From spectacular orchestra halls to legendary jazz bars and rough-and-ready pub back rooms, here’s where to catch some live music in the UK capital.
What For classical and orchestral music in London, you’d be hard-pressed to find a venue more impressive than Knightsbridge’s Royal Albert Hall. Everything about it is memorable, from the short walk to reach it through genteel neighbourhoods lined with grand Victorian homes, to the building’s striking appearance and, of course, its utterly enormous interior dome. The space is famed for hosting all manner of concerts, from the BBC Proms and classical galas to famous jazz acts and contemporary bands and performers, plus cinematic screenings and ballets complete with a live orchestra. If you’re on a budget, you can often bag affordable tickets to stand in the balcony – but if you can, spring for the full box experience.
Don’t miss The venue’s circular shape means it has many entrances – 12 to be exact – but Door 6 is the official royal entrance to the space, and is where Queen Victoria first stepped into the building when it was first opened in 1871. It also offers a fantastic view of the ornate gold statue the Queen had built in memory of her beloved husband Albert.
Past performers The Outlook Orchestra, Bach Evolution, Rising Stars of Classical.
The verdict Seeing a classical performance in such a beautiful amphitheatre is an unforgettably refined way to spend an evening (and the perfect excuse to get dressed up).
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What Where can you find performances of avant-garde drone, psychedelic rock and even polyphonic Albanian folk in one place? Dalston’s eclectic Cafe OTO, which welcomes some of the world’s most unique and cutting-edge musicians to its tiny, 150-capacity venue. With performances most nights of the week, it’s the perfect place to enjoy an evening of the best experimental music with a glass of biodynamic wine or a malt whiskey.
Don’t miss Dalston is easily one of London’s most interesting neighbourhoods, and is packed with fittingly curious little hideaways. Slip into nearby urban oasis the Curve Garden, for a slice of inner-city greenery and locally brewed beer, or climb the steps to the Dalston Roof Park for unique skyline views (with optional yoga).
Past performers Foodman, Gillian Paxton, Magma.
The verdict A thoroughly edgy East London experience that’s perfect for those who like something a bit different.
What For an authentic gig experience complete with touts, merchandise and show-stopping headliners, it’s hard to beat South London’s iconic Brixton O2 Academy. In its 90+ year history, it has hosted some of the most famous pop and rock stars in the world, from Prince and Madonna to The Clash and The Sex Pistols. It can get crowded, but its ever-so-slightly sloped floor means there’s usually a good view of the stage wherever you stand. However, if you prefer a more laid-back evening, there’s upstairs seating, too.
Don’t miss Nearby Brixton Market – home to local vendors dishing out a wide array of international cuisines – is the stuff of legend. Tuck into some grilled Portuguese meats, a plate of Caribbean-style seafood or a glass of ‘rum and Ting’.
Past performers Caravan Palace, The Flaming Lips, FKA Twigs.
The verdict No immersion into London’s music scene would be complete without a visit to the O2 Brixton Academy.
What In its early-2000s heyday, Camden was synonymous with indie cool and some of the biggest celebs of the British music scene. And while Amy Winehouse, Liam Gallagher and Pete Doherty are no longer regularly sighted propping up the bar at The Hawley Arms, stalwart institution The Dublin Castle is still going strong with the spirit of the good old days. For a grungy night out bouncing around to punk, rock and covers bands, this pub’s back room is the place to go.
Don’t miss Just 10 minutes’ walk from the Camden Market crowds is Regent’s Park, one of the capital’s most beautiful royal parks. Stroll down to Queen Mary’s Rose Garden where there are 30,000 species of the flower, or enjoy a moment of peace on the park’s Japanese Garden Island.
Past performers Sir Reg, Flesh Tetris, Coz We Luv Slade.
The verdict An unpretentious, guitar-heavy experience that might make you feel like you’ve gone back in time.
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What Ronnie Scott’s is the undisputed king of London’s jazz bars, and with its ultra-central West End location, it regularly draws crowds of both tourists and locals. Hunt down its iconic fluorescent sign and descend the steps to the basement, where you’ll find a compact, comfy venue with an impressive collection of names behind it, from Miles Davis to Sarah Vaughan. These days, the line-up is packed with every kind of jazz, from Soul to Big Band to Latin. Fancy dinner and a show? There’s a full menu available, with classy options like confit duck, caviar and scallops.
Don’t miss Frith Street, where Ronnie Scott’s is located, is a great place to sample some of the city’s hippest restaurants, showcasing flavours from all over the world. Try Japanese udon noodles at Koya, or head to the award-winning Hoppers for a modern twist on traditional Sri Lankan cuisine.
Past performers Ruby Turner, Mary Stallings, James Pearson.
Verdict The perfect excuse to dig out that fedora you’ve been hoarding under the bed.