The best tips and tricks for the young’uns new to London.
For its reputation as one of the most expensive cities in the world, you can get a lot done in London when it comes to entertainment. Whether you’re into theater and musicals, or you prefer to go classical with ballet and Beethoven, you’re bound to find your little cultural niche in downtown London. Here are some tried and true hacks to get you the best seats for some of our era’s most coveted stages.
London’s theater scene clusters around the heart of downtown — what is called West End in the entertainment industry. It’s akin to Broadway in New York, and it offers dozens of shows all year round. Musicals extend anywhere from feel-good Disney to dark humor to historical fiction (think Les Miserables). Ticketmaster would be a good place to get a sense of the sheer scale and variety of options available.
A lot of musicals in London offer last-minute “rush” tickets for a fixed price of 15 to 25 British Pounds (20-33 USD) per seat. Rush tickets are available on the day of the show. You will need to register through the TodayTix app or website and filter the shows by “Lottery & Rush” to see the list of rush tickets being offered at the time (there are plenty!). TodayTix will assign you a random empty seat in the theater; you can buy up to 2 tickets at once so you’ll be seated next to your theater buddy. If you don’t like your seat, you can always return to the previous page and repeat the process until the algorithm assigns you a good enough seat.
Disney shows offer rush tickets on their official website instead of on TodayTix. Disney rush seats are at a fixed price of 25 pounds (33 USD) but the great news is, you can actually see which seats are available and pick them out on your own! Bear in mind that these are also competitive, meaning that you will have to be ready to enter the queue on the dot right as it opens, and you need to purchase your seats before anybody else gets to them.
For other musicals, you can test your luck with ticket lotteries. These lotteries are quite competitive (I know a couple of friends who kept entering every lottery for many months straight and still never got in!) but it’s only a few clicks to enter and it will be absolutely worth it if you win. Lotteries are released every week; you can pick the number of tickets (1 or 2) and the dates in the upcoming week that will work for you.
Personally, I’ve had a lot of luck with rush tickets and it’s the best way to secure a comfortable seat without the anxiety and uncertainty that come with lotteries. Unfortunately, some of the more popular titles, including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Phantom of the Opera, and Hamilton only offer lotteries — for obvious reasons.
Many plays you will be able to book through TodayTix. However, some productions don’t offer tickets through the app but on their official website. Be sure to do your research in advance, so you’re aware of everything you need to know about London theatre and the West End. Significant discounts for young people (up to 25 years old) are available for productions by Donmar Warehouse, the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Barbican Theatre. All of these are under 20 pounds (26 USD) and some are even offered at 5 (7 USD)!
If you’re staying in London long-term and you’re an established theater buff, you might want to consider passes instead. The Royal Shakespeare Company has a “Shakespeare Pass” that gets you into five shows in a year for just 20 pounds (26 USD), and is up for grabs for anyone between 16 and 25 years of age. Keep in mind that despite the name, the Company produces a variety of non-Shakespearean plays, not in the least Matilda The Musical.
Ballet & Opera
As part of the Young ROH scheme, young people aged 16-25 can book seats for 25 pounds for most productions at the Royal Opera House. It also hosts the occasional Young ROH Night, which are fantastic for getting together with your friends on a weekday night and, at 25 pounds for the best seats, enjoying a lil’ world-class opera show that you may otherwise never have the opportunity to witness! Young ROH tickets can run out very quickly, so make sure to sign up for their online newsletter to get notified of immediate openings.
London is home a world-renown classical music scene, boasting over 10 symphony halls throughout the city and more professional orchestra groups that you can count. You might recognize some of their names due to their global prestige, such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Whether it be Mozart or Tchaikovsky, you’re bound to find someone playing something that’s right down your alley. Classical music can be expensive, though… and here’s where student discounts (again!) come in.
Young Barbican offers free membership to 14 to 25 year-olds and secures 50,000 reduced-price tickets for members around the year. Not only limited to classical music, Young Barbican tickets are available for a variety of genres and productions, including museum exhibitions, film screenings, theater, and contemporary music. The highest you’re ever going to pay for a single event as a Young Barbican member is 15 pounds (20 USD). If you’re enjoying a film, that number goes down to just 5 (7 USD).
My personal favorite is Student Pulse, which offers significant student discounts across London’s different classical music events. Discounts are only offered starting from a month before each show, and the process is much less competitive than Young Barbican as there are so many Student Pulse seats available. Tickets are usually priced at 5 to 8 pounds (7-11 USD). At this price tier, I have so casually gotten to witness some world-class musicians that many non-Londoners would die for: the likes of the violinist Janine Jansen and pianist Yuja Wang!
It’s hard to overstate how much London is lovable to an entertainment buff. Although known for high prices, when it comes to the arts, London releases its creative energy on you like water. The city is also the best chance you’ll ever get to expand your horizons: here might be where you visit a classical music concert for the first time and decide you love the tranquility of it, or you’ll set foot in the Globe and realize that your destiny has always been to become a Shakespearean actor, after all. Many of these options are only available until you are 25 years old, so it’s something to take advantage of now or never.