Leicester Square in London
The area around Leicester Square, often called West End, is the entertainment heart of London. The area also includes Chinatown, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square.
Chinatown is centrally located in the West End, along and around Gerrard Street off Leicester Square. It spreads into Wardour Street at one end and Newport Place at the other. London's Chinatown may not be quite as large as those in San Francisco or Vancouver but it is still a great place to dine out in the evening, authentically Chinese and definitely different from anywhere else in London.
This smallish London square is the site of most British film premieres and the square itself is surrounded by terrifyingly-expensive cinemas - tickets for an evening screening will cost upwards of £17, 3D screenings will cost upwards of £15. At night, Leicester Square becomes exceptionally busy with tourists and locals, visiting the surrounding clubs and bars. In the north-west corner of the square is the Swiss Centre - unaccountably popular with tourists, the building is nowadays home to Sound nightclub, and boasts a carillion in the corner which depicts a Swiss mountain scene and plays tinny versions of Beatles hits on the hour throughout the day. The TKTS half price ticket booth is on the south side of Leicester Square for cheap tickets for theatre performances.
Trafalgar Square is a large public square commemorating Lord Horatio Nelson's victory against Napoleon's navy at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The central monument within the square is a single tall column on which the figure of Nelson stands gazing over London and is one of the great iconic images of London. His monument is surrounded by four colossal lions and a series of large fountains. Much more than just an open plaza, Trafalgar Square is famous as the location of a large number of important buildings and institutions that surround the square and fill the streets surrounding it. Trafalgar Square also marks the northern end of Whitehall, the centre of British government.
In 2003 Trafalgar Square was renovated and expanded to link up directly with the National Gallery on the north side of the square - a great improvement to the traffic which once completely encircled this, the largest public square in the West End. The early 18th century church of St Martins in the Fields stands at the north-east corner of the square. Just by the church, Charing Cross Road gives access to the fabulous National Portrait Gallery, and leads on further to Leicester Square, Soho and the famous collection of bookstores on the road itself. To the south, Whitehall leads to Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and 10 Downing Street.
Christmas time sees the erection of a large Christmas Tree within the square, the annual gift of the people of Oslo, capital of Norway, as a token of gratitude for Britain's help in WWII. Trafalgar Square is also traditionally the scene of lively celebrations for Londoners on New Years Eve, though an increasingly heavy police presence has meant that some antics (drunks leaping into the fountains) have all but disappeared. More recently, Trafalgar Square has served as an outdoor venue for concerts and VIP appearances, courtesy of the Mayor of London's Office, which is keen to see Londoners use their public spaces better. Visitors to the square on an ordinary day may also discover small-scale demonstrations and public speakers - the Square is a convenient gathering place near to, but not threatening, the seat of British Government down the road at Westminster.
Leicester Square is served by a tube station of the same name actually located just off the north east corner of the Square on Charing Cross Road. The station is on both the Northern and Piccadilly Lines and acts as a convenient place to start any exploration of London's West End.
Chinatown is a short walk from both Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly and Bakerloo Lines) — walk east along Shaftesbury Avenue, before turning right at Wardour Street, watch for the ornamental gates — and Leicester Square (Piccadilly and Northern Lines) stations.
The nearest tube station to Trafalgar Square is Charing Cross on the Northern and Bakerloo Lines.
Piccadilly Circus is served by a tube station of the same name.
Charing Cross mainline station serves the south-eastern region of England.
Walk. This is a small district which lends itself perfectly to exploration on foot.
- Chinese arches (address: at each end of Gerrard Street and at the entrance to Macclesfield Street)
The three ornamental Chinese arches are worth a look.
- Chinese culture
The main sights to see in London's Chinatown are the expressions of Chinese culture and Eastern ambience in Chinatown, and for a good Chinese meal. There are few souvenir shops for tourists and no museums or temples.
- Chinatown phone booths
Chinatown does incorporate some entertaining combinations of British and Chinese culture, such as the phone booths with pagoda-style sloping roofs.
- Edith Cavell Memorial (address: St Martin's Place WC2) (directions: just off Trafalgar Square)
Statue in honour of the World War I nursing heroine.
- Leicester Square Garden
Relax and unwind in the garden, and gaze at the activity going on all around, while listening to the buskers, street entertainers and preachers performing in the area.
