The United Kingdom has an exceptional live music scene, and London is always at the forefront of the best musical trends. It’s the heart and soul of the country’s musical talent, and it’s a stage where the world’s best bands and artists come to play to packed crowds.
London has some incredible music venues, ranging from the glamorous arenas of the O2 and Wembley where famous stars play to thousands of people, to the grimy and dark back rooms of pubs in Camden or Shoreditch where rising stars begin their careers.
Many of London’s smaller venues have a lot of history behind them too, and there are few other cities in the world that can match the British capital for musical heritage. London is one of the best cities in the world for live music. Here are our favourite venues to see live music in London.
The O2 Arena is the second largest music venue and indoor events space in the United Kingdom. Since the mid-2000s, it’s been playing host to some of the biggest tours and artists in the world.
This is a huge venue – in the UK, only the Manchester Arena is bigger – and The O2 Arena has become one of the most iconic live music venues in the world, since the old Millennium Dome was repurposed and turned into an events space.
The arena hosts big world tours and can house thousands of screaming fans, both seated and standing, making this one of the best and the biggest musical experiences in London.
The SSE Arena, Wembley
The SSE Arena, Wembley is London’s second-largest indoor live music venue, after The O2 Arena. It’s one of the best places in the capital to see headlining acts from around the world.
Wembley Arena is one of the city’s most iconic music venues, and it’s found in the shadow of the equally iconic Wembley Stadium, where live music events are held throughout the year.
This is a historic place, as the building dates back to the 1930s when it was originally built as a swimming pool. Since the late 1940s, it’s been used as a music and events venue, and over the years many historic names have been on the bill, from the Beatles to the Spice Girls.
Another classic live music arena to visit in London is the Eventim Apollo. Formerly known as the Hammersmith Apollo, it’s located in the west London district of Hammersmith. Since 1932, the Apollo has been hosting music and other entertainment events to packed crowds.
The Hammersmith Apollo is set in a heritage-listed building, and it’s one of the most classic live music venues in the capital. The Apollo has had various different names and sponsors over the years, but it’s always kept its brilliant atmosphere and feel. With a capacity of only around 5,000 people, the performances here are much more intimate and personal than performances in larger indoor arenas such as the O2 or SSE Arena, Wembley.
The Dublin Castle
Camden Town is well known for its alternative, trendsetting vibes, and the music scene in the north London district is second to none in the capital. Camden is the place to visit for iconic and historic music venues, and it’s the place to visit to find the next big acts before they become famous.
One of Camden’s most famous live music venues is The Dublin Castle. This small pub is hidden away in the heart of Camden Town and is often referred to as the home of Britpop. Many famous bands and musicians have played within the cramped confines of The Dublin Castle, before going on to become world famous.
Madness was the first band to really bring the Dublin Castle fame, while other acts that have passed through the doors here include Amy Winehouse and Blur.
The Old Blue Last
Another London pub that always seems to be at the forefront of the capital’s music scene is The Old Blue Last. Set on the hipster streets of Shoreditch, few other pubs in the capital have such a long history and such a reputation as this.
The Old Blue Last is owned by Vice Media, and they regularly host parties and live music events. The pub dates back over 300 years and has long been serving London’s patrons with round after round of ale and beer.
The pub and venue hosts live music acts almost every night of the week, and many of the shows are free of charge to watch. It’s a great venue to try and catch the next big bands. Big names that have played here before they made it big include the likes of the Arctic Monkeys and Florence and the Machine.
If rock and pop music isn’t your thing, then London has plenty of live music venues catering to different genres. If you’re into jazz, then head on over to Camden Town where you can enjoy the delights of the famous Jazz Cafe.
For jazz lovers, few other places in London can match the Jazz Cafe for soul and performances here are always intimate. The Jazz Cafe can only host around 400 people, and it’s a great experience listening to jazz in such a small setting.
The Jazz Cafe has also branched out into other music genres too, and they host reggae, hip hop and blues artists too, amongst many others.
If intimate live music venues are what you’re searching for in London, then look no further than Cafe Oto. Located in the heart of Dalston – a district that’s famous for its music and venues – Cafe Oto is a simple cafe and restaurant during the day, but by night it turns into a beautiful live music space.
