The UK’s best outdoor cinemas to visit this summer

Can't wait for Odeon and Vue to reopen? Watch a cult classic under the stars instead

We’ve all missed things during lockdown: sitting in the pub with mates, moshing at sweaty gigs, getting with complete strangers in packed-out clubs. OK, that last one’s not for everyone – but the point stands!

As we approach the end of COVID restrictions on June 21, some of these things are coming back. But some of the last (and best) entertainment venues to reopen post-corona are indoor cinemas – which means you can’t get stuck to an unwashed, Pepsi-sodden carpet and pay £5 for a box of burned maize until May 17. Or can you?

In line with government guidelines, outdoor cinemas are free to open across the UK right now, serving up classic films under the stars. Despite our lockdown-fuelled pessimism, nothing beats the excitement of the big screen, especially when it’s propped up against some of the country’s most beautiful backdrops.

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So, from dizzying clifftops to drive-your-own boats and historic ruins to picturesque parks, here are some of the best open-air cinemas in the UK…

Bar Elba’s Rooftop Cinema, London

Rooftop attractions have taken over London over the past few years, with bars, restaurants and mini golf courses all popping up across the city’s skyline. One of the best, Bar Elba’s Rooftop Cinema, is tucked away amid the bustle of London’s South Bank. With impressive views of the London Eye, bottomless prosecco and a range of classic cocktails, Bar Elba is one of the more sophisticated arts haunts to check off your list this summer.

Now showing: Pulp Fiction, Bohemian Rhapsody

The Big Drive-Inn, various locations across Northern Ireland

Last summer, drive-in cinemas set up shop in every corner of the UK, mainly out of necessity given social distancing measures and continued government restrictions. The Big Drive-Inn, however, is proving that the drive-in is for life, not just for lockdown. Blending modern technology — the outfit boasts Northern Ireland’s largest mobile LED screen — with a retro ’50s aesthetic, The Big Drive-Inn will show a variety of acclaimed films across the country this spring.

Now showing: The Bank Holiday screenings were sold out, but more events will be announced shortly

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SecretCity, Manchester

Up in Manchester, SecretCity are putting a more immersive spin on the traditional drive-in experience. Located in a Trafford car park that’s transformed into a Secret Garden-themed dreamland, SecretCity show a range of new releases and older classics across three giant HD screens. With a strange drive-through tunnel, large-scale laser show, al fresco bar and live actors, it’s one of the summer’s more uncanny cinematic events.

Now showing: Annabelle Comes Home, The Greatest Showman

Adventure Cinema, Margam Country Park in Wales

The only thing better than watching a cult classic on the big screen? Watching a cult classic in the grounds of a Grade I-listed, Tudor gothic mansion. Over in Port Talbot, Wales, Adventure Cinema are setting up shop in front of Margam Castle, with scenic showings beginning 30 minutes after sunset each evening for optimal atmospheric viewing. Bring along your own picnic blanket or camping chair and plonk yourself on the lawn of the 19th century country estate this summer.

Now showing: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Bohemian Rhapsody (but not until August)

Outdoor cinemas
Summer Screens in Coventry Cathedral Ruins. CREDIT: Press

Summer Screens, Coventry Cathedral Ruins

Perhaps the most unique open-air cinema running this summer, Summer Screens (now in its tenth year) is returning to the old ruins of Coventry Cathedral. Atmospheric and drenched in the city’s rich history, the unconventional picture house boasts a giant HD screen with state of the art audio for an unconventional night under the stars.

Now showing: Inception, The Greatest Showman (but not until August)

Rooftop Film Club, London

Rooftop Film Club is the Wetherspoons of outdoor cinemas. It’s tried and tested, serves up a half-decent pint, and we’ve all been taken there on a bad Hinge date. The urban equivalent to the drive-in, Peckham’s Bussey Building rooftop boasts panoramic views of the city, with sunsets and starlight aplenty. Showing a handpicked selection of cult classics and new releases, Rooftop Film Club offers perhaps the most impressive range of films of all outdoor cinemas this summer, but maybe swerve the night they’re showing Notting Hill.

