Brixton has always been a down-to-earth, diverse, multicultural, and creative part of London. The emphasis is on fun and enjoyment, where you can take in some of the best live music venues, crazy clubs, and cutting-edge restaurants.
At the same time, within a short walk, you can be relaxing among the trees and flowers of Brockwell Park or the Art Deco splendour of Brockwell Lido.
The feathers in the cap for Brixton are the markets of Electric Avenue, Market Row, Reliance Arcade, and Brixton Village. Whatever the time of day or evening you can always choose from an ever-changing array of cooking styles from around the world.
The pedestrian-friendly streets help to maintain a relaxed atmosphere where you can browse at your leisure without the hurried pace of the High Street.
Nightlife in Brixton has a soul of its own, whether you are visiting the live bands of the O2 Academy Brixton or the Latin sounds at Barrio, as well as great food and drink.
Best Things To Do in Brixton
Brixton is best known for Brixton Market, which originally started trading in the 1870s, when the area started to become an expanding railway suburb.
Its transformation today would be unrecognisable, with the open-air, seven days a week vibrancy of Electric Avenue’s market stalls. Not to mention the next-door arcades of Market Row, Reliance Arcade, and Brixton Village.
So, what can you expect to buy on Electric Avenue? Well culturally Brixton is one of the most diverse districts in the Capital so you can expect the food, drink, and goods on sale will reflect that.
However, the market is best known for its African, and Caribbean produce. So, think colourful African textiles right through to sugar cane, jackfruit, and cassava from the Caribbean and you can bet they will all be at the best prices.
In Market Row, Reliance Arcade, and Brixton Village you will find all manner of smaller independent shops, cafes, and restaurants. These markets attract some of the most creative chefs in the Borough, who are keen to share their cultural heritage with customers.
Dining in Brixton
They say that variety is the spice of life, and this is never better demonstrated than by the sheer diversity of ingredients and cooking styles that Brixton acts as a magnet for.
Within walking distance, you can choose from any number of worldwide cuisines, such as the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Mexico, Europe, and Turkey. Dive into any of these restaurants to get a taste of what Brixton’s all about:
Best cheap eats: Fish, Wings and Tings, Brixton Village – authentic Caribbean food
Best fine dining: Naughty Piglets, buzzy little bistro, serving sharing plates
Best Caribbean eats: Wood and Water, Jamaican flavours and soul
Soul Food: Blues Kitchen, American soul food, 40+ bourbons & live music
Daytime Eats: Canova Hall, Fantastic interior with an all-day restaurant
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If your feet are tired after wandering the streets take some time out and visit the relative calm of Brockwell Park, south of Brixton. The park is set over hilly terrain with meadows, trees, ponds and even an old walled garden. For the kids, there is a miniature railway to ride on, a BMX track, a large playground, and a wet play area.
It’s a lovely spot to relax under a tree and just watch the world go by.
Brockwell Park hosts numerous events throughout the year and the biggest of these is the Lambeth Country Show in July. Previous attendance has topped 120,000 making it one of the largest free family festivals in the UK. Live music is a big part of the event, which reflects the diversity of Lambeth and includes dub, Afro-beat, disco, jazz, folk, ska, and soul.
There are other attractions too including parades, dance, a petting zoo, international food, a flower show, and an eco-market.
O2 Academy Brixton (previously Brixton Academy)
O2 Academy Brixton started out as a cinema in 1929. It was then converted to a disco throughout the 70s before conversion to a live music venue in 1983. This heralded a new era of popularity as it became one of London’s most prestigious music venues.
Some of the bands that have played to the 5000-seat audience include Kings of Leon, Amy Winehouse, The Clash, Rhianna, Lady Gaga, Kasabian, Florence and the Machine, Blur, Coldplay, The Prodigy, Bob Dylan, Sex Pistols, Madonna, The Rolling Stones, Dr. Dre, New Order and Diana Ross.
Just a sample of the other nightlife in Brixton includes Phonox, a large, industrial-style club with a dance floor featuring DJs or The Dog Star, where you’ll find late-night dance music on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
In line with the diversity of Food & Drink culture in Brixton there is equal diversity when it comes to shopping plus is people. Brixton hosts more than 53 fashion shops, more than 12 textile and fabric shops and more than 12 accessory outlets.
Almost all these outlets are smaller independents, many of which specialise in international styles and lifestyle clothing.
The Brixton riots of 1982 were the low point of relations between the police and Brixton residents. These watershed moments acted to energise the population into getting their voices heard. Lambeth Council reacted by commissioning several local artists to create large murals on buildings in the district.
The murals are still in place, where they are a cherished part of the district and are restored when needed. The theme varies with each mural. The Brixton Railway Station murals convey the vibrancy and colour of Brixton Market during the 1980s.
While the mural on Stockwell Park Walk displays the Brixton Academy mural, which portrays a young, mixed crowd having fun.
David Bowie Memorial
David Bowie was born in 40 Stansfield Road, Brixton in 1947. He attended the local school, Stockwell Infants School, where his teachers could already see he was a gifted and single-minded child, but they added he was always getting into scraps.
After a meteoric and long career, David Bowie had an untimely death in 2016. The vision and innovation in his music and his flamboyant stage personas are still held dearly by millions of fans around the world.
Local artist James Cochran had already created a mural of Brixton’s famous local resident in 2013. His mural was opposite Brixton Underground station exit, depicting David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, from the album, Aladdin Sane.
After Bowie’s death, the mural quickly became a memorial, with visitors adding their own personal messages to the work of art. The messages quickly started to get out of hand and so Lambeth Council installed a Perspex cover to protect the mural. You can now still see the mural in all its former glory.