- National Gallery (address: Trafalgar Square, WC2 5DN) +44 )20 77472885
open: 10AM- 6PM daily, Fridays to 9PM
Houses the British national collection of western European art dating from the 13th to 19th centuries. A truly awe-inspiring collection, notable works include Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors, Van Gogh's Sunflowers and Constable's The Haywain. The vast majority of art is free of charge to visit. Temporary exhibitions are generally fairly costly, but invariably well researched and presented. The audioguides are very comprehensive, have comments on most of the paintings in the museum, and are free though this fact is not advertised. A donation is suggested. In addition to courses, workshops, lectures and other events, the National Gallery has free talks and tours every day.
- National Portrait Gallery (address: St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE) +44 20 73060055
price: Free except some non-permanent exhibitions
open: Daily 10AM-6PM, Thu and Fri until 9PM
The National Portrait Gallery is just around the corner from the National Gallery and is an entertaining way to learn about British history since the Tudors. Visitors walk around the gallery chronologically, viewing portraits of notable figures from British history - from Henry VII, painted by Hans Holbein, to Blur, painted by Julian Opie.
- Piccadilly Circus (directions: tube: Piccadilly Circus)
At the junction of five major roads, Piccadilly Circus is the home of the famous aluminum statue of Eros, which sits atop a fountain. The north side of Piccadilly Circus holds an enormous display board of electric advertisements, including Britain's biggest illuminated display (the widest in the world), advertising a popular soft drink.
- St Martins in the Fields (address: 8 St Martin's Pl, WC2)
A classical church that stands opposite the National Gallery. Since WWI, the homeless have sought shelter at this church, a tradition that continues to this day.
- Trafalgar Square (directions: Nearest tube: Charing Cross)
The main, central square of London, Trafalgar Square is associated with celebration and demonstration - it is the site of London's lacklustre New Year celebrations, and in 2003 was the site of the triumphant homecoming of the British Rugby team from the World Cup, and a centre for demonstration against Britain's involvement in the Iraq War. In recent years, the square has been associated with the many hundreds of pigeons that used to be found here, but London's Mayor Ken Livingstone passed a bylaw in 2003 making it illegal to feed them. Nelson's Column, surrounded by the four bronze lions can be found here, on the south side of the square. The north-west plinth in the square has been vacant since 1841, and controversial contemporary sculpture has been displayed here in recent years.
Leicester Square square hosts most high-profile London cinema premieres, on which occasions it is fenced and crowded beyond comfort by people desperately trying to take a look at their celebrity of choice.
- Empire (address: 5-6 Leicester Sq, WC2) (directions: tube: Leicester Sq) +44 20 7437 1234
price: M-F until 5PM £5, M-F after 5PM £7.50, £8.00, £9.00, Sa Su - £7.50, £8.00, £9.00
- Odeon Leicester Square (address: Leicester Sq, WC2) (directions: tube: Leicester Sq) +44 870 5050 007
price: M-F until 5PM £5.00, £6.00, £6.50 M-F after 5PM £10.00, Sa Su £11.00
Also includes the Odeon Mezzanine and Odeon West End
- Warner Village West End (address: Leicester Sq, WC2) +44 20 7437 4347
price: F-S £10.00,
M-F until 7PM £7.00, M-Su after 5PM £10.00, Sa Su until 5PM £10.00
- Curzon Soho Cinema (address: 99 Shaftesbury Ave, W1D 5DY)
- Prince Charles Cinema (address: 7 Leicester Pl) (directions: Down a side street to the north, just up from the Häagen-Dazs)
price: M £1.99, Tu-F £2.50, Sa Su £3.50
The cheapest and in some ways most interesting cinema in the area. They do not screen the latest films but usually have an interesting selection, including foreign and art house films and often have theme nights. Get hold of the program at the door or on the internet and consider buying the discount-granting yearly membership if you plan to come back a few times.
Along with neighbouring Covent Garden this is the capital of London's theatreland and the most famous London theatres are in this district. Check individual theatre websites of the official London theatreland website  for current programmes and never neglect the official half price ticket booth in Leicester Square itself:
- TKTS (address: Leicester Square) (directions: tube: Leicester Sq. Booth is on the south side of the square in the clock tower building)
open: M-Sa 10AM-7PM, Su 11AM-4PM
Tickets can only be bought in person so do not try to contact by telephone. At times, there may well be long queues, so be prepared.
Please note that most of the booking office numbers given below will only work from within the United Kingdom. If you want to make a booking from overseas, use the relevant website.
