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London Entertainment – alternatives beyond the West End blockbuster musicals

If you’re travelling in London as an un-tourist, you’re probably looking for entertainment that goes beyond the tourist-packed West End blockbuster musicals. Sit back and relax – we’ve got some different choices for you!

Theatre

London’s justly famous for theatre – the 50-odd major West End theatres cover everything from the stonking biggest musicals, through to Greek tragedy, through to cutting edge. 

But beyond the West End are hundreds of smaller theatres scattered around London, frequently with equally high quality performances – some of the best theatre is here. 

Some suggestions

  • Unusual theatresWilton’s Music Hall near Tower Hill is falling apart after a couple of hundred years abandoned, but being slowly restored. Fabulous place, lovely bar/cafe and often interesting theatre options. The Vaults and Network Theatre under Waterloo tend to have interesting options in the old railway tunnels. The Puppet Theatre Barge in Paddington is aimed at children, but can be fun. And, keeping with the boat theme, the Cutty Sark in London Bridge has occasional productions.
  • Pub theatres – lots of them around; personal favourites include Theatre 503 in Battersea and the King’s Head in Islington. Full list of pub theatres here to find your closest.
  • Open air theatres, when the weather’s right – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is the most famous, or there’s free (and correspondingly popular) theatre at the Scoop, Tower Bridge. An alternative to the tourist-full Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank is the nearby Rose.
  • Interactive / immersive theatre is getting increasingly popular, but is often hard to find out about. Some of the best ones come and go relatively quickly – and some of the, hmm, less strong ones are firmly on the touristy side and keep running forever. Keep an eye on Time Out and Design My Night immersive theatre listing.
  • Random, spur of the moment theatre – if you’re in town and fancy an entirely random thing, try the Soho Theatre – they have 3 small theatre spaces, each usually has a few different short shows per night.

Theatre listings

Other than the obvious ones that will turn up top of your search results, try:

  • ActDrop  – good classifications if you’re looking for a particular topic
  • LondonTheatre (yes, it’s one of the big ones, but it has better fringe listings than most)
  • OffWestEnd 

Cheap ticket sites

  • Tkts – is the site for the proper official half price booth in Leicester Square, cheap tickets for unsold seats for today/tomorrow. Mostly West End, but you might get lucky
  • Central Tickets – seatfilling tickets, used for plays etc that aren’t selling well so there’s a decent audience – very cheap tickets at £4 each, normally for stuff in the next few weeks. Usually has more fringe options.
  • TodayTix generally has decent offers on a fair few West End and fringe shows

Music

Another London point of pride. The biggest acts in the world come to stadia like Wembley and the O2 – and were often born in small pubs around London. And the range stretches far beyond current superstars. Whether you’re into Gregorian chants, opera, organ music, jazz, folk, symphonies or pretty much anything – London’s got you covered.

Music listings sites

Cinema

No-one visits London just to go to the cinema – but there are some great and quirky cinema options for when the weather’s bad. And – some of the outdoor ones are fun if the weather’s great.

  • Outdoor screeningsRooftop cinema club (usually based in pubs), and Luna Cinema (watch from your own rubber boat!).  SecretLondon has more listings
  • Cheapest central cinema is Prince Charles – just off Leicester Square, tickets from £2, and the films vary from recent blockbusters, to overnight arty series, through to “Singalongs”  where the audience dresses up and sings along to classics like Grease, Sound of Music, etc.
  • Luxury options – the Electric cinema in Portobello has beds, and the Everyman Screen on the Green in Islington has waiters delivering food to your seat
  • BFI Southbank’s IMAX is the largest screen in the UK; varies from blockbusters to arty.
  • Event cinemas – these are more occasional events rather than regular cinemas, but worth checking in case something is on while you visit as they offer pretty unique experiences.
    • The Edible Cinema does occasional events which include food and drink options themed on the film – the Hallowe’en screening of ‘Silence of the Lambs’ had, hmm, interesting options.
    • While Secret Cinema is firmly on the expensive side at about £50 a ticket – it’s worth it, if they’re doing a film you love.

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