From the shopping capital of 1920s London, to the home of the Windrush generation in the ’40s, Brixton is the heart and soul of South London. This here segment of metropolis, this ‘electric avenue’ was, is and always will be a world of activity and flavour. Let this list of the best things to do in Brixton be your guide to one of London’s most cherished neighbourhoods:
1. Catch a new flick at The Ritzy
The Ritzy’s one of the most unique cinemas in London. Standing broadly on the corner of Coldharbour Lane, with its famous luminescent sign glistening like a 60s evocation, it feels like a perfectly preserved piece of the past. The Ritzy is steeped in cultural history – opened 110 years ago, it is one of the few cinemas still standing that can claim to have beckoned in the dawn of cinema. And now it very much keeps it alive, being one of the most popular cinemas in South London.
It’s technically a Picturehouse Cinema so you can expect all the big new movies, with a diverse peppering of independent gems.
Details: Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, London SW2 1JG | Book here
2. Pop down to Brixton Market
‘Oh we’re going to rock down to Electric Avenue / And then we’ll take it higher…’
And so goes the iconic, groove-imbued Brixton anthem of the 1980s, written by Eddy Grant about Electric Avenue, where the infamous Brixton Market shakes its geriatric hips.
The market was established in 1870 when Brixton was having its coming-of-age as a very cool place to be for Victorian hipsters. Nowadays ‘Electric Avenue’ sounds like a Bowie-esque bit of space-age transcendence, but back in 1890, it was the logical name for one of London’s first electrically lit streets. If that isn’t the kind of trivia nugget to impress a date with, then we don’t know what is.
The market itself is constituted of three separate markets: Reliance Arcade, Market Row and Brixton Village. Fresh fruit and veg are in abundance, and so are myriad arrays of spices to give that curry the kick you’ve been looking for. There are also plenty of clothing shops, ceramicists and plant shops to keep you occupied.
Details: Electric Ave, London SW9 8JX
3. See a superstar at the O2 Academy
Ok we’ll say it – Brixton’s O2 Academy is the most iconic live music venue in London. How can it not be, when its shadowy, mist-cloaked stage has seen the likes of Madonna, The Smiths, Bob Dylan and Arcade Fire play consecutive gigs?
Remember your earplugs though, because in 1996 electronic band Leftfield set a world record for decibel levels reached during a live performance. A dizzying plethora of live performances and music videos have been recorded and released from the 02 Academy, marking it out as a titan in the world’s musical hierarchy.
Details: 211 Stockwell Rd, London SW9 9SL | See who’s playing here
4. Get lost in Pop Brixton
Pop Brixton defies categorisation – it is at once a hub of creativity, community and souvlaki. It’s a mega-world of independent businesses, promoting growth within Brixton and Lambeth, and somewhere you can get lost for a day. If you want a haircut or an old antique restored, then head to Pop Brixton. Similarly, if you want a bite to eat followed by somewhere to dance, then Pop Brixton is where to go. Want to get stuck into urban farming? Naturally, they offer that too.
There are so many food options to choose from here, from Vietnamese to Japanese, Pakistani and of course, loads of juicy, jam-packed burgers and pizzas. Oh, and it’s all made up of old shipping containers, which as anyone under 30 knows, is extremely cool.
Details: 49 Brixton Station Rd, London SW9 8PQ | See what’s on here
5. Escape the streets in Brockwell Park
This undulating expanse of tree and grass is the jewel in South-East London’s crown, marking the meeting spot between Brixton, Clapham, Dulwich and Herne Hill. Life gravitates toward Brockwell Park’s interweaving paths and vistas, to its lido and mini-railway, to its BMX track and tennis courts and to its beautiful, tucked-away walled garden where you can just slow everything down for a bit.
Opened to the public in 1892, Brockwell Park is as historic as it is iconic, containing a network of age-old buildings and features that pre-date its acquisition as a public park. These include Brockwell Hall, Brockwell Lido, the Walled Garden, a teeming array of ponds and the 19th-century Tritton clock tower.
Details: Brockwell Park, Brockwell Park Gardens, London SE24 0NG | Find out more here
6. Be a better person at Brockwell Lido
Ah, the Lido – so calm, so restorative and so undeniably chilly, this is the ultimate picture of inner-city serenity, where dedicated Londoners go to regain their peace of mind.
The lido is an Olympic-sized, unheated outdoor swimming pool, walled in from the bustle of Brockwell by a Grade II listed art deco building containing a gym and spa area (with both steam and sauna rooms). Overlooking the pool, filled with foliage, there is a brilliant little pizzeria, 400 Rabbits, that does breakfast in the morning and cocktails in the evening.
