district in London, United Kingdom

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.

Location of the Soho area in London

Understand edit

The heart of Soho - this is the intersection of Wardour Street and Old Compton Street - a gay bar, Ann Summers sex shop, a chic cafe and a shoe repairer

Orientation edit

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.

For a period in the mid to late twentieth century, parts of Soho had a negative reputation as a red light district, but subsequent urban redevelopment, rising rents, and not unsurprisingly targeted action by the Westminster City Council, and Metropolitan Police, have all acted to dim and extinguish many of the red-lights. The area is not quite as seedy as its former reputation portrays it, although it is still advised to be aware of it.

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.

History edit

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 a 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 the 1980s 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 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 and played a number of infamous gigs. In the 1970s and 1980s, Soho, and the Marquee in particular, was the place in London to head 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.

Reading edit

Unsurprisingly given its colourful nature, much has been written about Soho. The following is a short selection of books, all of which would be of benefit to anyone planning to visit Soho.

  • Dirty White Boy, Tales of Soho by Clayton Littlewood, Cleiss Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1573443302. 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, ISBN 978-0575403420. 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, ISBN 978-0747508731. Not easy to find copies of this book but it is worth the effort. It covers the social history of the district from the 18th to the late 20th century.

Get in edit


By Tube edit

A Tube station serves each of the four approximate corners of Soho, all in Zone 1:

By train edit

1 Charing Cross in nearby Covent Garden is the most convenient mainline station, is a 10-15 min walk to the southeast.

By car edit

Driving to Soho 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.

By rickshaw edit

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.

By bicycle edit

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.

See edit

Soho 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  NOR  PIC ), +44 20 7087-9300. Mo-Sa 10AM-6PM, Th & Fr lates 10AM-8PM, Su 11AM-6PM. 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. £8 adults, £5 concession, 18 and under free. Fridays free from 5pm.    

Do edit

Explore edit

  • Wander the streets. Soho is best discovered by 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.

Watch edit

The Prince Edward theatre in Old Compton Street
  • 1 Dominion Theatre, 268-269 Tottenham Court Rd, W1T 7AQ. Home of Queen musical We Will Rock You.    
  • 2 Gielgud Theatre, 35 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6AR.    
  • 3 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.    
  • 4 Prince Edward Theatre, 28 Old Compton St, W1D 4HS, +44 20 7440-3020.    

Buy edit

Carnaby 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 edit

Music and record shops edit

Gay-related edit

Unsurprisingly, Soho has a number of gay-related outlets, some of the best known are:

  • 4 Prowler, 5-7 Brewer St, W1F 0RF.
  • 5 Clonezone, 35 Old Compton St, W1D 5JX, +44 20 7734-3438. M Tu 11AM–8PM, W–F 11AM–9PM, Sa noon–10PM, Su noon–6PM. The world's largest gay retail company. Merchandise includes underwear and adult toys.

Others edit

Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross Road.
  • 6 Berwick Street Market, Berwick St, W1F 0PH. Mo-Sa 8AM-late afternoon. 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. The street food vendors make this a good lunch option.
  • 7 Foyles, 113-119 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0EB, +44 20 7437-5660, . 9:30AM-9PM. 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.
  • 8 MinaLima, 157 Wardour Street, W1F 8WQ, +44 20 3214-0000, . W–Su 11AM–6PM. A shop and gallery showcasing the work of the designers who create the letters, signs, newspapers, and many other props and graphics in the Harry Potter movies. Lots of prints and souvenirs available for purchase. Worth a visit for Harry Potter fans.
  • 9 OHSO SOHO, 9 Berwick Street, W1F 0PJ, +44 20 7287-1295, +44 20 7287-7287, . Costume store, with a wide range of mid-range costumes for purchase, as well as masks. Knowledegable and enthusiastic staff.
  • 10 Liberty, Little Marlborough Street, W1B 5AH (tube: Oxford Circus  BAK  CEN  VIC ). A mock tudor department store, worth visiting for the beautiful interior woodwork.    
  • 11 Gosh! Comics, 1 Berwick St, W1F 0DR, +44 20 7437-0187. Daily 10:30am-7pm. Comic and graphic novel specialist.

