Whether you prefer intimate shows from unsigned up-and-coming acts or massive stage shows, the diverse music culture nestled inside London has something to offer every music lover. In 2021, Radio X compiled a list of the most musical towns and cities in the UK. London may have missed out on the top spot to Liverpool, who gave the world the Beatles, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Wombats. Yet, music culture wouldn’t be the same without London’s contributions.
Just a few artists responsible for London’s status as an influential city for music include Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Stormzy, Adele, Queen, David Bowie and The Clash. Rather than getting caught up in the history of music in London, embrace the present and support the up-and-coming artists. Just because they haven’t reached legendary status doesn’t mean they boast any less talent!
This list of the 16 top music venues in London will cover the most iconic music venues where music history was made and where the gig listings are always bustling with events from a diverse array of artists. No matter how niche or alternative your music tastes are, you will find a community of like-minded music lovers in the confines of London. Arena and stadium gig tickets may stretch up to £100, but if your student budget doesn’t go that far, you don’t have to sit inside with Netflix! Free gigs often crop up around the city, while in the smaller venues, gig tickets cost as little as £5. To search for gigs that interest you, use the London event guides on Skiddle, All Gigs and Stereoboard; these platforms will also enable you to purchase tickets safely and quickly.
The 16 Top Music Venues in London
Alexandra Palace, sometimes known as Ally Pally, isn’t one of the biggest music venues in London, but it is one of the most revered amongst music-inclined revellers. Regardless of which band or artist you see in the venue, the Grade-II palace will add to the atmosphere of the experience, as it has done for the last 150 years. Before moving onto bigger music venues, Alexandra Palace provided a stage for everyone from The Stone Roses to The Who to Jay-Z to Bjork. To make the most of your trip, arrive early and enjoy a drink in the beer garden, which also provides panoramic views of London.
Capacity: 10,400 | Location: Alexandra Palace
With its circular stage, The Roundhouse in Camden is an architecturally stunning location to catch a gig, stand-up comedy show, spoken-word poetry performance, circus show or cabaret event. During the 70s, the now infamous building was repurposed from an array of railway engine repair sheds into one of the best-known venues in the UK, which is on many artists’ venue bucket lists. Some of the most famous names to flood the stage with talent includes The Ramones, Pink Floyd, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix.
Capacity: 3,300 | Location: Camden
The Royal Albert Hall
Only some music venues in the world can match the historical grandeur of The Royal Albert Hall. There are few restrictions on the kind of performances that take place here. Yet, the line-ups are typically filled with jazz ensembles playing late-night shows and symphony orchestras adding their neo-classic touch to soundtracks from culturally significant films and TV shows, including Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. The venue has recently celebrated its 150th anniversary; performances from Eric Clapton, Gladys Knight and Bonobo marked the occasion.
Capacity: 5,544 | Location: Kensington
Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Even though Shepherd’s Bush Venue began as a TV studio theatre, it is more than fit for purpose as a music venue, which has been affirmed time after time with countless awards attached to the music venue. Buy a ticket, and you will see the venue where the Seattle grunge pioneers played their debut show and where Oasis played their 10th-anniversary show. Whether you want to get as close as possible to the artists and be a few feet away from your musical heroes or kick back on the two balconies, Shepherd’s Bush Empire has created unforgettable memories for many.
Capacity: 2,000 | Location: Shepherd’s Bush
The Barbican is one of the UK’s most famous Brutalist buildings; be sure to look around the monumental building, which comprises multiple art spaces, a cinema and an apartment complex that architecture fans call home. From contemporary artists recreating iconic albums, such as Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits, to classical concerts, there is always something to look forward to at the Barbican.
Capacity: 1,943 | Location: Central London
Part music venue, part nightclub, part traditional English pub, Camden Assembly, just a short walk away from Chalk Farm tube station, is an iconic haunt for budding independent artists. Typically, there are a few rock, pop, metal, indie and punk gigs every week at Camden Assembly around the club nights, which cater to fans of alt-indie, hip-hop and 90s party hits. Now and again, you will see famous names joining the roster of club DJs. Always keep your eyes peeled for updates to the gig listings.
Capacity: 400 | Location: Camden
KOKO is yet another music venue in Camden responsible for adding to the bustling culture of the district. KOKO has been a legendary venue since it opened as a theatre in 1900; after its major overhaul in 2004, it has become revered as one of the premier venues in London. Yet, it has been touch and go for the venue in recent years. In 2020 a fire tore through the music venue, adding to the strain of the financial impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns. The newly renovated venue was opened to the public again in April 2022; the indie band Arcade Fire hit the stage as part of the grand reopening, following in the footsteps of many legendary acts, including Amy Winehouse, Coldplay, Kanye West, Lady Gaga and Grace Jones.
