This London Neighborhood Has World-class Theater, Impressive Museums, and Cool Cocktail Bars

Both locals and visitors find entertainment and more in London’s West End.

<p>Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images</p>

Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images

With five trips to London stamped in my passport, I’ve visited most of the spots that top tourists’ to-do lists, especially because two of the trips were with young nieces — first-time overseas travelers. We rode in an open-top bus, watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, enjoyed the view from the London Eye, and toured Kensington Palace. We shopped for souvenirs at Covent Garden Market and devoured fish and chips at a local pub.

I’ve spent time in Greenwich with a friend, arriving from Paris on the Eurostar, a few stops on the Underground, and a short river boat cruise. And my first visit to London many years ago included Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey, and the Tower of London. However, even after all those admittedly short trips, I still didn’t have a sense of London’s many neighborhoods and how they all fit together.

So, on my recent trip, with plans for theater and shopping, I decided to make London’s West End my home base as a way to become familiar with that lively section of the city. Famous for Oxford Street stores, restaurants, museums, Piccadilly Circus, and more than 40 theaters, the West End offered all I needed in a convenient location. What I found was more than enough to keep me busy from morning to night for nearly a week. If theater, shopping, and a bit of history sound appealing, you’ll find them in London’s West End with this guide.

Related: The Best Times to Visit London, According to Local Experts

Best Things to Do

<p>Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images</p>

Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Visit West End museums.

Explore the National Portrait Gallery where paintings, photographs, drawings, and maps take visitors from 16th-century portraits to photos of rock stars — and so much in between. Continue a day of art enjoyment at the Royal Academy of Arts.

<p>Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure</p>

Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure

See a show at a West End theater.

Take in a performance (or two) in one of London’s famed West End theaters, where you’ll find popular musicals, comedies, dramas, immersive shows, Shakespearean plays, and more. Theaters range from intimate to large, ornate neo-classical venues where the theater itself is part of the show.

Treat yourself to a spa day.

<p>Maria Chevalet</p>

Maria Chevalet

On a rainy day, indulge in a luxurious spa treatment at the hidden-away, underground Akasha Wellbeing Center at Hotel Café Royal. There’s a heated pool, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, and fitness center. Or visit The Retreat at The Londoner or the AWAY Spa at the W London Hotel.

See the church where a Bridgerton wedding was filmed.

<p>Leon Neal/Getty Images</p>

Leon Neal/Getty Images

Visit St. James’s in Piccadilly, the church where the wedding in Bridgerton’s second season was filmed. Check the schedule and come for a concert in the intimate space. When I stopped in, a mid-day piano performance was in progress — perfect timing.

Enjoy afternoon tea in an elegant setting.

Sip tea and nibble on savory and sweet bites with one of London’s premier afternoon tea experiences. I loved Fortnum & Mason’s afternoon tea, and there are many other lovely spots including The Langham, The Ritz, and Claridges.

Best Restaurants


Unique dining venues set in a three-story 18th-century townhouse include the Michelin-starred Lecture Room & Library, the elegantly decked-out Gallery, the Parlour, the East Bar, and the beautiful, if somewhat bizarre, Glade. The egg-shaped individual loos, set under a colorful ceiling, attract as much attention (and photos) as the delicious food and over-the-top decor.

Café Murano

Located near Piccadilly in St. James, the restaurant is convenient for a pre-theater dinner or for a late meal after a show. Chef Angela Hartnett’s signature arancini, crisp and tasty, are favorites, and there’s a good selection of Italian wines to accompany the seasonal menu of dishes representing Italy’s cuisine.


This lively St. James dining spot serves lunch, dinner, Saturday brunch, and weekday breakfast. There’s a bustling bar scene (every seat at the huge bar was occupied during my visit, with many enjoying dinner there). Signature, classic, and no-alcohol cocktails are offered along with beer, wine, cider, and a list of gin and tonics. Seafood, beef, pork, and plant-based dishes are well-prepared, delicious, and presented beautifully.


Serving traditional dishes that represent the diverse food culture of Indonesia, Toba’s cuisine offers an array of flavors and Indonesian spices. The menu includes Nasi Goreng a la Toba, fried rice with seafood or tofu and tempe for a vegetarian option, and guests can expect a bit of spice, making the dishes tasty and authentic. Sunday brunch and pre-and post-theater dining are available.

Claridge’s ArtSpace Café

<p>Courtesy of Claridge</p>

Courtesy of Claridge

Creative breakfast and lunch menus include signature crêpes, tortillas, toasties, croque monsieurs and madams, and an appetizing selection of pastries, cakes, and coffee beverages. Casual, comfortable, and classy, the café sits above an art gallery with rotating exhibitions, free for all to view and enjoy.

Heddon Street Kitchen

The menu at Gordon Ramsey’s West End restaurant includes sushi, salad, seafood, steaks, salads, and a special Beef Wellington for two. Kids eat free, and adults will want to check out Hidden Heddon, serving signature cocktails and nibbles in an underground setting.