Eat edit

Budget edit

  • 1 Maoz, 43 Old Compton St, W1D 6HG, +44 20 7851-1586, . Daily 11AM–11PM. The best place for a light fast-food style vegetarian/vegan meal, one of the few places in Soho where a fiver (April 2021) can get you sated.
  • 2 Montagu Pyke - JD Wetherspoon, 105-107 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0BP, +44 20 7287-6039. Offers real ales and two-for-one offers on a variety of meals.
  • 3 La Porchetta Pollo Bar, Communications House, 20 Old Compton St. Italian cuisine
  • 4 Bar Bruno, 101 Wardour St.
  • 5 Govinda's Pure Vegetarian Restaurant, 9 Soho St.
  • 6 Tongue & Brisket, 199 Wardour St. Salt Beef
  • 7 The Kati Roll Company, 24 Poland St. Hot Indian wraps

Mid-range edit

  • 8 Bar Italia, 22 Frith Street. A cafe with a lot of character.    
  • 9 Taro, 61 Brewer St, W1F 9UW, +44 20 7734-5826. M–Th noon–10:30PM, F Sa noon–11PM, Su 12:30–9:30PM. Noodles, sushi, bento boxes and assorted other Japanese goodies. Good cheap eats and reliable quality.
  • 10 Balan's, 60-62 Old Compton St, W1D 4UG, +44 20 7439-2183, . Daily 24 hr. 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 the late TV presenter Dale Winton and politician and former mayor Ken Livingstone among its regulars. £20-25.
  • 11 Busaba Eathai, 106-110 Wardour St, W1F 0TR, +44 20 7255-8686. 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.
  • 12 The Duke of Argyll, 37 Brewer Street, W1D 7LQ (Corner of Great Windmill Street. Tube: Piccadilly Circus  PIC  BAK ), +44 20 7437 6819. Daily noon–11PM. This Victorian-themed pub serves meals upstairs. The updated pup food includes a surprising range of vegetarian (some vegan) options. Order at the bar, they serve at your table. Cheap, interesting draught beers (see Drink). The real fireplace adds atmosphere, and a smoke scent to your clothing. Photos of the local area 100+ years ago teach history lessons. They have a no-electronics policy: put away your phone and interact with people instead. Meal with drink £25 (Feb 2020).
  • 13 Mildred's, 45 Lexington Street, W1F 9AN (Tube: Piccadilly Circus  PIC  BAK ), toll-free: +44 20 7494-1634, . M–Sa 11AM–11PM, Su 11AM–10PM. Mostly-vegan, all-vegetarian, interesting menu and very tasty food, since 1988. about £25 per person for supper with drinks.
  • 14 St Moritz, 159-161 Wardour St, W1F 8WJ, +44 20 7734 3324. M-F noon-3PM and 6PM-11:30PM, Sa noon-11:30PM, Su noon-10:30PM. A slice of the Swiss Alps in central London, offering fondue, raclette and other winter comfort foods amongst giant alpine horns and cowbells.

Splurge edit

  • 15 Andrew Edmunds Restaurant, 46 Lexington St, W1R 3LH. Top quality restaurant, great romantic spot. Bookings recommended.
  • 16 L'Escargot, 48 Greek St, W1D 4EF (tube: Tottenham Court Rd  CEN  NOR  ELI ), +44 20 7437-6828. This French restaurant has been serving up refined cuisine to the Soho faithful since 1927. It is owned and run by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White. The brasserie downstairs is slightly less formal than the Michelin-starred upper level. From £60.    
  • 17 Quo Vadis, 26-29 Dean St, W1D 3LL (tube: Tottenham Court Rd  CEN  NOR  ELI ), +44 20 7437-9585, . Bit of a Soho institution that used to be 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.    
  • 18 Vasco and Piero's Pavilion, 15 Poland St, W1F 8QE (tube: Tottenham Court Rd  CEN  NOR  ELI ), +44 20 7437-8774, . 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.

