West End area guide

Keep busy in central London with our pick of the best things to eat, see, do, book and drink in the West End

Ben Rowe

London’s West End is the beating heart of central London. It’s the place where shoppers rack up serious debt on Oxford Street, theatre nuts coo over the latest plays and musicals and tourists flock to soak up the delights of Covent Garden and its surroundings.

It’s also where you’ll find plenty of London’s best restaurants, bars and clubs, many of them somewhere on the narrow streets of Soho, the city’s most reliably buzzy party district. But the West End’s not all about expense and excess – it’s also home to some of London's best free things to do, including the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. Plan a perfect trip to central London with our guide to the best things to do, see, eat and drink in the West End. 

RECOMMENDED: Our London area guides.

The best bits of the West End

18 ace things to do on Berwick Street, Soho
News

18 ace things to do on Berwick Street, Soho

The street links the bustle of Oxford Street to the seductive scuzz of Soho’s ex-red light district.

15 reasons to go to Monmouth Street, WC2
News

15 reasons to go to Monmouth Street, WC2

It’s about 70 percent fashion and beauty boutiques – most of them independent, all of them great. 

The perfect weekend in the West End

Eat: The Barbary
Restaurants

Eat: The Barbary

It’s been crowned the best restaurant in London by Time Out food critics. 

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
See: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Theatre

See: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter’s West End debut lives up to the hype.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Browse: Liberty
Shopping

Browse: Liberty

For pomp, fizz, whimsy and bags of history. 

Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Explore: National Gallery
Art

Explore: National Gallery

Free access to over 2,300 works of art.

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars

Best restaurants in the West End

Bao
Restaurants

Bao

Terrific-value food you can eat with your fingers. 

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Social Eating House
Restaurants Book online

Social Eating House

Smart enough for suits, sexy enough for the Soho set. 

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Book online
10 Greek Street
Restaurants Book online

10 Greek Street

It's not big but it is clever. Top-notch small plates and nice little touches will turn you into a superfan. 

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Magpie
Restaurants Book online

Magpie

A cross between dim sum dining and a funky tasting menu.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Book online
Hoppers
Restaurants

Hoppers

Worth the queue if knockout Sri Lankan small plates are your bag. 

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Henrietta
Restaurants Book online

Henrietta

Venue says: “The menu, by Ollie Dabbous, is ingredient-led with simple, seasonal dishes and a subtle accent of France throughout.”

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
3 out of 5 stars
Book online
Bocca di Lupo
Restaurants Book online

Bocca di Lupo

An edible tour of Italy's regions in a glam Soho setting. 

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Temper
Restaurants Buy tickets

Temper

Barbecue in rotis and flatbreads in a Soho basement. With party tunes. 

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Buy tickets
More amazing central London restaurants

Things to do in the West End

National Gallery
Art

National Gallery

Gaze at masterpeices in this incredible (and free) art gallery. 

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Covent Garden Market
Shopping

Covent Garden Market

Venue says: “The perfect floral al fresco cocktail bar has arrived in Covent Garden! La Terrasse St-Germain is serving cocktails until July 8!”

Users say
5 out of 5 stars
Trafalgar Square
Attractions

Trafalgar Square

Hang out with the pigeons in London’s most famous square. 

Users say
5 out of 5 stars
London Transport Museum
Museums

London Transport Museum

Learn about London’s incredible transport network. 

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
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Bars and pubs in the West End

Bar Termini
Bars and pubs Book online

Bar Termini

When someone calls two people a ‘dream team’, my hype-detector lights up. But with Bar Termini, the DT moniker seems fitting. Bar Termini does two things: coffee and cocktails. Coffee is overseen by Marco Arrigo, head of quality for Illy, who has probably trained more baristas – and trained them rigorously – than anyone else in the UK. Cocktails are supervised by Tony Conigliaro, the alco-alchemist behind 69 Colebrooke Row and Zetter Town House, among others. Teams don’t get much dreamier than this. So, have they found a supersized venue to match the giant reputation? Ha ha ha. There’s room for 25, and seated service only, though you may stand if you order a single ‘espresso al bar’ (£1) for Italian-style drinking-and-running. The coffee list has just four brews, all of them classics but with a twist. The alcohol list has three negronis, four ‘aperitivi’, three wines, one bottled beer. There is also a small food offering: baked goods from L’Anima in Shoreditch by day, charcuterie and cheese in the evening. I went for coffee at lunchtime. The ‘espresso al tavola’ (they’ll explain what it means) was unusual but flawless. On my second visit later the same day, I had a marsala martini: Beefeater gin, sweet marsala, dry vermouth, almond bitters served straight-up. A model of simplicity and balance, this is one of the best cocktails in London. Prices for hot drinks are higher than the norm (£4, apart from single espresso), but that’s a for triple espresso shot. Cocktails, by c

