Is there anything more magical than that moment when the lights go down and the silver screen lights up with the first frames of a great movie? Personally, that’s one of my favorite experiences – and London is home to some great cinemas and movie theaters. When I called London home, I was a member at several of them, and loved splurging to visit other theaters for specific shows and films I wanted to see.
Maybe you love the movies too – but most people think it’s weird to go on vacation somewhere and then go to the movies while there. I don’t think it’s weird, as I’ve done it several times in different destinations, and you’ve come to the right place if you want to learn about the best London cinemas worth your 2-3 hours’ time during your trip.
So whether there’s a new must-see movie that’s just been released while you’re visiting London or you hear about a show of a classic or personal favorite, plan a stop at one of these great London cinemas during your London itinerary. Also, as you read this list, note that the letters and numbers in parentheses is the postal zone of the city. Read on to find a movie theater you want to visit – or more than one, if you really love movies!
BFI Southbank (SE1)
Are you the kind of person who can solidly argue why Tarkovsky is one of the best directors of all time? If the answer is yes, then BFI Southbank is the place to go.
Operated by the British Film Institute, the BFI Southbank is one of the best London cinemas. A haven for cinephiles, the theatre curates excellent film seasons, ranging from classic, independent, non-English language films and some dating back to the silent era.
Besides the enviable sine, BFI Southbank also features a bar, restaurant, library, free movie library, and a quirky shop with books, DVDs, and movie memorabilia. So, if you were just wandering down the Southbank and want to catch a saucy French film, you know where to go.
Brixton Ritzy (SW2)
The Ritzy is one of the best movie theaters in London if what you’re looking for is an old-school movie theatre experience. Located in Brixton, The Ritzy is one of the very few cinemas left that hasn’t succumbed to the concept of movie theaters as another merely entertaining activity. So don’t go expecting to see comfortable, modern theater seating. Instead, you’ll find rows of modest (and tight) red velvet seats.
The Ritzy usually has a good selection of original movies (more independent or smaller hits than blockbusters). Most people suggest you try to see films on Screen 1, as this has the best atmosphere and is bigger than the other ones. The cinema also has a restaurant upstairs, where live music, comedy festivals, and dance workshops take place.
Close-Up Cinema (E1)
If your British friend is screening their new short, there’s a high chance they’re doing it at Close-Up Cinema. Located right in Shoreditch, Close-Up Cinema is a fantastic private cinema where emerging filmmakers present their creations. The cinema lives up to its name, with visitors raving about the intimacy of their screening room. Their programs focus on films that shaped the art of cinema and its history.
Curzon Victoria (W1)
Photo (L) courtesy of Curzon
Curzon is a cinema chain that’s been in the UK since 1934. Their Victoria Street venue is a boutique-style cinema with five screens. While screen rooms are compact, they are nothing short of luxurious, with a large screen, excellent sound system, and lush, red reclining seats – a definite cinema experience. Their choice of movies isn’t as varied as the ones I’ve mentioned, focusing on the latest blockbuster movies and some Indie releases.
If you’re not anywhere close to Victoria Street, Curzon also has cinemas in Aldgate, Bloomsbury, Camden, Hoxton, Mayfair, Oxford, Soho, and Wimbledon.
Electric Cinema (W11)
Electric Cinema is not only one of the best London cinemas, but it is also one of the oldest. There’s nothing old about the venue, though. The historic cinema underwent a renovation in 2004 that furnished each screening room with luxurious leather armchairs, footstools, lush cashmere blankets.
As if that upgrade wasn’t enough, the cinema replaced the seats on the front row with six luxurious, velvet-lined double beds –not the best news if you’re one of those who struggle to stay awake during a film. Their film choice lies on the commercial side, with the latest American and British releases and a decent selection of family-friendly movies.
Everyman Muswell Hill (N10)
Formerly known as The Odeon, Everyman Muswell Hill is another historic theatre in London. Muswell Hill opened in 1936, with architect George Coles in charge of designing its facade and interiors. Back in the day, the interior’s Art Deco styling was so iconic that it became known as the “Odeon style.”
