For the London traveler looking for variety, the West End is the place to be. Piccadilly Circus is next door, where antique book shops mix with the latest restaurants and Covent Garden is not far. And, then of course, there’s the world-renowned theater – the rival (some would say tutor) of Broadway.
Soho is a short walk away. For those interested in the red-light district in the home of the Puritans, that’s here – and has been for over a century.
But Soho is much more than strip bars and prostitutes. As the area, along with many parts of London, undergoes a rejuvenation, there are also expensive restaurants and shops to enjoy. Soho Square has places to sit and watch the city go buy in safety and comfort.
Leicester Square has cinemas for the movie-goer and street performers for live, impromptu entertainment. And, as expected, there are crowds of people and distinctive architecture for those who just want to take in the spontaneous sights that uniquely define any metropolis.
To see ground zero of ‘mod’ 60s fashions, visit Carnaby Street where you can still pick up an Austin Powers-style vest or a pair of bell-bottomed jeans.
Shopping galore can be found along Oxford Street, which stretches 3km (1.8mi) through the West end. At one end is the Marble Arch (relocated from Buckingham Palace in the 19th century) to Tottenham Court Road.
The street’s origins date back to Roman times, but now holds over 300 shops with five million square feet of shopping space. There’s everything from large department stores to little specialty shops for that unique gift to take back home. Where else can you get a genuine British Army Officer’s swagger stick than James Smith & Sons?
Selfridge’s (founded in 1909 by the American Henry Gordon Selfridge) is alone worth a visit. It has an elaborate, ornate facade and features a clock known as the Queen of Time.
While you’re in the neighborhood, check out another interesting clock: the Liberty Clock, just outside the Liberty store. Very popular with the tourists, there are figures of St. George and the Dragon on the lower part. Close to Regents Street and Great Malborough Street. Exit at the Oxford Circus tube stop. But, the piece de resistance has to be the theaters.
The Palace Theater, for example, is a sight to see even from the outside. An ornate terracotta building, first opened as an opera house, it stands at Cambridge Circus and is still a venue for musicals 80 years later. The Roman columns in the black marble foyer will draw you in and up the arched stairway.
With over a dozen major musicals and plays being performed at any time, there’s a wide array of choices. Not least of which is the flagship Royal National Theatre with three auditoriums.
There’s also the re-created Globe Theatre, a favorite since the time of Shakespeare. Open to the elements, with no stage lighting or microphones used, it sits near its original Bankside location.
Be prepared for all sorts of weather and all kinds of people. You’ll see both in London’s West End.