- For other places with the same name, see Soho (disambiguation).
Soho is a district of central London, part of the West End, famous for jazz, its gay village, sex shops and alternative lifestyles.
This is generally considered to be the area enclosed by Piccadilly Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue and Cambridge Circus to the south, Charing Cross Road to the east, Oxford Street to the north, and Regent Street to the west. Oxford Street is the main shopping street in London but much of it is in the Mayfair-Marylebone district.
The area immediately surrounding 1 Old Compton Street in the southern part of Soho is widely recognised as London's foremost gay village and is a very stylish part of London indeed. There is some overlap with the red light district, though there has been a decline in prostitution and strip bars in the area since the 60s and is not quite as seedy as it once was, although you may still get solicited on the street in certain parts of Soho.
Chinatown is sometimes considered to be part of Soho, but it is south of Shaftesbury Avenue and, having a culture distinctly different from the rest of the West End, adjoins – but is not really part of – Soho.
Soho has a long and colourful history. The first record of the name comes from the 17th century when the area was pasture after being used as hunting park for the Royal Court of Henry VIII some 100 years earlier. Although disputed, it is widely believed that the name Soho originated as a hunting cry.
Despite this royal attention and very grand development taking place in adjoining districts, Soho did not become fashionable until recent times and was mostly known as an area settled by new immigrants. By the mid-19th century it had become the home of prostitutes and low brow music halls. Things looked up in the early 1900s when it gained something of a Bohemian reputation with writers, artists and actors moving in but the sex industry continued to dominate the district until as recently as the 1980s. This lucrative business was always run by organised crime groups and ensured that Soho was a notorious haunt of gangsters throughout much of the 20th century.
The music business began to really prosper here in the 1950s with a beatnik and jazz culture very much to the fore. Perhaps London's most famous jazz venue, Ronnie Scotts, is still thriving today in Frith Street. Many famous rock bands are also closely associated with Soho. The Rolling Stones played their first ever live concert here (at the legendary Marquee) and The Sex Pistols lived in Denmark Street as well as playing a number of infamous gigs. In the 1970s and 1980s Soho, and the Marquee in particular, was the place in London to head for to check out up and coming and often very controversial British bands.
Since the 1980s, the whole of Soho has undergone rapid transformation and development into a fashionable district of upmarket restaurants and media offices. There are though still a few places which are easily associated with its more colourful past and even a small remnant of the previously dominant sex industry remains, much of which has been disrupted by a number of waves of police crackdowns.
Modern day Soho has the densest concentration of restaurants, cafés, clubs and bars in central London and truly represents the vibrant, bustling heart of the city. It is also the modern hub of London's media world with multiple advertising agencies, television and radio studios and post-production companies choosing this as their base of operations.
Unsurprisingly given its colourful nature, much has been written about Soho. The following is short selection of books, all of which are a great read and would be of benefit to anyone planning to visit Soho.
- Dirty White Boy, Tales of Soho by Clayton Littlewood, Cleiss Press 2008. The musings and observations of a clothing store owner in Old Compton St in the 2000s. You will struggle to find a better modern day commentary on Soho. Littlewood's book has been compared to Christopher Isherwood's writings about sordid Berlin in the 1920s. And apart from all that, it is very funny.
- Dog Days in Soho by Nigel Richardson, Phoenix 2001. A biography of one sailor's life in Soho in the 1950s, perhaps the single most notorious period in the history of the district. Poignant and very well written. Gives a fine sense of the period just before the evolution of modern day Soho.
- Soho: A History of London's Most Colourful Neighbourhood by Judith Summers, Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd 1989. Not easy to find copies of this book but it is worth the effort. Covers the social history of the district from the 18th to late 20th century.
A tube station serves each of the four approximate corners of Soho:
- Tottenham Court Rd to the north-east (Central and Northern lines)
- Oxford Circus to the north-west (Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines)
- Leicester Square to the south-east (Northern and Piccadilly lines)
- Piccadilly Circus to the south-west (Bakerloo and Piccadily lines)
The most convenient mainline rail station is Charing Cross, located 10-15 min walk to the southeast.
Access to Soho by car is not recommended, owing to traffic congestion and stringent parking restrictions, and the £8 congestion charge. There is, however, a Masterpark parking station on Poland St, and another car park on Brewer Street.
More entertainment than transportation really, rickshaws run in Soho and the surrounding areas. They are much more expensive than a black cab, and may seem a lot less safe, but they are a lot of fun and can often be the fastest way to get around these tightly packed streets.
