Ask anyone mildly familiar with London to list a few of the city’s most renowned districts and you can bet it won’t be long before Soho is mentioned.
The area – which has been London’s premier red light district for centuries – has an inconceivably bigger reputation than the relatively compact 140 acres it physically occupies in the centre of the city.
On the whole, Soho is a fashionable district of upmarket restaurants and media offices with only a small number of sex industry venues hinting to its seedy past. On some weekends, the number of people that flock to the district is enough to warrant closing off some of the roads to vehicles.
Soho sits just east of Mayfair and Marylebone not far off the north bank of the River Thames. Oxford Street – Europe’s busiest shopping street – makes up Soho’s northern perimeter, while Regent Street lines its western side. Shaftesbury Avenue runs along Soho’s southern boundary with Charing Cross Road defining the East.
Shopping in Soho
Even if you have no intention of spending a single penny in any of the big name chain stores on Oxford Street, we’d recommend any first-time visitors to London drop by this manic and heavily congested stretch of retail heaven just to see what it’s all about.
Every day, around half a million people hit one of Oxford Street’s shops, which include everything from Marks & Spencer and Boots to Urban Outfitters and Gap.
You didn’t come to Soho to visit shops you can find everywhere else in the UK though, did you? Much more interesting are the boutiques lining the likes of Berwick Street, Carnaby Street and in Kingly Court.
Soho is home to some world famous stores, such as renowned toy shop Hamleys, lingerie institution Agent Provocateur, Liberty – the mock Tudor department store, and Paul A Young, which specialises in some of the best chocolate you’re ever likely to taste.
Eating out in Soho
Soho’s dining scene is as diverse and quirky as the rest of the area, but you’ll also find traditional and down-to-earth eateries here too.
For cheap eats, you can’t go far wrong with Cookhouse Joe’s Lebanese cuisine on Berwick Street, Misato Japanese (Wardour Street) or the traditional British grub served at both Mother Mash (Ganton Street) and The Cambridge (Charing Cross Road).
Other names worth keeping an eye out for include Mediterranean Cafe on Berwick Street, Thai West Cafe (Brewer Street), Tokyo Diner (Newport Place) and Bistro 1 (Frith Street).
For a more refined dining experience, French-themed Gauthier Soho (Romilly Street) is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the area, as are Dean Street’s Barrafina, Heliot Steak House (Cranbourn Street) and Zelman Meats (St. Annes Court).
Drinking in Soho
Whether you’re looking for boundary-pushing cocktail bars or a late-night drinking spot, Soho won’t disappoint. We’d recommend the sweet and simple Bar Américain at Brasserie Zédel on Sherwood Street with its brief menu comprising just 18 drinks.
Also worth considering is the craft beer offering of Brewdog and Blind Pig (both on Poland Street), Bar Termini (Old Compton Street), French House (Dean Street) and the basement bar of Company Below (Greek Street).
Seeing a show in Soho
Soho is proof that you’re never too cool for a glitzy stage show. Located in the heart of the West End, Soho has many top-end theatres staging some of the world’s best-loved productions.
Queen’s Theatre is home to the world’s longest-running musical – Les Miserables – which has been playing on the same stage for more than 30 years.
There’s also the Gielgud Theatre (showing The Curious Incident of the Dog), Prince Edward Theatre (Disney’s Aladdin), Apollo Theatre (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), the Lyric Theatre (Thriller Live) and Soho Theatre, which operates a constantly changing schedule of new productions.
Staying in Soho
If you like the idea of staying in Soho, then there are plenty of great hotels to choose from, most notably, the Piccadilly London West End, which sits in the heart of Soho at 65-73 Shaftesbury Avenue.
Perhaps you’d prefer to keep Soho at arm’s length, in which case you could opt for any of the hotels in neighbouring Paddington such as Park Grand Paddington Court, Park Grand London Paddington, Park Grand London Hyde Park and Park Grand London Lancaster Gate.
From these hotels, Soho is only two miles’ walk away or a couple of stops on the Tube.
How to get to Soho?
For those using London’s Underground rail system, there are three Tube stations that would be viable options: Piccadilly Circus on the Bakerloo and Piccadilly Lines, Oxford Circus (Bakerloo, Central, Victoria) and Tottenham Court Road (Central, Northern).