The Culturalist: A guide to the best summer culture in London

Words by
Flora Drummond-Smith

25th June 2018

Explore what’s on in London this summer with our cultural guide, featuring theatre, art exhibitions and our favourite restaurants in Westminster and the West End

london marriott

Executive Suite at The London Marriott Hotel County Hall

9am Wake up in the Westminster Suite at The London Marriott Hotel County Hall. With an enviable position on the southern bank of the Thames riverside, it has fabulous views of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Start the day in a leisurely fashion and order an airy egg white omelette and a strong cup of coffee to your room.

All too human 1

Euan Uglow's 'Georgia' at the Tate's All Too Human exhibition

10.30am Admire the soaring Gothic exterior of the Houses of Parliament as you travel downstream to the Tate Britain for All Too Human (until 27 August). Looking at the beauty and intimacy of human existence — often in starkly realistic and uncomfortable ways — the exhibition spans 100 years of figurative painting and includes works by the likes of Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud alongside contemporary painters such as Jenny Saville and Cecily Brown.


Francis Bacon's Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud, 1964

11.30am A visit to the new The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries (open 11 June) is a real treat. Tucked away in Westminster Abbey’s medieval triforium — set 50ft above the Abbey’s floor — it combines a breathtaking view, with a never-before-seen collection of over 300 treasures, which tell the rich 1,000-year history of the Abbey Royal from its creation to daily worship and royal ceremonies.

westminster abbey

The triforium at Westminster Abbey before work began to turn the space into The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries

1pm Head to Covent Garden for lunch at Simpson’s in the Strand. First opened in 1882, this fabulous, high-ceilinged establishment has been serving classic British fare ever since. Succulent roasts wheeled out to tables under silver domes are the star of the show, as are the accompanying clouds of Yorkshire pudding. Round off an indulgent lunch with the date sticky toffee pudding.


Enjoy Dorset crab salad at Simpson's in the Strand

2.30pm It’s time for some postprandial culture. Walk just 10 minutes to beautiful Somerset House, where during the month of June the courtyard will hold a mesmerising kinetic installation. Halo by Anglo-Korean artist duo Kimchi and Chips uses 100 mirrors to harness the sunlight (until 27 June). While there, drop into Print: Tearing It Up! (until 22 August), a wonderfully diverse exhibition that explores the power of print and the relevance of different titles throughout the ages.

4pm Embracing the burgeoning pursuit of sustainability, the V&A’s summer blockbuster Fashioned from Nature (until 27 January 2019) explores how fashion can work to help protect the natural world. Showcasing sustainably made pieces, from Calvin Klein’s dress created from recycled plastic bottles and Ferragamo’s orange fibre ensemble to a pineapple fibre clutch bag and even a genetically engineered bioluminescent silk dress, the exhibition demonstrates how the fashion industry can help curb its environmental impact.


Swedish meatballs with lingonberries at Aquavit

6pm Amble over to Harrods for dinner at Chucs. With deep brown leather banquettes and parquet flooring, it evokes dining on a yacht. Truffle arancini topped with Parmesan mayonnaise is an indulgent start; follow with the pleasingly neat Cobb salad. Other dishes such as the pizza Bianca are rich and heavy, generously scattered with truffle and cheese. Or, for something a little lighter, meander over to Aquavit. Admire the chrome, panelled wood and marble surrounds over a refreshing Aquavit Collins before opting for the very reasonable pre-theatre menu — make sure you order the delicious Swedish meatballs with lingonberries.

The Jungle

John Pfumojena Okot in The Jungle at the Young Vic

7.30pm Take your pews at the Playhouse Theatre near Trafalgar Square for The Jungle (16 June-3 November), an extraordinary play set in the Calais Jungle that examines the migrant crisis. Previously shown at the Young Vic, it follows the journey of downtrodden but vividly portrayed characters, their dreams and determination. For something a little more upbeat, go to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (until 6 October) at the Apollo Theatre. Based on real events, with a score by Dan Gillespie and lyrics by Tom Macre, the musical explores the story of Jamie New, an ebullient 16-year old schoolboy who decides to go to school in a prom dress. Alternatively, take the whole family along to see the revival of the stage adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s 1981 children’s classic Goodnight Mister Tom (25 July–25 August) at Southwark Playhouse.