Even for a Londoner, it ‘s hard to define West End’s boundaries. The artistic district in central London is famous for its shopping streets, theatres and some of the most visited tourist attractions in the city. Broadly speaking it covers the area of Soho, Leicester Square, Chinatown and Covent Garden. Depending on how you define West End it can stretch up to Marylebone, Mayfair and Fitzrovia.
The district will surprise you with its key attractions and, interesting art museums and luxury shopping streets. You will not get bored in West End, and for one day you will be able to see some of the essential sights of London.
Landmarks & Attractions In West End
Soho is one intriguing area in Central London. It is more widely known as a meeting point for jazz lovers, alternative lifestyle enthusiasts, social activists and London’s gay community. It is bursting with lights at night with its bars and clubs, but it also a great destination for walking during the day.
Piccadilly Circus can be good starting point for your West End trip. From there you can quickly reach other popular areas such as Chinatown or Leicester square. Piccadilly Circus is a busy square being a cross point to five main roads in Soho. It is most famous with the bright, colourful advert signs surrounding the road junction. In its centre stand the beautiful Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain- a gathering point for Londoners.
Where: Piccadilly Circus, W1D 7ET, London.
The old London square built in 1861 is still standing with its green areas and the statue of King Charles II. It is one of the most recognisable places in Soho and can be ideal for rest. Nearby is St. Patrick’s Church- a brick Roman Catholic temple with an unusual architectural design. Beneath the church are hidden the catacombs, which spread under the square.
Where: Soho, W1D, London.
Old Compton Street
Old Compton is a small livery street- the perfect insight from Soho. If you want to feel the neighbourhood’s atmosphere, take a walk on Old Compton street. It hosts bars, shops and gay pubs. It is the perfect way to see the rich colour of the district, as this street will reveal its essence.
Leicester Square is one of the must-see locales in West End. It is surrounded by some of London’s most expensive and visited cinemas and theatres. It is the hub for the district’s nightlife and entertainment. In the middle of the beautiful green square stand the statue of William Shakespeare surrounded by a fountain. The square is usually full of tourists and locals having a picnic on the green fields on warm days. At Leicester square is placed the TKTS booth for half-priced theatre tickets.
Where: Leicester Square, WC2H, London.
Since you’re here step a little away from Leicester square heading to Shaftesbury Avenue to find the largest Asian community area in London – Chinatown. After the World War II, many Chinese immigrants moved to this area, as their previous residences in East End were destroyed by bombing. Along with the boom of an even larger number of incoming Chinese immigrants from Asia, the small area expanded to what it is in modern times.
Today Chinatown is a charming neighbourhood with more than 80 restaurants, many food shops and traditional Chinese bakeries. The streets are full of lanterns and sculptures of lions and dragons.
Locals love to spend their time there tasting delicious delicacies or shopping traditional Chinese ingredients, spices and souvenirs. You will be surprised to find high-end and expensive restaurants just next to cheap food stalls or local eateries.
During the celebration of the Chinese New Year in February, the streets burst with crowds in colourful costumes, lights and sounds. The Chinese New Year includes street performances, music and dances, along with the tasty food and traditional gifts and crafts sold at the stalls.
Don’t miss the amazing gates on Gerrard Street built in traditional style with beautiful and detailed decoration.
The Marble Arch although a bit away from the heart of West End is worth a visit. Placed at the corner of Hyde Park the arch is one of the greatest creations of John Nash- the well-known architect, who contributed for looks of Royal London. The Marble Arch once was placed in front of the Buckingham Palace as the main gateway. Later it was moved to its current location, but it didn’t lose its magnificent presence. The three arch structure features beautiful sculpture reliefs and Classical Corinthian columns.
Where: Oxford St, London W1C, UK.
In the blurry borders of West End, you can find some other must-see landmarks of London. Don’t miss to visit Trafalgar Square and The Strand.
West End Galleries and Museums
The Wallace Collection features elegant baroque art from the 18th and 19th century. The collection includes paintings, sculptures, a display of fine ceramics, decorative objects, jewellery and metalwork. Furthermore, there are separate displays of French furniture in Rococo style and an armoury exhibition of Europe and the Orient.
The paintings halls display pictures and miniatures from the early and late Renaissance and Baroque, showing paintings of world-known masters such as Rembrandt, Titian, Velasquez, Poussin and Rubens. In the ceramics collection, you will find painted pottery of fine porcelain from all over Europe- from French and German ceramics to Spanish and Italian decorative art.
Except for the collection, the art museum is a host to temporary curated exhibition changing every couple of months.
Where: Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, W1U 3BN;
When: Open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM;
Prices: Admission is free for the collection and the temporary exhibitions.
Getty Images Gallery
This is something you’re not going to see every day. Getty Images is an extraordinary independent photography gallery, which will reveal shots of some of the biggest names in photography. From pioneers to contemporary trending photographers, Getty Images collection holds a huge archive of photographs and negatives. You will be able to see moments of the life of popular personas, music icons and movie stars, along with pictures dating from 1850 to present days documenting the role of history.
You can see pictures of Marilyn Monroe singing, or Mick Jagger on the stage, beautiful portraits of Sophia Lauren, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. A walk along the exhibition halls will be similar to a history of photography lesson because you can see works of the creators of modern photography.
You can also buy a print directly from the gallery or a framed photograph.
