A Guide to London Music Venues
- Wembley Stadium is London’s biggest music venue, playing host to major entertainment stars every summer.
- The O2 Arena, meanwhile, is the busiest, hosting hundreds of events each year.
- The Hammersmith Apollo and the Brixton Academy are both famous for attracting the hottest rock and pop acts.
- Consider staying away from the corporate venues and hitting London’s smaller venues in order to catch local talent and the next big thing.
- Camden Town is arguably London’s live music hotspot and is home to two of the city’s top venues, namely the Roundhouse and the Dublin Castle.
- NME consistently rates the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch as the best place in London to see fresh talent.
- Most venues now sell tickets through major websites such as Ticketmaster or Viagogo.
London is one of the world’s top cities for live music and it has the venues to match. From vast arenas to intimate rooms above pubs, the capital plays host to thousands of gigs every year. Here’s just a small selection of the places you can check out everyone from globe-trotting megastars to local singer-songwriters.
Formerly the Millennium Dome, this east-London venue was given a new lease of life following a multi-million pound transformation into London’s busiest music venue. As well as the main 20,000-capacity Arena, which has welcomed acts including Coldplay and Bruce Springsteen over the past few years, the O2 complex is also home to the more-intimate indigO2 concert venue.
London’s biggest live music venue, Wembley Stadium can hold more than 80,000 people. As well as famously playing host to Live Aid, the stadium has welcomed many of the world’s biggest stars over the years, with the likes of Madonna, Queen, Genesis and Pink Floyd having enjoyed sell-out runs here. The majority of events take place over the summer months.
Sitting across from the stadium, Wembley Arena has been used as a major concert venue for decades. Following a 2006 refurbishment, it has a capacity of around 13,000. Acts who have performed there in recent years include P!nk, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Pearl Jam, while the venue is also used for sporting events and conferences. Look out for the ‘Square of Fame’ outside the main entrance, where acts that have played a role in the history of Wembley Arena are awarded bronze plaques.
Alongside Earl’s Court, the Hammersmith Apollo is west London’s leading live music venue, having been hosting concerts since the 1930s. It has played host to most of popular music’s biggest acts including the Beatles, Johnny Cash, David Bowie and, more recently, the White Stripes. While usually associated with rock music, since the 1990s, it has also started welcoming chart pop acts, as well as leading comedians.
As with the Hammersmith Apollo, this south London venue is legendary among music fans. With a capacity of just under 5,000 the venue is consistently named as one of the UK’s finest places to see bands by the NME and is particularly famed for hosting rock and indie acts from around the world.
Aside from the large, corporate establishments that host the world’s biggest acts, London is also home to numerous smaller live music venues, where you can catch local acts and potentially the next-big-thing in intimate surroundings. Some of the best-loved of London’s smaller venues include;
The Dublin Castle, Camden Town
Originally made famous by Madness in the 1970s, the Dublin Castle is regarded as one of the top places in London to see the ‘next big thing’. Coldplay, the Libertines and, most famously, Amy Winhouse, have played to just a few dozen people here. The north London institution hosts concerts featuring at least three acts almost every night of the year, with entrance fees kept low.
The Roundhouse, Camden Town
Also situated in Camden Town, the Roundhouse is a Grade II-listed former railway shed that has been converted into one of London’s top smaller music venues. While it welcomes major acts, it is also relatively intimate, with a capacity of fewer than 3,000.
Half Moon, Putney
From its roots as a folk-music venue in the 1960s, this south-west London establishment is now famed for the varied nature of the acts it hosts. While the occasional big band will turn up for an intimate show, it’s mainly a place to spot fresh local talent in intimate and historic surroundings.
The Old Blue Last, Shoreditch
Something of an institution among NME readers, the east-London Old Blue Last is best-known for hosting concerts by indie acts on the verge of great things. The good news is that most gigs are free, or at the very most just a few pounds, though the venue can reach fill-up early, particularly later in the week.
How to Get Tickets
The days of only being able to buy tickets from the venue itself are long gone. Instead, online ticket agencies are the best places to both search for gigs and purchase tickets. The O2 Arena, for example, Wembley and the Hammersmith Apollo and among the many venues that take bookings through Ticketmaster.
Other good places to snap up tickets for gigs at London venues include LiveNation, Viagogo, though expect to pay a booking charge for buying online. The website Seatwave, meanwhile, allows you to buy and sell tickets to or from other music fans.
While not illegal, buying tickets from touts outside venues is largely frowned upon by the music industry and fans in general. If you do decide to go down this route, beware of counterfeits and note that you will have no legal rights should the ticket you buy from a tout not be genuine.
- For more information, read the Guardian’s guide to the top ten live music venues in London here.
- Love music? Read our guide to Spotify.