22 Spectacular Open-Air Cinemas In The UK

Surely the most delightful way to watch a film.

For many, the sight of an open-air cinema won’t be unfamiliar; it’s just that most of us will have seen one in a movie, not in person. A selection of vintage American muscle cars spread haphazardly across the asphalt, toothpick-chewing teenagers with well-waxed cowlicks sliding leather-jacketed arms round the shoulders of apple-cheeked girls in red dresses and mommy’s pearls. Sound about right? Well, let’s leave Hollywood and transpose just such a scene to a town or city near you.

1. The Rooftop Film Club, London

Screening a combination of classic, cult and contemporary films five nights a week, the Rooftop Film Club flits between the Roof Gardens in Kensington, the Bussey Building in Peckham Rye and Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch. Audio is broadcast through wireless headphones, food vendors are on hand and ponchos will be distributed should the heavens open. £13 will buy you early entry to the venue, access to the bar and – depending on what’s going on that given night – entertainment such as live DJs or an open mic. The film ‘season’ runs from the beginning of May until the end of September, so you’ve plenty of time to sample the novelty first-hand.

2. Ascot Racecourse

For a truly unique cinema experience, head along to Ascot in late July or early August. With the backdrop of Ascot’s famous grandstand, and from your berth on the racecourse’s immaculate lawn, you’ll feel more than a little smug about your cinema experience. Just note you’ll have to bring along your own folding chair or picnic blanket – though the licensed bar will ensure you don’t go thirsty. A ticket will set you back £15, while children (5-15) pay £10. The three-night stint opens with a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark on July 31st.

3. Spinningfields, Manchester

From May to September, classic movies are dished up al fresco in Manchester city centre, where you can catch a flick for the bargain fee of £3. Recline in a yellow deckchair or sit cross-legged on the grass – the choice is yours. Screenfields’, er, screenings take place each Thursday, adjacent to the Lawn Club bar, with highlights including Stand By Me, Coming to America and Edward Scissorhands. The reel rolls come rain or shine, so rock up in shorts and a T-shirt at your peril.

4. Bishop’s Park, Fulham

You can catch a selection of much-loved movies in Bishop’s Park, on the banks of the Thames, throughout July and August. Anchorman, Back to the Future, Blade, The Notebook: there’s every kind of vibe being laid down, and with a bar and burger joint on site, it’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy a different kind of evening out this summer. BYOS – that’s bring your own seats, FYI – and at a tenner for a ticket, you can enjoy the experience for the usual price of a stub at the local Cineworld.

5. Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith

If you’re a bit of a cinema fiend, you might consider a weekend devoid of a trip to the local multiplex a waste. Why not hit up three films in three nights, then? From August 1-3, you can enjoy screenings of The Faculty, Pretty Woman and Grease for just £25, with a weekend pass to Ravenscourt Park’s movie extravaganza. Alternatively, catch Pulp Fiction, The Devil Wears Prada or Heathers the following month. Will the rain stay away? Who knows? A fully-licensed bar specialising in – you guessed it – beer and burgers will ensure the good times roll regardless.

6. Wakehurst Place, West Sussex

Delve your hand not into a bucket of popcorn but a wicker picnic hamper, as you watch a movie in the glow of the moon, on the lawn of Wakehurst Place, West Sussex. Taking place over August Bank Holiday weekend, there’ll be screenings of both Dirty Dancing (August 24) and blockbuster Gravity (August 25), with the price of admission ranging from £10.50 to £24.50. No seating is provided, so be sure to bring along a comfy quilt or deckchair!

7. The Nomad Cinema, Various locations

Nomad Cinema’s season of open-air films runs from July 14 to September 21, and pitches its screen all over London – including in Bushy Park, at the Pheasantry Welcome Centre. Here, you can watch Spielberg’s classic E.T. on August 30; there’s also a spooky showing of The Dark Knight Rises (September 10) in Brompton Cemetery. Guaranteed chills! Ticket prices vary venue to venue; best to consult the site for particulars.

8. Cult Screens, Various locations

The good people at Cult Screens prove you needn’t be based in the capital to enjoy top-notch outdoor cinema. Dividing their screenings between Bristol, Swindon, Reading and Oxford, they’ll beam the likes of Withnail & I (May 30/Oxford) and This is Spinal Tap (June 20, Reading) to the masses. It’s inexpensive too, with tickets ranging from £12.50-£14.50. Whether parking your rear on a bean bag or or deckchair, you’re certain to have a ball.

