London’s Most Atmospheric Cinemas

London is home to some of the most stunning boutique cinema screens, offered as an alternative to the bustling multiplexes; you can watch the latest Hollywood flick, edgy independent and high-end foreign films. With the temperature outside dropping and the Film Award season on the horizon, there is no better way to relish the festive season than by catching a film at one of our top five atmospheric cinemas. In no particular order, we have:

The Ritzy, Brixton

Genuine film buffs unite right in the heart of Brixton. City Screen owns the Picturehouse chain and the Ritzy is by far our favourite venue. Hosting regular Q&As, film festivals and themed seasons, the cinema showcases the latest Hollywood films but an integral part of their programming is always centred around independent, art-house and foreign language films. Unconventionally, the café is open from 8am offering a full English breakfast (!) and later in the day, the bar offers a great range of beers and wines starting from around £5. There is certainly a young and buzzy vibe about this place and hanging around post-film is certainly a feasible option – ‘upstairs at The Ritzy’ launched in 2009 and has since been enjoying DJ nights, film quizzes and comedy nights seven nights a week. Film tickets start from £10.50 (or £5 on Mondays).

Rio Cinema, Dalston

In hipsters paradise, Dalston, the Rio Cinema on Kingsland High Street has been around since 1937 and claims to serve sections of the community who are often ignored by mainstream cinema. They have annual film festivals showcasing the work of Turkish, Spanish and Gay and Lesbian filmmakers. Having said this, they are currently screening the new Hobbit film, so mainstream isn’t completely out of the picture. They are particularly renowned for their midweek matinees and kids club, tickets starting from £8. The bourgeois café sells tasty homemade cakes and a good selection of drinks for cheap. The Art Deco architecture is majestic in style and with an eclectic selection of films, the Rio is certainly one of the most iconic screens in London.

The Electric, Notting Hill

Set in the vibrant and iconic Portobello Road in Notting Hill, The Electric is certainly the most glamorous cinema in London. Officially opened in 1911 with 65 individual leather armchairs, footstools and side tables, the exquisite interior will transport you to the 1920s. In addition there are three two-seater sofas at the rear of the theatre and double beds at the front and, to complete your unique cinema experience, there are individual cashmere blankets on offer. With a bar located at the back of the screen, the Electric diner next door and the traditional donut stand by the entrance, ticket prices are not cheap and start from £15.50 right up to £40. Currently screening The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug and Frank Capra’s 1940s classic, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Electric is an ideal date location to impress your partner in one of the most romantic and nostalgic settings.

Everyman Cinema, Maida Vale

This two-screen cinema set on a quaint residential street is a stone’s throw away from Maida Vale underground station. Opened in 2011, Everyman Maida Vale has the unique balance of being sophisticated as well as exceptionally cosy. You can even have great offerings from the menu (homemade pizza for a mere £5 and drinks starting from £5) delivered right to your seat. The décor is eccentric, plenty of old movie posters on the walls making it an alluring cinema-going experience. For one of their velvet two-seaters you can expect to pay £14.50. We highly recommended going for a pre/post-drink at The Elgin or The Warrington: both are close-by.

Phoenix, East Finchley

On the main high street in East Finchley, across the road from the underground station, you will find a rickety building with bags of character and charm: The Phoenix. This adorable, independent cinema has been around since 1912 where it used to showcase silent films with live music. Since the 1980s, The Phoenix has been a community led cinema, run by a charitable trust dedicated to screening the latest flicks as well as offering an array of independent and foreign films. Another unique feature is the small balcony that overlooks the high street that can be enjoyed when ordering something from their reasonably priced café bar – a fantastic variety of sandwiches, salads and drinks that are not typical of the majority of cinema menus. You can get further discounted prices if you become a Friend of The Phoenix for a mere £25 a year.

We must mention that Screen on the Green in Angel, Rich Mix in Bethnal Green and The Curzon Cinema in Soho are also high on our list – they must be visited if you haven’t already!

By Natasha Saifolahi

Photos by Antoni, Gaz-zee-boh and M@ from the Londonist Flickr pool

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  • jemp
    • Rachel Holdsworth

      The Rio says rumours of it closing are overblown but does say it needs more funds to maintain its alternative programme. But then, that’s true of all indie cinemas

      • Michael Jennings

        The best thing you can do if you want the Rio (or any other cinema) to stay open and/or maintain its alternative programme is to go and see lots of films there, particularly those in the alternative programme.

        • Natasha Saifolahi

          well said Michael!

  • Adam

    fantastic article! I love the electric! Will have to
    check out the others… the phoenix sounds very cute

  • Ivona Poyntz

    Hackney Empire, when it shows film, is pretty spectacular as well.

  • Chris

    Love the Renoir in Russell Square – in the middle of the iconic Brunswick centre and completely underground – it feels like stepping into a womb (in a good way!)

  • Rosanna

    Great article…long live The Phoenix- love that cinema & seen many weird & wonderful films there!

  • Rosie

    The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square has to be my favourite!

  • Laura

    The Aubin cinema in Shoreditch is also delightful, especially the little shrugs and footstools they give you!

  • Neil Evans

    No mention of 3.50 Tuesdays at the Notting Hill Coronet?