London’s West End is full of long-running classics such as 'The Lion King', 'Billy Elliot the Musical' and 'Les Misérables' - shows with slick production values and an involving story that offer guaranteed entertainment. And the choice just keeps getting better, with the arrival this year of new big hits such as 'Shrek the Musical' (see our video of actor Nigel Lindsay's dramatic transformation into the titular ogre above) and 'Matilda' (with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin).
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For a full guide to the best (and worst) shows in town, see our 'London musicals' page.
From the Gate to the Arcola, from the Menier Chocolate Factory to the Donmar Warehouse, there's arguably more varied and interesting theatre happening away from the official Theatreland venues. Attracting established writers and glittering new talent as well as great actors, these off-West End theatres are helping to create a golden age for drama on the London stage. The city’s fringe shows are also worth checking out.
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103 Gaunt St, SE1 6DP. Elephant & Castle tube.
Everybody should let their hair down at the Ministry of Sound once in their life. The club’s labyrinthine interior is housed inside an old bus depot, and you’ll find something to suit most tastes in the various bars, chillout rooms and dancefloors. With a huge roster of resident DJs and regular superstar guests dishing out trance, techno, house, electro and more, it’s impossible not to join the seething, ecstatic crowd.
Read more about the Ministry of Sound
London’s cabaret scene goes from strength to strength, with more underground venues and mainstream productions popping up on the radar every month. Most shows are short runs, so check our listings for the latest highlights but there are a few long-established nights too. At the Café de Paris, 'La Rève' on Friday and the Wam Bam Club on Saturday are raucous nights with high-quality acts and up-for-it crowds. Bête Noire at Madam JoJos offers a vintage-electro-rockabilly vibe and plenty of cracking performers. The Box
is the outrageous hot spot du jour for the deep-pocketed; other good bets include the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club (speciality: bonkers party nights), Bistrotheque (queer and experimental work), CellarDoor (often free shindigs), the Pheasantry (jazz singing) and the Soho Theatre Downstairs (London’s newest showcase space).
Find more events on our Cabaret page
Economic depression and speakeasies seem to go together like Bonnie and Clyde. They’re all over London, but you need to be in the know. The thrill of illegal drinking may be missing, but the dress code, entertainment, secret door policy and hard liquor are all present and correct. Try Shoreditch’s Nightjar or The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town; The Experimental Cocktail Club in Chinatown; or the visually arresting Bathhouse in the City.
Read our guide to London's best speakeasies
From atmospheric old-school gems like the Phoenix in East Finchley and the Rio in Dalston to the modern movie experience (with sofas, waitress service and lots of legroom) at the Everyman and its sister cinemas, London’s eclectic movie houses are the envy of the cinephile world. For exciting repertory cinema, check out the BFI Southbank, the Riverside, the Prince Charles and the Picturehouse chain. But go easy on the popcorn… no one wants to listen to you crunching your way through a classic pivotal scene.
See the latest cinema listings on our Film page
Also suggested by: The Londonist
21 New Globe Walk, SE1 9DT (020 7401 9919). London Bridge tube or rail.
A 20-minute stroll from the Southbank Centre east along the riverside walk will take you to Shakespeare’s Globe, a replica Elizabethan theatre, meticulously constructed using 400-year-old building techniques. There’s an exhibition on Shakespeare plus elegantly displayed costumes. And, of course, there are also fantastic productions of works by the Bard and his contemporaries.
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1a Oxendon St, SW1Y 4EE. Piccadilly Circus tube.
Like 'The Apprentice' for comedians, with the audience playing the part of Lord Sugar and a gong taking the place of the immortal line, ‘You’re fired’. Would-be funny folk take to the stage, and try not to get gonged off. Most slots for this club (on the last Monday of every month) are booked in advance, but if you’re feeling funny, there are a few audience spots up for grabs. Break a leg!
Read more about The Comedy Store
The Palm Tree, 127 Grove Rd, E3 5BH (020 8980 2918). Mile End tube or bus 8, 25 | Bethnal Green Working Men's Club 42-46 Pollard Row, E2 6NB. Bethnal Green tube.
At The Palm Tree pub in Mile End Park you’ll find a brilliant mix of lifelong East Enders and hipster students, boozing against a backdrop of old-school flock wallpaper and signed photos of light entertainers. A jazz band plays every weekend, with star turns from some of the locals, the old guys ask the girls to dance and if you’re lucky, it all turns into a singalong. Eat your heart out Albert Square. Want some alternative East End fun? Try the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club with its programme of quirky lounge, retro rock 'n' roll and fancy-dress burlesque parties.
Read more about Bethnal Green Working Men's Club
350 Brockley Rd, Lewisham, SE4 2BY. Crofton Park rail.
Jive Party night happens every third Saturday of the month at the Rivoli Ballroom, when the place is jumping with dance amateurs and enthusiasts throwing shapes to music from the live band. An early dance class for beginners means everyone can join in and the setting is fantastic, complete with chandeliers, plush red velvet furnishings and a sprung dancefloor.
Read more about the Rivoli Ballroom
372 Kennington Lane, SE11 5HY. Vauxhall tube or rail.
The decor in London’s oldest gay pub is a bit scuffed at the edges, but there’s nothing faded about the RVT's clientele. Saturday nights are the big ones, with queer performance outfit Duckie regularly providing the entertainment. Bar Wotever on Tuesday evenings is an open-mic session for up-and-coming queer talent and Friday is DJ club night.
Read more about the Royal Vauxhall Tavern
You don’t have to be religiously inclined to appreciate the ethereal majesty of pitch-perfect voices in a sublime setting. Head to one of London’s great cathedrals late afternoon to hear evensong. At St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey, evensong is every day at 5pm. At Southwark, the girls’ choir sings on Mondays and Thursdays, while the boys’ choir sings on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays (times vary).
See more classical music events on our Classical & Opera page
Sure, there’s Wembley and the O2 for the biggest names in rock, but for visceral atmosphere, head to London’s more intimate live venues. Legendary Soho jazz den Ronnie Scott’s isn’t quite the same without the haze of cigarette smoke, but still feels like a '50s beatnik hangout. Camden Town's Jazz Café and the famous 100 Club on Oxford Street are great for sound quality and atmosphere. Or head to the Roundhouse in Camden for both arty and big-name performances inside an (albeit glamorous) old tramshed.
Read our guide to London's best music venues