If there is one place name in London that instantly brings to mind the capital’s Afro-Caribbean community its Brixton.
Like any working class area in London Brixton once had an edge, but in April 1981 this place earned particular notoriety as the scene of a riot brought about by inequality and unemployment.
On the flipside Brixton has also always been cool, diverse, creative and full of fun, with some of the best live music venues in London and some of its wildest nightspots.
Being so close to the centre of London has led to a lot of regeneration in the last 20 years.
So, for better or worse, art house cinemas, craft beer pubs and concept bars rub shoulders with exotic markets and artisan studios.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Brixton:
1. Brockwell Park
Where South Brixton, Herne Hill and Tulse Hill all meet is a graceful Victorian park that has held onto its 19th-century layout.
Brockwell Park is on a rise and has romantic views of the London skyline.
This space used to be a manor, and at the highest point stands the Georgian Brockwell Hall, which has the park’s cafe on its ground floor.
There are endless facilities at the park, including a huge playground, a paddling pool and miniature railway for kids, various sports facilities and three duck ponds.
The walled garden has beautiful arrangements of herbs and flowers, and just outside is a twee model village dating to 1943. There are outdoor events all summer long at Brockwell Park, but the big one is the Lambeth Country Show in July, for live music, parades, dance, a petting zoo, international food, a flower show and eco market.
2. Brixton Market
A dose of the real London, Brixton Market trades seven days a week from 08:00-19:00. The market is anchored on the pedestrianised Electric Avenue, but spills onto adjoining arcades that were built to provide permanent spaces for stallholders in the 20s and 30s.
These covered arcades are the Reliance Arcade, Market Row and Brixton Village.
For the second half of the 20th century Brixton Market was the place to go for West Indian food, fresh produce and fabrics.
And although the Afro-Caribbean community is still front and centre, the market is even more international and has over 130 independent traders.
Shop for fresh fish, meat, art, handicrafts, vinyl, antiques and handmade cookware.
Whether you’re out for tacos, Portuguese grilled chicken, Moroccan tagines, Ethiopian stews or spicy Caribbean delights, the food is incredible.
3. Electric Avenue
Suffused with the sights, sounds and scents of Brixton Market, Electric Avenue is a street with a lot to say for itself.
That snappy name isn’t new; in the 1880s Electric Avenue was the first ever market street to be illuminated with electricity.
Those lights used to hang from a continuous glass canopy that traced the shopfronts, but sadly this was damaged in the Second World War and was eventually removed.
Electric Avenue was the title of Eddy Grant’s song about the Brixton Riots, which became an international hit.
In 2016 Grant was here for the unveiling of a large “Electric Avenue” sign to cap a £1m regeneration of the street.
4. Brixton Academy
One of London’s premier live music venues, the 4,921-capacity Brixton Academy has booked an unbelievable roll-call of music talent since it opened in 1983. Previously this building had been the Astoria Cinema, completed in 1929. Although the lower seating was removed when the cinema was converted in the 70s, a lot of the original neo-Renaissance details remain, like a proscenium arch, false loggia, balustrade and Corinthian columns.
Name a famous rock act, from the Clash to the White Stripes, Bob Dylan and the Sex Pistols, and they’ll have played the Brixton Academy.
New Order, Pixies and many more have recorded live albums here, while the Smiths played their last ever live concert at the venue in 1986. Check the calendar and book well in advance to see your favourite band.
5. Brixton Murals
After the riots in 1982 more attention was paid to Brixton’s socioeconomic difficulties and its need for a voice.
In response Lambeth Council commissioned a series of eye-catching murals by local artists.
These are some of the largest murals in London and nearly all have been preserved and are restored every few years.
The paintings are labelled on Google Maps, so you can take a tour through Brixton’s not so distant past.
On Stockwell Park Walk, see the Brixton Academy Mural, showing young people of different heritages having fun, or the Brixton Railway Station Murals, depicting the chaos and colour of Brixton Market as it was in the 80s.
Another sign of the times is Nuclear Dawn on Coldharbour Lane, with a skeleton and image of London in a nuclear blast.
6. Windrush Square
This open space fronting the Brixton Tate Library has a name charged with meaning for the UK’s Afro-Caribbean community.
The HMT Empire Windrush was the ship that brought the country’s first immigrants from the Caribbean in 1948. After arriving they were given temporary housing a few minutes away on foot on Coldharbour Lane.
On the square’s east side are the Black Cultural Archives, housed in the former Raleigh Hall, a striking Georgian townhouse that had been abandoned for decades before it was restored in the 2010s.
Here you can view temporary exhibitions about the Black British experience and prominent black Britons.
Brixton’s dining offer is the definition of 21st-century London, and almost impossible to sum up in one paragraph.
The variety of international cuisines can make your head spin and mouth water.
Two locations that demand attention are Brixton Village, which we’ll cover next, and Pop Brixton, a trendy dining destination with eateries housed in shipping containers.
Given Brixton’s heritage, West Indian food needs to be a priority, and Fish, Wings and Tings and Bamboula stand out for their curry goat, saltfish and jerk chicken.
