It’s no secret that London is thought of as one of the cultural capitals of Europe, if not the world. With its 2000 year history, historic arts institutions and thriving tourism industry, all of England’s performing art instincts coalesce into a powerful force in London. Guests at hotels in the West End London would be hard pressed not to see advertisements for some of the hit shows that are currently playing across the vibrant area of the city.
The West End is more than just musicals and box offices though. Whether it be a unique bar, a restaurant in the West End London, a cinema or a museum hidden off the beaten track, there are countless ways to enjoy this famous area of the city.
But behind the glitz and glamour of the West End is a story that spans centuries. What is it about the nature of Soho and Tottenham Court Road that makes it such a popular tourist destination for guests of London West End hotel deals? This blog will explore some of the ways that the West End has grown and developed over the years, the top attractions and why it’s such an integral part of the London entertainment scene.
What Is The West End?
The West End is an area of the historic City of Westminster that, over the last four decades, has seen rapid growth into the most prominent culture and entertainment hub in London. From showstopping theatre and musicals to restaurants, cinemas and shopping opportunities, the many areas of the West End create a collage of glamour, colour and entertainment.
Where Is The West End?
The West End has no specific boundaries but is strongly associated with the historic City of Westminster, one two regions of Central London that date back nearly two thousand years. The ceremonial borough of Westminster and the City Of London were the first two areas to be developed. Whilst the City of London is commonly associated with the old Roman City of “Londinium” as well as modern day business, finance and tech institutions, the city of Westminster and more specifically the West End has more of a focus on tourism, entertainment, culture and, of course, Politics.
The West End of Westminster usually refers to the areas of Oxford Street, Soho, Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road, and to a lesser extent, Marylebone and Carnaby Street. Within its boundaries, one will find famous landmarks such as Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square, tourist attractions in their own right.
History Of The West End
So why was it only in the last 40 years that this district developed into the thriving entertainment sector that it is today? From tourist and corporate accommodation in London’s West End in historic buildings to the many age-old theatres, there’s a lot to see here that’s grounded in the past.
After centuries of land leases and property development in the historic parish of St Martin in the Fields (which gives an indication of what Soho once looked like), the 17th century saw the development of large townhouses that became the residence of many aristocrats and wealthy Londoners. The reason for Soho and more widely, the West End’s, popularity in this time was two-fold. Firstly, the area’s proximity to the Palace of Westminster meant that aristocrats and socialites were attracted to the houses here, whilst the fact that Soho was on a hill meant that it was not polluted by the smog and smoke that many other areas were victim to.
By the 19th century, the aristocratic presence in Soho had predominantly moved to areas such as Chelsea and Kensington whilst Soho became more densely populated. In the 1850s’, a cholera outbreak led to wealthier tenants of the Soho and West end to move further out of the city and the area fell into poverty, leading to Victorian era crime and sex-work.
However, in the late 19th century and early 20th, a large number of theatres and restaurants were built in the area to reestablish the West End as a tourist and local attraction and social scene. Soon, the area became a popular home for writers and artists and soon it became a fashionable district once more. Alongside that fashionable aura, Soho was also a famously seedy district, it being home to cinemas showing adult films and a thriving sex work industry, adding a new kind of allure to the area.
Late 20th Century And Present Day
After Soho’s sex industry declined in the 1980s’, businesses began capitalising on the perceived glamour of the area. Film, television, radio and literary companies took up residence in the offices and buildings in Soho due to its proximity to the West End. Nowadays, the thriving pub scene, the 1970s’ developed Chinatown and the wealth of theatres, cinemas and LGBTQ friendly nightclubs, makes Soho, theatreland and the larger West End area a thriving and exciting area for tourists and locals to visit.
Attractions In The West End
So if you’re visiting the West End, where should you look to for a taste of the area?
Theatre And Performance Scene
From the Harold Pinter Theatre to the Palace Theatre, shows such as To Kill A Mockingbird by Aaron Sorkin to Harry Potter & The Cursed Child are showstopping plays that have garnered critical acclaim. There are also plenty of hit musicals across theatres such as the Lyceum and the Cambridge Theatre. For something a little more left of field, the Soho Theatre, Trafalgar Studios and Leicester Square Theatre are home to new writing, cabaret and stand up comedy shows.
Clubbing And Live Music Scene
The thriving LGBTQ+ scene in Soho culminates every year in the annual London Pride celebrations, this year taking place on July 2nd. Guests of the Soho Theatre can regularly enjoy drag acts and cabaret shows whilst Soho gayclubs include the G-A-Y Bar and Comptons.
Soho might have a thriving entertainment scene, but all throughout the year you’ll find locals and tourists alike enjoying the many shopping destinations of Soho. These include Oxford Street, the busiest high street in Europe, Covent Garden and its many independent boutiques and designer fashion outlets and Carnaby Street for homeware, accessories and independent fashion.