A cold swim followed by a sauna-induced sweat is almost incomprehensibly good for you, and there really is nowhere better to rejuvenate than at Brockwell Lido. Swim, sauna then saunter across the vistas of Brockwell, feeling measurably better about the world afterwards. You’re welcome.
Details: Brockwell Park, Dulwich Rd, London SE24 0PA | Find out more here
7. Learn about Brixton history at the Black Cultural Archives
Brixton is Brixton because of its Afro-Caribbean history. In the 40s and 50s, the Windrush generation came across the sea and largely settled in Brixton because that’s where the nearest labour exchange was at the time. This circumstance of fortuity shaped Brixton indefinitely.
The Archives, located on Windrush Square, was opened in 1981 in reaction to a spate of racially-motivated tragedies that befell the Black-British community. It became a space where marginalised communities could come and find positive representations of themselves, where their history was recorded and celebrated.
Black Cultural Archives is open from 10:00-18:00 and hosts a wide array of exhibitions, talks and events.
Details: 1 Windrush Square, Brixton SW2 1EF | Find out more here
8. Get lost in a literary labyrinth at Bookmongers
The proper kind of second-hand bookshop is where the books are like Jenga blocks, arranged like leaning pillars where one wrong move could bring it all tumbling down.
But you can’t resist taking the risk, because what’s that in there? That’s a first-edition copy of Wuthering Heights, and over there, beneath an NME from 1999 and Karma Sutra for Dummies, which you unnervingly recognise from your parent’s bookshelf, is a complete guide to 20th-century art, which you can snap up for £3. Brixton Bookmongers, and places like it, are interactive art exhibitions, where the expanse of history’s cultural remnants are ready to be sifted through and snapped up for a bargain. If you need another reason to visit Bookmongers ahead of Waterstones, then go for the dusty smell of old books.
Details: 439 Coldharbour Ln, London SW9 8LN | Find out more here
9. Pay testament to BB King at The Blues Kitchen
Beers, brunch, bourbon, burgers, but most importantly, the bolt and bravado of live blues is what the Brixton Blues Kitchen is all about. Traditionalists, with their bourbon and boogie-woogie, and laymen, with their brunch and beers, are united in the shadowy, dim-lit cavern of The Blues Kitchen by the ecclesiastic pulse of blues music.
There are 80 different types of Bourbon, and a packed menu dripping in the house hickory BBQ sauce, making this a good place to go for at least 81 reasons.
Details: 40 Acre Ln, London SW2 5SP | Find out what’s on here
10. Rediscover punk roots at The Windmill Brixton
Punky, spunky and demonstrably cool – The Windmill Brixton is one of those venues jostling with the 02 Academy for the title of London’s most iconic music spot, and is, unsurprisingly, located in Brixton. Basically, just go listen to music in Brixton.
Opened in 1971 and named after the neighbouring heritage site of the only lasting windmill in London, The Windmill has hosted a number of high-profile indie rock and pop bands, including The Vaccines and Stereolab, and has been instrumental in pioneering a resurgence of guitar rock in London, with the likes of Black Midi, Black Country, New Road and Squid doing all kinds of irreverent magic on stage. This is 80s punk incarnate, and it’s damn good.
Details: 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton Hill, London SW2 5BZ | See what’s on here
11. Go Clubbing in Brixton
Brixton is one of the best places to go out late in London, whether you’re a techno-head, a jazz-head, a reggae-head or a ‘what’s wrong with Coldplay?’-head, there’ll be something for you. We should say though, Afro-beat doesn’t get much better than it is in Brixton.
Go to Phonox for big-name techno DJs, The Prince of Wales for pop and house, Hootenanny for live roots and reggae and Brixton Jamm for a bit of everything. There’s also Electric Brixton, which hosts a variety of left-field live bands making waves in their niche corners of production. Obviously, there are loads of pubs and cocktail bars if you need to warm up, like the Effra Social, Barrio Brixton and Rum Kitchen. Let yourself bob on the whims of Brixton’s electronic whimsy for a night.
What are you still reading this for? Shouldn’t you be on your way to Brixton by now? Don’t worry about dinner, because we have an extensive, curated list of the best restaurants in Brixton to cap off your trip, whether it’s Japanese soul food, a Caribbean roti or a couple of Indian small plates.
Rock down to Electric Avenue…
All that talk of music got you itching to see something live? Have a scan of our guide to London restaurants with live music