Things to do in London

Live Music London

Anyone who's heard of the Beatles, loved punk, or been through the Big Smoke knows live music in London is as British as crumpets and fog.

London is often regarded as the birthplace of classic rock. Its role in the history of pop music can't be downplayed. For visitors, this city offers a myriad of things to do in London, including exploring its rich musical heritage. Here are some of the best venues for checking out the local music scene.

Central London Live Music Venues

Travel to the heart of London, and you'll find classic tourist attractions like Trafalgar Square, the British Museum, and the London Eye. But there's much more to London than the well known — you’ll also find these must-hear music venues perfect for music lovers.

While exploring these, consider enhancing your experience with one of the many London walking tours available, offering a unique perspective of the city’s rich history and culture.

1. Royal Albert Hall

A venue dedicated to royalty has to be lavish. Royal Albert Hall is incredibly regal in both aesthetics and reputation. It has a seating capacity of over 5,200 people. The hall has been entertaining Brits and international music fans. It was first opened by none other than the eponym Albert’s soulmate, Queen Victoria, in 1871.

In the 250 years since its launch, the RAH has hosted leading lights of music like Eric Clapton, Roger Daltrey, and Adele. It's also been the site of speeches, plays, and even suffragette meetings. Is there any other place in the world that's given a soapbox to Winston Churchill and also hosted Muhammad Ali and Yungblud?

Regular events such as performances by the Royal Choral Society, the BBC Proms, our shows like Alegría, and even graduation ceremonies make use of the Hall and its smaller adjoined spaces, paying tribute to Prince Albert and British tradition with every note and twirl.

Photographer: Johen Redman

2. Union Chapel

It takes a lot of imagination to transform a 19th-century Gothic revival-style church into a combination relief center for the homeless and live entertainment venue for music events — one that also still serves as an actual church to boot — but that’s exactly what’s happened with Union Chapel.

Seating is limited to around 900 people, maximizing the utility of the octagonally shaped seating area. But this venue is all about quality, not quantity.

Every single set of ears that comes to listen to the likes of Passenger or enjoy Carols by Candlelight gets a treat for the eyes courtesy of the church’s stained glass, intricately carved décor, and a Henry Willis organ that stands guard over those humming along in the gallery below.

3. Belsize Library

Put away your opera glasses and glitzy gowns. Belsize Library is a cosy space and a relaxed venue for music performances. It’s perhaps even more attractive given you can show up in your mid-morning best.

The library hosts family-friendly acts and seasonal entertainment. This includes acts like Rhyme Time for kids under 5 and open mic nights. You can peruse the latest nonfiction bestsellers and a stack of YA classics, show off your best acoustic guitar technique, and still be home in time for supper.

4. 100 Club

When the 100 Club first began hosting live music in 1942, it was known as the Feldman Swing Club. You could catch jazz and swing acts cluttering the lineup and giving people a beat worthy of the Lindy Hop and the Charleston. But those Sunday evening jitterbug fests broadened into more frequent concerts. They were anchored by everyone from the Sex Pistols to The Rolling Stones.

Today, the 100 Club is a little quieter than when it hosted the first international punk festival in 1976. But the venue’s storied history has made it a popular place for today’s artists to hold secret shows. Look out for chatter that your favorite indie act is doing a one-off to warm up before a new tour or debut new tunes.

North London Live Music Venues

Head up past the Thames and you’ll find North London. It’s a cosmopolitan and lively enclave known as much for its cricket and football clubs as for its live music venues.

5. The Old Church

There weren’t many performances at St. Mary’s Church when its first rector was appointed in 1314. But what this medieval venue lacked in melody in medieval times, it replaced with longevity and reinvention. 

The Old Church is a stunning space — pointed arches and stained glass frame the performance space and main gathering area, which can be filled with tables for a wedding reception or chairs and pews for those ready to absorb the creative power of slam poetry or the vibrations of a gong-led sound meditation.

Photographer: chrisdorney

6. The Troubadour

There are plenty of London pubs with live music, but The Troubadour is more French brasserie with a soundtrack than a place for Guinness and gab. The excellent food is all British comfort classics given an infusion of French spirit.

