With tickets for the Paralympics selling out for the first time in its 52-year history, London is gearing up for a second wave of sporting excitement. While the Paralympians do battle, visitors coming to London can enjoy some world class cultural events, magical music and fantastic free festivals.
Unlimited, a major cultural event taking place at the Southbank Centre for the duration of the Paralympics, aims to provide a platform for the arts as the paralympics have done for sports. A celebration of disability in the arts, it combines dance, live arts, music, circus and theatre. Highlights include The Garden, a gravity-defying piece of outdoor theatre from Graeae and Strange Fruit; Claire Cunningham who stars in Menage a Trois and who also presents 12, a large-scale production presented with Candoco Dance Company; and the world premiere of Marc Brew Company's Fusional Fragments featuring the Grammy Award-winning percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.
The Liberty Festival, London's annual deaf and disabled arts festival, not only coincides with the Paralympics this year but it also celebrates its tenth anniversary so we get three days of celebrations (instead of the usual one) with events taking place between 1st and 3rd September at venues across London. On Saturday 1st September, the South Bank offers film screenings at the BFI Southbank, live performances outside the National - part of their Watch this Space festival - and the Tenth Anniversary Celebrations at the Southbank Centre which finish with a night of cabaret in the Clore Ballroom. The following day the festivities move to Trafalgar Square where free music and theatre will be shown alongside BT London Live with all the sporting action from the Stadium in Stratford shown on the big screen. Finally, on Monday 3rd September, head to Liberty at Picture: Potters Fields for an afternoon of free entertainment and live sports hosted by comedian Gareth Berliner.
On the closing weekend of the London 2012 Games (8th and 9th September) there's another big finale: the annual Mayor's Thames Festival which provides two days of street entertainment, art installations, music and dancing at various riverside locations between Westminster Bridge, Tower Bridge and beyond. This year there's a Rio-style float - a nod to the next host city - a 120-strong choir performing on HMS Belfast and, for the grand finale, there's a colourful carnival followed by a massive free fireworks display that spans almost half a kilometre between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridge. The festival will be a great way to bid a fond farewell to an amazing summer, and as the last firework fizzles out over the river it'll be a poignant reminder of where it all began - with a remarkable river pageant held in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
The world famous Proms continue throughout the Paralympics, finishing on 8th September with the rousing Last Night of the Proms coupled with the Proms in the Park - Kylie joins Terry Wogan at this year's event in Hyde Park. The Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall is a terrifically British affair, with patriotic anthems and nationalistic fervour in abundance. The following evening, on the last day of the Paralympics, Aled Jones leads a congregation of 5,000 in the Songs of Praise The Big Sing at the Royal Albert Hall. Also on Sunday 9th September, and across the road in Hyde Park, BBC Radio 2 will be hosting a mini music festival with Jessie J, Emeli Sande, Paloma Faith and ageing British rockers Status Quo all taking to the stage in front of expected crowds of around 25,000. Taking place in September this year is the month-long annual iTunes Festival at the Roundhouse in Camden. Traditionally a July event, this year's series of free concerts takes place every night in September with stellar names such as Ed Sheeran, Plan B, David Guetta and Noel Gallagher all on the bill. There's more contemporary music from pop sensation Lady Gaga who brings her 'Born This Way Ball' to Twickenham Stadium; on Friday 7th September Noel Gallagher (fresh from his performance at the Olympics Closing Ceremony) and his High Flying Birds play at Wembley Arena; and on the same night, former Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart performs a solo show at Shepherd's Bush Empire.
The World Shakespeare Festival may have begun back in April but it continues throughout the Paralympics and current highlights include the British Museum's exhibition, Shakespeare: Staging the World; the National Theatre's Timon Of Athens; and the Royal Shakespeare Company's brand new production of Julius Caesar at London's Noel Coward Theatre. Internationally renowned actor, Simon Russell Beale, stars in Nicholas Hytner's "bold, incisive revival" (The Telegraph) of Timon Of Athens (8th August to 15th September) at the National. Meanwhile, at Shakespeare's Globe, the hugely talented Mark Rylance (whose performance in Jerusalem left audiences stunned and spellbound) returns to the theatre he presided over as Artistic Director from 1995 to 2005 to take the title role in Richard III, the first of two productions he's starring in, returning with Twelfth Night in September. You'll be hard pressed to find tickets - Twelfth Night sold out long ago - but apparently there still tickets for Richard III. If you miss out this time, you can always try again when both productions transfer to the West End later in the year. This month also sees Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, King Lear, come to life at the Almeida Theatre with award-winning actor Richard Pryce playing the title role under the direction of Michael Attenborough.
Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, features new work by contemporary artists Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger in a unique collaboration with The Royal Ballet. The Damien Hirst exhibition continues at Tate Modern where Edvard Munch is on display and Tino Sehgal fills the vast Turbine Hall with his interactive installation - "one of the best Turbine commissions yet", says Adrian Searle in The Guardian. If it's performance art you're into you shouldn’t miss the brand new Tate Modern Oil Tanks which open for a 15-week arts festival, The Tanks: Art in Action (18th July to 28th October). Iconic figures of the 1960s, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and The Rolling Stones are all the subject of solo exhibitions in art galleries across London during the Olympics. Yoko Ono's work is on display at the Serpentine Gallery which also has its Pavilion by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei and we look forward to the new Zaha Hadid designed Sackler Gallery opening in 2013. The British Museum has the complete Vollard Suite - a set of 100 etchings produced by Pablo Picasso between 1930 and 1937 - which you can see for free until 2nd September. Renowned French street artist Mr Brainwash presents his first UK solo show, and until 31st August you can see ‘the Godfather of British Pop Art’ Sir Peter Blake's selection of his favourite works at the Fine Art Society in an exhibition held in honour of his 80th birthday.
Even if your aim is to avoid the track and field events, you can always enjoy sport within the safety of a London gallery. And many of the top art establishments in town have chosen to dedicate some wall space to the Olympics. There's the British Museum's Mine to Medals exhibition which traces the story of the production of the medals for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The John Soane's Museum presents Stadia: Sport and Vision in Architecture, an exploration of the origins of the world's great sporting arenas. The National Portrait Gallery has BT Road To 2012, a free exhibition of athletes and those working behind the scenes to make the 2012 Games happen. While the Design Museum looks at the technology in sportswear in Designed to Win. A further exhibition that explores technological progress, relative to both sports and other factors, is Superhuman at the Welcome Collection. At the British Library Olympex 2012 is a free, large-scale display presented in partnership with the International Olympic Committee, featuring postage stamps, letters, postcards, maps and programmes from the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, through to the present day. If you want to see the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Posters head to Tate Britain where Another London, a photographic exhibition which shows how visiting photographers have used the city as their subject, is also on display.
Must-see theatre during the Paralympics includes the stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's enormously successful novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which is on at the National Theatre where audiences are spoilt for choice this summer. Julie Waters stars in The Last of the Haussmans and Simon Russel Beale in Timon of Athens, both big name stars have received five star reviews in the national newspapers. In the courtyard outside, the theatre's annual Watch This Space free festival of outdoor entertainment returns with an array of theatre, fire, circus, juggling, music, dance and street performance while the Propstore Cafe offers a fun place for a beer. Mike Bartlett's stage adaptation of the 1981 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire will help fan the flames of sporting euphoria but if you’d rather steer well clear of sport, The Tina and Ike Turner inspired soul musical Soul Sister arrives at the Savoy Theatre until the end of September. Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton have received rave reviews for their roles in Sweeney Todd, both praised for their "bold and striking" performances by Michael Billington in The Guardian. And - with fingers crossed for sun - head to outdoors for annual favourites The Scoop at More London, and the Open Air Theatre at Regent's Park, which this year are added to by The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe staged by the threesixty theatre company in a tent in Kensington Gardens, with Rupert Goold and Michael Fentiman directing.
The Diamond Jubilee celebrations may be a distant but happy memory now but there are still several exhibitions with the Queen at their core which are worth seeing. These include The Queen: Art and Image a landmark exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which brings together some of the most remarkable images of Elizabeth II made during her reign and continues until 21st October. Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration, which includes an unprecedented display of a number of the Queen's personal jewels, is part of a visit to the Buckingham Palace Summer Opening. Whilst there you can also see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. At Kensington Palace, itself the subject of recent renovations, the temporary exhibition Jubilee - A View From the Crowd explores Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897 from the point of view of those who celebrated it. Also at the palace the exhibition Diana: Glimpses of a Modern Princess continues (until 28th October), offering visitors the chance to see a special selection of dresses worn by Diana, the Princess of Wales. Coinciding with the Queen's Jubilee is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the National Maritime Museum. As a celebration of this anniversary the museum will host Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames, an exhibition that looks back at the relationship between the monarchy, London and its people.