London's cycle hire scheme (known locally as "Boris bikes") has a number of outlets around Soho including on Old Compton Street, Wardour Street, Soho Square and Golden Square.
Old Compton Street is Soho's unofficial high-street and is full of bars, cafes, clubs and shops. It is a great place to grab a coffee and watch Soho go by.
- 2 Soho Square, Soho Sq W1. A centuries-old small park that becomes packed on warm sunny days.
- 3 Photographers' Gallery, 16 - 18 Ramillies St (tube: Leicester Sq), ☎ . M-Sa 11:00-18:00, Th 10:00-20:00, Su 11:00-18:00. The exhibitions are wide and varied, from documentary photographers to fine artists, some long gone, and some on their way up. With the crowds and chaos of Leicester Square on one side and Covent Garden on the other, this is a welcome retreat. Free.
- Wander the streets. Soho is best discovered by simply wandering its streets. Take the less trodden paths and you will be amazed by the rabbit warren of streets and the seemingly endless number of cafes, bars, shops and more. Some highlights are the gay village on Old Compton St, Soho Square and a tea and cakes in one of Soho's great patisseries.
- Dominion Theatre, 268-269 Tottenham Court Rd, W1T 7AQ. Home of Queen musical We Will Rock You
- Gielgud Theatre, 35 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6AR.
- Novello Theatre, 5 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4LD, ☎ . Home of Mamma Mia since 1999.
- London Palladium, Argyll St, W1F 7TF. Famous old London music hall whose boards have been trodden by many legendary names. These days it shows mostly blockbuster musical productions for the masses.
- Prince Edward Theatre, 28 Old Compton St, W1D 4HS, ☎ .
- Drury Lane Theatre Royal, Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JF ((5mins) Go right on Long Acre; turn right into Bow Street and after 100 metres it will be on your left in Russell Street/Catherine Street.).
Soho has a diverse range of shops, tending towards the arty, boutique and independent style of outlet.
After a period in the 1970s and 1980s when Carnaby Street became little more than a tourist trap and a pale imitation of its innovative, trend-setting heyday in the 1960s, it is now once again a major centre of new design. There are some especially interesting independent fashion stores in the small streets and courtyards off Carnaby Street, so it is well worth exploring the area carefully.
Berwick Street is notable for a collection of independent record shops specialising in different genres of dance music.
Clothing and accessories
- 1 Ben Sherman, 50 Carnaby St, W1F 9QA, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The flagship retail outlet of this iconic British fashion brand. Men's and women's clothing, accessories and shoes.
- 2 The Great Frog, 10 Ganton St, W1F 7QR (tube: Oxford Circus), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Rock and heavy metal jewellery specialist. Been in business here for more than 40 years. The iconic skull ring worn by so many famous rockers was originally designed and produced by Great Frog.
Music and record shops
- 3 Reckless Records, 30 Berwick St, W1F 8RH (tube: Oxford Circus), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Second hand record (vynil) store.
Unsurprisingly, Soho has a number of gay-related outlets, some of the best known are:
- Prowler, 5-7 Brewer St, W1F 0RF.
- Clone Zone, 64 Old Compton St, W1D 4UQ. The world's largest gay retail company.
- Berwick Street Market. An absolute gem and a relic of Soho's past. This is an old fashioned London fruit and vegetable market complete with shouting Barrow Boys and a whole array of colourful characters. There has been a market at this site since the early 1800s. Best early in the mornings.
- 4 Foyles, 113-119 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0EB, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 09:30-21:00. London's best known bookshop is a mazy warren containing a seemingly impossible number of books! It is not always easy to find your way around and although greatly improved since the renovation in 1999, the service is notably surly. Nonetheless, this place is a must for all book lovers.
- 5 OHSO SOHO, 9 Berwick Street, W1F 0PJ, ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Costume store, with a wide range of mid-range costumes for purchase, as well as masks. Knowledegable and enthusiastic staff.
- Cafe Valentino, 13a Greek St, W1D 4DN, ☎ . Late. A small cafe, primarily notable for its very late opening hours.
- The Dining Plaice, 20 Berwick St, W1F 0PY, ☎ . Decent fish and chip shop in the heart of Soho. Handy for Berwick Street market.
- Ma'oz, 43 Old Compton St, W1D 6HG. 10:00-late. The best place for a light fast-food style vegetarian/vegan meal, one of the few places in Soho where a fiver can get you fed.
