London is steeped in musical history and has produced more iconic bands and artists than most cities, so it’s no surprise that it’s brimming with an assortment of impressive music venues. From rising stars in sweaty rock clubs, classical music in unrivalled concert halls, and secret basement shows from arena-worthy bands, we’ve rounded up the pick of the venues, old and new, so you can catch the best shows in town.
One of London’s finest auditoriums, Barbican Hall’s acoustics make it popular for classical and contemporary music performances. It’s just one of many venues inside the Grade II-listed Barbican Centre, which still divides opinion among Londoners due to its Brutalist architecture.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Ludovico Einaudi, London Symphony Orchestra, Max Richter
A rare new venue for emerging talent, Omeara is a tiny award-winning live music space under a railway arch in London Bridge’s Flat Iron Square food hall. It’s the ideal place to spend an evening discovering the soon-to-be-famous with an abundance of pop-up bars, food trucks and club nights.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Fickle Friends, Tom Walker, The Maccabees
House of Vans
Beneath Waterloo Station lies the graffiti-lined Leake Street, also known as ‘Banksy Street’. It’s down here you’ll find House of Vans, a warren of five tunnels containing skate ramps, art exhibitions and a stage that is little-known to the busy commuters above. Recent secret shows have been performed by the likes of Metallica, Loyle Carner and Wiley and are often set alongside art exhibitions.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Foo Fighters, Foals, Royal Blood
Regarded as one of the world’s finest concert halls due to its acoustics, Wigmore Hall is the place to go to catch instrumental and chamber music from the best composers. The beautiful interior makes it hard to believe you’re slap bang in the middle of London.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Benjamin Grosvenor, Dame Julia Myra Hess, Arthur Rubinstein
Opened in 1959, Ronnie Scott’s is one of the world’s most famous jazz clubs. Situated in the heart of London’s West End, jazz musicians from all over the world have passed through the doors and performed in the intimate basement. Catch a headline act or a Late Late Show, when acts take to the stage around 1am on weekends and 11pm on weekdays.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Miles Davis, Cassandra Wilson, Kurt Elling
Tucked away just off Upper Street in North London, this working church and award-winning venue hosts world-class touring acts scheduled alongside organ recitals, community events and comedy. Along with its impressive Gothic grandeur, the unbeatable acoustics really make this venue stand out as a favourite for one-off performances.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Amy Winehouse, Elton John, Frank Turner
This grassroots venue lies beneath the streets of Camden Town, under the World’s End pub. It’s a favourite on the alternative scene touring circuit: Nekrogoblikon, anyone? Expect riotous mosh pits and sweat dripping from the ceiling. It also hosts weekly rock and emo club nights to keep you occupied into the early hours.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Foo Fighters, Slash’s Snakepit, Fall Out Boy
Alexandra Palace – or ‘Ally Pally’ to locals – sits at a vantage point in North London with stunning views of the city from the surrounding park. Once a studio for the BBC among other uses, it now plays host to contemporary music acts on the UK touring circuit. In 2018 the adjoining Alexandra Palace Theatre was reopened after 80 years, providing a more intimate venue compared to the large main hall.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Arctic Monkeys, Björk, Lizzo
First built as an engine house in the 1800s and used to turn trains around, the Roundhouse is one of London’s best performing arts venues and one of many situated in Camden Town. The high ceiling and iron columns make it similar to being in a tent at a festival, minus the mud and rain.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears
Formerly the Camden Theatre, Koko is one of London’s most stunning venues, with tiered seating doused in red and gold decor. It’s nearly impossible to have a bad view, with standing room available on the balconies and prestigious theatre boxes as well as the stalls. It hosts rock, pop and dance acts as well as secret album release shows from the likes of Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and My Chemical Romance. Koko is currently closed for refurbishment and is due to reopen in spring 2020.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Kanye West, Sex Pistols, Vanessa Paradis
The O2 Arena
The UK’s largest indoor venue is built within the former Millennium Dome and attracts world-class large production acts spanning all genres. Perched next to the River Thames on the Greenwich Peninsula, the complex also houses another smaller venue, Indigo at the O2, a cinema, bowling alley and exhibitions; and you can even climb the roof if you’re feeling brave.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Beyoncé, BTS, Drake
Opened in 2014, Oslo is one of London’s newer venues, which is encouraging considering the closure of many grassroots venues in recent years. Housed in a former Victorian railway station in the heart of Hackney, it sits above a spacious bar and restaurant. It moves away from the dingy stereotype of grassroots venues in favour of a more polished feel.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Supergrass, The Temper Trap, Squeeze
This popular East London park spans 213 acres and transforms into an outdoor arena for the summer. Recently it’s been home to All Points East Festival, a 10-day event featuring varied headline acts from Mumford & Sons to Bring Me The Horizon. It’s also hosted Lovebox Festival and Field Day.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: The Clash, Radiohead, Christine and the Queens
Brixton Academy is one of those iconic milestone venues that touring artists strive to tick off their bucket list. Its huge Art Deco interior and stage resembling Venice’s Rialto bridge sets this venue apart from its counterparts. It also features a sloping stage and a domed roof resembling the night sky.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Stormzy, Madonna, The Smiths
Pryzm in Kingston is the latest venue to be taken over by independent record shop, Banquet Records. A fully-functioning nightclub in a Grade II-listed building with sticky carpets is an unlikely venue to see the latest chart-toppers, and it remains a secret (ish) for now. Tickets are cheap as the shows are often around an hour long, but you get a CD included. Hop on a train from Waterloo and you’ll be there in 30 minutes.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Blink 182, The Jonas Brothers, The 1975
Croydon’s major entertainment venue has just undergone a spectacular redevelopment, bringing it back to its former 1960s glory. Made up of three main venues – a concert hall, playhouse and 750-capacity gig space – there is something for everyone.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: David Bowie, The Beatles, Kenny Rogers
Royal Albert Hall
Opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, venues don’t come more iconic than this. Its distinct terracotta colour and the spectacular dome make it one of London’s most celebrated buildings. Considering its prominence, the Royal Albert Hall only holds around 5000 people, which can often make for a relatively intimate performance from world-famous acts. It also hosts the Proms, ballet, opera and live orchestra film screenings.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, The Who
London’s largest royal park has been hosting outdoor concerts since the 1960s and has become synonymous with performances from a plethora of global rock and pop acts. BST Hyde Park is the most notable event, held each July, with Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Justin Bieber all headlining in recent years.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: The Rolling Stones, Queen, Madonna
Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Brixton Academy’s little sister and run by the same company, Shepherd’s Bush Empire was built in 1903 and is regarded as one of London’s most important music venues. The tiered seating allows for an intimate experience in a classic theatre setting.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Prince, Oasis, Westlife
One of London’s rare surviving dance halls, Bush Hall used to be a rehearsal space for musicians in the 1950s but has now been restored to its former glory as an independent venue. It’s the perfect place to catch emerging talent and larger acts in an intimate space under an ornate chandelier.
Acts who’ve graced the stage: Adele, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Karen O
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