9. Summer Nights Film, Derbyshire

Graham Lucas Commons

Why be content with watching a movie outdoors – when you can do so in a breathtaking Heritage location? Now in its third year, this forward-thinking movie festival rolls classics in such grand settings as Kedleston Hall (Rocky Horror Picture Show, July 25) and the spectacular Waddesdon Manor (Some Like It Hot, September 5). Tickets are modestly priced at £10.50.

10. Hall Place, Bexley

Recline under a canopy of trees in the lush gardens of Grade I-listed Hall Place, and prepare yourself for an evening of classic cinema. The iconic Audrey Hepburn struts her stuff in Breakfast at Tiffany’s on July 16, while one of the most memorable visual feasts in recent memory – Les Misérables – is served up on September 3. Kids go for £9, while general admission for adults is £13.50. Quote-fest!

11. Battersea Park, Battersea

Few summer cinema locations can rival Battersea Park; but with premium seats for the opening night already sold out, you’d better be quick to nab yourself a ticket. Only question is, do you want to see American Hustle, screened on September 9, cult favourite Labyrinth on September 10, or Tarantino’s Django Unchained, concluding the event on September 11? Tickets are priced at £13.50, with the option of upgrading to Premium for a tenner extra. The latter tickets, incidentally, grant you a director’s chair to snuggle up in, a free drink at the bar and a Luna Cinema goody bag.

12. Picnic Cinema, Various locations

Joanne Leary

Difficult to narrow down a venue since this charity-run organisation screen movies far and wide; but if you haven’t yet heard of Picnic Cinemas, I suspect you soon will. Screening pictures under the stars in a variety of settings – from rural villages to castles, parks and forests – the outfit take their big screens all over the North West. This year, a broad range of films will be shown, from The Shining (July 18), screened in Muncaster Castle, to The Blair Witch Project (July 23/25) in - gulp - Sherwood Pines Forest Park! Tickets range in price, with £30 at the top end of the spectrum and kids under five going free.

13. Hot Tub Cinema, London

Save for Tony Montana in Scarface, I’ve never seen or indeed heard of anyone watching a movie from the bath. Still, it’s a nice concept – and now you can experience it for yourself. Simply book a hot tub to share with your mates or family and settle in for the show. There are no current events listed, but a schedule is due to appear on the HTC website in the coming weeks. Last year, the screenings were in Shoreditch - and judging from the TripAdvisor reviews beer, hotdogs and general merriment was in abundance!

14. Somerset House, London

It doesn’t get much better than Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House. Running this year from August 7-20, you’ll get to watch movies on London’s largest screen from the grand, neoclassical setting of the courtyard. You’ll be among up to 2,000 fellow cinema-goers and, should you nab yourself a ticket for one of several special screenings, you might see some top actors and directors in the flesh. Being its ten-year anniversary, there’s a diverse schedule of screenings this year, with showings of A Fistful of Dollars (August 9) and The Royal Tenenbaums (August 17) among the finer picks. Price of admission, meanwhile, ranges from £13 to £24.

15. Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre, London

That warm-fuzzy summer buzz – when the refreshments are flowing, the sunglasses are on and the balmy air suffused with the whiff of seasonal flowers – is virtually on tap at the award-winning Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre. For two nights in 2014, the venue transmogrifies into a cinema: enjoy the tree-lined backdrop with a glass of Pimms or bag of popcorn, and choose from screenings of Goldfinger (August 17), this year celebrating its 50th anniversary, or Audrey Hepburn classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s (September 1). Tickets aren’t cheap at £18 (premium: £30), but represent terrific value given the lushness of the locale.

16. Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

If you’re averse to Leonardo DiCaprio, you might want to give Hatfield House a miss in late August. For many, though, I’m sure an evening under the stars with Leo – or in any case watching him do his thing on screen – will appeal greatly. Choose from The Wolf of Wall Street (August 29) or last year’s underrated The Great Gatsby (August 30), and kick back against the backdrop of this stately, 400-year-old Jacobean country house. Free parking is another bonus, with tickets priced at £13.50 (premium tickets: £23.50).