If the brisket burger on the food menu doesn’t give your taste buds a tickle, the chive mas on the shepherd’s pie should do the trick. It’s a great dinner spot where you might also hear your favourite band.

But the real draw, of course, is what happens on The Troubadour’s homey stage. It’s an assuming patch of wood and cloth surrounded by stacks of knickknacks, but that platform tucked into the rear of this popular coffeehouse-turned-club has seen everyone from Charlie Watts to Joni Mitchell to Robert Plant.

While the heyday of Troubadour greatness is arguably past and you may not see Bob Dylan and his hat behind the mic during Friday’s dinner rush, there's still music 7 days a week, and the ambience can’t be beat.

7. Yurt Café

Most venues hosting live music in London have something very important in common: walls. And a roof. And running water. The Yurt Café only has some of those things, but never fear, the venue is totally legit, even if it is essentially a coffeehouse in a giant, round tent.

In fact, the curved backdrop and hip vibes are what gives the café its irresistible charm. Well, that and the sense of community that brings together people of all ages to munch on bacon and cheese toasties while saluting the talent on open mic night and swaying along to acoustic jams.

South London Live Music Venues

South London is more a collection of small villages than it is one giant neighborhood. Within those villages sits a smattering of music venues. This includes two restored spaces that stand as well-honored tributes to local history.

8. Omeara

Keep your finger on the pulse of indie live music in London at Omeara, an intimate, 320-seat venue that eschews massive shows in favor of paving the way for up-and-coming artists to fill a small space and make a huge impact.

One day, the calendar is blocked off for a record label showcase. The next week, it may be a chart-topping artist from the ‘90s stopping by to reconnect with a smaller group of dedicated fans.

Over the years, crowds have poured into the subterranean-looking space in support of Mumford & Sons, Jorja Smith, Kylie, The Black Crowes, Thurston Moore, Portugal. The Man, and Beck. Who might be at the Omeara next week and the Grammys the year after?

East London Live Music Venues

East London used to be London’s industrial center, located near the docklands for easy transport and material exchanges and filled with factories and workshops galore.

Now, some of those factories have been reworked into live music venues. They offer a place for artists to conceptualize and realize their dreams. This area, known for its vibrant and diverse culture, is also a great place to start if you’re looking for music festivals in London.

9. EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney)

As the great Taylor Swift once said, two is better than one, and that’s the theme at EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), which boasts a duo of event spaces. The 750-person capacity upper level is a seated Art Deco-style theater.

Down below, there’s a second area that holds up to 1,200 people. Both are the product of restorationists and visionaries who opened EartH in 2018. The goal was bringing back to life a building that had sat empty since the former theater’s final screening (Scarface, FYI) in 1984.

These days, there’s no Pacino in the building. But there is a full slate of musical acts ranging from jazz and soul to electronica and dance to folk and Americana. There are comedic plays, films, and even markets held under the bowed Deco ceiling. They give life to the venue’s promise that this is a “multi-arts space for the 21st century.”

10. Scala

Nestled in the newly revitalized King’s Cross area of London sits Scala, a former WWI airplane part factory that became a cinema — complete with an orchestra pit — before it was eventually gifted a renovation and two additional floors.

Since 1999, the now four-story Scala has been the cultural epicenter of north-central London, courting beloved acts like The Libertines, Deftones, Coldplay, Sara Bareilles, The Chemical Brothers, The Script, Avril Lavigne, Adam Ant, Wheatus, Kaiser Chiefs, Louis Tomlinson, and Sheryl Crow.

Such a bustling lineup seems to demand a hefty max capacity, but there’s only room for a little over 1,100 people. Come for the fun, stay for the atmosphere, remember forever how it felt to hear contemporary talent in a space so steeped in history.  

11. Jazz Café

Contrary to what the name suggests, Jazz Café caters doesn’t only to jazz and blues artists. It also caters to acts representing genres like world music, reggae, Latin, soul, hip-hop, and electronica as well.

Jazz greats like Pharaoh Sanders, Don Cherry, Eddie Harris, Ahmad Jamal, Cassandra Wilson, and Abbey Lincoln have all had their time on stage in this one-time Barclays Bank branch. But the roster of past acts also includes Amy Winehouse, Lee Scratch Perry, Horace Andy, The Skatalites, and Benedict Cork.

