London’s centuries of history, winding lamp-lit streets and endless list of cultural attractions make it one of the world’s most evocative night time cities. While the city’s museums and galleries, which include some of the greatest and most famous in the world, are brilliant to visit at any time, you can experience another side to many of them by waiting until nightfall. Many offer regular night time opening sessions, known as ‘lates’, where drinks are served, lights are dimmed, but exhibits remain accessible to the public. Lates are a great way to combine a museum visit with a social event and experience London’s attractions from a different angle, and are often mercifully free of loud kids and school trips. They also provide a different evening option to a pub or bar – a great environment in which to have a drink or two, either as the evening’s main entertainment, or as a precursor (or appendix) to something else, like a trip to the theatre, cinema or a concert. If you’re planning a trip to London and are looking for a luxurious base in the city centre, London City Suites by Montcalm is a sophisticated, comfortable hotel with a brilliant location in Barbican.
Many of London’s major museums have tales on different nights from one another, but often only once per month. The Natural History Museum hosts a late opening on the last Friday of every month. One of the most awe-inspiring and evocative buildings in London, this purpose-built ‘cathedral to nature’ becomes even more magical by night, with the dimmed lights throwing eerie shadows of the exhibits on the walls. There are several bars, which are open from 6pm to 9.45pm, with offerings including London ale and lager and Somerset cider, or you can visit the botanical garden for a cocktail with a twist. A variety of bar snacks are also on offer if you’re feeling peckish. Just like during the day, admission is free, except for entry to the exhibitions and to the tales-specific special events.
Just around the corner from the NHM, tales at the Science Museum – which are held on the last Wednesday of each month – are a more rambunctious affair. Live music is always on the menu, as are interactive activities, the Punk Science comedy show and the best silent disco in town. Educational, inspiring, and always good fun, Science Museum tales are adult-only events which have a different theme each week: from sex to climate change, from Churchill’s wartime scientists to childhood. Admission is free, although some events may require a ticket – check on the website before you go at http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/plan_your_visit/lates.aspx.
For a more off-the-beaten track late museum experience, head to the Sir John Soane’s Museum at Bloomsbury’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The former home of the renowned architect Sir John Soane, whose buildings include the Bank of England, this unique private collection has remained untouched since Soane’s death at his request. Home to beautiful artworks, sculpture and furniture and all manner of exotic curiosities, this unusual museum becomes even more evocative when it is bathed in candlelight on the first Tuesday evening of every month. It’s free, but the little museum can only accommodate around 200 people, so get there in advance of the opening time at 6.30pm. There are also special, ticketed late events, including a current series of ‘Sensational Lates’ based around each of the five senses.