London’s West End is where everyone heads for a night out. Clubbers from outside London catch the last trains into the capital and head for its bars and music venues, knowing they won’t leave till dawn. Here are the great theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road, the star-struck cinemas of Leicester Square and, at its heart, Soho, abuzz with activity as the night wears on. But it’s not all for the night owl – Trafalgar Square has the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and free lunchtime concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Nelson’s Column

The centrepiece of Trafalgar Square, this huge column is topped by a statue of Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758–1805). Britain’s great naval hero was fatally shot at his hour of greatest triumph, the drubbing of the French and Spanish fleets off Cape Trafalgar, southern Spain. His lasting affair with vivacious Emma Hamilton added to his romantic image.


  1. National Gallery

  2. National Portrait Gallery

  3. Trafalgar Square

    Trafalgar Square – once the royal mews – is a hub of the West End and a venue for public rallies and events. From the top of a 50-m (165-ft) column, Admiral Lord Nelson, who famously defeated Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, looks down Whitehall towards the Houses of Parliament. The column is guarded at its base by four huge lions – the work of Edwin Landseer. On the north side of the square is the National Gallery and the church of St-Martin-in-the-Fields while, to the southwest, Admiralty Arch leads to Buckingham Palace.

    • WC2

    Fountain, Trafalgar Square

    Admiralty Arch
  4. Piccadilly Circus

    Designed by John Nash as a junction in Regent Street, the Circus is the endpoint of the street called Piccadilly. Its Eros statue – erected as a memorial to the Earl of Shaftesbury – is a familiar London landmark and a popular meeting place. Piccadilly Circus is also renowned for its neon advertising displays, which mark the entrance to the city’s entertainment district. On the south side of the Circus is the Criterion Theatre, next to Lilly­white’s – a leading sporting-goods store.

    • W1

    Piccadilly Circus
  5. Chinatown

    Ornate oriental archways in Gerrard Street mark the entrance to Chinatown, an area of London that has, since the 1950s, been the focus of the capital’s Chinese residents. Here you can shop at Chinese supermarkets, gift shops and martial arts suppliers and, on Sundays, browse the street stalls selling exotic vegetables. The Chinese New Year, celebrated in late January or early February, is a particular highlight. Chinatown abounds with excellent-value restaurants.

    • Streets around Gerrard Street, W1

  6. Soho Square

    This pleasant square, spiked with palms, is popular at lunchtime, after work and at weekends, when there’s always a friendly atmosphere, especially in summer. With the most fashionable address in London, many of the square’s buildings are now occupied by film companies. On the north side is a church built for French Protestants under a charter granted by Edward VI in 1550. The redbrick St Patrick’s, on the east side, sometimes has music recitals. On the corner of Greek Street is the House of St Barnabas in Soho, a charitable foundation in an 18th-century building which is occasionally open to visitors.

    Mock-Tudor shed, Soho Square
  7. Old Compton Street

    The main street in Soho is a lively thoroughfare both day and night. It is also the centre of London’s sex scene, and now the site of popular gay pubs, Compton’s of Soho and the Admiral Duncan. Soho’s vibrant streetlife spills into Frith, Greek and Wardour streets, where pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafés have pavement tables, often warmed by gas heaters in winter. Some, like Bar Italia in Frith Street and Balans Café at 34 Old Compton Street, are open until the early hours. Everywhere fills up when the evening’s performance at the Prince Edward Theatre ends. A delicious breakfast is to be had at Patisserie Valerie at No. 44, and such long-standing shops as the Italian delicatessen I Camisa, and the Vintage House (700 whiskies in stock), give the area its village feel. Body tattooists are at work here, and fetish shops show that the sex industry still flourishes.

    Old Compton Street

    Old Compton Street
  8. Berwick Street Market

    There has been a market here since the 18th century, and the daily fruit and vegetable stalls remain cheap, cheerful and thoroughly Cockney. Half the time, traders talk in old money (“ten bob” is 50p) and round things up to a “nicker” or a “quid” (£1). It opens around 9am six days a week.

    Berwick Street Market
  9. London Trocadero

    Take the escalator to the top of Funland and make your way down through this electronic jungle of video games and virtual-reality rides. There are dodgem cars, a race-track simulator and a bowling alley. Themed restaurants, bars, shops and cinemas fill up the space, as well as an HMV record store.

    • Piccadilly Circus W1

    • 10am–midnight Sun–Thu, 10am–1am Fri & Sat

  10. Leicester Square

    When this square was originally laid out in 1670 it was a grand and fashionable place to live. Celebrities of the 17th and 18th centuries to live here include Sir Isaac Newton and the painters Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth. Today the square forms the heart of London’s West End entertainment district and houses the Empire and Art Deco Odeon cinemas. There is also a cut-price theatre ticket booth called “Tkts” on the southside of the square.

    • Leicester Square W1

    Leicester Square
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