This summer's best open-air experiences, from rooftop films to alfresco plays

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Deborah Cicurel
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While no one can deny that the UK is prone to a bit of rain on the odd occasion, the summer is finally here - which means it's flip-flops all the way from now on. So what better time to take in some culture in the open air?

Whether you're a fan of the opera, Shakespeare or Tarantino, there is guaranteed to be at least one quirky night out you haven't tried yet - and all with the wind blowing in your hair.

From Cornwall to Manchester, Liverpool to London, take your pick of our top al fresco cultural experiences...

Rooftop Film Club


With four London locations (Peckham, Stratford, Shoreditch and Kensington) - as well as their very swanky New York counterpart - Rooftop Film Club has tapped into the British people's desire to be outside as much as possible the minute the sun emerges from the winter clouds, as well as our love of all things film. With a great selection of hand-picked movies, from golden oldies to the newest Oscar-winners, there is something for everyone - and they even provide cosy blankets in case it all gets a bit too chilly. 

Highlights: We could think of worse things than watching the high-octane Whiplash atop the beautiful Kensington Roof Gardens, or the classic Reservoir Dogs on Stratford's Roof East.

Book now: A wide variety of films on until 31 July. Tickets £14 each. 

Well-known for its role in the much-loved Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle will see a powerful musical display this summer at the Battle Proms, with Spitfire engines, 200 replica Napoleonic cannons and memorable pieces including 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky and Beethoven’s Battle Symphony. This is a quintessentially British event which is always a highlight of the summer. 

Highlights: We're looking forward to the traditional sing-along at the end of the evening, where we can belt out old favourites like Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory while watching fireworks explode above us. 

Book now: Highclere Castle Battle Proms takes place on Saturday 1 August. £36 a ticket. Click here to see what other Battle Proms events are taking place across the UK.

Luna Cinema


With quirky locations all around the UK, from Leeds Castle to Ascot Racecourse, and films ranging from Jaws and Top Gun to Grease and Pretty Woman, there is bound to be something to delight even the pickiest of filmgoers. There is even the option to enjoy a fancy three course dinner, which we'd be hard-pressed to say no to, especially if the sun is shining, the setting is beautiful and our favourite film is on the enormous screen. 

Highlights: Mamma Mia! at Kew Gardens sounds like the perfect girls' night out. 

Book now: A wide variety of films on until the end of September. Ticket prices vary but start from about £13 each. 

It would be hard to beat the dramatic setting of The Minack Theatre, carved into the craggy cliffs of Porthcurno, Cornwall. The theatre has been in business since 1932, and it shows no signs of slowing down, with an exciting run of popular works set for this summer. 

Highlights: Watching Much Ado About Nothing on a sunny morning in September sounds rather heavenly to us.

Book now: A variety of shows on until October. From £9 a ticket. 

As you may have guessed by its name, The Nomad Cinema changes locations - and movies - constantly, with offerings including Napoleon Dynamite in Grosvenor Square, The Great Gatsby in Middle Temple Gardens, and, most creepily, Pan's Labyrinth in Brompton Cemetery. Not one for the faint-hearted. 

Highlights: By watching a movie and having a great night out, you're also being charitable - The Nomad Cinema donates 100% of its distributable profits to The Sustainable Institute, which helps those in need in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Book now: A wide variety of films on until the end of September. Prices range from free to £50. 

Whether you're with a group of your colleagues or your hard-to-please niece, this zany production in Holland Park offers memorable music in the form of dramatic opera, and honours the spirit of Alice's Wonderland by forcing audiences to promenade between the sets and really engage with the original story as part of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s original novel. 

Highlights: Joining in with every song despite yourself, especially at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

Book now: A variety of dates throughout July. £5 for children, £10 for adults. 

Route 66 Drive-In Cinema

Manchester and Liverpool

To all those girls and boys who have ever wanted to recreate the Grease sensation of watching a drive-in movie: now you can. With locations in Liverpool and Manchester, this sounds like an ideal way to watch a movie: in the comfort of your car, with all the hot food you could want, for only £20 a car. Pack in your friends and get there now.

Highlights: The fact that you can order a whopping Domino's Pizza with all the toppings you could dream of, straight to the driver's seat.

Book now: Different movies are shown all the time. £20 a car.

As part of the three week arts festival that is the Origins Festival of First Nations, there are plenty of outdoor events, which, would you believe, are also free. This very weekend will see a huge outdoor theatre spectacle in Emslie Horniman's Pleasance in London's Kensington and Chelsea, where lucky viewers will watch a performance by The Voladores de Papantla, the legendary birdmen of Mexico who soar through the air on ropes, and have been honoured by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage.  

Highlights: All the other Origins Festival events you can attend, including concerts, lectures, films , performances and more.

Book now: Saturday 20th - Sunday 21st June. Tickets to this particular event are free. 

The gorgeous Kilworth House Theatre, situated in a wooded glade in the grounds of Kilworth House Hotel in south Leicestershire, puts on plays that could rival the quality of many seen in London's West End, and this summer, offerings include Singin' In The Rain and Legally Blonde

Highlights: If you book in for a theatre break, you can enjoy a pre-theatre dinner, tickets to the show and a luxurious night in the sumptuous Kilworth House Hotel to kick back in once the play is over.

Book now: Prices vary depending on what show you book. Shows from June through till January.

No matter how cosy our cinema seat is, we always find ourselves wriggling around, desperate for some extra comfort - that's why the newly al fresco Pillow Cinema, located on a rooftop space overlooking Shoreditch Park, sounds like a dream come true. With each guest lounging on a divinely comfy fatboy beanbag, with a blanket provided, Pillow Cinema was created, in their own words, "as a tribute to cuddly film watching on a grand scale". 

Highlights: There are some fabulous films coming up, whether you're going on a date or with friends, from Notting Hill to The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Book now: Outdoor Pillow Cinema lasts until 19 July. £25 a beanbag (seats two). 

The Kopparberg Urban Forest

Hackney Wick 

Cider lovers of London unite. The Kopparberg Urban Forest is a pop-up festival of live music, street food and, bien sur, cider. Open from the 10 June-12 July, the festival’s stage will see acts from Slow Club and Miss Dynamite, DJ sets from Chromeo and Hip-Hop karaoke, as well as a range of Scandinavian acts. Grab a pint or maybe even a Frozen Fruit Cider, munch on some Buffalo Joe’s and enjoy the music – the formula for a dreamy London summer evening.

Highlight: The festival is free, which always wins our vote, but make sure you get there early to avoid disappointment.

Find out more: Open Wednesday to Friday 4-11pm, Saturday & Sunday 12 – 11pm, from 10 June until 12 July. Entry is free (over 18s only).

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Deborah Cicurel

Deborah Cicurel is a freelance journalist who writes about everything from lifestyle and travel to fashion and entertainment. She loves spicy maki rolls, cosy socks and visiting far-flung destinations, and is unable to walk past a dog on the street without stopping to befriend it.