But you can’t neglect the artisan burger joints like Dirty Burger and Honest Burgers, as well as tapas and pintxos spots like the Donostia Social Club and the Boqueria.
Franco Manca has Neapolitan-style thin pizza, while there’s no end of affordable oriental eateries like KaoSarn, Koi Ramen Bar and Kricket for a 21st-century take on tasty Indian specialities like pakoras.
8. Brixton Village
Formerly the Granville Arcade, Brixton Village comes under the umbrella of Brixton Market.
Off Coldharbour Lane, the arcade goes back to 1937 and houses two-storey shopping arteries called “avenues”. Along with the neighbouring Market Row.
Brixton Village has broken out as a great place to go for international food, representing all the local communities.
So you can come for jerk chicken, jollof rice, ramen, curry or tapas, and to browse the shops laden with vintage clothes, fabrics, charcuterie, cheese, handicrafts and even dealing in Chinese medicine.
9. Going Out
Brixton has always had pulsating nightlife, but since the 90s has come through as one of London’s best places to go out.
There’s a whole raft of pubs and bars, from louche cocktail bars to old-school boozers to more modern pubs with long menus of craft beer in bottle or on tap and hunger-slaying food like fried chicken.
Crown & Anchor, Commercial, Florence, Blinder and Naughty Piglets area few of the picks.
Check out First Aid Box in Herne Hill, which has a peculiar pharmacy theme and serves cocktails with a syringe.
Brixton’s clubbing scene is as diverse as its inhabitants.
Many legendary nightclubs, like the Fridge, have come and gone, but one of the abiding favourites is Dogstar on Coldharbour Lane, for anything from reggae to house music.
Brixton is also home to the torture garden, the world’s largest fetish club.
10. Ritzy Cinema
Brixton has one of the oldest purpose-built cinemas in England.
With a regal neo-Baroque exterior, the Ritzy Cinema opened as the “Electric Pavilion” in 1911. Very few English cinemas from this period are still used for their intended purpose, and in 2009 the Ritzy’s interior decoration was restored to its exuberant original style.
The cinema is run by Picturehouse, a brand known for showing independent and international movies along with Hollywood blockbusters.
The top floor “Upstairs at the Ritzy” has become a live music and comedy venue, while on the ground floor is a bar and cafe with an outdoor terrace facing the Brixton Oval.
11. Ashby’s Mill
When this windmill near Brixton Prison was built in 1816, it stood in open Surrey countryside.
The mill produced flour with wind power from 1816 to 1862, when its sails were taken down and it was used as a storehouse.
Later the mill was revived with steam and ten gas engines, and Ashby’s Mill supplied wholemeal flour to many of the top West End hotels and restaurants.
In 2003 a campaign was launched to restore the windmill, and this project was realised in 2011. There are free guided tours of the mill from March to October, when you’ll see some of the internal workings, like the steam-powered millstone from 1902.
12. The Oval
One of cricket’s most fabled grounds is a few minutes north on the bus or tube.
The home of Surrey County Cricket Club since 1845, The Oval can seat 25,500 and is one of the oldest sport stadiums in the world still in use.
And since the 19th century the ground has also almost always hosted the last international test match of the English season.
This will take place at the end of a tour by one of the major cricket nations like Australia, South Africa, India or Pakistan.
Throughout the summer Surrey play their first-class county matches and limited overs (shorter) matches at the Oval.
England also play at least two One Day Internationals at the Oval each summer, which may appeal to people unfamiliar with the sport, as these matches are faster and less tactical.
13. Stockwell Skate Park
Affectionately known as “Brixton Beach”, this large concrete skate park has an international reputation and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2018. Fronted by modern housing and Victorian terraces, the park is plastered with graffiti and street art and is a honeypot for skateboarders, rollerskaters, BMXers, photographers and people just hanging out.
The surface has been relaid a few times since 1978 and the park is such a fixture in Brixton that it has been designated an Asset of Community Value.
14. Hope and Anchor Pub
The reason this pub has made in on the list is for one game-changing feature: The Hope and Anchor has one of the best pub gardens in London.
This space has a tropical theme, and among the palms, fairy lights, tuk-tuks and decking are 13 very sociable tiki-style beach huts.
These are equipped with heating, a godsend in winter, and also have their own TV screens.
There are outdoor barbecues, Cuban-themed mojito nights in summer, as well as a big screen for major sporting events like the Euros and World Cup.
15. Brockwell Lido
Lidos (outdoor swimming pools) came into fashion in the 1920s and 30s and sprang up in parks across the capital.
Most closed down towards the end of the century, but a few have been revived.
The Brockwell Lido can be found on the north side of Brockwell Park and first opened in 1937. Refurbished in the 2000s with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, this lido is a Grade II-listed monument with sleek Art Deco architecture.
The 50-metre pool is open year round from morning to night, and has a hydro spa, sauna and steam room.
On summer nights the Luna Cinema puts on movie screenings across the water.