Singer, Eddy Grant’s, song about the Brixton riots became a mainstream hit throughout the world. The first line of lyrics sets the scene: ‘Now in the street there is violence.’
However, as well as highlighting the problems within Brixton the song went on to give Electric Avenue an identity, which lasts today.
Eddy Grant returned to Electric Avenue in 2016 to be part of the unveiling of a large, ‘Electric Avenue’ sign, which celebrated a £1 million fund to regenerate the street.
Electric Avenue is mostly known nowadays as the home of the seven-day-a-week market, where you can buy all manner of African and Caribbean produce. However, Electric Avenue is also famous as the first-ever market Street to be illuminated with electricity, hence the name.
With its celebrated clubs and one of the best music venues in London Brixton is bound to also host some of the most exciting drinking venues. With Brixton, variety is always fundamental, and so the sheer range of drinking venues follows suit.
Best Brixton Pub: White Horse Popular but quitter, as a little out of the centre
Best Brixton Bar: Barrio Brixton Amazing cocktails and crazy atmosphere
Best Brixton Wine Bar: Specialist Cellars New Zealand wines in a refurbished shipping container.
Best Brixton Roof Bar: Upstairs at The Department Store Very cool, rooftop bar and lounge
Best Brixton Cocktail Bar: Shrub and Shutter Hand-crafted cocktails in a quirky bar
Best Brixton Craft Brewery: Friendship Adventure Brewery & Taproom Plenty of beers to try and as the name suggests you’re likely to make new friends.
Best Brixton Bottle Shop: Ghost Whale Huge range of craft beers and a garden
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If you need to clear your head after ‘in-depth researching’ of Brixton’s drinking spots, then take a leisurely stroll to the most unlikely of Brixton features. Located in Blenheim Gardens off Brixton Hill, Brixton Windmill has been standing sentinel over the district since it was built in 1816.
The mill was leased to the Ashby family, who saw the local demand for flour milling in Brixton. It proved so successful it was handed down through subsequent generations right through to 1934 when the final miller in the Ashby family died.
The Windmill was finally restored in 1964 and new sails were fitted, made from imported pine. It was open to the public in 1968 and refurbished in 2010 with the help of a grant from the Lottery Heritage Fund.
The Friends of Windmill Gardens continue to help with the upkeep of the Windmill, as well as the administration and education programs. You can take a tour around the Windmill, which is the last working windmill in London or a guided tour around the area to learn about the history of the Ashby family.
The open public space in front of Brixton’s Tate Library is known as Windrush Square. The name Windrush originates from the ship that brought the first immigrants to the UK from the Caribbean in 1948.
The ship was named The HMT Empire Windrush and on arrival the immigrants were shown to nearby temporary housing on Coldharbour Lane.
In the same square you can learn about black British experiences and history at the The Black Cultural Archives. These archives are kept in the former Raleigh Hall and were put together in 1981 by educationalist and historian, Len Garrison, and others.
The aim of the Black Cultural Archives is to collect, preserve, and celebrate the histories of people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK and to inspire and give strength to individuals, communities, and society.
The Ritzy Cinema was first opened in 1911 and was known as the Electric Pavilion. Despite its fancy neo-Baroque exterior, it was still seen as the poor cousin of the nearby Palladium, who unfairly called it the fleapit.
By 1976 the rot had really set in and there were even fears the building would collapse. Luckily, Lambeth Council and the cinema management put together a rescue package and a new name, Little Bit Ritzy, which was promoted as an art cinema.
Filmgoers returned and four smaller screens with a cafe and a bar were added in 1994. More recent refurbishment has restored the interior to its original style. There are now very few English cinemas that are still being used for their original purpose.
You can see mainstream features and a selection of art films at The Ritzy.
If you’re taking a wander to take in the sights of Brockwell Park, then taking a few steps farther and check out Brockwell Lido.
It’s an oasis in the corner of the park with a 50 m outdoor swimming pool, the latest fitness equipment, and a programme of exercise classes, including yoga and Zumba. There is also a hydro spa, a sauna, and a steam room.
Brockwell Lido dates from 1937, hence the amazing Art Deco architecture, which is Grade II listed. The landscaping of the park beyond and the water features give the whole lido a relaxing, family-friendly feel
If you find yourself yearning for a good second hand read, then pop into Bookmongers in Coldharbour Lane. Established in 1992, the bookshop has become something of a Brixton institution, with its own unique atmosphere and independent spirit.
Patrick, the owner, will guide you through the titles on offer and keep you forewarned of the antics of Popeye, the resident stray cat, as he conducts his librarian duties. Popeye even has his own page on the website, where he recommends his latest reads.
The second-hand books on offer range from fiction to non-fiction with an emphasis on psychology and self-help.
If you fancy something to eat but not quite sure what then head to pop Brixton, where you’ll find any number of Street Food vendors selling their wares. There are naturally plenty of African and Caribbean dishes but many more as well.
Pop Brixton is a community enterprise where a disused plot of land was converted to enable start-up businesses from Brixton and Lambeth to flourish with the help from the Pop Brixton team. The range of businesses involved is varied, including food, retail, design, and social enterprise.
As well as retail, Pop Brixton hosts a whole range of community events and workshops, such as kids’ art classes right through to horticulture classes in the community garden.
Enthusiasm from visitors is palpable in the reviews, where it’s described repeatedly as a trendy, exciting and ever-changing place to visit.
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It’s rewarding to see that the dynamism of Brixton’s inhabitants goes from strength to strength. Enthusiasm is contagious and it lends itself to creating the confidence that helps start-ups take their first steps on the path to business success.
In Brixton there is more freedom to express new ideas and knowledge and so it becomes a seedbed where innovation flourishes. That’s exactly why people so love visiting Brixton, to feel a part of that constant new rebirth.