144 Best Performing Arts Venues in England

Aldeburgh Festival

Fodor's choice

East Anglia's most important arts festival, and one of the best known in Britain, is the Aldeburgh Festival. It's held for two weeks in June in the small village of Snape, 5 miles west of Aldeburgh. Founded by Benjamin Britten, the festival concentrates on music but includes exhibitions, poetry readings, and lectures. A handful of events are aimed specifically at children.

Barbican Centre

City of London Fodor's choice

Opened in 1982, The Barbican is an enormous brutalist concrete maze that Londoners either love or hate—but its importance to the cultural life of the capital is beyond dispute. At the largest performing arts center in Europe, you could listen to Elgar, see 1960s photography, and catch German animation with live accompaniment, all in one day. The main concert hall, known for its acoustics, is most famous as the home of the London Symphony Orchestra. The Barbican is also a frequent host to the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Architecture tours take place several times a week.

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Bath Festival

Fodor's choice

Held over 17 days in May, the Bath Festival is a multi-arts celebration of literature and music in and around the city. Events include classical, jazz, and world-music concerts, dance performances, literary talks, and exhibitions, many in the Assembly Rooms and Bath Abbey.

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BFI Southbank

South Bank Fodor's choice

With the best repertory programming in London, these four cinemas run by the British Film Institute are in effect a national film center. More than 1,000 titles are screened each year, with art-house and foreign-language new releases, restored classics and silents, experimental and niche interest works, and short films favored over recent Hollywood blockbusters. The center also has a gallery, bookshop, events, and a "mediatheque" where visitors can watch film and television from the National Archive for free (closed Monday). The Riverfront Bar and Kitchen offers dining with views, while the BFI Bar is informal and buzzy and the BFI Café offers coffee and light snacks. This is one of the venues for the BFI London Film Festival, though throughout the year there are minifestivals, seminars, and guest speakers.

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

City Centre Fodor's choice

Set within an ultramodern building next to the staggering contemporary design of Birmingham’s library, the revered Birmingham Repertory Theatre is one of England’s oldest (founded in 1913) and most esteemed theater companies. It's equally at home performing modern or classical works.

Bluecoat

City Centre Fodor's choice

The city center's oldest building is now a creative hub encompassing contemporary visual arts, live art, literature, music, and dance, along with a café and bistro.

Brewery Arts Centre

Fodor's choice

A contemporary complex in a converted brewery, the Brewery Arts Centre includes a gallery, theater, cinemas, and workshop spaces. The Vats Bar, an on-site freehouse, serves up a tasty selection of pizzas and hearty mains, as well as a variety of craft beers and wine. In November, the Mountain Film Festival presents productions aimed at climbers and walkers.

Brighton Fringe

Fodor's choice

One of the largest fringe festivals in the world—and second only to the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland—this four-week-long arts extravaganza sees hundreds of stand-up, sketch comedy, music, dance, and circus acts descend on the city every May.

Cambridge Folk Festival

Fodor's choice

Spread over four days in late July or early August at Cherry Hinton Hall, the Cambridge Folk Festival attracts major international folk singers and groups.

Curzon Soho

Soho Fodor's choice

Opened in 1959 and now a Soho institution, this three-screen independent cinema runs a vibrant program of first-run arthouse and mainstream films, along with an engaging calendar of director talks, Q&As, film festival events, and other cinephile offerings. The first-floor mezzanine bar is great for a quiet drink, even when Soho's Shaftesbury Avenue is heaving with people. There are other equally historic and wonderful Curzon cinemas in Mayfair, Bloomsbury, and Victoria.

Donmar Warehouse

Covent Garden Fodor's choice

Hollywood stars often perform at this not-for-profit theater in diverse and daring new works, bold interpretations of the classics, and small-scale musicals. Heavy-hitters like Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ewan McGregor have all graced the stage.

Electric Cinema

City Centre Fodor's choice

This movie theater, a genuine survivor from the art deco age, is now the U.K.'s oldest working movie theater. Sofas and waiter service enhance the decadent viewing experience.