Best Hotels

<p>Courtesy of The Ritz London</p>

Courtesy of The Ritz London

The Ritz London

Located near Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, and West End theaters, this historic five-star hotel is in the heart of London. The elegant property features plush suites, refined design, superb service, and the Michelin star–honored Ritz Restaurant.

Hotel Café Royal

Hotel Cafe Royal is located on Regent Street steps from Piccadilly Circus, convenient to shopping, theater, restaurants, and London’s St. James's, Mayfair, and Soho neighborhoods. Below the hotel, the serene Akasha spa offers a variety of treatments, and an expansive lap pool, steam room, sauna, and Jacuzzi.

Dukes London

This classic London hotel, known for its superb martinis and traditional British style, is located in the heart of St. James’s Mayfair. Rooms are elegant, understated, and comfortable. The Great British Restaurant (GBR) offers all-day dining and specializes in “British dishes with a contemporary twist.”

Brown’s Hotel

Located in elegant Mayfair, Brown’s Hotel blends its nearly 200 years of history with sophisticated modern style and approachable Italian luxury. A favorite of royalty, Brown’s welcomes young guests thoughtfully with toys and treats. Dine at Charlie’s and drop in for a cocktail at the chic Donovan Bar.

Sofitel London St. James

British style with a Parisian touch, the hotel is located in the West End’s exclusive St. James neighborhood, convenient to shopping, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and theaters. The Michelin-starred Wild Honey St James for dinner, St James Bar for cocktails, and Afternoon Tea at The Rose Lounge combine for a delightful stay.

W London

The W London combines its hip vibe with excellent service, comfortable guest rooms, and convenient breakfast in the walkable Soho neighborhood near Leicester Square, Covent Garden, and Chinatown. Dine, drink, or relax with afternoon tea at The Perception or stop in for a cocktail at the W Lounge.

Best Shopping

<p>Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure</p>

Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure

More than 300 shops, designer boutiques, restaurants, pubs, and department stores make Oxford Street the perfect place to shop ‘til you drop. Selfridges, open since 1909, houses six floors of clothing, designer brands, housewares, jewelry, wine, food, and furniture. Restaurants, a night club, movie theater, Champagne bar, and afternoon tea means you could spend your whole day there.

Fortnum & Mason, dating to 1707, specializes in fine foods, cheese, wine, spirits, jams, jellies, chocolate, tea, coffee, and elegant gifts. The food hall boasts fresh produce, baked goods, flowers, restaurants, and a delightful afternoon tea, accompanied by piano music.

Burlington Arcade, England’s oldest shopping arcade, is a covered promenade with skylights and classical architecture, home to 40 gorgeous shops — a fascinating place for window shopping or a splurge on something special. Make time for a tour with a uniformed, top-hatted Beadle to fully appreciate its history.

Browse the collection at Hamleys, one of the world’s oldest toy shops, or buy a gift for a special youngster (or yourself!). Visit Hatchards Piccadilly, London’t oldest bookshop, the bookseller to the Royal Household.

Jermyn Street is famous for high-end men’s fashion that includes luxury grooming products, shirt makers, leather goods, and bespoke suits. Shoppers will also find restaurants, wine shops, and art galleries.

Shop for designer brands on Regent Street and Bond Street, with labels like Ralph Loren, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, and Ferragamo.

Best Nightlife

<p>Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure</p>

Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure

Upgrade your movie night.

For the perfect cocktail, dinner, and a movie date night in a sophisticated setting, The Cinema at Selfridges is the place to go. Guests enjoy the latest films with three screens, state of the art sound, and luxurious reclining seating. In the luxurious foyer, cocktails, wine, beer, and Champagne are available, along with snacks, popcorn (of course!), and sweets.

See London from a rooftop.

Take in panoramic views of London from above it all at Willows on the Roof, high above Oxford Street. Sip a dark chocolate espresso martini and snack on a burger, charcuterie board, or another tasty dish. You can also check out the view at The Nest, located atop Treehouse Hotel where you can imbibe on an extensive selection of cocktails, beer, and wine along with light bites or something sweet.

Enjoy a stage performance at a West End theater.

Choose a popular musical, drama, a new production, or an interactive experience in one of nearly 40 theaters in London’s West End. From intimate stages to grand theaters with curved balconies, chandeliers, and Art Deco glamour, the environment and audience are all part of experiencing a live production.

Try your luck at the UK’s largest entertainment and casino venue.

Check out the Hippodrome Casino, open 24 hours every day, where you’ll find four floors of gaming, including roulette, baccarat, poker, electronic games, and more. There's also the Magic Mike show and eight bars and restaurants, including the outdoor terrace overlooking Soho.

Take on some friendly competition.

Boom Battle Bar features games like beer pong, shuffleboard, crazier golf, augmented reality axe throwing and darts, karaoke, and American pool.

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