Great Lectures & Talks In London
Last Updated: 4th February 2019 | 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…
TOP PICKS THIS MONTH (February 2019)
Night of Ideas
The Institut Français in South Kensington will be opening its doors until midnight for an evening of talks, debates and concerts that’ll also be held simultaneously in Paris. Each discussion will be centred around the ideas of Europe, borderless cultures and societies, and the threats posed to the environment… plus, try out virtual reality to help you empathise with the Earth.
Details: Institut Français du Royaume-Uni, 17 Queensberry Place, SW7 2DT | 31st January | Free, pre-register HERE
Self-described as a cross between Desert Island Discs and TED talks, OneTrackMinds sees a group of speakers – from award-winning spoken word artists to investigative journalists – talk about a song which changed their life in some way, all in the atmospheric surrounds of London’s only remaining Victorian music hall.
Details: Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, E1 8JB | 6th-7th February | From £5
What Makes People Do Bad Things?
Psychologist and criminal behaviour expert Julia Shaw shares her insights into the causes of bad behaviour; posing ethical dilemmas and revealing the science behind what prompts ‘evil’ thoughts and actions.
Details: The RSA, 8 John Adam Street, WC2N 6EZ | 7th February, 1pm | Free
Douglas Rushkoff presents his manifesto for reviving human-to-human connections in a world that threatens to let social media affect politics, algorithms replace choice, and individualism eclipse cooperation.
Details: The RSA, 8 John Adam Street, WC2N 6EZ | 14th February, 1pm | Free
Adam Kay: This Is Going To Hurt
Adam Kay is a stand-up comedian and doctor. And in between treating
funny bones patients, he’ll be performing excerpts from his critically acclaimed junior doctor diaries, combining word-play and music with hard-hitting anecdotes from the NHS.
Details: Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0HH | 18th February – 19th March | From £27.50
By Design: Es Devlin
Join designer Es Devlin (whose numerous accolades include three Oliviers and an OBE) as she discusses her practice in the strange, atmospheric surrounds of Sir John Soane’s Museum. And having worked as a set designer for The National Theatre, Beyoncé and the London Olympics – as well as creating site-specific works like Please Feed The Lions in Trafalgar Square – she probably has some tales to tell.
Details: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP | 18th February | £30
Imperial Lates: Smart Fashion
Imperial’s next Late is dedicated to wearable tech and the future of fashion, where you’ll be able to try on the latest ‘intelligent clothing’, see digital embroidery in action and meet an AI fashion consultant. Dress code: smart casual.
Details: Imperial College, Exhibition Road, SW7 2AZ | 21st February | Free
London Dreamtime: Missing Histories of Southwark Cathedral
Storytelling by candlelight. Sounds like an enlightening evening. Especially when storytelling collective London Dreamtime are spiriting you away to Southwark Cathedral after hours, for an evening of live music and tales of forgotten local luminaries…
Details: Southwark Cathedral, SE1 9DA | 21st February | £10
It’s Not About The Burqa
This month sees the release of Mariam Khan’s book of essays by Muslim women on topics from faith to feminism. And to launch it, she’ll be joined by some of those writers for a panel discussion on what it means to be a Muslim woman in the West today, alongside readings from the book.
Details: Foyle’s, 107 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0DT | 21st February | £8/£18 inc. a copy of the book
Do Humans Dream of Electric Sheep?
A panel discussion about the role virtual reality will play in our future – specifically, whether game designers will replace architects, and whether we will go to work… in a virtual universe.
Details: The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts | 25th February | £9-15
Is British Culture Getting Weirder?
If the picture for this event is anything to go by, then yes. Very yes. But opening it up for debate is BBC3 Free Thinking host Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, alongside an eclectic bunch including musician Gazelle Twin (pictured), BFI curator William Fowler and performer Julia Bardsley.
Details: The Print House, 18-22 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL | 28th February | Free
Bear Grylls Interviews Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Watch as Bear, ahem, grills Sir Ranulph on his adventures as ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’. Which, if you’re wondering, include circumnavigating the globe, being the first man to reach both the North and South poles, and amputating the tips of his own fingers after a pesky bout of frostbite.
Details: Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX | 6th March | From £15
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
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
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.
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 Unusual Museums in London