Our guide to the best London theatres. London is the home to some of the most iconic theatres in the world. There are plenty of options among the West End’s impressive list of venues for those looking for a night out on the town.
Whether it is classical shows from Broadway or musical extravaganzas from some of music’s biggest names, visitors will find something that suits their tastes. In particular, London boasts over 40 professional theatres, with approximately 27 currently open.
Therefore, theatre-goers have several famous playhouses and concert halls to choose from when planning their nights out on the town.
This guide highlights the 20 most iconic London Theatres to take in a show.
Table of Contents
1. Aldwych Theatre
The Aldwych Theatre was established in the year 1905. This theatre is owned and operated by a person named Sir Roderick Jones. However, during a war emergency, this building was devoted to being a ‘temporary’ hospital for injured soldiers.
This theatre has been used as an art-house cinema, concert hall, and occasionally for stage plays, including opera performances and many former productions of Shakespearean plays. Some notable examples are “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” and “Hamlet.” Further, it is home to modern-day classics such as “The Mousetrap” and “The Woman in Black.”
2. Donmar Warehouse
It is one of the iconic London theatres known for its classical productions. It was founded by John Dexter and Donmar McKellar in 1977. It is home to numerous successful productions, including “The Weir” and “Frost/Nixon.”
It is also known for new playwrights, such as Conor McPherson and David Hare. Donmar Warehouse is currently led by artistic director Josie Rourke. The productions of this theatre are known to be unconventional and modernized adaptations of classic plays or novels.
Some examples are “Hamlet” with Jude Law, “Look Back in Anger” by John Osborne, “Hedda Gabler” starring Sheridan Smith, “Othello” starring Adrian Lester, and Laura Carmichael, and Bill Nighy in Arthur Miller’s “The Man Who Had All the Luck.”
3. Garrick Theatre
The Garrick Theatre is located on Charing Cross Road in Westminster, London. It was designed by W.S. Gilbert and opened on 14 December 1881 with the pastoral comedy of Shakespeare, “As You Like It.” The Garrick has been home to many famous actors and actresses, including Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Richard Burton, and Judi Dench.
The Garrick is principally known for its classical drama and comedy productions. Some of the most famous plays staged at the Garrick include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice. In addition to its theatrical productions, the Garrick is also a popular location for musical concerts and other works.
4. Gielgud Theatre
The Gielgud Theatre is a prestigious London theatre with a rich history dating to the early 1900s. It was first built in 1906 as the Hicks Theatre. It was renamed the Globe Theatre in 1911 and then the Gielgud Theatre in 1994 in honor of John Gielgud.
The theatre is located on the south side of Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s West End theatre district.
The Gielgud Theatre is a popular tourist attraction in London and hosts world-class performances. Most importantly, it is known for its high-quality classic plays and musical productions. The theatre has been home to many famous actors and actresses, including John Gielgud, Judi Dench, and Ian McKellen.
5. Harold Pinter Theatre
The Harold Pinter Theatre is a London theatre known for its work in the contemporary theatre genre. The theatre was opened in 1963 and was originally called the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs. It was renamed in 1980 after British playwright Harold Pinter, one of the theatre’s co-founders.
It has staged award-winning plays and musicals since its opening. In 1966, the theatre won several awards for its John Osborne’s “Inadmissible Evidence” production. That play was staged at the theatre between 1965 to 1967, and it involved an anti-Establishment satire of British institutions, including police brutality.
6. Lyceum Theatre
It is a theatre in the City of Westminster. The building, originally called the Royal English Opera House, was designed by Thomas Verity and built-in 1818. It has operated as a theatre for every decade since 1930–1940. Today the theatre is owned by Delfont-Mackintosh Theatres.
The Lyceum Theatre is best known for its musical theatre productions. The theatre has been the home of The Lion King since 1999. Other musicals produced at the theatre include The Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia!, We Will Rock You, and Wicked. It also hosts plays, dance shows, and other live performances.
The theatre is the London home of Cirque du Soleil’s production of Varekai. Further, it hosted the Royal Variety Performance in 2001 and 2008.
7. Prince of Wales Theatre
The theatre was first opened in 1884 and has become a popular destination for tourists and Londoners alike. It is particularly well-known for its musical productions, staged there for over a century.
Some of the most successful musicals in London theatre history have debuted at Prince of Wales Theatre, including The Boy Friend, Oliver!, and My Fair Lady.
The theatre has recently produced hit shows such as Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You. In addition to its musical offerings, this theatre also hosts various other events, such as dance productions and plays.
8. Savoy Theatre
The Savoy Theatre in London is known for its variety of works, ranging from musicals to plays. It opened in 1881 with Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” production. The theatre has been host to many famous performers, including Laurence Olivier, Peter O’Toole, and Judi Dench.
Today, it is home to the popular West End musical “The Phantom of the Opera.” Richard D’Oyly Carte originally built it as a venue for his new opera company, the Savoy Opera Company. Frank Matcham designed this theatre and featured a retractable roof opened up to natural light.
9. The Old Vic
It is a London-based theatre with a rich history spanning over two centuries. It is mostly known for its work in contemporary and classical drama, and it has played a significant role in the development of British theatre. Edmund Kean and his son Charles founded the Old Vic in 1818.
After some years, The Old Vic quickly became known for its innovative and experimental work, and it helped establish the modern British theatre tradition. One of the theatre’s most famous productions was Hamlet, which starred Charles Kean in 1842.
The play was a great success and later became the basis for Ambroise Thomas’s operatic adaptation, which helped launch the career of French composer Georges Bizet.
10. Theatre Royal Drury Lane
This theatre was built in 1663 by Thomas Killigrew, making it the oldest working theatre in Great Britain. From its humble beginnings as a stage for dramatic works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane has taken on many different roles throughout its history.