Basically, if it has soul and gets your fingers tapping against that glass of peaty Scotch, it’s a fitting addition to the slate at the good ol’ JC.

West London Live Music Venues

Notable neighborhoods like Notting Hill, Holland Park, and Kensington are all found in West London. So the live music venues here have a lot to live up to — and they succeed handily.

Photographer: Alexey Fedorenko

12. O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Shepherd's Bush Empire got the O2 prefix the same way Brixton Academy did — through sponsorship. But this venue has been hosting live music in London long before the monied telecom company was even a sparkle in some billionaire’s eyes.

The original Shepherd’s Bush Empire was built in 1902 as a theatre and hosted comedy revues (including The Fred Karno Troupe with one Charlie Chaplin) and other music hall-type acts.

After a few decades as a BBC TV studio/theater — That’s Life! and The Generation Game were both filmed here — Shepherd’s Bush Empire got a facelift and a relaunch. This is where songstress Amy Winehouse recorded "I Told You I Was Trouble: Live in London.” It’s also where Mumford & Sons’ "Live from Shepherd’s Bush Empire" made use of the top-tier acoustics.

With just 2,000 spots for fans, it’s a venue that’s small enough to feel special but large enough to get the energy flowing.

13. The Nickel Bar Bank

As far as London pubs with live music go, The Nickel Bar Bank may be among the flashiest. There’s no sawdust on the floor here, and you’ll probably pay a premium for perfectly garnished delicious cocktails like the grapefruit-adorned Negroni and a champagne cocktail with an edible flower float.

But it’s worth the so-called entertainment tax to enjoy your tipple while nodding along to jazz trios and cover bands doing their best versions of your favorite pop hits.

Music is on daily, and Mondays are set aside specifically for original artists just hitting the London scene.

14. Eventim Apollo

It’s showtime! Not at the famous Harlem Apollo in NYC (whoop whoop whoop!) but at the Hammersmith Apollo. It’s now renamed the Eventim Apollo to honor the German ticketing company that helps support this iconic London venue.

This is no quaint little gastropub — with open seating, some 5,000 patrons can pile in to see musical acts and touring shows like "Dirty Dancing in Concert" or watch a podcast filmed with a live studio audience.

In the past, the Apollo has been the setting for oodles of live albums and DVD recordings. Queen, Black Sabbath, Bananarama, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Kylie Minogue, David Bowie, Tears for Fears, Kings of Leon, Olivia Rodrigo, Eric Clapton, and Dire Straits have all left their mark on the theater’s Art Deco expanse.

Photographer: Christian Lendl

Greenwich Peninsula Live Music Venues

Greenwich Peninsula is a modern development in need of heart. Art galleries, fashion houses, and eclectic dining spots do their best to bring the soul, and this live music venue helps.

15. The O2 Arena

When you’re in London and want to join about 19,999 other fans to see your favorite band, where do you go? From sporting events to concerts to the comedic stylings of humorists like Trevor Noah, there seems to be no limit on the types of entertainment suitable for the docket at The O2 Arena.

With the dome in place and the ground surface designed for adaptability, The O2 can be an ice rink, an exhibition space, a wedding venue, headquarters for an international business conference, or even a basketball court.

It makes sense for a space dubbed “the world’s busiest music arena” in 2008 to have a calendar that’s overflowing with genius.

Queens of the Stone Age, Louis Tomlinson, Michael Bublé, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Adele, and Fall Out Boy have all graced the O2 stage, but the NBA has also dropped by for a dribble, and the arena (temporarily renamed) was part of the London Olympic circuit, too.

Photographer: Graeme Dawes

Discover the Vibrant Rhythm of London’s Live Music

With all these venues showcasing the effortless way history and live music in London have become so seamlessly entangled, there’s never a moment when you’ll have to wonder what to do or where to go.

Whether you’re going to a once-in-a-lifetime event at the O2 or settling in for blackberry crumble and an extended jazz jam at the corner coffeehouse, talent, and stellar ambience abound.

While you’re there, round out your epic entertainment itinerary with tickets to a Cirque du Soleil show in London. It’s just the right amount of awe-inspiring weirdness and gravity-defying acrobatics to remind you that fun is around every corner and dreaming the unimaginable can be a way of life.

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