The Leicester Square Box Office, otherwise known as LSBO also offers a great selection of great deals on tickets to top London shows and musicals. Tickets can be booked online at www.lsbo.com, over the phone on 020 7087 2999, or in person!
- Adelphi Theatre (address: 409-412 Strand, London, WC2E 7NA) +44 0844 412 4651
- Apollo Theatre (address: 39-45 Shaftesbury Ave, W1D 7EZ) 020 7492 9930
- Comedy Theatre (address: 6 Panton St, SW1Y 4DN) +44 0870 060 6637
- The Criterion Theatre (address: 2 Jermyn St, SW1Y 4XA) +44 0844 847 1778
- Garrick Theatre (address: 2 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0HH) +44 844 579 1974
- Gielgud Theatre (address: 39-45 Shaftesbury Ave, W1D 6AR) +44 0844 482 5130
- Her Majesty's Theatre (address: 57 Haymarket, SW1Y 4QL) +44 844 412 4653
- Leicester Square Theatre (address: 6 Leicester Pl, WC2H 7BX) +44 0844 847 2475
- The Lyric Theatre (address: 29 Shaftesbury Ave, W1D 7ES) +44 844 579 1972
- The Palace Theatre (address: 109-113 Shaftesbury Ave, W1D 5AY) +44 0844 412 4656
- The Phoenix Theatre (address: Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0JP) +44 0870 060 6629
- Piccadilly Theatre (address: Denman St, W1D 7DY) 0844 871 7618
- Playhouse Theatre (address: Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5DE)
- Prince of Wales Theatre (directions: Coventry St, W1D 6AS) +44 0870 850 0393
- Queen's Theatre (address: 51 Shaftesbury Ave, W1D 6BA) +44 0870 950 0930
- Theatre Royal Haymarket (address: 18 Suffolk St, SW1Y 4HT) +44 0845 481 1870
- Wyndham's Theatre (address: 32-36 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0DA) +44 0844 482 5120
- Chinese New Year Festival
Worth seeing, though Gerrard St can get unbelievably crowded, as the dragon dancers pass along the street to collect goodies hung from windows above the shops. In recent years, the festival has expanded south into Leicester Sq and Trafalgar Sq to try to alleviate the congestion.
Charing Cross Road and the tiny Cecil Court which leads off it, have long been the centre of the specialist and antiquarian book trade in London. There are less outlets than previously as spiralling rents pushed out a lot of the traditional booksmiths but a lot still remain. Any booklover will be in heaven here.
- Any Amount of Books (address: 56 Charing Cross Rd WC2H 0QA) (directions: tube: Leicester Square) +44 20 7836 3697
Rare and second-hand books. Specialise in scholarly academic works and art-related titles.
- David Drummond at Pleasures of Past Times (address: 11 Cecil Court WC2N 4EZ) (directions: tube: Leicester Square) +44 20 7836 1142
Specialises in books and other memorabilia related to the performing arts and old children's books.
- Goldsboro Books (address: 7 Cecil Court WC2N 4EZ) (directions: tube: Leicester Square) +44 20 7497 9230 firstname.lastname@example.org
First editions and signed fiction
- Paul J Hilton (address: 12 Cecil Court WC2N 4HE) (directions: tube: Leicester Square) +44 20 7379 9825
Antiquarian and general books, especially first edition English literature.
- Henry Pordes Books Ltd (address: 58-60 Charing Cross Rd WC2H 0BB) (directions: tube: Leicester Square) +44 20 7836 9031 mailto:email@example.com
Secondhand, antiquarian and all out-of print books.
- Quinto Bookshop & Francis Edwards (address: 72 Charing Cross Rd WC2H 0BB) +44 20 7379 7669 mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Huge collection. Francis Edwards have been in business here since 1856.
All sorts of food are available. While London's Chinatown boasts some of the city's best Chinese food, quality and value vary enormously between individual restaurants. While some consistently win awards, others seem to be regularly being refurbished following visits from the local Environmental Health department. Unless you're on an extreme budget, it is worth paying a little more for quality food and service. Be careful especially with the common all you can eat deals.
- Café in the Crypt (address: Trafalgar Sq)
In the basement of St Martin-in-the-Fields church is the Café in the Crypt which offers reasonably-priced cafe food that you can eat amongst the brick-vaulted ceilings, pillars and gravestones.
