Great Lectures & Talks In London
Last Updated: 25th February 2020 | Main image: Royal Academy Lates
It’s about time you made good on that new year’s resolution of leading a life of cultural and intellectual refinement.
But we don’t want to lecture you.
Instead, we’ll leave it to the professionals – the guest speakers, the research professors, the illustrious poets, artists, and social activists who regularly take to the stage in London to share their insights with the masses. Whatever you want to brush up on – whether it’s politics, tech, or just the rebirth of classical architecture in 15th century Italy, there’s free lunchtime lectures, candlelit evenings and mind-broadening salons on pretty much everything under the sun.
And so to buoy you forwards on your quest for intellectual enlightenment, we’ve picked out not only the best places that are putting on regular talks, but also the best events this month.
So without further ado…
BOOK NOW: Adam Buxton Rambles at The Southbank Centre, this May.
TOP PICKS THIS MONTH (March 2020)
An Astronaut’s Story of Invention
Kathy Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space. And in this talk she’ll tell you how it feels to blast into the cosmos as well as discuss her time working at NASA’s revolutionary observatory with the Hubble Space Telescope, which completely changed the way we think about the universe.
Details: 3rd March, 1-2pm | Durham Street Auditorium, RSA House, 8 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6EZ | Free, but book ahead
Power of Print
Tying in with the Nunnery Gallery’s current exhibition, printer and Communications Lecturer Jess Baines will take you into the history of radical printing in the East End from the 1970s to 1990s, placing the role of these small, grass-roots workshops within wider political movements of the time.
Details: 5th March, 7-9pm | Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ | £3-5
WOW: Women of the World Festival
This year marks the tenth edition of this pioneering festival celebrating women from all parts of society and highlighting the issues that women across the globe still face today. And it’s a suitably killer line-up: speakers include The Guilty Feminist, Deborah Frances-White; Feminists Don’t Wear Pink author Scarlett Curtis; Sandi Toksvig; Dina Asher-Smith; Susie Orbach and many more. Plus, for the first time there’ll be bite-sized festival-style sessions, where you can hear soapbox speeches and drift between mini discussions on all kinds of topics. READ MORE
Details: 6th-8th March | Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX | Individually ticketed, or day passes available for £40
The Secret Power of Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is typically a force that encourages us to do something naughty. But what if we could harness its power for good? New York Times economist Robert H. Frank debates how we could harness peer pressure and social norms to fight climate change.
Details: 11th March, 1-2pm | RSA House, 8 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6EZ | Free, but book ahead
Inside Google Maps: Adventures in Time and Space
The British Library are hosting this evening talk with futuristic maps expert Ed Pearson. And we know what you’re thinking – wasn’t he co-chair of the W3C/OGC Spatial Data on the Web Working Group? Well, yes he was – but he’s also Google’s Geospatial Technologist. And tonight he’ll be sharing insights into the future of maps – and how it might not actually involve, you know, maps.
Details: 12th March, 7-8.30pm | Knowledge Centre, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB | £16
Michael Palin: on North Korea and Other Travels
Other travellers palin comparison to this guy. The former Python and avid adventurer will be on stage at the National Theatre in conversation with Mariella Frostrup, who’ll be questioning him on his most recent foray into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Details: 17th March, 7.30-9.30pm | National Theatre, Upper Ground, London SE1 9PX | £15-45
An Evening with Sir Michael Parkinson
The legend who’s interviewed over 2000 famous faces over the years finds himself in the hotseat this month. He’ll be talking with his son Mike Parkinson about his life and career, alongside screened highlights from the interview archives.
Details: 19th March, 7.30pm | National Theatre, Upper Ground, London SE1 9PX | £15-45
John Hall, Master of Physicke: A Casebook From Shakespeare’s Stratford
John Hall was a 17th century medic who married Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna, and treated the family as well as other Stratford locals. His ‘Little Book of Cures’ – a 131-page Latin manuscript – has been amazingly well preserved and is now kept in the British Library. Scholar Greg Wells will be talking about the various case studies detailed in this book, and what it tells us about contemporary attitudes to health, spirituality and 17th century medicine.
Details: 24th March, 7-8.30 | Knowledge Centre, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB | £13
The Sacred Thames
Offbeat salon Antique Beat are theming this month’s talk around the spirit of the Thames, and its ceremonial and mythical significance to Londoners over the centuries. Musician and folklorist George Hoyle will tell of ancient legends, while archaeologist Nathalie Cohen will describe the various rites that once took place along its shores, and the myriad artefacts that have been hauled up from its depths.
Details: 26th March, 6.30pm | Westminster Arts Library, 35 St Martins Street, London, WC2H 7HP | £10
On The Big Green Sofa: A Conversation With John Cooper Clarke
Punk poetry icon John Cooper Clarke is coming for a chat in the beautiful Academician’s Room at the Royal Academy of Arts this month. He’s currently on tour around the country, so expect snippets of his latest work as well as general musings on modern life.
Details: 25th March, 7.30-9pm | Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD | £25
REGULAR LECTURES & TALKS
The Culpeper Astronomy Nights
The Culpeper‘s rooftop astronomy nights have attained near-mythical status. Not just because they’re great, but because tickets are rarer than gold dust. Conducted with an intimate crowd of around 15, you’ll start your evening with a feast in the Culpeper’s dining room before a short lesson on the constellations, before heading up to the roof to take a peek at the moon, stars and planets through a professional telescope.
