For Variety, London’s West End is the Place to Be:
The West End has a high concentration of London’s tourist landmarks and attractions and for the London traveller 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 theatre – the rival (some would say tutor) of Broadway.
Soho is a short walk away. This long-established entertainment area once had a reputation as a red-light district, but since the early 1980s it has undergone considerable transformation.
Soho is now predominantly a trendy district with many bars, expensive restaurants, cafés and shops, popular with locals, tourists and London’s gay community. Soho Square has places to sit and watch the city go by 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.
The West End is also the largest shopping district in Europe. 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.
Oxford 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 at 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. Liberty is close to Regent Street and Great Marlborough Street – exit at the Oxford Circus tube stop.
But, the piece de resistance has to be the London theatres.
The Palace Theatre, 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.