Many visitors to London spend some of their time having a look around the world-famous West End. And who can blame them? The glittering centre of Central London is made up of globally renowned streets and piazzas such as Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Oxford Street and Regent Street, and areas like Soho, Mayfair, St. James, Bloomsbury and Seven Dials. It’s brimming with quality shopping, theatre, movie-going and food and drink options. Family-friendly and ideal for an unforgettable night out, there’s really nowhere else in the UK capital quite like the West End. Here’s a deeper break-down of just what the area offers visitors…
The West End is actually quite a large area compared to the tourist traps of many other major cities, stretching from the salubrious Park Lane in the west to Kingsway in the east. That means it’s a bit too far to walk from end to the other, so the best way to get around (if it’s not rush hour) is usually by London Underground – or the Tube, as it’s affectionately referred to –but buses are also frequent and inexpensive. You can pay for both via a Visitor Oyster Card (a contactless travel payment); while, for the more adventurous, the London Cycle Hire Scheme might be just the ticket.
Some might suggest that the recent openings of the giant Westfield malls in White City and Stratford have put West End shopping options in the shade, but that would discount so many of the UK’s flagship stores that can be found on the retail thoroughfares of Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street and Piccadilly. Specifically we’re talking the top shops of the likes of Selfridges, House of Fraser, Ralph Lauren, Nike, Waterstones, Hamleys, The Apple Store and, well, Topshop.
If you fancy for something less mainstream and more individual, though, the eclectic and trendy boutiques of Carnaby Street, Berwick Street and Kingly Court in Soho, plus mock Tudor department store Liberty (at the entrance to Carnaby Street), are not to be missed.
Putting on a show
The West End is maybe most famed for its theatre – indeed, ‘the West End’ is usually used as shorthand to refer to the many theatres of Central London and their staged productions. Often considered the best theatre scene in the world (thanks to the quality of the plays it puts on, two world-renowned theatre companies dedicated to Shakespeare and a musical heritage that’s produced the likes of Les Misèrables and The Phantom of the Opera), you can see the best of its output at discount prices by visiting the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for on-the-day shows and future performances. Wherever you’re staying during your London visit (whether it’s Shaftesbury Premier London Paddington or anywhere else), you fancy a night at the theatre, be sure to make a bee-line for this booth first thing that morning.
At the flicks
Leicester Square, located right in the heart of the West End, is perhaps most renowned for its cluster of cinemas (in fact, the tiles ofthe Leicester Square Tube station platforms are designed to look like celluloid film). It’s here that many major movie premieres took place – and thus Hollywood stars can be spotted on a regular basis. If you’re patient enough and wait a few hours, it’s quite possible you could spot your favourite film thesp here during your visit. Leicester Square too is home to the 24-hour Hippodrome Casino, one of today’s most popular London West End attractions; it hosts live shows as well as offering punters the chance to dabble in a spot of glamorous gambling.
A drink and a dance
Nightlife is arguably the heartbeat of the West End – London’s reputation for being a never-standing-still, ever-changing but forever fashionable and of-the-moment metropolis could be said to be summed up by the many bars and clubs you’ll come across in the area. From the long-standing efforts that are Café de Paris and Tiger Tiger (both near Piccadilly Circus) and trendy spots such as Dirty Martini (Covent Garden) or the classy hotel water hotels Artesian at The Langham and Scoff & Banter (Leicester Square), there’s something for everyone – especially when you consider the scene is always reinventing itself and new places are perpetually springing up.
Plus, let’s not overlook the fact that Soho is renowned throughout the world for all its LGBT-based bars and clubs – an enormously colourful and lively part of town come Friday and Saturday nights.
The West End offers an enormous number of different options if you’re going out to eat, perfectly catering to luxurious haute cuisine at one end of the scale to cheap eateries and take-outs at the other. Famous names can be spotted in the elitist environs of the world-famous restaurants The Ivy and Rules, while increasingly popular comfort food is the order of the day at the likes of Jamie’s Italian and Spaghetti House.
Furthermore, while there’s a great deal of South East Asian cuisine to enjoy in the Chinatown quarter of Soho (the highest concentration in the UK, in fact), there’s a multitude of high-calibre Indian and Pakistani, French, Greek, fresh seafood and, of course, good quality, traditional British fare throughout the area. Plus, in Mayfair, you’ll find more Michelin-starred restaurants than in any other postcode in the country – if that doesn’t whet your appetite for West End dining, nothing will.