During the 1790s, the theatre began to host opera performances before transitioning into musical comedies during the early 20th century. Popular actors of all types have graced this historic stage over time, some even calling it home for decades.
Simon Russell Beale has been performing here since 1990, while Judi Dench took up residency in 1997. From opera to comedy to music hall, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane has seen it all over its many years of operation.
11. Theatre Royal Haymarket
Research indicates that the Royal Haymarket is one of the oldest theatres in London, located on Suffolk Street in the Covent Garden district of London. It was first opened in 1720 by John Rich and has staged many famous productions.
The most notable ones include The School for Scandal by Richard Sheridan, She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, and The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. This theatre has also hosted some world premiere performances, such as The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. Further, it is home to many famous plays over the years, including “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
12. Wyndham’s Theatre
It is located on Charing Cross Road in Westminster, London, and was designed by W.S. Allard and built-in 1898 for actor-manager Charles Wyndham. It was remodelled in 1906 by Frank Matcham, the architect of the London Palladium, and again in 1922 by Bertie Crewe.
The theatre is principally associated with comedy and drama. It has been the venue for many successful productions over the years, including Noël Coward’s Hay Fever (1925), J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls (1946), and Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version (1951).
It is also home to musicals, including the original runs of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (1970) and Evita (1979).
13. National Theatre
The National Theatre is an organization founded in London in 1963 by Sir Laurence Olivier and has since become one of the most prestigious theatres in the world.
It is located near Waterloo Station on the South Bank of the Thames. It’s building is either a brilliant example of modernist architecture, or a concrete eyesore (depending on your point of view).
The first performance that the National Theatre held was of William Shakespeare’s Henry V. The National Theatre is most famous for its theatrical performances of drama and classical plays written by dead white guys such as Shakespeare, Molière, Chekhov, and Ibsen.
However, they also perform contemporary pieces by living playwrights such as Caryl Churchill and Tom Stoppard and new adaptations of classic novels and films.
14. Almeida Theatre
This theatre was founded by Jocelyn Herbert and her husband, the actor Geoffrey Howarth, in the early 1970s. The theatre has been housed in several different locations over the years, but it has been located in its current home on Islington’s Upper Street since 1992.
The Almeida Theatre is dedicated to producing new work and supporting emerging artists. It has a strong tradition of commissioning new plays, and many of the most successful plays in British theatre have had their premieres at the Almeida. Some notable examples include The Weir and the musicals, Our House, and The Beautiful Game.
It is a performing arts center in London and the largest in Europe. It was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 3 March 1982 and is named after the nearby barbican Chertsey Gate. It hosts theatre performances, art exhibitions, film screenings, classical and contemporary music concerts.
Further, it houses a library, restaurant, and bar. Chamberlin, Powell, and Bon designed the Barbican Centre in the Brutalist style. It is known for its contemporary dance, opera, and popular music work, and the London Symphony Orchestra is based there.
16. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
This theatre is situated in Regent’s Park, near the Inner Circle. It has an extended and intriguing history, and it is known for its high-quality productions of Shakespearean plays. The original open-air theatre at Regent’s Park was built in 1811.
However, this theatre was destroyed by a fire in 1876. The current theatre was built in 1932, and it has been in use ever since. It is a traditional open-air venue, with a large stage and seating area that can accommodate up to 1,500 people.
The theatre is known for its high-quality productions of Shakespearean plays. The theatre has attracted big-name directors and actors to work on the shows in recent years. For instance, in September 2013, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre hosted a Sex with Strangers play production.
17. Royal Court Theatre
It is a world-renowned performing arts venue located in the Chelsea neighbourhood of London.
It was founded in April 1956 by Sir Laurence Olivier after he witnessed a performance given by amateurs at a theatre workshop in London’s East End. He wanted to create an artistic space where young actors, playwrights, and directors could be allowed to learn and experiment.
This theatre is known for its innovative and provocative programming, which often explores social and political issues. It has presented countless world-renowned productions over the years, including “The Entertainer” (1957), “Look Back in Anger” (1956), “West Side Story” (1958), “The Mousetrap” (1952), and “Angels in America” (1993).
The Globe Theatre was originally built by Shakespeare and his business partners in 1599.
Modelled after the famous open-air theatres of ancient Rome, this playhouse could hold about 1500 spectators. Plays from Shakespeare and other early English dramatists were first staged here, making it an important part of London’s theatrical history.
After a fire destroyed the original Globe in 1613, it was rebuilt only to be closed down by the Puritans in 1642. The modern Globe Theatre that stands today was reconstructed in 1996 and proudly hosted theatrical productions each year.
This venue hosts performances from Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and Royal Shakespeare Company.
19. The Young Vic
The Young Vic theatre is a world-renowned theatre located in London, England. Sir Richard Eyre, an opera singer in Virginia, established this theatre in 1970. The theatre is known for its new and innovative plays and working with young audiences.
It has produced several famous plays in history, including The Young Vic theatre, The Wiz, The Seagull, and Angels in America. It is also known for its work with new and upcoming playwrights and young audiences.
20. Sadler’s Wells
Sadler’s Wells is a historic London theatre known for its work in contemporary dance.
The theatre was built in 1683 by Richard Sadler, and it originally served as a venue for horse races. In 1719, the theatre was converted into a playhouse, and it has been used as a performance space ever since.
The theatre has hosted performances by many famous dancers, including Martha Graham, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Rudolf Nureyev. Today, Sadler’s Wells is a leading venue for contemporary dance in Europe. Its annual program features work by some of its most innovative choreographers.
Further, it is home to the Dance Umbrella festival, one of the UK’s biggest dance festivals.