Details: 40 Commercial Street, E1 6LP | Sign up for ticket releases here
A regular evening curated by It’s Nice That, during which four speakers from creative industries discuss their most seminal projects to date, and reveal the processes behind them in short, snappy presentations. They also sell out quicker than hotcakes, so subscribe to their mailing list to stay updated on ticket releases.
Details: Oval Space, 29–32 The Oval, E2 9DT | Last Tuesday of every month
Tucked away from the museum’s busier rooms is the V&A’s princely lecture hall, lined with some of history’s great thinkers (which, very shortly, will also include you). They offer free lunchtime lectures as well as ticketed evening talks, variously inspired by current exhibitions; prized objects; and even the process of collecting itself.
Details: Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL | What’s On | Listen to previous lectures here
The London Art Salon
The London Art Salon like to frame things a little differently. Committed to breaking down barriers to art, they cut out any pretentiousness with accessible one-off lectures and tours around the best current exhibitions in London.
Details: Various locations | What’s On
Natural History Museum
On the first Tuesday of every month, the Natural History Museum now hosts an evening of talks covering some of the museum’s specialist topics. You’ll hear from two experts on everything from the moon to cephalopods, and there’s a bar open all evening.
Details: First Tuesday of every month | Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD | What’s On
How To Academy
Striking the tricky balance between talks that aren’t overly broad and vague, but aren’t university-level specific either, the How To Academy host lectures across London with a range of speakers. You can listen to in-depth discussions from historians, professors and researchers; learn business skills from some of the world’s most experienced consultants and coaches; and hear from famous figures from Rory Stewart to Al Gore.
Details: Across London | What’s On
Get a peek behind the scenes at the National Theatre, where you can hear about out how theatre is made from the directors, actors, set designers and even wig-makers working on current productions.
Details: Upper Ground, SE1 8XX | What’s On
The National Gallery is essentially an art school, with free lunchtime lectures on various paintings; longer lectures on broader themes; ‘Talk and Draw’ workshops, where you’ll hear from an expert on a particular painting before creating your own take on the piece; and their 10 minute talks, taking place every weekday at 4pm at a different painting in the gallery.
Details: Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN | What’s On
The British Museum
Curators, historians and archeologists take to the stand at the British Museum, where you can score everything from free gallery talks to Latin classes. There are regular free lectures linked to current exhibitions, as well as study days on weekends that combine talks, tours and screenings for an intensive introduction to some of the world’s most interesting places, people and eras.
Details: Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG | What’s On
The School of Life
How to Make Love Last. How to Fail. The Meaning of Life. Just a couple of the breezy, light-hearted topics the School of Life are tackling with their near-daily lectures, hosted by speakers, philosophers, thinkers, creatives and psychologists drawn from around the world. Settle in for an evening class, all-day workshop or 5 day course – you know, depending on how dedicated you are to finding eternal serenity and stuff. READ MORE
Details: 70 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AB | What’s On
The British Academy
Set in the grandiose surroundings of William Gladstone’s former mansion, the British Academy is a century-old society dedicated to tackling the big questions in the humanities and social sciences. Drop by for discussions on loneliness or the future of romance, while taking a peek at one of London’s most opulent buildings.
Details: 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, SW1Y 5AH | What’s On
University College London
UCL has over 100 different academic departments, which together make for an insanely varied calendar of both free talks and ticketed lectures, on topics as wide as artificial intelligence to Latin American street art. Held in the University’s own lecture rooms, it’s all the useful bits of uni (learning about what you want) without any of the bad bits (essays, exams, jägerbombs).
Details: Across the UCL Campus | What’s On
The Conway Hall Ethical Society has roots going as far back as 1793, and is now the only remaining ethical society in the UK.
Essentially, it’s there for moral support.
And it’s achieving this not only through courses, photography workshops, film screenings, free concerts, comedy nights and language classes, but also by lining up a roster of esteemed activists, writers and academics who speak on topics like the societal impact of big data and the technocracy, political extremism, and the significance of corridors.
Details: 25 Red Lion Square, WC1R 4RL | What’s On
Gresham College has been hosting free lectures for Londoners for over four centuries, so it’s fair to say they’ve got the formula down. They host around 130 lectures throughout the year on topics across the arts and sciences, while the 2,000+ lectures that have been recorded there since the ’80s can be found on their website, too. Ideal for a classic evening of “How To Be A Shakespearean Atheist” ‘n’ chill.
Details: Barnard’s Inn Hall, EC1N 2HH | What’s On
The Last Tuesday Society
The Last Tuesday Society is not your average bar. And the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities is not your average museum. So the events held amongst the stuffed two-headed animals and voodoo dolls are just a touch unusual too; from absinthe tastings to taxidermy classes; and gothic storytelling to séances round the sarcophagus…
Details: 11 Mare Street, E8 4RP | What’s On
Royal Academy of Arts
The Royal Academy has been training and promoting artists since the reign of George III. Now, it’s promoting art appreciation, too, thanks to both the 15 minute mini-talks that take place around its galleries, and the more in-depth discussions covering both the history and future of art – not to mention the celebrated Lates; colourful parties filled with after-hours gallery openings, immersive performances and talks.
Details: Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD | What’s On
The Old Operating Theatre Museum
Tucked away in a church attic, The Old Operating Theatre Museum was once the venue for surgery performed on female patients from the neighbouring St. Thomas hospital. Now, it’s home to film screenings, secret concerts, quirky historical talks and the occasional after-hours Victorian surgical demonstration.
Details: Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, 9a St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY | What’s On
Thirst for knowledge still not quenched? Pay a visit to the most Unusual Museums in London