Explore Covent Garden and the West End
- Best for Taking centre stage
- Locals loveMatinees and markets
- Don’t miss A big-ticket show
The West End is London’s scene-stealer of a neighbourhood. Its Zone 1 boundaries are hotly debated, but within lies the capital’s main shopping stretches, Piccadilly’s neon billboards, Chinatown and Theatreland. Book a base here (the legendary Savoy, perhaps?) and you’re in pole position for sightseeing. Fashionistas can spree along the shop-lined stretches of Regent and Oxford Streets (admiring both John Nash’s genteel architecture and Selfridges’ labels), and the luxe boutiques of Bond Street. Covent Garden’s loggia once sheltered a fruit and veg market, but now covers craftier traders, cult labels and cafés whose tables spill onto the piazza.
Soho, once London’s naughty bit, still has a glint in its eye – though its neon signs now mostly signpost hip eateries and buzzy LGBT bars. Come summer, punctuate shopping splurges with streetside coffees and cocktails, or wander down the Strand for a glass at Gordon’s Wine Bar. Spot the stars on Leicester Square’s red carpets; on non-premiere nights, check out Prince Charles Cinema’s singalongs and cult screenings. Plump for a classic pre-theatre treat at The Ivy or Balthazar. It’s curtains up in Theatreland, then on to Soho’s aftershow parties.
NEAL’S YARD SQUARENeal’s Yard, WC2H 9PJ
Rainbow façades and climbing gardens greet you as you turn into Neal’s Yard – a haven amid Covent Garden’s hubbub. Activist Nicholas Saunders breathed new life into the space with a popular wholefoods shop in the 70s, and it’s still a bit boho. Vegan and North African fare and ethical coffee sit by an artisanal dairy and famed organic beauty shop, Neal’s Yard Remedies.
RADIO ROOFTOP BAR336–337 Strand, WC2R 1HA
For a group shot of London landmarks, head up ten floors to ME London Hotel’s rooftop bar. As well as 360-degree views, well-heeled revellers enjoy Mediterranean tapas and a lavish list of cocktails, champagnes and spirits – G&T fanciers have 18 gins to try. A young and beautiful crowd roost here, so whether ascending for brunch, afternoon tea or drinks, dress up, way up.
THE SOMERSET HOUSEStrand, WC2R 1LA
This neoclassical pile on the Strand has been a palace, a tax office and the star of two Bond movies. But it’s in best form as an arts venue. On balmy nights, settle in the courtyard for flicks at the Film4 Summer Screen and world-class Summer Series gigs. Or eye up the art and theatre on rotation. By day, the courtyard can be a real sun trap, where kids will love sprinting through the 55-jet fountain.
THEATRELAND8 Argyll St, Soho, London W1F 7TE
Seek out high drama at this run of historic theatres: the Coliseum, Apollo Victoria, the London Palladium, Lyceum, Noël Coward, Theatre Royal Drury Lane… Whether Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals or edgy Martin Mcdonagh screeds rouse your inner luvvy, there’s a board-treader for you here. For cheaper tickets, visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square or follow daily lotteries.
Another space4–10 Tower Street, WC2H 9NP
Head to this super-slick fitness space for HIIT, cycle and yoga classes. It’s open to all, but feels more like a swanky member’s gym, with its Cowshed goodies, hair straighteners, fluffy towels and post-workout smoothie bar.
It’s the place to be when I need my fix of tasty dim sum by day and louche bars by night.
- Agatha Christie’s whodunnit The Mousetrap has run in the West End since 1952
- The door of artist Sebastian Horsley’s house in Soho still bears its ‘This is not a brothel’ sign
- Pay your respects to Charlie Chaplin and Vivien Leigh at Covent Garden’s ‘actors’ church’
- Royal Drury Lane Theatre is allegedly haunted by actor Charles Macklin, who killed a co-star in a fight over a wig
- You can only whet your whistle at one place along Oxford Street: its last remaining pub, the Flying Horse
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