Great Lectures & Talks In London
Last Updated: 6th June 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…
NOTE: The Southbank Centre’s huge line-up of Autumn talks go on general sale on 26th June, with speakers including Richard Ayoade, Malorie Blackman, Louis Theroux and Malcolm Gladwell… book tickets HERE.
TOP PICKS THIS MONTH (June 2019)
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 June | National Theatre, Upper Ground, SE1 9PX | £14
Boring Talks: Stationery
Boring Talks are a monotonous lecture series based on the mundane, the usual and the dull. Even they profess not to be worth your time. But if you have even a remote interest in being bored by stationery, this is where you should head.
Details: 6th June, 7-8.30pm | The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB | £12
The Blue Stockings Society: The Backwash of War
Reviving an old-school literary salon, the Blue Stockings Society meet at Keats’ House to discuss lesser known works of literature. This month, they’re looking at author Ellen la Motte, who wrote about her experiences working at a field hospital on the Western Front in a style that was later made famous by Ernest Hemingway.
Details: 7th June, 3-4pm | Keats House, 10 Keats Grove, NW3 2RR | Free
Our Rainbow Queen
Author Sali Hughes and fashion historian Amber Butchart take a look at the Queen’s iconic clothing, from her coronation gown to her #Neonat90 twin sets, over ten decades of colourful wardrobe choices.
Details: 7th June, 7pm | V&A Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL | £12-15
Sylvia Plath: Poetry Hour
In a particularly long poetry hour, this 90 minute talk will be introduced by the poet’s daughter, Frieda Hughes, before actors take to the lectern and read you some of Plath’s most evocative work.
Details: 11th June, 7-8pm | The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB | £12
Lunchtime Lecture: Dior
If you’ve still not managed to get tickets to the V&A’s colossal exhibition, you can take a look at the highlights with this lunchtime lecture, led by the team of curators behind it.
Details: 19th June, 1-1.45pm | V&A Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL | Free
‘Witcraft’ with Jonathan Rée
Take a whistlestop tour of the history of Western philosophy in just over an hour, which touches not only on the big names – Locke, Nietzche, Hume – but also some of the ‘forgotten’ figures who thought philosophically, like Mary Astell (founder of a philosophical college for women), Thomas Wirgman (a goldsmith moonlighting as a Kantian philosopher), and Ragar Redbeard (a nihilistic thinker with a pirate’s name).
Details: 19th June, 7.15-8.30pm | The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB | £12
David Olusoga: The Secret Windrush Files
Watch a screening of Olusoga’s new documentary about the Windrush generation, before a live discussion about his work on the film, and the research that went into it. Expect to watch personal testimonies from some of the men and women who came to England between 1948 and 1972, as well an insight into the government files that led to last year’s scandal.
Details: 23rd June, 7pm | Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX | £15-20
Honey & Co: The Food Talks
As part of their current exhibition, FOOD: Bigger Than The Plate, the V&A are running a series of podcasts. This month, you can catch the live recording of an episode with Honey & Co founders Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer, and nibble on their Middle Eastern canapés as you listen.
Details: 25th June, 7pm | V&A Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL | £22-25
The Art of the Doodle
Ever wondered who comes up with those little animations for Google each day? Well, it’s this guy: and he’s about to tell you how he stays sane redesigning the same six letters every day, and how it feels to be the most viewed designer on the planet.
Details: 25th June, 7.15-8.30pm | The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB | £10
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. 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 Unusual Museums in London