What to See and Do in May 2019 in London

From ballet stars and rock guitar to some very special anniversaries, head to these unique events

4-6 May

Canalway Cavalcade, Little Venice, London, UK
Brightly coloured, decorated boats fill the canal in Little Venice for this fun festival. (©Inland Waterways Association)

During the first bank Holiday weekend in May, London’s quaint Little Venice neighbourhood splashes into life for the Inland Waterways Association’s Canalway Cavalcade. A ‘cavalcade’ is a formal procession—expect to see wave after wave of brightly decorated canal boats floating regally along the stretch of canal between Paddington and Warwick Avenue stations. Enjoy old-fashioned entertainment in the form of Punch and Judy, and street foot stalls. 

13-16 May

The maestro musician Eric Clapton loves the Royal Albert Hall, so it’s no surprise to find that he’s played at the venue numerous times since 1964. "A lot of the other places you can play in London don’t have a friendly sound. Here, I can play loud or quiet," the rock and blues guitarist says. Listen to him perform some of his best-loved hits, from a career stretching more than 55 years, including "Tears in Heaven" and "Wonderful Tonight"—these will be his only UK performances this year.

From 16 May

The stars align in a moving drama about astronomy, with Hollywood actors Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern in “The Starry Messenger” at Wyndham’s Theatre. Broderick (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) makes his West End debut, playing a New York astronomer who feels a closer connection to the stars than his wife, until events force him to re-evaluate his life.

17-19 May

British divers get a boost to their hopes for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with the capital hosting the finale of the Diving World Series. The prestigious event at the London Aquatics Centre in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park brings together dozens of world, Olympic and European champions, so British hopefuls can see what they might be up against in Japan next year. The action is held in the same pool as the Tom Daley Diving Academy.

18 May

Wembley Stadium, London, UK
Wembley Stadium is guaranteed to be packed for the FA Cup final, this month played between Manchester City and Watford. (©Wembley Stadium/Getty Images)

We Brits love football. It’s no surprise then that it’s called the beautiful game, and it gets especially beautiful during May at Wembley Stadium. Trophies are won, promotions sought and, for unsuccessful teams, tears are shed. The FA Cup is the world’s oldest knockout football trophy, and has thrilled sports fans since it was first played in 1871, with most finals taking place at Wembley ever since. This year’s final is played in front of around 90,000 fans, plus many millions more watching on television sets around the world.

21-25 May

Chelsea Flower Show, London, UK
The Chelsea Flower Show is held at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where the Chelsea Pensioners organisation was formed. (©RHS)

Since the annual Royal Horticultural Society event began in 1862, the Chelsea Flower Show has blossomed from a three-day show a five-day extravaganza across 23 acres. Taking place at Royal Hospital Chelsea, this year’s highlights include a garden by the two-Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc with a pergola, botanical cocktails and plant-based dishes. You can also see woodland co-designed by the Duchess of Cambridge, and gardens inspired by British canals.

From 24 May

Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, The Queen's Gallery, London, UK
Admire the masterful drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, in an exhibition marking 500 years since he died. (©Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018)

Leonardo da Vinci may have died half a millennium ago, but his presence in art is everywhere—from the Mona Lisa next to Beyoncé and Jay Z in a music video, to the recently discovered “Salvator Mundi”—now the world’s most expensive painting. Held at The Queen’s Gallery, “Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing” marks the 500th anniversary of his death, describing it as a once-in-a-generation exhibition. Adjacent to Buckingham Palace, the gallery is a showcase for the Royal Collection which, thanks to King Charles II, owns many of da Vinci’s drawings.

From 24 May

Marking Queen Victoria’s birth, on 24 May 1819 at Kensington Palace, is the palace’s new exhibition, “Victoria 2019.” It explores how she engineered the marriages of her nine children, which led to 42 grandchildren, ensuring that her legacy was scattered among Europe’s highest powers—no wonder she’s often called ‘the Grandmother of Europe.’ Elsewhere, see her black satin gowns alongside more unusual pieces, such as a pair of fashionable silver boots.  

May 28-31

Sergei Polunin, London Palladium, London, UK
The "bad boy of ballet," Sergei Polunin dazzles the stage at London Palladium. (©Rankin)

Few ballet performers can rack up more than 25 million views on YouTube, but that’s what Sergei Polunin did when he danced to Hozier’s “Take me to Church” in 2015. The youngest-ever principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, who left one of the most prominent positions in dance, is considered the bad boy of ballet. Watch the tattooed Ukrainian dancer at the London Palladium in a new show, dancing alongside an international cast.