Still the largest shopping district in Western Europe, the West End is also home to approximately 40 theatres and so has come to be known as “Theatreland”. The iconic sights of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster are nearby. Londons West End dates from 17th Century, when wealthy sophisticates built townhouses to best enjoy the lavish entertainments and fashionable shopping that flourished here. It is so-named because this part of town grew up to the West of City of London, the older part of London.
The West End runs north from the bank of the River Thames and Charing Cross, offering visitors a whirlwind tour of many of the best-known sights and sounds in London. Trafalgar Square, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are all just a stones throw away.
Soho, formerly the red light district, remains one of Londons more colourful neighbourhoods. Berwick Street Market is filled with stalls selling fruit, vegetables and other basics from Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm. The main gay scene is in this area. Chinatown, Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Carnaby Street, Regent Street, Oxford Street and London Theatreland are all a short walk away.
On the other side of Charing Cross Road, Covent Garden is home to the Royal Opera House, often referred to simply as “Covent Garden”. Covent Garden Piazza once housed Londons fruit and vegetable market. Now, the stalls of the Apple Market are mostly filled with the work of skilled designers and craftspeople, selling everything from knitwear to napkin rings. The shops which line this arcade are also well worth a visit. Fanning out from the Piazza, street performers and more market stalls attract visitors from all over the world.
North of Covent Garden stand the elegant townhouses and tranquil garden squares of Bloomsbury. Many renowned colleges of University of London are here. Well-known names who made homes in Bloomsbury include writer, Virigina Woolf, economist John Maynard Keynes and legendary reggae musician, Bob Marley. Bloomsbury Bowling Lane, on Bedford Way, is said to be Madonna’s favourite place to bowl and hosts occasional dances where those with a passion for 1950s fashion can jive, bop and lindyhop late into the night. Renoir Cinema, located in Brunswick Centre shows some of the best independent films from all over the world. Head further up Marchmont Street for Gay’s The Word, the long-established LGBT bookshop and nearby NBS, the elegant gay bar in a basement.
Bayswater borders the north side of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (see our London Parks page for more on Kensington Gardens). Leafy and pleasant with a wide variety of restaurants from around the world, Bayswater is the gateway to West London.