The Muswell Hill cinema still retains its classic 30s style, and its structure is now a grade II listed building. It is definitely one of the best London movie theaters for those who enjoy a luxurious movie night.
If you couldn’t snag tickets for the Muswell Hill venue, Everyman has venues across the city, including Screen on the Green, which also makes this list.
Genesis Cinema Whitechapel (E1)
Housed in a 19th Century building, Genesis Cinema also boasts old-school looks. It is an independent cinema with a loyal legion of fans who go day in, day out to enjoy the most varied films. Unlike other venues on the list, Genesis Cinema does a great job of screening both the new Hollywood releases and independent films and documentaries.
They also offer both luxuries and “regular” cinema experiences. Their fancier rooms feature reclining comfy sofas and armchairs complete with blankets, Ottoman foot-stalls, and an in-screen bar.
Picturehouse Central (W1)
Luxurious and beautifully designed, Picturehouse Central is one of the best London cinemas. They screen vintage, art house, and indie films, in addition to the usual blockbusters. Their ground-floor bar and restaurant area is so warm and inviting with a selection of delicious snacks and drinks and complete with super friendly staff. Despite their proximity to Piccadilly Circus, their tickets are affordable, naturally drawing crowds of film lovers every day.
Picture House is a big cinema chain, so they have other venues in Stratford, Greenwich, Crouch End, Hackney, and Clapham.
Prince Charles Cinema (WC2)
Locals adore Prince Charles Cinema, and so will you once you step foot in it. Located close to Leicester Square, Prince Charles Cinema is a repertory cinema with a rotating program of cult, arthouse, and classic films alongside recent Hollywood releases.
They have mastered the cinema experience, from the classic red velvet seats and walls to the film announcement at the beginning of your movie; everything is exquisite. They also run uncut movie marathons, which means you can watch all the Lord of the Rings movies uninterruptedly – if you can survive 12 hours sitting in the same chair.
The Castle Cinema (E9)
The Castle Cinema offers a more local and “popular” experience. Located in Hackney, It is an independent, crowdfunded community cinema. The cinema has an interesting story behind it, with numerous changes along the way.
It ran until 1958 when it became a bingo hall, then a warehouse, and then a snooker hall, until entrepreneurial couple, Asher Charman and Danielle Sw decided to rebuild the old cinema and bring it back to life. After successful crowdfunding, The Castle Cinema opened its doors again in 2017, with a program that includes big new releases and independent films.
The Gate Cinema (W1)
The Gate Cinema is another of the best cinemas in London. Located in Notting Hill, the Gate opened in 1911 as the Electric Palace. It is a gorgeous Edwardian classic single-screen cinema housed in a Grade II listed building from 1861.
Architects restored the ornate Edwardian plasterwork in the auditorium and installed air conditioning. They also built a fully-stocked bar for guests to enjoy before or after a movie. The Gate shows a good selection of films – more art-house than blockbusters, though.
The Phoenix Cinema (N2)
Opened in 1912, The Phoenix Cinema is an independent single-screen community cinema. It is the oldest purpose-built cinema in the UK and one of the continuously-running cinemas in London. Its auditorium is stunning with unique art deco features.
Over the years, it has also attracted many loyal and notable fans, including notable people like Mike Leigh, Judi Dench, and Ken Loach. Their program focuses mainly on art-house films. They also do live opera and ballet screenings on selected days.
The Screen on the Green (N1)
The Screen on the Green is another of the oldest continuously running cinemas in the UK. It is a wonderful venue, with lots of style and character. Like The Phoenix Cinema, it is a single screen cinema, and although it’s pricey, the seats and sofas (which have footstools and blankets for added comfort!) are lovely, and there’s a bar at the back serving drinks and food right up until the film starts.
While I know it depends on the films they’re screening and showtimes, do any of these London cinemas catch your eye? Let me know any questions in the comments!