Bordered by Oxford Street and The Strand, the West End’s synonymous with theatre. Broadway transfers, musicals and premières open at a dizzying rate; after dark, the area’s bright with neon lights and buzzing with expectation. There’s a thrill to seeing a show here, even if you’re in the gods (theatrical slang for the cheapest, highest upper-circle seats). Afterwards, join the throng heading into Soho, in search of a restorative glass of wine or sociable late supper.
Lesser productions have come and gone, but Disney’s story of Simba the lion cub has been running for 20 years. The puppetry and masks are breath-taking, while the Elton John-penned Circle of Life has been known to make grown men cry.
The Lyceum, 21 Wellington Street, WC2
The plot’s featherlight, but that’s hardly the point of this feelgood, Greek-island-set musical. It’s a chance to wheel out some wildly kitsch, sequined 70s costumes, and an all-singing, all-dancing succession of ABBA’s greatest hits.
Novello Theatre, Aldwych, WC2B
The New York Times dubbed this ‘best musical of the century’ when it opened on Broadway. Written by the duo behind South Park, it follows two Mormon missionaries posted to Uganda. It’s savagely satirical and funny (and not for under-15s).
The Prince of Wales Theatre, Coventry Street, W1D
West End prices can be high, but there are ways to find cheaper deals. Queue up at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for discounted last-minute tickets (the website lists what shows they’re selling seats for that day).
Meanwhile, even sold-out plays and musicals often get same-day returns or hold back a limited number of cheaply priced ‘day-seats’. Do your research on the show you want to see, then head to the box office in the morning.
From musicals to children’s theatre shows and Christmas pantomimes, London’s theatre scene has something for all ages. Daytime matinées can avoid fraying tempers, while Kids’ Week, held every August, offers free tickets for 16-and-unders.
Opened as a music hall in 1904, this is one of London’s grandest theatres. Its Edwardian interiors are a riot of cherubs and gold-leaf, while the roof is topped with a magnificent revolving globe. Now home to the English National Opera, it also runs guided tours, taking in off-limits backstage areas (and tales of resident ghosts).
St Pauls (aka the Actors’ Church) is set on Covent Garden, backdropping all manner of offbeat street performers. The church is full of memorials to theatre’s great and good, from Ellen Terry to Noël Coward, while its bench-lined gardens are a haven for lunching locals. What’s more, it stages alfresco plays and musicals in summer.
Who better to take you on a tour of the West End than Sir Ian McKellen? The dulcet-voiced thespian narrates this free-to-download audio tour, kicking off at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. Spiked with anecdotes, time-travel, murders and more, it whisks you round some of the West End’s most famous theatres.
Just off Piccadilly, this art-deco brasserie is impossibly grand, with its marble columns and mirrored bar. The big surprise? The bargain prices and set menus – though it’s worth straying off the prix-fixe for a heavenly île flottante.
Skip the interval ice-cream, and head to Gelupo after the show. Co-owned by chef Jacob Kenedy, this small Soho address whips up sublime seasonal gelato. Think ricotta and sour cherry, banana stracciatella or a scoop of blood-orange sorbet.
After a slick refurb, this Chinatown pub is a cut above the average London boozer. Upstairs, there’s a tiny cocktail bar, but hit the ground-level pub for a pint, with its leather stools, terrific ales and tasty Ogleshield cheese toasties.
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