- The Montague Pyke (A Lloyds No.1 bar), 105-107 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0BP. Offers real ales and two-for-one offers on a variety of meals.
- Stockpot, 18 Old Compton St, W1D 4JL, ☎ . M-Sa 11:30-midnight, Su 11:30-23:30. Good dependable 'British' cuisine Mains average £5-10 without drinks.
- Taro, 61 Brewer St, W1F 9UW. Noodles, sushi, bento boxes and assorted other Japanese goodies. Good cheap eats and reliable quality.
- Tai of Soho, 10 Greek St, W1D 4DH (Just off Soho Sq, parallel to Charing Cross Rd). (CLOSED) An oriental vegetarian/vegan restaurant that offers a cheap buffet and a variety of spicy dishes.
- Tuk Tuk Noodle Bar, 56 Old Compton St, W1D 4UE (Next door to Admiral Duncan pub), ☎ . M-Th noon-midnight, F Sa noon-13:00, Su 12:30-23:30. Honest, authentic and reliable Thai food, served up quickly and is amazing value for money. Can be crowded at peak times, turnover is so fast you won't be waiting too long. £8-12.
- Thai Cottage, 34 D'Arblay St, W1F 8EX. A slightly rough around the edges Thai restaurant which is always busy, thanks to the excellent value food which speaks for itself.
Italian and pizza
- Piccolo Diavolo, 8 Old Compton St, W1D 4TE. noon-23:30. A little corner of great Italian hospitality in the heart of Soho. A good variety of Italian quality food served with passion by friendly waiters. Mains and pizza around £7.
- Ristorante Cappucetto, 9 Moor St (At the intersection of Old Compton and Moor Sts - close to Cambridge Circus), ☎ . Th-Sa noon-01:00, Su-W noon-midnight. One of the oldest established Italian restaurants in Soho - since 1962. Family run, and the service is friendly, with some really good and authentic Italian dishes. Lunchtime meal deal between 12:00-16:00 with a main course and drink for £5.50.
- Jazz @ Pizza Express, part of the popular up-market pizza chain, but with a musical twist. Jazz bands play in the basement, often requires prior booking.
- Andrew Edmunds, 46 Lexington St, W1R 3LH. Top quality restaurant, great romantic spot. Bookings recommended. From about £25 per head.
- Balans, 60-62 Old Compton St, W1D 4UG, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. daily 24 hrs. Almost a Soho institution, this 24 hour eatery in the heart of the gay village offers a wide range of British and world cuisine in a stylish atmosphere. Has now gone international with branches in Miami, but the original Old Compton Street Balans is still be best, attracting clientele as diverse as TV presenter Dale Winton and politician and former mayor Ken Livingstone among its regulars. £20-25.
- Busaba Eathai, 106-110 Wardour St, W1F 0TR, ☎ . noon-11PM. One of the best choices on a street with any number of fantastic restaurants. You will find a laid back atmosphere with big low wooden tables (expect to share if your party is small). The menu features among other dishes a fine butternut squash curry. Average meal £14-20.
- The Red Fort, 77 Dean St, W1D 3SH, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This has been the landmark Indian restaurant in Soho since it opened in 1983. It was badly damaged during the Dean St fire in July 2009 and is currently closed for renovation. No doubt it will be back and serving the same high quality Indian food soon. Vegetarian options are especially good.
- St Moritz, 159-161 Wardour St, W1F 8WJ. A slice of the Swiss Alps in central London, offering Fondue, Raclette and other winter comfort foods amongst giant alpine horns and cowbells.
- 1 Scoop (Natural Luxury Gelato), 53 Brewer Street, ☎ . Come here for some genuine Italian gelato or coffee and cake. Try their hazelnut gelato, which is simply amazing. Large £3.60.
- L'Escargot, 48 Greek St, W1D 4EF (tube: Tottenham Court Rd), ☎ . This French restaurant has been serving up refined cuisine to the Soho faithful since 1927 and is currently owned and run by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White. The brasserie downstairs is slightly less formal than the Michelin-starred upper level. From £60.
- Quo Vadis, 26-29 Dean St, W1D 3LL (tube: Tottenham Court Rd), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Bit of a Soho institution formerly owned by Marco Pierre White. Now under new management but little has changed. Top notch British grill style food in a very smart environment. £60.
- Vasco and Piero's Pavilion, 15 Poland St, W1F 8QE (tube: Oxford Circus), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Umbrian food prepared with the very best ingredients by chef Vasco. All the pasta is freshly made on the premises. The calve's liver is especially famous. Has been in business here for 40 years. £60.
