Soho is maybe the area of London that is hardest to pin down and understand. When I first moved to the British capital, I thought Soho was just a commercial hub filled with tourist traps and overly-expensive theatres and restaurants. It took me some time, some reading and some local connections to really go under the skin of this not-so-well defined neighbourhood and truly appreciate it. It was only at the end of my 7 year stay in town that Soho became one of my favourite hubs. It might be because, the heart of London is here, in Soho. Despite its changes, the big brands, the coffee chains, the pulsing heart of London is still here. Maybe it’s in one of the basement bars or one of the hidden, not-so-legal brothels on top of some restaurant. I don’t know exactly where, but the heart bit comes from here, loud and clear. You might just have to dance a bit harder to hear it.
“By seeing London, I’ve seen as much of life as the world can show.”
TRANSPORT in SOHO
Soho is located right in the center of London's West End and it covers approximately one square mile (2.6 square kilometres), so the best way to see it all is on foot.
To get to Soho, you can either catch a London bus or get on the London tube and get off at one of the followings:
Tottenham Court Road
Oxford Street, Regent Street, Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road plays as Soho's borders.
If you live in London or are going to be in London for more than a day, it's worth getting an Oyster Card from one of the many tube stations around London. Alternatively, you can also use your contactless bank card (the fare is the same).
TO SEE + DO in SOHO
MONUMENTS AND PARKS
Address: Soho Square, London, W1D 3QL
This is like a dream right at the centre of bustling Soho. It’s a small, green square where people have been hanging out since the 1790s and still attracts workers on their lunch break as well as families for picnics and ice-creams at weekends.
Address: 21 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3NE, UK
A bit of the Fringe Festival down to London for some laughs and exhilaranting acts. No visit to London is complete without a stop in a theatre and if comedy is your thing, this is the place to go.
Sounds of the Universe
Address: 7 Broadwick St, Soho, London W1F 0DA
Sex, theatre and music are probably the three backbones of this part of town and you will still find loads of music shops in Soho. The best one is Sounds of the Universe which features an incredible selection of music as well as some live shows.
Address: 47 Frith St, Soho, London W1D 4HT
Opened in 1959, this is probably one of the best known jazz clubs in the world where you can enjoy live music every night of the week. Early reservation is recommend.
Ain't Nothing But Blues
Address: 20 Kingly St, Soho, London W1B 5PZ
Live music and a late licence seven nights a week make this another very popular Soho hang out. I don’t think you can reserve a table here, but arriving early will certainly help you skip the queue.
"Love is love" down Old Compton Street
Address: Old Compton Street
Old Compton Road is probably the heart of the LGBT scene in London and where you can find lots of gay-friendly bars and clubs. The Village on Wardour Street is one of the oldest gay bars in Soho, while G-A-Y attracts a young crowd with its cheap drinks and pop vibes. She is the only venue in London created specifically for lesbians and it’s the perfect place for a drink after work or a night out.
Sex. Sex. Sex.
Everybody knows that Soho was right at the centre of the sex industry in London and it has been so for the past 200 years. Obviously, things have dramatically changed, but there are still many licensed sex shops in the area where you can get inspired...or just have a laugh.
Address: 99 Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 5DY
It was one of my favourite cinemas while I lived in London thanks to its mix of mainstream movies and lesser-known works by independent directors. A caffeine break at the coffee house or a cocktail at the bar is almost mandatory.
It might not be strictly part of Soho, but we can’t write a guide about Soho without even a little mention. Enter this part of China by one of its famous gates and pick one of the many restaurants for some truly authentic Chinese food.
Books and stories...
Maybe only a few areas of London have managed to keep their independent shops open against the invasion of global brands.
A great example of swimming against the big chains current. This now four-story bookworms heaven opened in a basement in 1906 right where it is today on Charing Cross Road.
Soho Original Books
A much more recent bookshop - it opened in 1993 - but a quirky one which features a sex shop in the basement too (I told you sex was everywhere in Soho ?). If you are a manga and comics fan,
The place to be. With its 30 years in the industry and knowledgeable staff, here you will find a vast children’s and adults’ selection.
FOOD IN SOHO
Address: 53 Lexington St, Carnaby, London W1F 9AS
The name of this Taiwanese restaurant derives from gua bao: a fluffy white steamed bun filled with braised pork and sprinkled with peanut powder. The place features all sorts of bao (bun) as well as Xiao chi (small eats).
Address: 17 Frith St, Soho, London W1D 4RG
All over London, people are falling in love with Martin Morales’s restaurant-bars which include Andina, Casita Andina, Ceviche Old Street and Ceviche Soho. Some customers come here for his Pisco cocktails, but the food is what is really amazing, in particular the ceviche, whether you order it with corn cakes, avocado salad or spiced chicken.
La Bodega Negra
Address: 16 Moor Street (Basement), London W1D 5NH
Hidden behind its sex-shop façade, La Bodega Negra continues to trick first-timers who nervously enter its dark dining room. Don’t be scared, the food is good and the fun assured.
Address: 18, Brewer Street
An authentic institution in Soho, Lina Stores has been serving Italian food including pasta, sandwiches, antipasti, olives and much more since the 40s. If you are an Italian expat, this is the place to gather some of your favourite Italian stocks even if more pricey than elsewhere.
BARS + DRINKS IN SOHO
Milk Bar Soho
Address: 3 Bateman St, Soho, London W1D 4AG
You can find a very updated guide to the best coffee shops in London here, however I still think Milk Bar is probably one of the most famous (and best) coffee shops in London. Make sure to get your dose of caffeine here while in Soho.
Timberyard - London
Address: 4 Noel Street, W1F8GB
Voted Europe’s best independent coffee shop, Timberyard is one of the friendliest chain of independent cafes in town. There are three venues in London and one of the is - obviously - in Soho.
Address: 19 Beak St, Soho, London W1F 9RP
Brunch is another mandatory thing to do while in London, whether you live here or you are just visiting. Soho Grind is one of the best place to have it, and it also also has the plus of turning into a bar after dark.
The Bag O’Nails
Address: 9 Kingly St, Soho, London W1B 5PN
One of the very first nightclubs in London, the Bag O’Nails opened its doors in the 1920s and quickly became a hot spot thanks to the many famous artists on its stage, including Jimi Hendrix as well as becoming the favourite meeting place of The Beatles’ Paul McCartney and his first wife, Linda. It’s a luxurious private members’ club, so membership or some good connections are essential to get in.
TIPS for SOHO
- Like most crowded places in London and beyond, beware of streetpickpocketing
- Avoid public transports and walk everywhere. Soho is small enough!
- If you can, avoid visiting on Saturday afternoon since it can be crazy busy, but normally Sunday morning and early afternoon is quite good.
- For more interesting shots and street life in Soho, follow @ari55, one of the very best street photographers in London.*
Read more about London in the guides below:
- Spotahome Neighbourhood Guide: Best Things to Do in Shoreditch, London
- Spotahome Neighbourhood Guide: Best Things to Do in Hampstead, London
- Spotahome Neighbourhood Guide: Best Things to Do in Mayfair, London
- Spotahome Neighbourhood Guide: Best Things to Do in Notting Hill, London
- Spotahome Neighbourhood Guide: Best Things to Do in Camden Town, London