Capacity: 1,410 | Location: Camden
Paper Dress Vintage
If you are looking for a quirky and kitsch venue to witness some lesser-known bands, there are very few better music venue destinations than Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney. By day, it allows visitors to browse vintage fashion, home decor, and records. By night, the space transforms into a fit-for-purpose music venue, which tends to cater to fans of rockabilly, rock ‘n roll, indie, post-punk, blues, soul and reggae. The venue may be minuscule compared to the arenas and stadiums which accommodate tens of thousands of fans, but that has not stopped legendary names from plugging in their amps in the venue. The Fat White Family, Adam and the Ants, and the Noisettes have all performed here to lucky crowds who are probably still reminiscing.
Capacity: 180 | Location: Hackney
Staying true to its name, Electric Ballroom provides an electrifying party atmosphere, a far cry from how the venue started on the streets of Camden. Eighty years ago, the venue was known as one of the best Irish clubs in Camden. During the 80s and the 90s, it was integral to the indie, punk and new wave movements. Most of the best music venues in London can boast several famous names in their list of past events. However, for a small 1,500-cap venue, it is impressive that Joy Division, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Smiths, Foals, The Clash and Blur all passed through here.
Capacity: 1,500 | Location: Camden
Servant Jazz Quarters
As the saying goes, the best things come in small packages; that can be applied to music venues, especially Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston. While there are far bigger Jazz venues in London, this iconic haunt should be on every Jazz fan’s bucket list. Every night of the week, Servant Jazz Quarters, also known as SJG, has jazz troubadours providing the soundtrack to a sophisticated evening. To make the venue all the more tempting, there are happy hour deals from 6 PM – 8 PM, making it more affordable to get through the timeless cocktail menu of Negronis, Margaritas, Mezcal Old Fashioneds and Mai Tais.
Capacity: 100 | Location: Dalston
Union Chapel is a multi-award-winning venue in London that finds multiple ways of serving the community. When the biggest names in the music industry, including Elton John, Tom Jones, Noel Gallagher, and Amy Winehouse, aren’t filling the venue to its ornately picturesque rafters, the Union Chapel is also a fully functional church which regularly hosts mass. The grade-I listed building also provides a base for The Margins Project, which supports people experiencing homelessness, isolation, and crisis in Islington. It is almost unthinkable that the Union Chapel faced demolition thirty years ago.
Capacity: 900 | Location: Islington
For music fans of the alternative inclination, The Underworld in Camden is the hotspot to hit. When up-and-coming rock, metal, indie and pop-punk artists aren’t performing to well-attended crowds, alternative club nights are drawing crowds from all areas around London. A friendly like-minded community amasses around the events at The Underworld; while it was some time ago that Queens of the Stone Age, Sum 41, The Offspring, Foo Fighters, Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins played here, there is no shortage of talented acts on the roster.
Capacity: 500 | Location: Camden
The MOTH Club in Hackney, East London, may look like a dated events hall which looks more fitting for a 70th birthday party – but don’t judge this book by its cover. Its ironically retro décor adds to the ambience when internationally acclaimed artists entertain their crowds. Not so long ago, Suede performed a secret gig here, and the landmark with its trademark gold glittering tinsel curtain behind the stage is often chosen for anniversary and launch party gigs. If the MOTH Club is good enough for Lady Gaga to perform in her early years, it is good enough for a night out for any London music fan!
Capacity: 400 | Location: Hackney
If you want to experience the best of Brick Lane, head to Werkhaus, which has a packed events schedule of performances, raves, DJs, and live music. The always-friendly location has a unique way of approaching club nights. For their Sweat club night, they recreate a 90s rave atmosphere by politely requesting no one use their phones in the club to respect the privacy of the attendees while they dance the night away. The quality of the sound systems is sometimes compromised in smaller venues, but that isn’t a concern at Werkhaus with its Funkiton-One system.
Capacity: 300 | Location: Spitalfields
The Shacklewell Arms
The Shaklewell Arms is a vital asset to the grassroots music scene in London. Tucked away in the back corner of a pub lies an intimate music venue, which makes for an electric atmosphere, regardless of how well-attended the shows are. If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of all of the hottest new indie bands, become a regular at The Shacklewell Arms, and keep up to date with the events listings. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard hit the stage at The Shacklewell Arms just before they played Alexandra Palace not too long ago. The music venue has also hosted Vance Joy and Haim.
Capacity: 250 | Location: Dalston
No list of the best music venues in London would be complete without mentioning Wembley Stadium, which has the largest crowd capacities in the world. Unlike many of the other budget-friendly venues included on this list, you still have the opportunity to see all of the biggest international music acts. In recent years, PINK, the Spice Girls and Fleetwood Mac have all chosen the 6th largest music venue in the world. In 2023, Harry Styles, Def Leppard and Motley Crue will provide some of the most anticipated events on their tour.
Capacity: 90,000 | Location: Wembley