Where: 46 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8DX
When: Monday to Friday from 10 AM to 5:30 PM, Saturday from 12 PM to 5:30 PM;
Prices: Admission is free.
The Cartoon Museum is a cheerful place, which will charge you with positive emotions, after revealing the history of British cartoon art. The museum’s collection includes cartoons, satirical sketches and comics from the late 18th century, following the expansion of British comic art throughout history. You can see comic books and novels, posters, illustrated magazines and press publications. You will be able to follow how cartoon art changed over the years becoming more colourful, abstract and sharp in its humoristic language.
You can also see a selection of works of leading young cartoonists in Britain or visit the temporary exhibitions featuring contemporary cartoonists.
Where: 35 Little Russell Street, London, WC1A 2HH;
When: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30 AM to 5:30 PM;
Prices: Adult admission is £7, Students- £3 and free admission for visitors under 18 years.
Royal Academy of Arts
The Royal Academy of Arts is an independent charity organisation, funded by donations by art supporters and lovers. The Academy also hosts British schools of arts with the main focus on contemporary art forms. They are proud to say artists are involved in the full process of curating the exhibitions, teaching and popularising modern British art.
In their exhibition halls, you can see temporary curated displays on a rolling principle. Since 2010 the Royal Academy has invited big names of modern art, such as Anish Kapoor, Ai Weiwei and David Hockney. But they are not focused only on contemporary art- classical sculpture, painting and the art of 20th century also find their way to the halls. You will be able to see works of currently working artists or attend art sales and buy art.
Where: Burlington House, Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 0BD;
When: Open Monday to Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM;
Prices: Prices for the different exhibitions vary from £3 to £20.
Within the area of West End fall The National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, British Museum and the Somerset House. Visit our article about the Best Museums in London to find out more.
Shopping In West End
Oxford Street & Regent’s Street
Of course, you will visit the two iconic shopping streets, which are the probably the most popular shopping destinations in whole London. Both Oxford Street and Regent’s Street are filled with shopping maniacs, lovers of big brands or simple people went out to mingle with the crowds.
On both streets, you can find popular British and world brands. They are best known for the Selfridges, Topshop and Primark stores, as well as Zara, Mango, Adidas, H&M, Clarks and Bershka. We would recommend visiting Urban Outfitters for some casual style clothes, Longines boutique to find luxury watches or the boutique Arabian Oud- for essential oil blends.
Don’t forget to visit Liberty store, the iconic building you see on every picture of Soho. Once entering Liberty there is everything you can think about- from perfumes, skincare products to apparel, fabrics, accessories and even chocolate and sweets!
Bond Street & Carnaby Street
Bond Street and Carnaby Street are other leading shopping destination in West End. People visit Bond street mainly for the high-end apparel brands, but there is much more to find there. You can go into one of the luxury stores for watches and jewellery, such as Rolex, Tiffany, Watches of Switzerland, Faberge and Cartier. Also, there are health and beauty shops and home-décor stores.
Carnaby street on the other side is a lively street full of young people with casual apparel and sports stores. Some of the most visited are Pepe Jeans, The North Face, Puma, Adidas and Vans.
We can’t miss Covent Garden as London’s leading shopping point and primal attraction in West End. Covent Garden is a charming area of boutique retail stores and markets. Whatever you’re searching for there is a shop in Covent Garden. Make sure to visit Tint- a store for handmade leather retro shoes; The Old Printing shop- a charming shop for printing blocks and letters; Richards- for old school antique cameras or S.M. Strand Shop for handmade soaps.
Of course, there are acclaimed brands stores such as KIKO, Chanel, Michael Kors and Levi’s. Along with the stores, Covent Garden hosts some of the most desired by clients pubs and restaurants.
Where: Covent Garden, WC2E 8BE, London;
When: Almost all shops and stalls are open daily from 9/10 AM to 6/7 PM.
Burlington Arcade is a covered shopping walkway in Mayfair, built in 1819. Back then Lord Cavendish wanted a covered shopping area, which can assure good work condition for working women and a clean and tidy space for shopping. It is a two-storey promenade of all kind of shops. You can find watches, fine jewels, fashion stores and footwear. Burlington Arcade is referred as one of the traditional malls in London.
Where: 51 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 0QJ, London;
When: Open daily from 9 AM to 9:30 PM, Sunday from 11 AM to 6 PM.
Find more great shopping location in London.
Find the Best Route
We would like to offer you the best route for your day in West End. You can combine rest and relaxing walks with some art experience and shopping therapy in one day trip to West End.
Begin your day with a visit to the Wallace Collection to explore fine art from the 18th and 19th century. Since you started your day with an art trip, you can jump to the Getty Images Gallery, which is a couple of blocks away.
From there you can step right on Oxford Street for some luxury shopping. Once you reach Oxford Circus, you can decide whether you should turn on Regent’s Street or continue a little bit further and reach Bond Street.
At the lower end of Bond Street, you will find the Royal Academy of Arts and the Burlington Arcade right beside it. From there it is easy to continue toward Piccadilly Circus.
Chinatown is really near, and we suppose you will not say no to a delicious surprise of traditional Chinese cuisine. After a nice walk around the neighbourhood, you can head to Leicester Square, which is within 10 minutes walking.
You can take the tube from Leicester Square Station or in case you feel too tired of the long day call for a minicab.