- The Portrait Restaurant (address: at the National Portrait Gallery) +44 20 7312 2490
Offers spectacular food accompanied by spectacular food on the 5th floor of the National Portrait Gallery. A must do dining experience.
- Tokyo Diner (address: 2 Newport Place) (directions: At the eastern end of Lisle St, near the Prince Charles Cinema)
Offers excellent and well-priced Japanese food.
- China China (address: 3 Gerrard St) +44 20 7439 7502
price: around £5 for a generous portion
At the budget end of the scale, China China at the eastern end of the north side of Gerrard Street offers Hong Kong diner style meals of cold meat on hot rice.
- Friendly Inn (address: 47 Gerrard St) +44 20 7437 4170
Offers cheap fare on the southern side of Gerrard Street. The restaurant lives up to its name with very enthusiastic serving staff, but unless you stick to the set menus, the cost of the meal can soon increase.
- Lee Ho Fook (address: 15-16 Gerrard St) +44 20 7492 1200
The best known restaurant in Chinatown, as immortalised in Warren Zevon's song Werewolves of London. The restaurant plays on this tiny crumb of fame, displaying a much-faded image of the singer in its window. Meals here are relatively costly by local standards, and generally not reported to be outstandingly good.
- Luxuriance Peking Cuisine (address: 40 Gerrard St) +44 20 7734 0262
This family-owned business that started up in 1980 is famous for its freshly cooked crispy aromatic duck, seafood banquet and pork spare ribs. The interior is comfortable, relaxed and modern.
- New World (address: 1 Gerrard Pl) +44 20 7734 0396
A well-decorated and plush-looking restaurant which serves excellent dim sum on trolleys from midday until around 6PM. Good quality evening food is available thereafter, and the service is very good overall.
- Wong Kei (address: 41-43 Wardour St, W1) (directions: opposite the western end of Gerrard Street) +44 20 7437 3071
A Chinatown institution. Popular with Londoners and visitors alike and possibly the best value Chinese restaurant in the whole of London. Spread across four floors, this restaurant is infamous for its surly, abrupt service and this has become part of the experience of dining there. Depending on how drunk you look, the higher up the building you will be sent. Tea is complimentary, though somewhat bland. Set meals present excellent value for money, some being under £5. The sweet and sour pork is remarkably good.
There are relatively few decent places to drink in this district and visitors would do better to head north into Soho or east in Covent Garden, for a better selection of bars and pubs. However, if your legs are weary, there are a number of convenient drinking places:
- 1997 (address: 19 Wardour St)
Cosy place to visit if you are not feeling in an alcoholic mood. They provide a good selection of iced and pearl tapioca teas which are often hard to come by outside of Hong Kong.
- Cork and Bottle Wine Bar (address: 44-46 Cranbourn St) +44 20 7734 7807
More of a wine bar than a restaurant, the extensive wine list featuring selections from Australia and California. They offer reasonable cuisine to wash down this full bodied wines.
- De Hems (address: 11 Macclesfield St, W1D 5BW) (directions: North from halfway along Gerrard Street)
Dutch-themed pub with an excellent selection of beers. It is often crowded, but has a good atmosphere and a comedy club.
- Geisha Bar (address: 75 Charing Cross Rd WC2H 0NE)
A well-known wine bar that also features an extensive and imaginative cocktail menu.
- Trash Palace (address: 11 Wardour St W1D 6PG) +44 20 7734 0522
Fantastic small gay bar, mixed music and a laid back mixed crowd.
- Waxy's O'Connor's (address: 14-16 Rupert St, W1D 6DD)
Irish themed pub with a fibreglass tree inside it. It is almost invariably unbearably crowded. The smaller Waxy's Little Sister opposite it, however, is generally quieter and more relaxed.
Very few visitors actually stay in this district and the options which are available are not particularly good value. This is a district to visit, not to stay in.
- Radisson Edwardian Leicester Square Hotel (address: 3 St. Martins St, WC2H 7HL) +44 20 7930 8641 email@example.com
price: From £148
Small hotel furnished in a sleek, contemporary design.
- Thistle Picadilly (address: Coventry St, W1D 6BZ) +44 845 3058330
price: From £159
Affordable and centrally located but a tired property.
- The Trafalgar (address: 2 Spring Gardens, SW1A 2TS) +44 20 774 1500
price: From £240
Hilton's first boutique hotel in London.