Londoners come to the West End to shop in style, to take in a play or musical, or to promenade around its classy streets. Traditionally known as the residence of London's better-off classes, it has now become the entertainment, media and retail centre for the capital. It's also home to some of the most famous streets and squares in the world. Leicester Square, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and Carnaby Street are just some of the names that adorn the signs of its well-appointed streets.
It became an exclusive district for London's wealthy as the city swelled and outgrew its medieval origins. Those with money chose to live here, just west of the royal palaces and centres of government around Westminster. The westerly winds kept the smoke and smell of the inner city, and the slums of the East End, clear of the West End. During the 18th and 19th centuries, many fine streets, parks, museums and galleries were built here.
First on the list for the visitor to the West End is that temple to 'retail therapy' that is Oxford Street. Home to classic British department stores like Selfridges, Marks & Spencer and Hamleys, this is the most popular shopping district in Europe. Nearby Bond Street and Regent Street are just as classy, and just as busy.
There’s plenty to do if the weather is grey. Check out the portraits of British heroes and icons throughout history in the National Portrait Gallery, one of thirty museums and galleries in the area.
The West End is also enriched by innumerable museums and galleries, including the National Gallery, the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. One of the more upmarket neighbourhoods, Fitzrovia, now has more than 30 private contemporary art galleries. And you can't come to the West End without a trip to the theatre. Nearly 40 beautiful and elegant Victorian and Edwardian theatres can be found packed into the streets around The Strand, Drury Lane, and Shaftesbury Avenue.
They include first-class theatres like the London Palladium, the Lyceum and the Theatre Royal. The shows are even more fabulous than the venues, with long-running musicals like Les Misérables, the Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King, alongside the classics, Shakespearean plays and ground-breaking new dramas. Whether its morning, afternoon or evening, the West End is sure to have the entertainment to turn your stay in London from the 'super' to the superlative.