London’s West End is an easy place to find. The four areas radiate from Oxford Circus. The bright lights of Soho, the romantic mews of Mayfair, the elegant but rigid streets of Marylebone and the chic enclaves of Fitzrovia. You can easily walk about the West End or simply hop on the Tube from stations such as Oxford Circus, Bond Street, Green Park, Piccadilly and Tottenham Court Road. All you need is a London Underground map, and a trusty A-Z guide.
So what lies behind London’s theatre land? Behind the tacky neon strip joints and uber-trendy bars in Soho. Or the swanky hotels and luxury apartments lining Park Lane and Mayfair? The West End has been the beating heart of London for over two centuries. It is the centre of the capital’s glamour, style and sophistication. It is a place of glitz, film launches, air-kissing celebrities, paparazzi, nightclubs and shopping. The West End of London is often the first port of call for overseas visitors. With its theatres, landmarks and restaurants, it’s not hard to see why Londoners and tourists alike are drawn here.
But as you stroll down Piccadilly, past the luxury hotels and apartments and brass nameplates of Mayfair, through Regent Street’s grand parade of shops, up towards Oxford Circus, wend your way through the tight streets of Soho – the centre of gay, as well as bohemian, London – and push through the crowds at Leicester Square, there is little clue as to the murky past of many of its historic buildings.
Opulent parties were held here and scandals concealed; Nazi admirers, famous revolutionaries and eccentric writers all crammed within a few square kilometres of each other.
Situated west of the City of London, it was historically favoured by the rich elite as a place of residence because it was usually upwind of the smoke drifting from the crowded city.
Marylebone is home to Harley Street’s private clinics, where the rich and famous have received exclusive medical treatment for the past century or more.
Today, Mayfair is the place to discover discreet and expensive art galleries, embassies, small streets of elegant mews cottages, Piccadilly and its grand hotels, Hyde Park and its famous Speaker’s Corner, where you can hear just about any radical philosophy or religious beliefs being debated (or sometimes just shouted at passers-by
The modern notion of shopping was born in Oxford Street: shopping, that is, for shopping’s sake. Along with Harvey Nichols and Harrods, Selfridges, at 400 Oxford St, is one of the best-known stores in London. Gordon H. Selfridge was not a Brit at all but a self-made Chicago millionaire who arrived in London in 1909 determined to build England’s first American superstore.
Everything was on an enormous scale; it had 130 departments, a post office, roof garden and soda fountain. Opening with the slogan “Why not spend a day at Selfridges?”, it stunned staid Edwardian society. Within a week, a million shoppers had passed through its front doors. It was also the site for first television broadcast, in 1925.
To the south of Oxford Street is Soho. A curious mix of tattoo and piercing parlours, delicatessens, coffee shops, wine bars, massage parlours and mini-cab offices, as well as a media and gay hub.
Meanwhile, the eateries of Fitzrovia, to the northeast of Oxford Circus, are famous among the city’s busy diners, ad execs and others working in the area. Named after the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street, it was a famous (or infamous) place for the creative likes of poet Dylan Thomas, artist Augustus John and writer George Orwell, who set several scenes of his dark-future novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in the local pubs.
Contact J&K Apartments for your stay in London’s West End. firstname.lastname@example.org