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Cahoots
Bars and pubs Book online

Cahoots

I really wasn’t expecting to like Cahoots, the vintage tube-themed bar that’s a bigger hit with tourists than Madame Tussauds. From its ‘tally ho’ e-comms after making a reservation, to the awkward ‘train guard’ actor on the door and his sheer refusal to break Mockney character, it was more fear-inducing than rush hour on the Central Line, and that’s before we’d even reached the ‘platform’ (you know, the bar). Once inside though, we quickly relaxed into cocktail hour thanks to efficient staff, low lighting and retro (read kitsch) underground paraphernalia. It’s a little confused about what era it’s portraying (we figure it’s the Blitz), but you’re not really looking for historical accuracy – Cahoots sure isn’t taking itself seriously. It’s all aided by a list of drinks spread across a newspaper-sized menu – plenty of options to get in the mood but a bloody long read. Luckily they flag a few from the menu to best suit certain tastes, and staff give recommendations.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, a Judy Garland (£10) arrived in cup and saucer. It was a refreshing citrusy mix of gin, aperol, grapefruit and camomille tea. For more of an edge, the old fashioned (£11) was a jolly good show, its foundations made from the bar’s ‘grog’ mix on the clever ‘Cahooch’ section of the menu. Snacks are basic, failing to nail the retro thing (we can’t remember our ‘vintage’ relatives ever craving a crisp and salad cream sandwich) but are an extra bit of silliness presented in ration trays for qu

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Blind Pig
Bars and pubs

Blind Pig

Though technically an upstairs adjunct to Jason Atherton’s celebrated Social Eating House (which itself garnered a five-star review in Time Out), The Blind Pig is a worthy destination in its own right. Perhaps as a nod to its Prohibition-flavoured nickname (‘blind pig’ being US underworld slang for a good old-fashioned den of iniquity), it’s not immediately obvious how to find it at street level; look under the vintage ‘Optician’ sign for the blindfolded hog doorknocker and boom, you’re in. The decor is authentically retro but never schmaltzy; lovely touches like the antique mirrored ceiling, copper-topped bar and charmingly mismatched (yet never discordant) wooden furniture made me feel (on date night) like a wide-lapelled Capone crony painting the town with his broad. If this all sounds a little contrived and too-clever-by-half, the cocktail menu brings welcome comic relief. Who could resist a Slap ’n’ Pickle (gin, brandy and pickle brine), Kindergarten Cup (incorporating ‘Skittles-washed Ketel One’), or Robin Hood, Quince of Thieves? (brandy, quince liqueur, mead). The puns are employed with abandon, but everything I tried was ace (even, yes, Dill or No Dill). Better yet, the bar snacks are made downstairs, so the grilled baby peppers, confit pork rillettes and duck fat chips are straight-up gangster.

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Tea Room at Bun House
Bars and pubs Book online

Tea Room at Bun House

Bun House: a whole lotta fun with its steamy takeaway counter, informal layout and Cantonese decor on a buzzy corner where Old Compton Street meets Greek Street. But there’s even more fun hidden below ground at the Chinese joint’s speakeasy-bar-meets-tea-room. It’s lit by the glow of Cantonese lettering in green neon, which bounces off luxurious red drapes, creating a room as saturated in colour as a Nicolas Winding Refn film (although the owner is said to have been more inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s ‘In The Mood for Love’). In among gorgeous design, there’s a lot of novelty in a trip to the Tea Room. The menu is printed on a newspaper and a jukebox loaded with vintage vinyl sourced from Taipei, Singapore and Hong Kong warbles out ’60s tunes, although a bold sign warns punters to look but not touch. Authenticity is in your glass as well as on the airwaves, with drinks featuring Chinese spirits and flavours. There’s a whole list of imported baijiu, China’s national drink sometimes referred to as ‘Chinese vodka’. If you’re not up for a one-way journey on the vodtrain, ease yourself in with a Mango & Chilli cocktail, which features baijiu in the background of a bold fruitiness and heat that builds and tingles. It’s also the base spirit in the Peanut & Goji, a syrupy-sweet short drink served over a large rock of ice and good enough to treat as a dessert. Both were served with playful, almost-garish garnishes. Bar snacks were just as good to look at, with the likes of pork-neck sk

