A guide to the West End
There is no other place in Britain that is as rich in cultural attractions as London's West End. Arguably Europe's leading entertainment district, it is home to dozens of outstanding theatre venues, and restaurants serving virtually every cuisine known to mankind.
Overlooked by some of London's most famous theatres such as the Criterian Theatre and the London Pavilion, Piccadilly Circus was designed in the Regency era, when hundreds of horse-drawn carriages and carts would pass through this busy square. The best time to visit is at night, when half a dozen screens are illuminated, similar to the lights of New York's Times Square, albeit on a smaller scale.
One of the most popular meeting points in London, Leicester Square is surrounded by trendy, high-end bars such as the Ruby Blue Bar and Opium, and attracts plenty of street performers and street artists. The square is just minutes from Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square Underground stations, and is adjacent to Soho, a district revered for its cosmopolitan, gay-friendly bars and clubs such as G-A-Y Late and The Shadow Lounge.
Featuring many plush West End hotels, Covent Garden is acclaimed for its European-style market piazza, which offers plenty of fantastic al-fresco dining in the warmer months and is a great spot for souvenir shopping. This area is also renowned for The Royal Opera House, which was founded in 1946 and holds some of the finest operatic and ballet performances in the world.
Whatever the time of year, if you've come to the West End to indulge in some shopping, you're guaranteed not to be disappointed with Oxford Street. From Selfridges and House of Fraser to Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, there's no shortage of flagship stores and charming boutique venues along what is claimed to be Europe's busiest shopping street.
For some top-notch, very affordable international cuisine, consider the Reverend JW Simpson restaurant on Goodge Street, or opt for the exquisite European-themed Roux at Parliament Square for some delightful fine dining. You could also treat yourself to some divine Japanese flavours at the majestic Umu restaurant in Mayfair, superb modern French dishes at Covent Garden's Clos Maggiore, or delectable seafood at J Sheekey in St Martin's Court.
If you're after value-for-money, stylish, contemporary surroundings, you can book a stay at The Z Hotel Piccadilly, or consider the hospitable, immaculate every hotel Piccadilly or the beautifully presented, luxurious Radisson Blu Edwardian Hampshire Hotel. A few other highly rated accommodation establishments in the West End include the chic hub by Premier Inn London Covent Garden, the deluxe St Martins Lane London Hotel, and the charismatic Premier Inn London Leicester Square.