You’ll undoubtedly want to head into central London when you come on a visit to the capital, but other parts of the city are well worth a visit too. For example, there’s eclectic, entertaining, lively Soho where it’s well worth spending a day – or an evening.
Where exactly is Soho?
Place names are often bandied around as though everyone automatically knows where they are, but if you’re just visiting, you might not be familiar with where Soho is.
It’s actually really easy to find, as it’s situated in the heart of the West End. It covers 2.6 square kilometres and is bordered by Oxford Street, Regent Street, Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road; actually, you’d have more of a job to miss it.
It had a beatnik reputation in the Swinging Sixties when London was the epitome of cool Britannia and although the area declined somewhat after this, considerable gentrification has taken place since the 1980s to raise it to its current, fashionable-once-more status.
Today, its upmarket attractions, history and atmosphere are a huge draw for tourists, but it is also somewhere Londoners flock to in their downtime.
How do I get to Soho?
Since Soho is so close to the central parts of the city, getting there is really very easy. Tube stations nearby include Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square. You can also catch one of the many London buses that stop in the vicinity.
If you’re staying at the Park Grand London Paddington Hotel, or indeed any other hotel near Bayswater station, you can get from your accommodation to Soho in around 23 minutes on the Bakerloo Line of the London Underground.
What can I do in Soho?
Most people head to Soho for the live entertainment; thanks to that West End location, it’s home to some of the area’s most famous theatres. For example, there’s the Prince Edward Theatre, the Prince of Wales, the Lyric and the Ambassador, all of which have been home to big-name shows like Thriller and Les Miserables over the years.
Whether you want a play, a musical, stand-up comedy, cabaret or a burlesque show, you’re sure to find something to liven up your evening in Soho.
There is also a buzzing nightlife, with the dark, narrow streets really coming alive with hundreds of neon signs to mark the various venues come sunset. These include clubs and bars, but also some excellent restaurants and late-night coffee shops.
In the daytime, you can’t go wrong with a bit of retail therapy in Soho. You’ll find interesting, quirky boutiques along Carnaby Street, Kingly Court and Berwick Street, but also some of the most famous big stores in the world.
For instance, Hamleys toy shop is here, as is the iconic flagship Liberty and Agent Provocateur, not to mention the four-storey book Mecca that is Foyles, meaning you can shop till you drop no matter who you’re looking to buy for (even if it’s you).
To give yourself a rest, stop off in Soho Square, a pretty park where you can picnic on the grass or enjoy a drink on one of the benches as you soak up the cafe culture that’s been prominent since the late 19th century.
There are more cool establishments than you can shake a stick (or should that be a hipster-approved craft ale tankard) at in Soho, so it’s difficult to name just a few in such short space. However, when Vogue visited recently, it came up with a list of must-sees that the cool crowd are no doubt already rushing to.
To cite but a few, it recommended:
• Blacklock on Great Windmill Street – a secret restaurant famed for its chops and cocktails
• The Urban Tea Rooms on Kingly Street – an artisan cafe by day and cocktail bar by night (we’re spotting a theme here) that’s perfect for people-watching. Or it will be now that Vogue has recommended it
• The Curzon Cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue – a quirky picturehouse famed for its arthouse programme and cosy feel.
Where to go after Soho?
Thanks to its central location, you could head almost anywhere in London quickly and easily once you’ve soaked up the atmosphere in Soho. There’s Chinatown for its culture and delicious food (don’t miss that dim sum); Covent Garden to watch the street performers; Piccadilly Circus if you really want to be in the thick of things; or Mayfair to see how the other half live.
Of course, if you’ve seen a show or been sampling some of those cocktails, you may just want to head back to your hotel, kick back in luxury and look back on another great day exploring London.