Spotify is traditionally associated with music streaming, yet its podcast output has grown significantly in the last few years, cultivating in the major coup of various creators and high-profile names hosting exclusive content over the platform.
With more than 2 million podcasts on Spotify, some of them bizarre, many of them fascinating and quite a few hovering somewhere in between, it can be tricky choosing the right content for you. All tastes are hugely subjective in such a variable arena, but we're here to offer a wide-ranging round-up of the best podcasts on the platform drawn from the realms of music, true crime, history, sport, entertainment, comedy and much else besides.
Our rundown includes a mix of both Originals and podcasts which you can find elsewhere, and most of the shows listed below are still running and being updated at least semi-regularly.
Incidentally, if you're after something more hi-fi orientated, then take a look at our choice of the best podcasts for music lovers instead.
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The Lex Fridman Podcast
AI expert, computer scientist and ju-jitsu enthusiast: you wouldn't pick Lex Fridman out as a high-profile interviewer. Lex’s pod, titled The Lex Fridman Podcast in suitably practical fashion, takes the same sort of interviewer/interviewee format that has become such a mainstay of YouTube and the podcast realm, bringing the Russian-American's straightforward yet insightful style to thousands of listeners.
What guests they are, though. The big circuit names such as Sam Harris and Andrew Huberman make appearances, yet also featured for in-depth chats are the likes of MMA legend Georges St. Pierre, former cybercriminal Brett Johnson, historian Niall Ferguson, Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari – the list of fascinating intellectuals, over-achievers and engrossing eccentrics is endless.
Seemingly without bias, agenda or any motivation besides open discourse, Lex’s podcast is one of the few places in which an episode with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be followed by Palestinian writer poet and activist Mohammed el-Kurd.
Considering the depth and variety offered by Intelligence Squared, it’s best just to dip in and out to find the episodes that interest you rather than dedicating half your life to digesting every single informative instalment. Much like Lex Fridman’s pod but released more frequently and with a more substantial back catalogue, Intelligence Squared is designed as a forum for grown-up conversations, deep dives and investigations into pretty much any subject you can think of.
For a taste of what we mean, a sample of the episodes from a week in July 2023 includes Steven Pinker on 'Optimism', a discussion regarding the International Criminal Court and Vladimir Putin, a history of the handshake (yes, really), a double live episode recording of Willem Dafoe on acting, and then another two-parter featuring former president Jimmy Carter alongside Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu. Hardly slim pickings.
There are literally hundreds of great history podcasts floating around on Spotify, so much so it was hard to pick just a couple for inclusion in this list. If anything, we’d encourage you (if you have the inclination) to dig as deep into the sub-genre as you can to find the history pod or pods that are right for you.
Gone Medieval has the best of all worlds. It’s obviously concerned with a particular time period (the classic definition of the Medieval period usually spans around 476AD-1450-ish), yet the breadth of topics covered, mainly in the form of a lively interview with a preeminent historian, makes for a relentlessly engaging listen. Medieval sex workers, the Crusades, erotic poetry, the Vikings (obviously), the cult of St. Switham, the treatment of Jews – few Middle-ages stones are left unturned.
The Louis Theroux Podcast
The original sexy nerd Louis Theroux has been making trailblazing TV docs for as long as most of us can remember, but he’s recently branched out into the realm of radio and podcasts, much to the delight of geek-fanciers everywhere.
Following a successful stint on the BBC, Louis now has his own Spotify Exclusive podcast in which he chats to an eclectic mix of eager interviewees. It’s only just getting off the ground right now, but the show has already featured the likes of Craig David, Nick Cave (ever-popular in our testing rooms), Nile Rodgers and Ben Elton, and things are only likely to get even better as time goes on.
Kermode & Mayo's Take
The Kermode & Mayo Film Review on BBC Radio 5 Live was a cultural stalwart for 21 whole years, rounding up the best (and, more enjoyably, worst) movies of each week before airing its last episode on April 1, 2022. With Mayo acting as beast master to Kermode, often letting his esteemed critical colleague unsheath his talons on some recent cinematic fare, the show’s core dynamic and keen desire to let the worst of the film world feel the force of Kermode’s ire made it a massive success.
Happily, the pair shuffled pretty quickly over to Spotify to continue their cinematic ramblings, and in many ways it’s like they’ve never been away. Ideal for cinephiles everywhere, there’s nothing quite like a Kermode rant to start the day, especially if a Michael Bay film is involved.
Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (RHLTSP)
Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (or RHLSTP for the sake of our typing fingers) has become the name in comedy podcasts over the last decade or so. Hosted by comedian Richard Herring and coming live (usually) from London's Leicester Square Theatre (again, usually), there's nowhere better for interviews with the best and brightest stars of the UK comedy scene.