Cafe Oto is often voted to be one of London’s coolest live music venues because nothing beats it for either charm or grace. You’ll find jazz artists and electronic acts playing to small crowds at Cafe Oto, while the venue also hosts regular workshops and cultural exchanges when they aren’t hosting performances.
Royal Albert Hall
Located in South Kensington, the Royal Albert Hall is one of London’s most highly regarded and well-known music venues. This is musical history at its finest, because Queen Victoria personally opened the venue in 1871. Since then, it’s played host to many of the country’s best concerts and musical performances.
The Royal Albert Hall is best known for hosting the Proms, a classical music event that’s held every year and is broadcast across the world. The historic building can host around 5000 people, in tiered seating stands, and even if you can’t get hold of tickets to an event here, you can still join guided tours of the fascinating building, to learn more about the intriguing history of the Royal Albert Hall.
Another classic and historic music venue to visit in London is Alexandra Palace, referred to affectionately as the ‘Ally Pally’. This iconic venue was originally opened in 1875, and it was intended to be a theatre. It was a theatre that was far ahead of its time too, and it revolutionised the Victorian entertainment industry.
The wider Alexandra Palace entertainment complex has several different entertainment spaces, and there are theatres and performance venues within this grand Victorian-era palace. As well as live music events, which are held in suitably Victorian climes within the heritage-listed building.
It’s a beautiful place to see concerts, musical performances and other shows and events while you are visiting London.
In Camden Town, the Roundhouse is one of north London’s most historic music venues. It might not be as well known as the Royal Albert Hall or have the prestige of Alexandra Palace, but the Roundhouse has history enough to match both. Being in the heart of Camden, the venue is known for hosting artists and festivals throughout the years, including the likes of The Doors and David Bowie, and the BBC’s Electric Proms.
The Roundhouse is a heritage-listed building that dates back to the 1850s. This was never a purpose-built events arena; the Roundhouse was originally built to house a railway turntable. After this was abandoned, the building has been used variously as a warehouse and storehouse, until it was repurposed as an events space in the 20th century. It’s a Camden classic and a fantastic place for live music events.
The Camden Assembly
Camden Town is absolutely packed with excellent live music venues, and another great place to visit in the district is The Camden Assembly. This classic Camden venue has recently had a name change and was formerly known for years as the Barfly.
The Camden Assembly is really just a small pub, but it’s earned its rightful place amongst the legendary live music venues of London for hosting some of the country’s most up and coming artists before they hit the world stage.
There’s a small capacity of just 200 people, and it’s one of the most atmospheric places to experience live bands in London. When it was known as Barfly, the pub hosted such greats as Coldplay and other Britpop sensations when they were still making it onto the music scene.
The Blues Kitchen, Camden
While you’re in Camden, you can also visit The Blues Kitchen, a legendary restaurant that hosts some of the best blues evenings in the capital.
There are several branches around the capital now, in places like Shoreditch and Brixton too, but the Camden branch is easily the most well known. The restaurant focuses on serving excellent food that’s inspired by the culinary traditions of America’s deep south, and you can enjoy everything from slow-cooked brisket to huge servings of chicken wings.
The Blues Kitchen hosts regular blues and jazz artists through the week and on weekends too, and you’ll find many famous and up-and-coming stars playing at the restaurant. If you love good food and good music, then there’s nowhere better to spend the evening than the Blues Kitchen.
One of the most unique live music venues in London is found in Islington, and it’s unusual because it’s also a fully functioning church.
As a church, Union Chapel dates back to 1874. In recent years, it’s earned fame by hosting music events and also for caring for the homeless through its charity projects.
While regular church services are held here, the building is transformed at night into a beautiful live music space, and bands and performers play within the atmospheric stonewalls of this Victorian-era church.
O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Another classic London venue catering to larger crowds and bigger bands is O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Dating back to 1903, this was originally designed to be a theatre, before being taken over by the BBC to be used as a filming location for different television shows. In the 1990s, the venue was transformed into a live music space, and since then it’s become a well-known destination for quality bands and performers.
This is still a small venue compared to the big arenas though, and O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire can only hold around 2,000 spectators. That doesn’t stop big bands joining the bill though, with past performances including David Bowie, Pearl Jam and Mumford and Sons. It’s a legendary place and one of the best live music venues to visit in London.