Now showing: Sound of Metal, 10 Things I Hate About You

The Star and Mouse Picture Show, Cambridge

Commendable alone for the fact The Greatest Showman doesn’t appear anywhere on its film listings, The Star and Mouse Picture Show is a touring trinket cinema operating in Cambridge and its rural surrounds this summer. Starting from humble beginnings — and a love of late night film screenings with an old sheet chucked over some trees — The Star and Mouse quickly blossomed into a more boutique affair. With an elevated 52ft screen, fire pits, fairy lights and dressing-up boxes filled with theatrical attire, films start at nightfall with pre-show merriment (think live music and giant board games) to kick off the festivities.

Now showing: Knives Out, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Outdoor cinemas
London’s Honorable Artillery Company will play host to Hideaway Cinema this summer. CREDIT: Press

Hideaway Cinema, various locations across the UK

Loved by punters and adored by studios (who trust them to show new releases as little as two weeks after opening night), touring outdoor cinema Hideaway screens the absolute classics alongside 2021’s biggest blockbusters. It started as a small, seasonal venture in the south west of England, but this summer film buffs as far afield as London, Oxfordshire and Royal Windsor Racecourse will be able to get in on the action. If you can’t make it soon, check back in at Halloween or Christmas for some spooky (and seasonal) fun.

Now showing: Wonder Woman 1984, Godzilla vs. Kong

The Luna Cinema, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire

The Luna Cinema is notorious for bringing classic films to lush settings, but none have been quite as steeped in film history as Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace. The English Baroque-style country house has served as the backdrop for Disney’s live-action Cinderella, Mission: Impossible and James Bond’s Spectre – and now it’s being transformed into one of the country’s leading open-air cinemas. Boasting personal in-car speakers (keeping your car battery perfectly intact for the drive home) and cinema-quality screens, Blenheim is perhaps the most scenic of all Luna’s open-air locations this summer.

Now showing: Back To The Future, Jaws

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire provides the backdrop for The Luna Cinema. CREDIT: Getty

Moonlight Flicks, various locations across Cheshire

If being cooped up in your car for the evening isn’t your vibe, Moonlight Flicks offers an outdoor alternative in various locations across Cheshire. With a 30ft AirScreen, private headphones for high-quality sound and subtitled or audio-described screenings, the only thing you’ll have to worry about is the weather. Putting a more mystical spin on the traditional picnic-blanket-on-the-grass experience, each screening is accompanied by twinkling fairy lights, live acoustic music and flickering fire pits.

Now showing: Get Out, Trainspotting

Itison Drive-In Movies, Queensferry in Scotland

This month, Itison Drive-In are bringing the world’s biggest mobile LED screen to Hopetoun House in Queensferry. Scotland’s original drive-in cinema, Itison are complimenting their immersive screenings with the 18th century estate’s rich, rural landscape. And, if audience participation is your thing, Itison offers an infamous car-aoke experience – as well as in-car quizzes for a night out that beats Netflix on the sofa.

Now showing: The Dark Knight, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Openaire Float-In Cinema, London

If you think the drive-in is a slightly exhausted concept, Openaire have created the UK’s first ever float-in (yes, float-in) cinema atop London’s Regent’s Canal. Hire one of GoBoat’s eco-vessels and have a whack at driving yourself round the capital’s waterways, then moor up in front of the 6x3m hi-res video screen before the film begins. And, if dry land is more your thing, deckchairs are available to watch from a safe, shoreside distance. Openaire’s selection of films might not be as extensive as it’s non-aquatic counterparts, but what could be better than Pulp Fiction from the comfort of your own private mini-yacht?

Now showing: Mamma Mia, Pulp Fiction (but not until June)

Wavelength Drive-In Cinema, Newquay in Cornwall

Sticking with the amphibious theme, Wavelength Drive-In are settling down for the summer with cult classics screened from a Cornwall clifftop. The brainchild of Wavelength, Europe’s leading surf magazine, the cinema features a 10m LED screen perched on the cliff’s edge. With views of the sea and Watergate Bay’s golden sands, it’s an ideal choice if you like your vintage cinema served with a side of vertigo.

Now showing: Blue Juice, Point Break (but not until July)

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