Patisseries edit

Have tea and cakes in one of Soho's great patisseries.

  • 19 Maison Bertaux, 28 Greek St, W1D 5DD (tube: Tottenham Court Rd  CEN  NOR  ELI ), +44 20 7437-6007. Slightly tatty but utterly and deliciously French, since 1871. Take away or sit at one of their sidewalk tables.    
  • 20 Patisserie Valerie, 44 Old Compton St, W1D 5JX (tube: Tottenham Court Rd  CEN  NOR  ELI ), +44 20 7437-3466. Daily 7:30AM-11PM. The original location of this very 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.

Drink edit

Pubs edit

  • 1 The Coach & Horses, 29 Greek St, W1D 5DH, +44 20 7437 5920. A pub for a traditional London sing-song around the Joanna every Saturday night.    
  • 2 The Crown and 2 Chairmen, Dean St, W1D 3SB, +44 8721 077 077. 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.
  • 3 The French House, 49 Dean St, W1D 5BG, +44 20 7437 2477. 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. The pub only serves beer in half-pints. An absolute Soho institution. Think "Jeffrey Bernard is unwell".    
  • 4 Glassblower, 40-42 Glasshouse St, W1B 5JY, +44 20 7734 8547. noon-11PM. Green King Pub
  • 5 Shakespeares Head, 29 Great Marlborough St, W1F 7HZ (at the northern end of Carnaby St), +44 20 7734 2911. A Green King Pub with
  • 6 The Tottenham (Flying Horse), 6 Oxford St, W1D 2DN (corner of Oxford St opposite Tottenham Court Rd  CEN  NOR  ELI  tube station), +44 20 7636 8324. Refurbished pub claiming to be the only pub on the whole of Oxford St. An absolute tourist trap but it is very convenient.
  • 7 The Toucan, 19 Carlisle St, W1D 3BX, +44 20 7437 4123. 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. £2-4 per pint.

    • 8 The Duke of Argyll, 37 Brewer Street, W1D 7LQ (Corner of Great Windmill Street. Tube: Piccadilly Circus  PIC  BAK ), +44 20 7437 6819. Daily noon–11PM. This Victorian-themed pub offers cheap Sam Smith draught beers in a variety of interesting flavours. Photos of the local area 100+ years ago teach history lessons. Dining upstairs (see Eat). They have a no-electronics policy: put away your phone and interact with people instead. Beer £2-4/pint.
    • 9 The Red Lion, 14 Kingly St, W1B 5PR (tube: Oxford Circus  BAK  CEN  VIC ), +44 20 7734 4985. M-Sa noon-11PM, Su noon-10:30PM.
    • 10 The John Snow, 39 Broadwick Street, W1F 9QJ, +44 20 7437 1344. Named after a doctor who traced the origin of a cholera outbreak in the area in 1849, and removed the handle of a water pump on Broad Street to prevent it from spreading further. Dr John Snow is today widely remembered as the father of epidemiology.  
    • 11 The White Horse, 45 Rupert St, W1D 7PB (tube: Piccadilly Circus  BAK  PIC ), +44 20 7437 5745.

Jazz joints, bars and clubs edit

  • 12 Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, 47 Frith St, W1D 4HT, +44 20 7439-0747, fax: +44 20 7437-5081, . M-Sa 8:30PM-3AM including Bank Holidays (closed 24-26 Dec); live music 9:45PM-2AM. 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:
    • Jazz after Dark, 9 Greek St
    • St Moritz Club, 159 Wardour St
  • 13 Ain't Nothin But The Blues Bar, 20 Kingly St, W1B 5PZ, +44 20 7287 0514. M-Th 5PM-1AM, F 5PM-2:30AM, Sa 3PM-2:30AM, Su 3PM-midnight. Blues bar. Often £5; free Su-Th and before 20:30 F Sa.
  • 14 Garlic & Shots, 14 Frith St, W1D 4RD, +44 20 7734-9505. M–F 5–11pm, Sa noon–11PM, Su noon–10;30PM. 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.
  • 15 Milk and Honey, 61 Poland Street, W1F 7NU, +44 20 7065-6800. 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.
  • 16 Bar Termini, 7 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JE (Tube: Leicester Square  PIC  NOR , Piccadilly Circus  BAK  PIC , Tottenham Court Road  CEN  NOR  ELI  or Covent Garden  PIC ), +44 7860 945 018 (mobile number), . Su-Th 10AM-11:30PM, F Sa 10AM-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.

