London’s Calling: Touring London’s Music Scene

From rock-all-night Camden to the oft-photographed Abbey Road, travel the city as you seek out London’s musical heritage

Classical, classic rock, punk, musicals, smash hits: It’s all here, and it’s always on display. London’s music scene is a living, breathing entity that has managed to continually reinvent itself. Over the decades, there have been some standouts—places that seem to define London’s music scene. So if you love music, these are the seven places to put on your London musical pilgrimage. Rock on!

Camden

Camden, London
Camden's alternative appeal draws Londoners and travelers to its music clubs—and to its very popular market. (©mariosp/flickr)

Camden is the borough best known for counter-culture, the kind of place you’d expect Amy Winehouse to live (and she did). It’s the kind of place that both punk and psychedelic rockers claim in their history, and the area is loaded with pubs and clubs where famous bands first started. The Electric Ballroom and the Roundhouse are among the venues where rock is solidly embedded. Expect some ringing in your ears (and your head) the morning after a visit to Camden.
Get there: The easiest point of access is the Camden Town tube station—or the Chalk Farm Road station if you’re heading to the Roundhouse.

Abbey Road Studios

Abbey Road crossing
The crossing is still there, so plan on getting the classic shot. (©MrJamesAckerley/flickr)

This is the famous EMI studio complex made most famous by The Beatles, but in its long history since it was founded in 1931, it has been the recording site of albums from bands ranging from Pink Floyd to Lady Gaga. Venture there by taking the tube to St. John’s Wood station and then walk to the studios, located at 3 Abbey Road in the city of Westminster. While you’re there, get the classic Beatles cover shot of yourself in the Abbey Road crosswalk. Yes, it’s a cliché, but so what?
Get there: Map yourself to 3 Abbey Road, Westminster, UK, or go via the St. John’s Wood tube station on the Jubilee line.

Denmark Street

A music shop on Denmark Street in London
Denmark Street (Tin Pan Alley) is still home to music shops. (©Geoff Kohl)

Right in the middle of London, sandwiched between SoHo and Theatreland (more on that below), is the former home of the UK’s music industry. If Denmark Street doesn’t ring a bell, you may know the colloquial name of Tin Pan Alley (although that has to be distinguished from New York’s own Tin Pan Alley). The musical history of Denmark Street started in the 1920s, and it’s where the Rolling Stones recorded their first album in 1964. Today, this little street remains tied to the music industry and is packed with small clubs and shops selling musical instruments.
Get there: The most direct Underground access is via the Tottenham Court Road tube station. From there, it’s a minute’s walk to the intersection of Denmark Street and Charing Cross Road, London.

The O2

Performance at the O2 Arena London
The biggest bands? They're at the biggest dedicated music arena—London's O2. (©close to 94/flickr)

Located on the banks of the Thames River, the O2 is London’s biggest dedicated music venue. It’s where the biggest-hit bands perform. It’s so big that it even holds the British Music Experience, an interactive music museum, and it’s so big you can take a walking tour (Up at the O2) that will bring you to an observation platform atop the stadium.
Get there: The North Greenwich tube station is the best access point to this venue, which is located on the Greenwich Peninsula that juts into the Thames River. For a more scenic method of travel than the tubes, try the Thames Clippers boat service departing from the London Eye pier. The 35-minute boat ride (offered on O2 event nights) lets you see the sights before you see the show.

Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall in London
The Royal Albert Hall is home to the BBC Proms (©p_a_h/flickr)

We’ll go ahead and say it: The Royal Albert is London’s most beautiful music venue. Dating back to 1871, it was the vision of Queen Victoria’s husband and consort, Prince Albert, who imagined a central hall for the arts. From films to concerts to theater (and the BBC Proms summer concerts), there is always something going on at the Royal Albert Hall—just the way it’s been since 1871, when it was completed 10 years after Prince Albert’s death. While you’re here, check out Hyde Park across the street and stroll around the area to see embassies, museums and colleges.
Get there: Map yourself to Kensington Gore, London — or take the tube to either Knightsbridge or High Street Kensington stations; they are equidistant to this wonderful hall.

Waterloo Bridge

Waterloo Bridge at the Queen's Walk in London
Travelers stroll below the end of Waterloo Bridge, made famous in the hit song "Waterloo Sunset." (©Geoff Kohl)

London’s most famous song may just be The Kinks’ 1967 single “Waterloo Sunset,” a huge hit across the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Europe (although not as much of a hit in the United States). Head to the Waterloo Bridge crossing the Thames River and soak up the atmosphere that inspired The Kinks. Whether the sun is high, setting or fully set, the bridge is equally cool for its postcard-like location in the center of London, with views to many of the city’s landmarks.
Get there: The Waterloo or the Temple tube stations are the best points of access from the Underground, or just stroll down the Queen’s Walk pedestrian pathway. Waterloo Bridge is mid-way on this popular Thames River stroll.

Theatreland

Shaftesbury Theatre
Shaftesbury Theatre, part of London's Theatreland. (©Geoff Kohl)

“The Mousetrap,” “The Lion King,” “Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera”: London’s West End area has become known as Theatreland, and the best place to take it in is on Shaftesbury Avenue. Much like New York’s Broadway area, Theatreland’s venues tend to favor musicals, hence the inclusion on this list of must-see music destinations in London. The Palace Theatre is arguably the most iconic theater in the district, but the venues in this district vary greatly, from small theaters seating fewer than 200 persons to large venues fitting a couple thousand. The area developed into a theater district in the 1800s, so part of the charm is catching a new show in a vintage theater.
Get there: Map yourself to the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road in London. Alternatively, you can take the tube to any one of the nearby stations: Leicester Square is probably most convenient, but Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus and Tottenham Court Road stations are all very close.

(Where's London publishing director Mark Elliott contributed to this article.)