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Picture the scene: you’ve just taken a tour round one of the most ornate royal homes in the country, Hampton Court Palace, learning about Henry VIII’s wife-collecting history and King Charles II’s naughty night-time habits, before the gates to the grounds close, the public are shepherded out and you become one of a select few to enjoy the palace’s very first ‘sleepover’.

This one-off experience will show you what it would have been like to live in the 16th-century palace, and is just one of the outstanding events being held as part of this year’s Museums At Night series.

Museums across the country are opening their doors after hours this weekend (May 16-18), with inventive – and drink-accompanied – events taking you beyond the usual ‘look, read and learn’ mantra. 

Hampton Court’s Sleep Like A King is one such event. Its Salacious Gossip tour first unveils what really went on once lights went out. “You’ll hear the risqué adult stories of the Stuart and Hanoverian courts we daren’t tell during day time,” palace spokeswoman Katrina Whenham tells TNT.

There’ll also be a ghost tour exploring the spooks that haunt this historical abode (wife-killer Henry VIII’s jilted spouses may well feature) before you settle in.At 9pm, the palace takes on a new life as the gates close. 

“It’s a completely different atmosphere when you cross a grand Tudor courtyard at night or stand in the cloisters,” Whenham says. You’ll then bed down in The Undercroft, Henry VIII’s beer cellar, and wake to a hearty breakfast in The Privy Kitchen. But this first-of-a-kind event is just part of the weekend’s night roster.

The 170-year-old Brunel Museum, home to the first under-river tunnel anywhere in the world, is hosting two days of performance in its underground amphitheatre in the Thames Tunnel, plus there’s a secret rooftop garden serving cocktails mixed with herbs and flowers plucked from the foliage.

Called the Midnight Apothecary, the rooftop garden bar hosts its first birthday bash on May 18. “You’ll be able to relax on deck chairs around a fire pit with exquisite drinks,” museum director Robert Hulse says of celebrations that will feature Rhubarbra Streisand cocktails, plus wood pigeon breast burgers courtesy of wild food experts The Foragers.

“You can cuddle up, watch the sun set over the river and toast marshmallows,” he adds.  

A show by Irish harpist Áine O’Dwyer takes place in the Thames Tunnel the previous evening (May 17), marking the 186th anniversary of the 1828 flood in the underground chamber which claimed the lives of six miners who were in the midst of building what is the world’s oldest Tube tunnel.  

“The acoustics are extraordinary,” Hulse says. “Áine will play a beautiful but haunting programme as you imagine the water rising and surging as it did in 1828.”

Turn over for a stack more events that will change the way you look at museums for good. 

Best of the Museums at Night >


Sleep Like A King.
May 17. £100  KT8 9AU  
Station | Hampton Court.

Brunel Museum: Aine O’Dwyer.
May 17. £10  SE16 4LF  
Station | Rotherhithe


Night at the Museums: Explore London's spooky and spunky nocturnal events this weekend
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