Have tea and cakes in one of Soho's great patisseries.
- Maison Bertaux, 28 Greek St, W1D 5DD (tube: Tottenham Court Rd), ☎ . Slightly tatty but utterly and deliciously French, since 1871. Take away or sit at one of their sidewalk tables.
- Patisserie Valerie, 44 Old Compton St, W1D 5JX (tube: Tottenham Court Rd), ☎ . 07:30AM-23:00 daily. The original location of this highly successful business (locally nicknamed as "Pat Vals") which has expanded across London with numerous outlets now around the West End. Wonderful French cakes and pastries. Breakfast here is notably good. Has a large seating area upstairs.
Soho used to be home to a number of establishments known as "clip joints" that exploited a loophole in the law. The usual scenario of such places: someone would stand outside extolling the number of attractive young ladies inside the establishment, some of which may be offering X-rated services. Upon entering, the unsuspecting customer would be asked for a considerable sum of money for the "entrance fee" or "membership fee" for the club they have joined simply by entering, and/or charged an extravagant rate for a glass of beer. Non-payment would result in threats of physical violence and possibly being frogmarched to a nearby ATM.
Generally, Soho is a safe place for people of all backgrounds. These establishments have mostly disappeared following a change in the law, but visitors should be aware that Soho's reputation as a hub for the sex industry means there are occasionally people who engage in scams and cons. Be careful not to go any place recommended by someone on the street, as this is more than likely a scam that will cost you hundreds of pounds with the suggester getting a commission. Exercise discretion and common sense.
- Garlic and Shots, 14 Frith St, W1D 4RD. Walk through the unassuming upstairs restaurant and head down the back stairs to find this small hidden basement bar, which boasts 101 different garlic and chilli-infused shots and loud rock/metal music. The 'Bloodshot' is highly recommended! There is also a seated outdoor smoking area out the back.
- The Crobar, 17 Manette St, W1D 4AS (Off Charing Cross Rd). Metal pub. Very fine atmosphere if you like or are among the metal folks.
- The Crown and 2 Chairmen, Dean St, W1D 3SB, ☎ . Has had a fancy refit and has a good selection of beers. You may have to wait a little while for your drink however. Popular with local media industry crowd.
- The French House, 49 Dean St, W1D 5BG. The legendary pub in which the French resistance convened during World War II and which was the favoured haunt of legendary Soho characters such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. It is a very small pub, so expect to be jammed in, particularly in winter. Also, note that the pub only serves beer in half-pints. An absolute Soho institution. Think "Jeffrey Bernard is unwell".
- The Midas Touch, 49 Beak St, W1F 9SB (tube: Piccadilly Circus). Popular pub with locals and usually has some good happy hour deals. Cheap-moderate.
- The Tottenham, 6 Oxford St, W1D 2DN (corner of Oxford St opposite Tottenham Court Rd tube station). Recently refurbished pub claiming to be the only pub on the whole of Oxford St. An absolute tourist trap but it is very convenient.
- The Toucan, 19 Carlisle St, W1D 3BX. Widely mistaken for an Irish bar it actually specializes in Guinness, said to be the best pint in London. Also check out their collection of over 100 different Irish whiskies.
- Sam Smith Pubs. Sam Smith's pubs are some of the cheaper places to drink in Soho as they mostly sell their own beers brewed in Yorkshire. The pubs are The Red Lion, 14 Kingly Street (Oxford Circus tube station), The John Snow (Broadwick Street) and The White Horse, 45 Rupert Street (Piccadilly Circus tube station). £2-£4 per pint.
Jazz joints, bars and clubs
- Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, 47 Frith St, W1D 4HT, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. M-Sa 20:30-03:00 including Bank holidays (closed 24-26 Dec); live music 21:45-02:00. Ronnie Scott's world-famous jazz venue. Most performances get booked up quickly: you need to reserve space on a table for dinner. Upstairs, there is a bar ("Ronnie's Bar") with more of a club-like environment. Non-members admission M-Th £20, F Sa £25; members admission M-Th £5, F Sa £10 (ordinary membership £60 per annum).
- There are numerous other jazz bars near Ronnie Scott's, less famous and subsequently cheaper, including:
- Ain't Nothin' But..., 20 Kingly St, W1B 5PZ. M-Th 17:00-01:00, F 17:00-02:30, Sa 15:00-02:30, Su 15:00-00:00. Blues bar. Often £5; free Su-Th and before 20:30 F Sa.