Herring is the man who brings it all together though, his deliberately bizarre, ramshackle presenting style creating a unique comedy dynamic with whomever he chats. For an insight into Herring's mind, the show's so-called 'Emergency Questions' have included "have you ever seen a Bigfoot?", “would you prefer to have a hand made out of ham or an armpit that dispenses sun cream?" and "what is your third earliest memory?"
No Such Thing As A Fish
Comprising four of the writer-cum-researchers (often referred to as ‘Elves’) from the hugely popular fact-based BBC panel show QI, No Such Thing As A Fish is a God-send for those of us who just can’t get enough facts and trivia to stuff into the spongey matter in our craniums.
Easily one of the most informative and entertaining pods out there, NSTAAF takes the inquisitive spirit of QI and runs with it. Now often including QI stalwarts such as Cariad Lloyd and Sara Pascoe as regular guests, each episode dives deep into practically any subject or intellectual side alley you can think of, be it moss or Doctor Who, WB Yeats or Guinness World Records.
Wind Of Change
We challenge you to read the synopsis to this one and not want to listen all eight episodes immediately. "It’s 1990. The Berlin Wall just fell. The Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse. And the soundtrack to the revolution is one of the best-selling songs of all time, the metal ballad “Wind of Change,” by the Scorpions. Decades later, journalist Patrick Radden Keefe heard a rumour: the song wasn’t written by the Scorpions. It was written by the CIA. This is his journey to find the truth." We're happy to report, the podcast is every bit as good as it sounds.
Dolly Parton's America
Is Dolly Parton the only thing holding America together? In these sadly divided times, this podcast answers that question with... maybe. Jad Abumrad, a US radio host, explores Parton's ability to unify the divided nation, not only by exploring her fascinating life but also by delving deep into his own past growing up as an "Arab kid in a southern Baptist universe". Much like the artist herself, this podcast delivers more than may first meet the eye.
The Lazarus Heist
Almost a perfect crime... From hackers to Hollywood, North Korea to counterfeit money, this web of intrigue is weaved artfully by the BBC World Service production team. True crime meets international espionage in a tale for our times.
Tech supremo Kara Swisher tackles big issues and big cheeses in her trademark no-nonsense style, guiding us through the world of technology's talking points, at once explaining complex ideas simply while diving deep into the detail. From Alan Rusbridger to Evan Spiegel, Sway draws some high-profile guests – and they're spared no punches.
Today in Focus
From The Guardian, Anushka Asthana and Rachel Humphreys deliver a daily dose of news analysis that makes the noisy news cycle easier to absorb. It's also worth checking out Freshwater, produced by the same team and focusing on the five fishermen who were sentenced to a total of 104 years in prison after £53m of cocaine was discovered in Freshwater Bay off the Isle of Wight. All five men have always maintained their innocence and the five-part series takes an extended look at the case and features interviews with some of the people involved.
Making Sense with Sam Harris
No need to listen from the beginning, dip in and out of more than 250 episodes as neuroscientist, philosopher and best-selling author Sam Harris explores the human mind, society and current events. Topics include how technology is affecting our attention spans, the science of psychedelics, a discussion on life with Richard Dawkins and what it's like to escape a Christian cult. We guarantee you'll feel smarter after every episode.
Where is George Gibney?
This is an incredibly sensitive subject handled with great skill by Mark Horgan of Irish production company Second Captains. The podcast follows an investigation into the sexual abuse allegations against famous Olympic swimming coach George Gibney, who terrorised generations of young swimmers and is now living life on the run in the US. The podcast takes in stories from the survivors as well as the hunt for Gibney himself.
Malcolm Gladwell heads for a second and closer look at events, people, ideas and even songs from the past, which might not have been fully understood at the time. This is another great series from Pushkin Industries with episodes covering, well, all sorts of strange and hard-to-pin-down stuff. Just try it.
Son of a Hitman
Produced by Spotify Studios, this is a multi-part limited series hosted by journalist Jason Cavanagh. He conducts a real-time investigation into the murders, crimes, and conspiracies of hitman Charles Harrelson, father to actor Woody Harrelson. It's not exactly your everyday yarn, and there aren't many episodes, so make sure you savour them.
You're Dead to Me
Greg Jenner, the self-titled Chief Nerd from the BBC's children's TV show Horrible Histories, has created a set of history podcasts for adults. Now into its fourth year, it covers topics including the infamous pirate Blackbeard, Boudica, the Spartans and the richest person to have ever lived, Mansa Musa. Jenner is joined by historians and comedians along the way to ensure the result is a funny, informative and often corrective romp through time.
