery to talk about her artistic practice and to recite a poem that encapsulates the inspiration behind Bird. This insightful evening takes place between 6pm-9pm and is free to attend, but secure your place by clicking here.
How to get there
Head to Green Park for the Royal Academy, which is a direct route on the Jubilee Line from Canning Town. Alternatively, you could take a scenic cycling route along the Cycle Superhighway. Regent’s Park is a pleasant half hour walk from this part of the city, or if you’re travelling from London City Island, change at Baker Street to travel one stop on the Bakerloo Line to Regent’s Park Station.
Mali Morris Colour Go Round (7) Acrylic on canvas, Courtesy the artist
‘September sees the return of the Unity Arts Festival at London City Island. Back for the fourth year, the festival is a celebration of creativity within London City Island with exhibitions, installations, performances and workshops’
Many musicians had to put world tours on hold in 2020, so are keen to really pull out all the stops this year. At the O2, you can catch pop superstar Elton John on his swansong Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour in November across multiple dates. There’s also pop nostalgia aplenty at the O2 with winter gigs from JLS, Steps and McFly, plus Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette stops off for two days (23 and 24 November) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her angst-ridden 90s classic, Jagged Little Pill.
Rising star and 2018 X Factor winner Dalton Harris recently performed an exclusive gig on the island on Friday 10 September. Entertaining the crowds from The Lockdown Room ahead of its official re-launch in October, Harris’ concert marked the end of this year’s Islander Festival. Read our exclusive interview with the singer here.
We may be heading out of festival season but autumn still has some entertainment up its sleeves. On our radar, is the return of Wireless Festival, running for the first time at Crystal Palace Park. Headliners this year include British grime superstar Skepta alongside American hip-hop royalty Future, Megan Thee Stallion and Migos.
How to get there
The O2 arena is located across the river from London City Island, so avoid walking or getting the bus unless you have plenty of time on your hands. It’s just one stop on the Underground from Canning Town to North Greenwich (the closest Tube station to the venue) or take the scenic route on the Emirates Air Line from Royal Victoria. For Crystal Park Palace, make your way to Canada Water on the Jubilee Line and change for a direct Overground train.
Megan Thee Stallion
‘Many musicians had to put world tours on hold in 2020, so are keen to really pull out all the stops this year’
Not only are events that were cancelled in 2020 returning this year, but many are also running for longer than normal to make up for lost time. One such event is London Cocktail Week, which will now take place for the whole of October. This annual ode to the cocktail encourages people to raise a toast to their favourite bars and discover new haunts across the capital with an exclusive wristband that gives you access to signature cocktails for just £7. Grab yours and head over to Canary Wharf, where Electric Shuffle, Plateau and The Sipping Room are taking part in the event. And there’s plenty of bars partaking in nearby Shoreditch, including Flight Club, Callooh Callay and Nightjar.
Cocktails at Homestead
Our very own Homestead is also raising a toast with the newly launched City Island Social, where you can get 2-for-1 cocktails from 5-7pm from Tuesday to Friday. And until the end of September, our favourite neighbourhood bar, restaurant and deli is running an offer where bookings of four or more in the restaurant receive a free bottle of wine.
London City Island’s neighbour, Canary Wharf, is emerging as quite the foodie destination. Recently it saw the arrival of Six by Nico, the acclaimed concept restaurant from chef Nico Simeone. Located on Chancellor Passage, Six by Nico offers an exciting rotating dining experience with a six-course tasting menu that changes every six weeks.
How to get there
Canning Town is a quick 10-minute bus ride, or simply jump on the Jubilee Line or DLR. You could also cycle there in around 15 minutes along the A13. For Shoreditch, head towards Stratford on the Tube and catch the Central Line to Bethnal Green or Liverpool Street.
Let’s face it, after the past 18 months we could all do with a pick-me-up and a comedy festival is a surefire way to guarantee a bucket full of belly laughs. The five-day Greenwich Comedy Festival promises to put a smile on our faces this September, with an impressive line-up of Britain’s best comedians. From Sara Pascoe and Tim Key to Ed Gamble, Nish Kumar and Tom Allen – there’s something to tickle every funnybone and is hosted in Covid-secure outdoor seating at the iconic National Maritime Museum.
And for cinema lovers, the BFI London Film Festival returns for its 65th edition. The opening night on 6 October will see the world premiere of Netflix’s highly anticipated film The Harder They Fall, a new school Western directed by London-born Jeymes Samuel and starring Regina King, Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba. Held at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall with Samuel and the stars in attendance. The programme features a host of film screenings, including animations, documentaries and short films, as well as a series of digital Screen Talks from industry hot shots including George Clooney, Letitia Wright and homegrown actor-writer-rapper extraordinaire Riz Ahmed.
How to get there
The National Maritime Museum has bike racks in its grounds for cyclists and numerous car parks within a 10-minute walk of the venue. Or hop on the DLR towards Greenwich or Cutty Sark for a scenic journey. For The Royal Festival Hall, jump on the Jubilee Line to Waterloo, which takes around 15 minutes.
The Harder They Fall will premiere at this year's BFI London Film Festival
Words by Gemma Billington