- Alphabet, 61-63 Beak St, W1R 3LF, ☎ . Trendy bar that manages to have a comfortable vibe, despite the great art on the wall and hip clientele.
- Lab, 12 Old Compton St, W1D 4TQ, ☎ . Popular martini bar.
- Milk and Honey, 61 Poland Street, W1F 7NU, ☎ . Cocktail club with original branch in New York City. Members only, although non-members can phone and book a table. Unlike the rest of Soho, the atmosphere is quiet and unforgiving of rowdiness. If you cannot decide on a drink, ask the waiter to make you something and specify a few characteristics (fruity, gin-based, sour etc.) and you'll usually be very pleasantly rewarded.
- Bar Termini, 7 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JE (Tube: Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Tottenham Court Road or Covent Garden), ☎ (mobile number), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. S-Th: 10 AM - 11:30 PM. F/S: 10 AM - midnight.. Italian-style bar serving cocktails and charcuterie. Excellent (and reasonable for the area) drinks in a cosy, quiet setting. No loud music, no rowdiness. ££.
- Admiral Duncan, 54 Old Compton St, W1D 4UB. A single room: what it lacks in space, it makes up for with drag performances. Make sure you head here on a Sunday evening for the Divine Ms Frankie Fantastique and her weekly game of "Rock and Roll Bingo".
- Comptons, 53-57 Old Compton St, W1D 6HN. A gay institution. Mostly caters to an older, rougher, fetish-oriented and bearish crowd.
- Duke Of Wellington, Corner of Old Compton and Wardour Sts. Superb "neighbourhood pub" which is popular with the beary crowd. Good music and great choice of drinks. Downstairs is always busy - upstairs is more subdued with sofa's and tables.
- Edge, 11 Soho Square. A three-story bar: at the weekend, it stays open until 3am with drag queens, go-go boys etc.
- G-A-Y, 30 Old Compton St, W1D 4UR, ☎ . Video monitors showing pop divas, and very cheap drinks. The G-A-Y brand also runs a late night bar, G-A-Y Late, as well as events at the nightclub Heaven (see the Covent Garden page). Fliers and wristbands for free or discounted entry are available both in and outside the Old Compton Street bar.
- Rupert Street, 50 Rupert St, W1D 6DR (Corner of Rupert and Winnett Sts), ☎ . Popular with businessmen. Serves food and has outdoor seating.
- Shadow Lounge, 5 Brewer St, W1F 0RF, ☎ . Where the trim, taut and terrific go to party. Often hosts incredible dance party nights.
- Yard, 57 Rupert Street, W1D 7PL, ☎ . Cocktails, shirtless barman and all the usual facilties of a gay bar, plus a large, enclosed outside seating area and first floor balcony—great for sunny summer evenings, great for smokers too.
Soho is a densely built district and there are not too many places to stay here.
- Oxford Street Youth Hostel, 14 Noel St, W1F 8GJ, ☎ . Busy, vibrant hostel ideal for backpackers, not a place for a quiet break. Self-catering kitchen. 2-4 bed rooms. Adults from £24.50.
- Courthouse (WorldHotels), 19-21 Great Marlborough St, W1F 7HL, ☎ . A Hilton hotel in a spectacular old building. From £200.
- Hazlitt's, 6 Frith St, W1D 3JA, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A quirky little hotel which occupies a number of adjacent Georgian houses. Just about as boutique as boutique gets. From £190.
- The Soho Hotel, 4 Richmond Mews, W1D 3DH (tiny laneway running between Dean and Wardour Sts), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Luxury boutique hotel with 91 rooms in an old converted building. Full range of five star facilities including spa, gym, restaurant and bar. If you can afford it, a fine experience for sure. From £280.
- Netstream, 9-12 St Annes Ct, W1F 0BB, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. daily 24 hrs. Very well equipped outlet with full business services as well as a fast internet connection. Even have a few Macs.
- If you are looking for gay nightlife, note that it spills across into the Leicester Square area.
|Routes through Soho|
|North London ← Bloomsbury ←||W E||→ Leicester Square → Southwark-Lewisham|
|West London ← Mayfair-Marylebone ←||W E||→ Covent Garden → The City|
|North London ← Bloomsbury ←||N S||→ Leicester Square → South London|
|Westminster ← Mayfair-Marylebone ←||S N||→ Bloomsbury → North London|