Great Lectures & Talks In London
Last Updated: 10th September 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 (September 2019)
Rebels might famously hate being lectured to… but Rebel Lectures are about to change all that. Founder Freddie Sorensen is taking to the stage this month for a trilogy of talks, telling the story of how he founded a multi-million pound business that revolutionised bingo… and then fell apart. His frank and honest discussion of his experiences with mental health make for an inspiring listen. READ MORE
Details: 3rd & 10th September | The Courtyard Theatre, Bowling Green Walk, 40 Pitfield Street, N1 6EU | £7-15
National Theatre: Authors on Stage
The National Theatre’s season of talks bringing together writers of fiction, non-fiction and biographies comes to a close this month. But there’s still time to hear from Candice Carty-Williams, Matt Haig, Stacey Dooley and Margaret Atwood (whose talk obviously sold out in a matter of hours, but which you can see broadcast live into dozens of cinemas).
Details: 5th-10th September | National Theatre, Upper Ground, SE1 9PX | £15-45
Brexit Without The Bull
If you’re finding it remotely tricky to keep up with Brexit and what may or may not implode after October 31st, this talk will cut through the hype and nonsense to give you a blow-by-blow account of how everyday life could change.
Details: 15th September | Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, WC1R 4RL | £8
London Podcast Festival
The unstoppable juggernaut that is the podcast gets its own festival this month, which’ll see a raft of podcasters, comedians and actors descend on King’s Cross for two weekends of live recordings. On the mics will be The Guilty Feminist, George The Poet, a pair of comedians who watched the same film every day for a year, an improvised science fiction adventure, and much more… READ MORE
Details: 6th-8th & 12th-15th September | Kings Place, 90 York Way, N1 9AG | From £14.50
How To Change Your Life
How To Academy are feeling ambitious. They’re putting on a whole day of talks from an inspiring range of speakers who’ll each impart a little wisdom on how to improve your life – with the hope that if we all make enough small changes, then we can, you know, save the planet and achieve world peace. And the people in charge of this include Jess Phillips MP, Caitlin Moran, Tony Crabbe, Scarlett Curtis and more. READ MORE
Details: 14th September | Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, SW7 2AR | £150 – Nudge Members get £75 discount
Africa Utopia at the Southbank Centre
Now in its 7th year, this festival has an incredible line-up of talks and events. You can watch films, listen to live music, join open conversations or listen to speakers on a range of topics, from Black British history and cultural identity to African literature, fashion and film-making – plus, a very special edition of Letters Live in association with IndabaX.
Details: Throughout September | Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX
…and everything else at the Southbank
Yep, it’s a bumper crop at the Southbank Centre this month – speakers include Malorie Blackman, Richard Ayoade, Sara Pascoe, Richard Dawkins, Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski, Philippa Perry, Louis Theroux and Sir Lenny Henry. SEE THE FULL LINE-UP
Details: Throughout September | Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX
How To Stop Facebook From Destroying Democracy
Roger McNamee, one of Facebook’s early investors and a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, is now devoted to “stopping the behemoth he helped to create”. In this talk, he’ll discuss the uses the platform has been put to below the surface, and the way its founder responded in the light of Cambridge Analytica.
Details: 16th September | Emmanuel Centre, 9-23 Marsham Street, SW1P 3DW | £30
Ian McKellen on Stage
National treasure Ian McKellen is celebrating his 80th birthday in typical fashion: a Britain-wide tour of a one-man show, featuring monologues and choice excerpts of some of his favourite roles (Gandalf included), as well as plenty of musings, anecdotes and conversations.
Details: From 20th September | Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, SW1Y 4DN | From £8
Spend a weekend inside a pop up yurt in the grounds of the beautiful Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath, feast on food from London’s finest chefs, and hear from an awe-inspiring roster of speakers who’ll be talking on everything from ‘Is Capitalism Broken?’ to ‘What’s Wrong With Us?’ READ MORE
Details: 21st & 22nd September | Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, Highgate, NW3 7JR | £52-114
The Inside Scoop On The Battle For Uber
Mike Isaac’s coverage of the downfall of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick won the Gerald Loeb Award (like the Oscar of business journalism). And now, the New York Times writer will be lifting the veil on the world of big tech in an essential talk for anyone interested in “the ever increasing power of the titans of Silicon Valley”.
Details: 23rd September | Emmanuel Centre, 9-23 Marsham Street, SW1P 3DW | £30
How To Solve The Climate Crisis
Al Gore himself will be saying a giant “I told you so” this month in a seminal talk on climate change. He’s not one to rest on his laurels, though, and will be speaking on the steps we can take in our unique “generational mission” to save the planet.
Details: 24th September | Emmanuel Centre, 9-23 Marsham Street, SW1P 3DW | £45
The Plague Doctor Will See You Now
Join pathologist Dr. Suzy Lishman after hours in this old, perfectly preserved operating theatre, who’ll be talking plague prevention in the 17th century and demonstrating the effects of the bubonic plague on a live model!*
*model does not have plague.
Details: 26th September | Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret, 9a St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY | £12
Sunday Papers Live
The ultimate Sunday: sofas, rugs, cushions, country walks, Bloody Maries, roasts, crosswords, and a roster of some of the nation’s most interesting speakers, broadcasters, philosophers, writers, comedians and activists standing up in your (temporary) living room and waxing lyrical. All day long.
Details: 29th September | Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent’s Park Road, NW1 7AY | £37.50
How To Avert A Climate Catastrophe
Do we still have a chance? What’s happened since XR? What’s going on around the world? Three experts talk to Gresham College’s Professor of the Environment, Jacqueline McGlade, about the world’s most urgent crisis.
Details: 30th September | Museum of London, 150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN | Free, just turn up
National Theatre Architecture Tours
The brutalist National Theatre has regularly made it onto the best loved building lists…
…And the most hated.
However you feel about it, this 90 minute tour around its lofty interiors and stark concrete exterior might just put it in a new light, with all kinds of insights into the theatre’s history and design.
Details: Various dates throughout September | National Theatre, Upper Ground, SE1 9PX | £14
BOOK NOW: It’s only Dame Julie Andrews in conversation at the Southbank Centre this November…
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
How To Academy
Striking the tricky balance between talks that aren’t pointlessly general, 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 | Book for the How To Change Your Life Festival
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