Another superb series from the BBC, Soul Music is an uplifting look at the power of songs. Each host-less, half-hour episode centres on a single track and the set of differing emotional impacts and connections it made for a string of famous and non-famous people. What you hear is a set of wonderful and different stories about the same piece of music with each speaker passing the baton to the next so smoothly that it almost feels dreamlike. Have a listen and feel good.
Another Spotify Original, Football Legends is, as the name suggests, focused on the great, or at least well-remembered and cult players, of the beautiful game. It's hosted by a mixture of football broadcasters, writers and even an ex-player or two, who examine the lesser-known stories from footballers' biographies. Episodes are at around the ten-minute mark and have involved players such as Adebayo Akinfenwa, Carlton Palmer and Andrea Pirlo.
Unexplained is a haunting and unsettling bi-weekly podcast about strange and mysterious real-life events that continue to evade explanation. The host, London-based Richard Maclean Smith, brings a refreshingly different style compared to the slew of US investigative podcasts. The constant, disturbing soundtrack in the background also helps to add to that sense of folklore horror.
There are seven seasons to be scared by, so look forward to sleeping with the lights on for the foreseeable future.
In the Dark
Investigative journalism has found a new home in podcasting and can even adapt when the crime being investigated ends up getting solved just before the first episode is aired. In the case of season one of In the Dark, it provides a fascinating insight into the failures of a law enforcement system that took 27 years to solve a murder that could have had its case closed on the night of the crime.
Forget about Train Guy, quiz shows and the Big Night Out: it turns out that the real genius of English comedian Bob Mortimer is his impressions of Newcastle United legend Peter Beardsley and his hen-pecking wife with a poached egg obsession. Loosely based on football, it also features a very amusing caricature of one-time England manager Roy Hodgson and his love of Warhammer. Of course it does. British humour at its best.
Slow Burn takes famous incidents – Watergate, Clinton's impeachment and, less predictably, the murders of Biggie and Tupac – and unfolds the details until it becomes something far, far larger than you had ever imagined. If you want to know just how powerful and pervasive politics is, then prepare to take a peep behind the curtain. Now into its eighth season.
Love a prison drama? How about the real thing? Ear Hustle brings everyday stories from the day-to-day lives of inmates at California's San Quentin State Prison. The show itself is recorded in the correctional facility and hosted by one of its inmates. The title of the show is prison slang for eavesdropping – and now we can have a listen to what they heard.
The Adam Buxton Podcast
He's been at it solo since 2015 but somehow The Adam Buxton Podcast just keeps getting better and better. If you've not yet tuned in, it's a rambling chat between Buxton and a celebrity guest, normally from the world of comedy or the arts. That being said, the highlight might just be his opening monologues as he walks through the countryside with his dog Rosie, or the insane self-made jingles that punctuate the show's course.
If you're a fan of The Adam Buxton podcast, it's worth digging out the Adam and Joe Show, the radio programme Buxton presented with good friend and long-time collaborator Joe Cornish before the pair amicably went their separate ways. Broadcast first on XFM (now Radio X) before moving over to BBC 6 Music, it's still one of the finest double-handers in radio history.
WTF with Marc Maron
To say that stand-up comedian Marc Maron is the Adam Buxton of America is in no way accurate, but their podcasts do occupy a similar niche. The format is more or less the same – Maron interviews famous celebs, they chat, we laugh – but, not being unfair to Buxton, the celebs are bigger (in the US, at least), and the podcast is even more long-standing. Glance through the list of over 1000 episodes and let rip.
NPR's race and identity remix has been running since 2016 and is still going strong. It's hosted by two US journalists of colour who tackle the tricky issues and stories about race and ethnicity, the answers to which they're often not too sure about themselves. It's an interesting, intelligent, highly informative and always political 45 minutes, or thereabouts. This is one where you're probably best off starting at the beginning. Enjoy the ride.
This Gimlet show is a tech podcast without the heavy nerdiness. Each episode, hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman investigate issues and annoyances of the internet age. Through the show's tech support hotline, the pair examine memes, connected pop culture, scammers, the extent to which Facebook is spying on you, and much more. All troubles of the modern age are addressed and, sometimes, solved.
Stuff You Should Know
Practically as old as podcasting itself, SYSK has racked up over 1400 episodes since its birth in 2008. Hosted by two writers from infotainment website HowStuffWorks, each listen is an in-depth look at a varied range of subjects, from narcolepsy to heroin, the Tiananmen Square massacre to what causes inflation. No need to start at the beginning, just flick through and download a few topics of interest.
The Missing Cryptoqueen
This investigative series from the BBC uncovers what could go down as the biggest con of all time. Combine the lawless, get-rich-quick mentality of the cryptocurrency rush, the evils of multi-level marketing and one seriously impressive front lady, and what arises is a billion-dollar fraud that's sadly still hooking people to this day.
Read our full Spotify review here
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