Frieze London

Regent's Park Fodor's choice

A glamorous contemporary art fair, Frieze London brings the crème de la crème of the international art world to London each October. Its sister show, Frieze Masters, is a 15-minute walk across Regent's Park and focuses on art from the ancient world through the late 20th century. For the two events combined, hundreds of galleries exhibiting thousands of artworks—everything from old masters to Rachel Whiteread—fill two huge pop-up spaces in the park. The food and drink available on-site are pricey but excellent, and there's a compelling program of artist and curator talks. Catch the free Frieze Sculpture Park in Regent's Park between July and October.

Glyndebourne Opera House

Fodor's choice

Nestled beneath the Downs, three miles east of Lewes, this world-famous opera house combines first-class productions, a state-of-the-art auditorium, and a beautiful setting. Tickets are very expensive (the cheapest start at around £85, though for many productions it's twice that, rising to around £250), and you have to book months in advance. But it's worth every penny to aficionados, who traditionally wear evening dress and bring a hamper to picnic on the grounds. The main season runs from mid-May to the end of August. Save money by booking standing-room tickets (from £10), or look out for special nights when adults under 30 pay just £30.

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University Quarter Fodor's choice
This cutting-edge contemporary arts venue houses a main 450-seat theater, a studio theater space, a gallery, five cinema screens, and digital production and broadcast facilities, as well as a bar, a café, and a bookshop.

Literature Festival

Fodor's choice

The 10-day Literature Festival in October brings world-renowned authors, actors, and critics to Cheltenham for hundreds of readings, lectures, and other events.

London Coliseum

Covent Garden Fodor's choice

An architectural extravaganza of Edwardian style, this baroque-style theater has a magnificent 2,350-seat auditorium and a rooftop glass dome with a bar and great views. As one of the city's most venerable venues, the Coliseum functions mainly as the home of the English National Opera, which produces innovative opera, sung in English, for lower prices than the nearby Royal Opera House. In recent years the company also has presented musicals, sometimes featuring star opera singers. During opera's off-season (including summertime and during winter holidays), the house hosts the English National Ballet and other troupes. Guided tours offering fascinating insights into the architecture and history of the building take place on selected dates at 11 am.

Manchester International Festival

Fodor's choice
This biennial multi-arts festival has played a major role in Manchester's cultural development since it launched in 2007. With international artists such as Björk and Marina Abramović making appearances, it often premieres events that go on to tour nationally or globally. Events take place in some of the city's most popular performing arts spaces, as well as obscure locations such as disused buildings.

Meltdown Festival

South Bank Fodor's choice

The wildly eclectic and very cool Meltdown generally takes place in June at the Southbank Centre. It's curated by a different big-name artist each year (past curators have included the likes of Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, and Grace Jones), so you never have any idea what to expect until the program comes out.

National Theatre

South Bank Fodor's choice

When this complex designed by Sir Denys Lasdun opened in 1976, Londoners were slow to warm up to the low-rise brutalist block, with King Charles III once describing it as "a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting." But whatever you think of the outside, the inside offers generally superb theatrical experiences at (relatively) friendly prices—several of which (like War Horse or One Man, Two Guvnors) have gone on to become long-running Broadway hits. Interspersed with the three theaters—the 1,150-seat Olivier, the 890-seat Lyttelton, and the 450-seat Dorfman—is a multilayered foyer with exhibitions, bars, restaurants, and free entertainment. Musicals, classics, and plays are performed by top-flight professionals, whom you can sometimes catch giving foyer talks as well. Seventy-five-minute backstage tours incorporating prop-making and scene-painting workshops as well as the architecture of the building are offered on weekdays at 5 pm and Saturdays at noon. Each weekend in August, the free outdoor River Stage Festival presents live music, dance, family workshops, and DJ sets in front of the theater. There are £10 Friday Rush tickets for some performances.

Oxford Literary Festival

Fodor's choice

The festival takes place during the last week of March at Christ Church College, the Sheldonian, and other university venues. Leading authors come to give lectures and interviews, and there's plenty to entertain children.

Royal Albert Hall

Kensington Fodor's choice

Opened in 1871, this splendid iron-and-glass-domed auditorium hosts everything from R&B, pop, and classical headliners to Cirque du Soleil, ballet, and RuPaul's Drag Race, but it is best known for the annual July–September BBC Promenade Concerts. Bargain-price standing-room (or promenading or sitting-on-the-floor) tickets for "the Proms" are sold on the night of the concert. The circular 5,272-seat auditorium has a terra-cotta exterior surmounted by an 800-foot-long mosaic frieze depicting figures engaged in advancing the arts and sciences. The hall is open most days for daytime guided tours and Tuesday through Sunday for afternoon tea.

