London Drum

West End – London’s nightlife & theatre district

West End
Where? West End Time required? A typical visit is 2-3 hours Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 3, 4, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 23, 24, 26, 29, 38, 76, 87, 88, 91, 94, 139, 159, 172, 176, 243, 341, 453, RV1 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Piccadilly Circus Bakerloo Piccadilly Other nearby stations: Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road Train fares

Craig’s review… The West End roughly encompasses the area around Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden. A lot of the biggest theatres can be found down Shaftesbury Avenue, Haymarket and the Strand. This is where you’ll enjoy most of your nights out. Bright lights, lots of life, lots of noise, and six inches of pavement per person.

Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue is absolutely heaving with people tonight and you get carried along in the throng, like a fallen leaf in the sea. If you want some space then you literally have to step out into the road and take your chances with the buses rushing past, full of faces peering out of steamed up windows. You can tell which ones are the tourists because they’ve been excitedly wiping off the condensation with their sleeves to get a better look at the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus. The locals just settle in behind a net curtain of steam until it’s time to get off.

You can really smell the street food tonight. All of the food and booze aromas concentrate like a thick sauce in the cold night air, mixed in with the cigarette smoke and an occasional whiff of dope.

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus is the kind of place where people wait for something to happen. They sit on the steps and stare at the cars, planning their next move, hundreds of couples just milling around deciding what to do. One of the most amazing things about this place is the amount of light that’s thrown out by the neon signs. They’re almost like a second sun. And then you have the cacophony of tourist chat and traffic and wailing sirens, and people posing for photos everywhere you turn.

Film premieres in Leicester Square

If you’re lucky then you’ll find a big film premiere taking place in Leicester Square because that’s where they have all the big cinemas: Cineworld, Odeon and Vue West End. Tonight it’s a World War II movie and I can hear movie music blasting out all over the place and see searchlights strafing the sky – it’s the closest I’ll ever get to living in the Blitz.

I’ve got no chance of seeing the stars because they’ve walled them all in behind big chipboard barricades. There’s a convoy of film trucks trailing cables over the pavement and an army of security staff checking people’s passes. Hundreds of women (and I promise that I’m not making any of this up) are trying to give each other leg-ups so they can glimpse whoever it is over the top. Some of them are getting piggybacks from their very wobbly buddies as they totter along on heels.

London’s Chinatown

I like the bright lights round here because they remind me of Christmas. It’s all warm yellows and golds and cherry red letters spelling out the prices. But you should definitely have a look down the side streets as well. Rupert Street, Brewer Street and Gerrard Street (Chinatown) are worth a look. It might seem like a slow down after walking through the bright lights of theatreland but there’s much more character in the side streets.

It’s after midnight now. The crowds have thinned out and the streets are blowing with cardboard coffee cups and loose sheets of yesterday’s papers, which are trying to wrap around my legs like drainpipe trousers. This is my favourite face of London: the side-street scenes full of darkened pubs and bolted stage doors.

Once they switch off the shop lights you become part of the scenery. People see you approaching out of the shadows and wonder whether they should cross the street. They dress you up in their own fears and turn you into something that you’re not. In their heads that businessman on his mobile phone suddenly becomes a drunken man muttering and chuntering to his imaginary friend, and those celebrating students become a gang of rampaging hoodlums out looking for a fight. That little old nun in a habit becomes a fifteen-year-old kid in a hoodie with a knife.

The spookiest scene is when you see a glowing face in a distant doorway. People stand in the shadows to tap messages into their mobile phones and their bright white screen lights up the bottom of their chin. Everyone has a phone in London, and they can’t go five minutes without checking their messages. Away from the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus there’s always the glow of mobile phones to light your way home.

Worth a visit? Value for money? n/aGood for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Covent Garden (you can walk it 10 mins); Leicester Square (you can walk it in less than 3 mins) and Piccadilly Circus (you can walk it in less than 3 mins). If you want to explore the area properly then try our self-guided walk around the West End

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

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