Predominantly gay edit

The Admiral Duncan
  • 17 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".    
  • 18 Comptons, 53-57 Old Compton St, W1D 6HN. A gay institution. Mostly caters to an older, rougher, fetish-oriented and bearish crowd.    
  • 19 Duke Of Wellington, 77 Wardour St, W1D 6QB (at Old Compton St), +44 20 7439-1274, . Superb "neighbourhood pub" which is popular with the bearish crowd. Good music and great choice of drinks. Downstairs is always busy - upstairs is more subdued with sofas and tables.
  • 20 G-A-Y Bar, 30 Old Compton St, W1D 4UR, +44 20 7494-2756, . Daily noon–midnight. 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 Covent Garden). Fliers and wristbands for free or discounted entry are available both in and outside the Old Compton Street bar.
  • 21 The Yard Bar, 57 Rupert Street, W1D 7PL, +44 20 7437-2652, . M–Th 4:30–11:30PM, F 4PM–midnight, Sa Su 1–10:30PM. Cocktails, shirtless barman and all the usual facilities of a gay bar, plus a large, enclosed outside seating area and first floor balcony—great for sunny summer evenings, great for smokers too.

Sleep edit

Soho is a densely built district and there are not too many places to stay here.

Budget edit

  • 1 YHA London Oxford Street (Oxford Street Youth Hostel), 14 Noel St, W1F 8GJ, +44 770 5984. Busy, vibrant hostel ideal for backpackers, not a place for a quiet break. Self-catering kitchen. 2-4 bed rooms. Adults from £24.50.

Mid-range edit

Splurge edit

  • 2 Courthouse Hotel (WorldHotels), 19-21 Great Marlborough St, W1F 7HL, +44 20 7297-5555. A Hilton hotel in a spectacular old building. From £200.
  • 3 Hazlitt's, 6 Frith St, W1D 3JA, +44 20 7434-1771, . A quirky hotel with 30 rooms in a knock-through of Georgian townhouses. Ever-so-boutique (translation: lots of awkward angles, and no lift to the upper floors). No bar or restaurant, breakfast is served in your room, but oodles of eating and sluicing places within a short stroll. No dogs. B&B double £230.    
  • 4 The Soho Hotel, 4 Richmond Mews, W1D 3DH (alley between Dean and Wardour Sts; Tube: Leicester Square  NOR  PIC ), +44 20 7559-3000, . Pizazzy boutique hotel with 91 rooms in a converted warehouse. With spa, gym, restaurant and bar. B&B double from £350.

Stay safe edit

Soho has a longstanding reputation for seediness, but gentrification paired with an intense police crackdown in the late 2000s and early 2010s has made this reputation mostly legendary. However, there are still con artists and other criminals who may target unsuspecting tourists, particularly those who seem inebriated or otherwise vulnerable.

Don't go to any place recommended by someone you've just met, as this could be a costly scam or worse. Chances are nothing will happen to you if you're sensible, but never drop your guard completely, just in case.

Go next edit

  • To the east cross Tottenham Court Road into Covent Garden.
  • If you are looking for the gay nightlife, it spills south across into the Leicester Square area.
  • To the west across Regents St. into Mayfair.
Routes through Soho
North LondonBloomsbury  W   E  Leicester SquareSouthwark-Lewisham
West LondonMayfair-Marylebone  W   E  Covent GardenThe City
North LondonBloomsbury  N   S  Leicester SquareSouth London
WestminsterMayfair-Marylebone  S   N  BloomsburyNorth London

Routes through Soho
Paddington ← merges with   Marble Arch to Marylebone Flyover ←  W   E  Covent GardenThe City

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