More Shark Guides
London has long been a European center for theatre, literature, and art. Today, these traditions live on in the form of historical landmarks and contemporary cultural dynamos. Visitors to the city have a huge spread of options before them for checking out local culture, so learn about some of the highlights to begin planning your London experience.
London has a seriously impressive and varied theatre scene. For the best of the best, look no further than West End theatre, London's Broadway equivalent. Seeing a West End show is a must-do for anyone visiting London, and it's easy to discover why the area is known as "Theatreland." Over 40 theatres reside here, such as the legendary Apollo, Adelphi, and London Palladium, plus a ton of other assorted entertainment venues, restaurants, galleries, and pubs. Top shows around the world such as Sweeney Todd, Wicked, Chicago, War Horse, and Les Miserables can be caught in the West End, with some of London's finest actors live onstage. The area represents the best of London's theatre, and also some of the best in the world.
The O2 Theatre is also a great place to catch a show. Located in the borough of Greenwich in South London, the O2 Arena is a massive entertainment venue, with spaces for sports events, concerts, film screenings, and even a British music Hall of Fame. The theatre is a huge 1800-seat space, and hosts a lot of big-name tours and pop culture acts.
And no tour of London's theatre scene is complete without a visit to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. This is a modern recreation of the original Globe Theatre, built in 1599 and home to Shakespeare's plays during his lifetime. The new Globe Theatre is located at Bankside on the south side of the Thames, just west of the Southwark Bridge. The beautiful complex is an educational resource and functioning theatre, focusing on, of course, the work of The Bard himself.
London was a haven for rock 'n roll in its classic heyday, and the city is still churning out international talent. Trolling the city's live music clubs is still a great way to experience nightlife and the London music scene.
For big concert venues, there is a great mix of classical and contemporary. O2's Shepherd's Bush Empire, for example, is an intimate century-old venue with its original atmosphere intact, and is considered one of London's best music venues. It hosts international and British artists, and mostly focuses on indie or alternative acts in a variety of genres.
Other popular music venues are Royal Albert Hall, located south of Kensington Gardens in central London and host to many classical performances including by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Royal Festival Hall, one of the grand venues part of the South Bank Centre.
London is also a great place to catch the fun of a music festival. The massive classical music festival known as The Proms takes place every spring around Royal Albert Hall, while contemporary festivals such as Udderbelly (at the Southbank Centre), the Wireless Festival, and Lovebox Weekender (both summertime events) bring international headliners to the city for multi-day concerts.
London's comedy scene has grown into a strong, global leader, and visitors can easily check out that famous British humour, plus international visitors, at a variety of venues.
Near Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square is The Comedy Store, a huge driving force in the development of London's comedy scene and still one of the top clubs in the city. Founded in the 1970s, The Comedy Store has daily alternative stand-up events, improv shows from their resident troupe, and special events from visiting comics.
Other great options include the 99 Club, a chain of comedy clubs with an emphasis on a fun, friendly atmosphere. Locations include clubs at Leicester Square, Oxford Circus, and Islington. Another club devoted exclusively to comedy is the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch. Other top, cutting-edge comedy nights include the monthly Night at the Chapel at Union Chapel in Shoreditch, the Soho Theatre, and Feature Spot at the 100 Club on Oxford Street.
Exploring galleries and art museums is another great way to soak up the high culture of London. To browse an array of independent galleries from local artists, check out the art districts of Shoreditch, Broadway Market, and some areas of South Bank. For art museums, there are also several world-class options. A go-to for visitors is the National Portrait Gallery, which contains over 175,000 portraits of important British figures from the 16th century to present day. The gallery offers free admission, and is located at St. Martin's Place at the north edge of Trafalgar Square.
Art aficionados will also enjoy the Saatchi Gallery, a contemporary art museum on King's Road in Chelsea, about a 10-minute walk from Victoria rail station. The gallery is free, and showcases a fascinating array of cutting-edge work from up-and-coming contemporary artists. Massive sculptural installations, photography exhibits, and graphic art populate the halls of the gallery, housed inside the Duke of York HQ building.
The Tate art collections also have two London locations - Tate Britain in Millbank and Tate Modern in Bankside. The Tate Modern gallery resides inside an abandoned power station, and focuses on international art from 1900 onwards. Tate Britain, on the other hand, functions as the national gallery of British art and draws on the world's greatest collection of British art. Pieces from about 1500 up to today are on display, plus special exhibitions and competitions for contemporary art.