London hearts body art. But since you can’t try before you buy, it’s pretty important to find the right tattoo artist before going under the needle.
Luckily, there are loads of ace tattoo studios in London, from iconic spots to tiny parlours you’ve probably never heard of, which means enthusiasts are spoilt for choice when it comes to getting an inking. Whether you’re looking for traditional or tribal art, portraiture or watercolour, here’s our pick of London’s best tattoo studios.
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Go for: a fresh take on traditional
The light contemporary space at Vagabond is somewhat typical of Hackney stores, but very unlike traditional tattoo studios - and that’s exactly why it’s so appealing. The vibe at Vagabond Tattoo is classic tattooing meets East End art gallery, and the designs are clean and original. The resident artists each specialise in different genres, including traditional, illustration and geometric, and have their own merch too.
Go for: traditional done well
Frith Street has been custom designing quality work since 2004, building one of the best reputations in London's tattoo scene. Alongside an incredible stable of artists, their guest spots are the best in the city. Some of the best tattooists in the world (like Chad Koeplinger) regularly drop by the shop - the only problem is deciding who to choose.
Go for: tribal, oriental masterpieces
Serene tattooing sounds like an oxymoron, but it's an apt description when you take a look at Nikole Lowe’s Zen-like tattoo sanctuary above Curtain Road. Spacious, light and sophisticated, it’s the opposite of garish tattoo shops. The walls boast cross-continental curiosities with a bohemian and exotic twist and there’s a multi-ethnic shrine in one corner, representing the studio’s unique design flair. You’ll have to be patient, however: the waiting lists here can be substantial.
Go for: western or oriental iconography
Everything about The Family Business is sharp, from its boutiquey location in Exmouth Market to its suited and booted staff and vintage swing soundtrack. Its blood red interior adorned with Roman Catholic imagery is inspired by owner Mo Coppoletta's Italian heritage and contrasts with the bold Japanese privacy screens separating the work area from the waiting room.
Go for: a taste of true traditional
Soho's longest running tattoo parlour is also London's most rockin' and unpretentious. Nestled in a suitably sleazy alley, every inch of its walls are covered in music memorabilia and rows of vibrant tattoo flashes. Continuing it's punk legacy, the shop has maintained original fittings and neon sign - Diamond Jacks is a quintessential tattoo studio.
Go for: old school meets new school
Lal Hardy's Muswell Hill studio is one of London's most famous, offering a wide range of styles, from traditional to oriental to new school, and this is probably why they've attracted so many celebrity customers (we're looking at you Dave Grohl). It's not as chic as some other studios, but it's been open for over two decades so it's one of the most dependable.
Go for: traditional, new school
This once purple corner shop has matured over the years and grown into a sleek, beautifully decorated studio. What looks like the world's smallest tattoo museum sits unassumingly in reception, while a huge collection of oddities and curios also surround the tattoo area, watching peacefully over all who pass through. It's a surprising gem tucked away from Camden's main strip.
Go for: bright or cute new school
Caledonian Road parlour Jolie Rouge is among the more underground in London, but it's held in high regard by the city's tattoo creatives. The studio has a streetwise approach, matching the graffiti influences prevalent in some of the work, and the decor is all opulent wallpaper and gothic candelabras inside. What's more, they're willing to try what others turn down.
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Go for: traditional meets oriental
You may mistake George Bone’s solo studio for the set of a Meat Loaf video, with its plentiful skeletons, pentagrams and gothic drapery, but he's been operating his successful tattoo business out of west London since 1973. Extra kudos for the 'monastically-themed' toilet, which comes 'complete with chanting monks'. Bone’s is definitely one for the seasoned rocker.
Go for: greyscale illustration and portraiture
A stones throw from Kings Cross station, this studio has a classic, sophisticated aesthetic. Co-founded by esteemed London tattooist Snappy Gomez, who specialises in black and grey realism, Kings Cross Tattoo Parlour first opened its doors in 2009 and has been decorating the city’s canvas ever since. A variety of styles are also covered by the rest of KX staff, including some particularly captivating black work that’ll make you say ooooh (and then probably ow).
Go for: unusual illustrations
As relative newcomers to the London tattoo scene (2015), you’d think that Through My Third Eye would have a difficult time living up to the reputations of longer established parlours, but their unique perspective is a dream for committed tattoo lovers. A lot of the designs here are either black and grey or black work, with slim lines and incredibly intricate detailing. All in all, they’re a pretty dynamic studio, with an emphasis on original artwork.
Go for: colourful watercolours
Bending the rules when it comes to style, Cross the Line’s personality is bold and bright. Their signature look is colour and lots of it, with graffiti influence and just a touch of the abstract. The workspace is light and clean, the atmosphere relaxed but not unprofessional. Plus, their cover-up consultation service means you can finally hide that terrible, old, misspelt tat you got when you were 18.
Go for: blackwork, cross-hatched designs
Tucked away in an old factory in leafy Stroud Green, this north london parlour is very easy on the eye. Forget all tattoo shop cliches about dingy decor, you won’t find any of that here. The contemporary and airy space is more calm than clinical, so it’s particularly good for nervous inkers. The custom designs at Parliament Tattoo are by appointment only, but if you want to bring a mate, there’s a pretty comfy-looking sofa for them to chill out on.
Go for: intricate designs at agreeable prices
Designed with peak client comfort in mind, South City Market is perhaps one of London's most innovative tattoo studios. Working only in black and grey, a carefully-selected, ultra-talented team of artists (led by Ricky Williams) work on an appointment-only basis, cracking out beautifully intricate designs at surprisingly affordable prices. Ink-redible.
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