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Royal Exchange Theatre

City Centre Fodor's choice

Housed in the city's one-time cotton exchange, this innovative venue for classic and contemporary works includes a glass-and-metal structure cradling a theater-in-the-round, plus a studio space.

Royal Opera House

Covent Garden Fodor's choice

Along with Milan's La Scala, New York's Metropolitan, and the Palais Garnier in Paris, this is one of the world's great opera houses. First established in 1732, the Royal Opera House has staged countless spectacular performances during its illustrious history, while recent shows have tended toward a more contemporary repertoire. Whatever the style, the extravagant 2,250-seat auditorium delivers a serious dose of gilt and glamour. The famed Royal Ballet performs classical and contemporary repertoire here, too, and smaller-scale works of both opera and dance are presented in the Linbury Theatre and Clore Studio. A small allocation of tickets for each performance of main stage productions for the week ahead—even those that are sold out—goes on sale online at 1 pm every Friday.

If you wish to see the famed auditorium but are not able to procure a ticket, you can join a backstage tour or one of the less frequent tours of the auditorium; they book up several weeks in advance.

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Royal Shakespeare Company

Fodor's choice

One of the finest repertory troupes in the world and long the backbone of England’s theatrical life, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performs plays year-round in Stratford and at venues across Britain. The stunning Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home of the RSC, has a thrust stage based on the original Globe Theatre in London. The Swan Theatre, part of the theater complex and also built in the style of Shakespeare’s Globe, stages plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, such as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson. Contemporary works are staged at the Other Place nearby. Prices start from £5 for rehearsals and previews. Seats book up fast, but day-of-performance and returned tickets are sometimes available.

Waterside, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6BB, England
01789-331111
performing-arts Details
Rate Includes: General tickets from £16

Sadler's Wells

Islington Fodor's choice

If you're into leading classical and contemporary dance companies, head to this purpose-built complex, which opened in 1998 and is the sixth theater on this site in its 300-year history. Choreographers like Matthew Bourne and Hofesh Shechter often bring their work here. The smaller Lilian Baylis Studio hosts avant-garde work.

Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations

Fodor's choice

These festivities have taken place on and around the weekend closest to April 23, the Bard’s birthday, since 1824. Over several days, the streets are filled with performers, impromptu concerts, and pageantry, and special events are held at various venues. The celebrations culminate with a spectacular procession.

Snape Maltings

Fodor's choice

It's worth a stop to take in the peaceful River Alde location of this cultural center. It includes nine art galleries and crafts shops in distinctive large brick buildings once used to malt barley, plus a café and tearoom. There's a farmers' market on the first Saturday of the month, a major food festival in September, and a Benjamin Britten festival in October. Leisurely 45-minute river cruises (£12) leave from the quayside in spring and summer. From the Maltings, you can stroll out along an elevated trail through some reed marshes for beautiful views—just watch for uneven ground.

Southbank Centre

South Bank Fodor's choice

The general public has never really warmed to the Southbank Centre's hulking concrete buildings (beloved by architecture aficionados), products of the brutalist style popular when the center was built in the 1950s and '60s—but all the same, the masses flock to the concerts, recitals, festivals, and exhibitions held here, the largest arts center in Europe. The Royal Festival Hall is truly a People's Palace, with seats for 2,900 and a schedule that ranges from major symphony orchestras to pop stars. The smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall is more classically oriented. It contains the Purcell Room, which hosts lectures and chamber performances. For art, head to the Hayward Gallery, which hosts shows on top contemporary artists such as Antony Gormley and Cy Twombly. The center's riverside street level has a terrific assortment of restaurants and bars, though many are branches of upscale chains. Friday through Sunday, a street food market with food trucks serves cuisines from around the world.

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Symphony Hall

City Centre Fodor's choice

This is the home of the distinguished City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and a venue for jazz, pop, and classical concerts. With its shoebox-shape, 6,000-pipe organ, and impeccable acoustics, the Symphony Hall is easily one of the finest concert halls in England.