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Swift
Bars and pubs Book online

Swift

From the couple who brought us cult faves Nightjar and Oriole comes Swift, swooping into the former site of the celebrated, groundbreaking Lab Bar. Frankly, if they’d named it Tit I’d have still been excited, since here they’ve also teamed up with folks who’ve worked across Milk & Honey and Callooh Callay, to overwhelming success. Swift is split in two: a buzzy, casual-yet-sparkling bar on the ground level and a dark lounge below. Upstairs, the look is faintly Italian, mirrored in a menu of affordable aperitivos. This includes an unmissable sgroppino – a thick and frothy prosecco-based drink with lemony sorbet floating on top. For snacks, nearby drinkers ordered oysters, but I was happily ensconsed in a Guinness welsh rarebit, heavy with pungent cheese and onion. Pongy titbits notwithstanding, Swift makes a great date spot. If it’s going well, take it downstairs. The basement is lit for romantic trysts, the showy side of Oriole and Nightjar eschewed in favour of pared-back sophistication. Staff are attentive, guiding you through an original menu edging towards nightcaps. I tried a powerful Amber Cane, a reinvented manhattan using rum in place of whisky. So taking over the spot where London’s cocktail-making reputation was cemented doesn’t seem too bold. Doing it in such a stripped-back way was the ballsy move, but, boy has it paid off. Time for a Swift one.

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Mark’s Bar
Bars and pubs

Mark’s Bar

The basement of Hix Soho remains one of Soho’s most popular cocktail haunts, and that’s only partly because of its highly unusual drinks based on true-Brit recipes from years (and centuries) gone by. It’s a subterranean haven, and a great place to have serious drinks alongside delicious bar snacks (substantial enough to make a light meal even if you don’t follow them with dinner upstairs). Cocktails are king here, but the gin and scotch lists both repay ample exploration. Be warned that it can be hard to find space here, and it doesn’t take bookings. But it’s worth it.  

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
3 out of 5 stars
Soho Grind
Restaurants

Soho Grind

The phrase ‘Soho grind’ might bring to mind more than just coffee, but there’s nothing unsavoury about this spot on Beak Street. Once you’re inside the second branch of popular coffee shop Shoreditch Grind, it’s all cheery smiles and Radio 2. Their ‘long black’ (like an Americano, but stronger) was smooth and without any hint of bitterness. Armed with two La Marzocco espresso machines (to beat the lunchtime rush), they’re confidently muscling in on the Soho coffee scene, mostly thanks to a creamy, balanced house blend of beans from Chiapas, southern Mexico, and Sierra de las Minas in Guatemala’s Eastern Highlands. The side of saucer-sized pastries is a welcome treat, but if you’re after something a little bigger go for their Portuguese custard tarts – these pastéis de nata even have an option with raspberries embedded in them.There’s a small selection of other food: a salad of artichoke, chickpea, mozzarella, and red chard; decent, but small, chicken and avocado sandwiches. Soho Grind has a drinks licence in the basement bar too, giving this spot an extra shot of New York cool. One staff member wasn’t too happy though: ‘This song… again!? I’m OVER IT’. After its second play, we agreed. Thankfully, the 12-option coffee menu and rustic grub beckoning from the dark wood countertop was pleasing enough to put up with the double dose of Coldplay.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Milk & Honey
Bars and pubs

Milk & Honey

Since opening in 2002, this London outpost of the top-drawer Manhattan M&H has been one of central London’s best places for drinking proper cocktails in clubby but unstuffy surroundings. Officially it is a members’ bar, and so discreet that the only outward evidence of its existence is a tiny sign next to a buzzer on Poland Street. But non-members can go – by booking the ground floor or basement bar only – up to 11pm. A list of rules states that the house doesn’t like noise, it doesn’t like rowdy, it doesn’t like poseurs or pickups. The restrictions are worth it for unfailing excellence in cocktail-making and a very civilised evening.

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
More brilliant boozers in London

Hotels in the West End

Savoy

Savoy

One of the grand dames of London’s hotel scene.

Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Check prices
Ham Yard Hotel

Ham Yard Hotel

For contemporary glamour with a side of eccentricity.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Check prices
More hotels in the West End

Theatre in the West End

Guide to West End theatre shows
Theatre

Guide to West End theatre shows

Reviews and tickets for all the shows and musicals in London’s West End.

How to get cheap West End theatre tickets
Theatre

How to get cheap West End theatre tickets

If you’ve got time and patience, you can get into any London theatre show you want.

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