Snap up a masterpiece! Our brilliant bumper guide to gaming the arts
One of the founding myths about culture is that it’s inaccessible: barely a month goes by without a news story about opera being too exclusive or theatre-lovers being priced out of their seats. There’s a grain of truth to that, of course. Temporary exhibits at major museums such as the and, according to recent research, (let alone associated costs such as transport and eating out).
But it doesn’t need to be that way. Compared to many countries, we in Britain get a pretty good deal when it comes to culture, buttressed by schemes such as free admission for national museums, enshrined under the Labour government in 2001, and arts councils and National Lottery funding, which keeps prices down and many arts organisations alive.
And there are ways to game the system, if you’re on it: membership or newsletter discounts; on-the-day tickets and lottery systems at theatres; pay-what-you-can events; free festivals; off-peak cinema deals. Major theatre and opera events are now screened in cinemas for a fraction of what they cost to see live, and nearly every arts centre in the country offers some kind of community scheme, so make sure to check (and of course support your local venue). If you’re a public-sector or key worker, you can often access discounts. And if you’re lucky enough to be aged under 26, most arts institutions are only too desperate to get you hooked – so make the most of it while it lasts.
Below we list some of the best cultural deals available currently, area by area – but of course it’s only a fraction of what’s on offer. So we’d love to hear your tips, too – please post them below.
National Art Pass
Easily the best investment of its kind, the offers free entry to a host of paid-for venues around the UK, and deep discounts to temporary exhibitions. It costs £67 annually for individuals; £34 for people under 26; £110 for a family.
£5 tickets, free and reduced-price events, a shop discount and even cheap grub at Tate’s galleries nationwide. The catch?
has a rolling array of offers, a number of which are culture- or heritage-themed. Worth a check, particularly if you’re trying to entertain the family.
Money Saving Expert: cheap film tickets
The skinflints’ standby, MSE, isn’t overly interested in culture, but – cheap Mondays, £3 senior screenings and more.
This brilliant offers interest-free loans of up to £25,000 that allow you to buy work by living artists and spread the cost over 10 months. With around 280 galleries involved, there’s a huge amount on offer – and prices are surprisingly low, even for big names.
Richard Long in Oldham? Bill Viola in Doncaster? puts a collection of top-tier contemporary art on a permanent tour of museums and spaces of all kinds around the UK. Free.
Nearly all British cathedrals and many large churches offer , a tradition that goes back to the Reformation. A chance to hear top-flight choral music in gloriously evocative surroundings.
TKTS theatre booth
, including many big shows. The downside is that you have to go there in person.
Upper slips at the Royal Opera House
If you have a head for heights, it’s worth trying to snag . It’s a vertigo-inducing view of the stage, but hard to complain when tickets are £3–£10.
Union Chapel Daylight Music
Free, family-friendly gigs, which take place weekly on Saturday afternoons in this legendary gothic-revival venue in Islington, north London. A typically eclectic programme, from alt-folk to hipster classical.
A way for producers to fill spare capacity and build word-of-mouth buzz, offers last-minute access to West End and fringe shows for scandalously low prices, sometimes just £2.50 plus VAT. Sounds like a scam, but isn’t. See also the and , which also offers films.
Glyndebourne Under 30s
offering £30 tickets for performances, priority booking for events and cinema screenings, and access to standing places, at this legendary Sussex venue. See also: .
Legendary vinyl specialist curates series of at central London locations.
A is still one of London theatre’s most thrilling experiences. Also, unlike nearly ever other cheap ticket scheme, they rarely sell out. (Come dressed for the weather, mind.)
Prince Charles cinema
London has a plethora of independent movie houses, many of which run discount nights or schemes, but few are as beloved as this, which screens an eclectic mix of classics and offbeat titles – not to mention the hilarious singalongs. gives you access to tickets as cheap as £1.
Strawberries and Creem
This newish , held each June on the outskirts of Cambridge, has top-flight DJ sets and a relaxed vibe. This year, day tickets cost just £44.
Brumpic Culture Card
– from Birmingham’s Electric Cinema to Warwick Arts Centre, Birmingham Museum and the Hippodrome. £12.95 per year.
Royal Shakespeare Company
The RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon offers : family deals, £5 student tickets, cheap buys for teachers, rush Friday tickets, £10 standbys for locals, £10 understudy rehearsal tickets, and plenty more.
Student Pulse Birmingham
App that offers at venues including Symphony Hall. You can also collect points, redeemable for Spotify and Amazon vouchers. Also on offer in London. Student ID required.
Salts Mill, Saltaire
The sprawling Victorian factory in the model town of Saltaire, on the outskirts of Bradford, was converted into an arts venue in the 1980s, and now houses a rotating exhibition devoted to local boy David Hockney, a range of art spaces, design shops .
The Tetley, Leeds
This punches way above its weight, and hosts an impressive range of events. Free entry.
Still one of the best-value major music festivals out there, – which takes place in late July – costs £59.50 for a three-day weekend ticket, and even offers a payment plan (£7/month) to help you spread the cost. Big acts last time included Noel Gallagher and the Stereophonics.
Freebies at the Bridgewater Hall
Manchester’s major concert venue offers , notably free contemporary, classical and world gigs, and the Rush-Hour Socials, which kick off at 5pm.
Free Royal Northern Sinfonia tickets
If you live in the Gateshead area and haven’t been before, you can see the crack RNS orchestra for free at their base, the Sage concert hall. And if you’re 18–30, in a group, or under 17 and on benefits, .
Less well known than it deserves to be, Liverpool’s focuses on contemporary art and new media. Shows are free, and the cinema has a lively programme, too.