17. Dulwich Park, London

Movie mania sets in at Dulwich Park this summer, as the Luna Cinema roadshow comes to town. One of the most pleasant green spaces in south London, the park was actually Luna’s first ever venue, with viewers watching their chosen feature from the lawns in front of the Pavilion Cafe. Handily there’s free parking, too. So what’s on, I hear you crow. OK, I’m getting to that! Cool Runnings (July 18), Top Gun (19), Thelma and Louise (20) and Scorsese’s smash The Wolf of Wall Street (20) will vie for your attention, with tickets a steal at £13.50.

18. Brockwell Lido, London

The idea of tuning into a flick while floating on an inflatable dinghy has likely never crossed your mind. Nevertheless, cinephiles will be doing just that at Brockwell Lido this July and September. Given the pool first opened in 1937, it’s a unique opportunity to put your feet up and drift on the water while watching – of all things – Jaws (July 17) or Captain Phillips (July 24). Sadly, if you’re only just learning of the screenings, you’ll already have missed out on the former – it sold out quick smart soon after tickets went on sale. Captain Phillips is terrific, though, and there’ll be another screening – of a film determined by public vote – on September 18. Tickets cost £13.50 (dinghy seats have, alas, already sold out) and there’s a poolside BBQ and bar to get your eat - and drink - on.

19. Highfield Park, St Albans

The leafy surrounds of Highfield Park provide the setting for a one-two punch of cinema showings in July this year. Girls just wanna have fun, so rally your gal pals for a screening of Grease on July 3, or join Marty McFly back in 1985 – then 1955 – for Back to the Future on July 23. £1.50 from each ticket will go directly to the Highfield Park Trust charity, but make sure to bring a cagoule in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. Part of the Luna programme, general admission tickets will set you back just £13.50.

20. Kew Gardens, London

Michael Wharley

Located in the verdant gardens of Kew Palace, this annual open-air cinema – dubbed ‘Kew the Movies’ – gets under way on September 4, with a screening of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, and brings the curtain down for another year with Top Gun, two nights later. Such is the popularity of the event, premium tickets have already flown out the door – so you’ll have to ‘slum it’ for £16.50! If you want to impress your other half, special bespoke picnic hampers are on sale, with popcorn-smoked chicken pieces and falafel wraps among the grub.

21. Manor House Gardens, Lewisham

An eclectic mix of movies awaits you at the Manor House Gardens’ bespoke open-air cinema, staged in partnership with Pop Up Screens. The Big Lebowski (August 9), Fight Club (September 5) and Moulin Rouge! (September 6) are just a few of them, but the true lure is the park itself, which boasts a lake, fountain and walled flower garden. Now for the pertinent stuff: Doors open at 7.30, movies kick off at 9 and tickets are an absolute giveaway at £10. Book early to avoid disappointment!

22. Rochester Castle, Kent

Watching Russell Crowe, as Maximus Decimus Meridius, growl his way through Ridley Scott’s Gladiator while in full view of an 11th-century castle is something that you’ll get the chance to do…well, maybe once, ever: on September 25, 2014. Settle into your seat in the Rochester Castle grounds, on the banks of the River Medway, and prepare to be blown away – not just by the feature, but by the historic grandness of the environs. There are food stalls and a fully licensed bar to grab a snack or a glass of wine, and the coveted ticket will lighten your wallet by £13.50. If Coliseum sword fights ain’t your thing, you can catch Mamma Mia! the following evening.

George Wood is the Managing Director of the Luna Cinema, which stages hundreds of outdoor screenings throughout the UK each year. He says: “The great thing about our screenings is the combination of a classic film on a giant screen under the stars, in the country’s finest settings. This summer you can find yourself watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s with the backdrop of a Royal Palace, Gravity on the meridian line in Greenwich Park, Jaws in an open-air lido, or The Wolf of Wall Street overlooking London’s financial district.

“There’s something unique about being outside on a summer’s evening, with a glass in hand, popcorn and a classic film on the big screen. All our screenings have limited capacities and tend to sell out, so make sure you book in advance - all details can be found at thelunacinema.com. We have a bar at each screening (and hot food) and you can pre-order your blankets and backrests so they’ll be ready to collect when you arrive. See you there for a night of cinema under the stars!”

What are you waiting for?

Written by Ronnie McCluskey, a travel writer for HomeAway.co.uk.

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