London: “First Thursdays” free event offers gallery hopping (and wine)

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Art gallery in East London
Checking out the art in East London. Photo: Barbara N

Once a month, London’s impecunious city-dwellers and art-lovers alike can enjoy an evening of free art, and quite often, free drinks. Time Out’s First Thursdays take place every month in East London around Tower Hamlets and Hackney, with over 100 art galleries opening into the evening.

It’s a fun, free cultural event with a hint of the pub crawl and street party about it, and there’s even a free bus to give art fans a guided tour of key exhibitions.

The galleries

Gallery Scene on a First Thursday

Hanging on Thursday. Photo: Matthew Byrne

The art on show is all contemporary stuff: some fairly out-there sculpture and painting, pockets of on-trend illustration, plus multimedia and textile-based pieces. You can often meet the artists in question and take home literature relating to their work–especially handy if all your nodding and beard-stroking was really a cover-up for a state of blank perplexity.

Trendy folk, young and old, mill around the works with their drinks and amble from gallery to gallery, creating the atmosphere of a rather genteel bar-hop. The more established places normally charge for drinks, but some of the smaller, more ramshackle spaces still offer free wine and juice in exchange for your interest. Admittedly, it’s wine that would probably make a sommelier weep, but it’s a definite plus for budget browsers.

Location (and a bite)

The map on the site gives an idea of just how much there is to see, with galleries dotted all around East London from Clerkenwell to Bow. There’s no way to get around it all in a night, so a good place to start is the particularly upbeat cluster of activity around Bethnal Green’s Redchurch Street.

There are plenty of local places to stop off for dinner, but this stretch offers a couple of faves. The particularly sweet, and reasonably priced, Swiss-Italian institution, Walluc (40 Redchurch St, E2, closed Mondays) offers fondue for under £10 per person. The pricier Mexican joint, Green & Red (51 Bethnal Green Road, E1, open daily) serves a small plate of to-die-for slow-roasted pork belly for £7.50.

More information

The First Thursdays website is packed full of helpful tips for the evening (next date is tonight, August 5), including the map, itineraries and recommendations from art professionals, artist and gallery information, and booking details for the free guided bus tour.

All in all, it’s an evening of guaranteed arty fun in the east, an area which continues to hang on to its status as the very coolest part of the city. Best of all, you can do it all again next month, with a new wave of artistic creations to pore/puzzle over.

About the author

Lara Kavanagh

About the author: Lara Kavanagh is a travel editor and freelance writer based in London, and has also had the great pleasure of living in and writing about Paris. Top vintage shopping, great food and quirky nightlife are her favourite things about London.

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