- WHERE TO STAY
- ATTRACTIONS + TICKETS
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Nightlife: a typical West End theatre
The West End of London is a loose term for the central part of London that in terms of theatres and nightlife is the centre of London for leisure visitors.
The geographical centre of London is Trafalgar Square, that is from where all road distances to London are measured. Trafalgar Square is on the southern border of what is generally called the West End district.
The oldest part of London, where the original city walls were built, is the City of London. The City is way east of the West End and now, as it has always been, is the main business and financial area of London.
The area that is now the West End of London is in an area just north of the royal palaces and government buildings in the original London, now Whitehall and Westminster.
So the current West End area at the time London was being defined was convenient for the wealthy and powerful to have their mansions, close both to the business and government districts.
Those days have long gone but the broad structure remains the same. The City of London to the east of the West End around St Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London is the business centre of London, much of it a ghost town at weekends.
To the south of the West End the government offices still dominate Whitehall and Westminster where you find Big Ben, 10 Downing Street, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. The West End, north of Westminster and west of the City of London is London's leisure district where you will find most but not all of the theatres, nightlife and shopping.
London has no "downtown" area is the North American sense, it is well spread out as you can see below. If you ask your travel agent for a downtown hotel or ask for something "in the centre close to all the sights and near public transport" cash signs will light up and you'll probably be offered something in the West End area. You may be taken aback by the cost, but London is expensive, isn't it?
This page attempts to address whether it is worthwhile for you as an individual to look for a hotel in the West End or if some other district is more suited.
Types of hotels
Central London hotel districts
Major hotel chains in London
London's airport hotels
The West End covers quite a large area of Central London, so lets go through the districts within the West End.
Leicester Square and Covent Garden just north of Trafalgar Square is where you will find most of the West End theatres and much of the nightlife in Central London.
There are individual West End Theatres well outside this area but most of them are within 10 minutes walk of Leicester Square. Leicester Square is also the main venue for film premières in London and is where you will find a cluster of discount theatre ticket outlets. In the block north of London is China Town, often billed as the largest in Europe.
All around Leicester Square are theatres, nightclubs and of course restaurants of all kinds and budgets. It is the main area in London that tourists drift to in the evening have a drink and people watch if they are not taking in a show.
In terms of hotels the area is dominated by large 4 and 5 star hotels, most of them chains. If you are looking for cheap budget accommodation look elsewhere. The only real budget option is the Travelodge Covent Garden, room rates here are highly volatile but on occasions you can get good promotional rates at slow periods of the year.
The Travelodge is also one of the few modern buildings, nearly all others are "mature" buildings. Most of the 4 and 5 stars emphasise the traditional nature of their hotels, being a blend of chandeliers, afternoon teas and period architecture with all the latest modern facilities in your room.
There are just a few small independent hotels in the area, but budget rates are relative here. You'll pay a similar rate for a basic Bed and Breakfast style room here to a good 3 star property just 15 minutes away on the Underground.
Room rates in the Leicester Square & Covent Garden area are uniformly high throughout the year with a combination of business and leisure customers complementing each others peaks. Availability is tightest and room rates highest in May, June, July, September, October and the first half of December.
In the west of the West end is Mayfair, and along its southern edge, Piccadilly.
Mayfair is perhaps the most exclusive area in London to stay. Inside Mayfair it is relatively quiet and uncommercial, only along its borders along Piccadilly and Park lane and Oxford Street is there in your face commercial activity and large hotels.
The Mayfair district is home to rich individuals, hedge funds, gentlemen’s clubs (of the traditional leather sofa's and brandy type) and some of the most exclusive designer shops and restaurants in London.
The Mayfair area itself is not particularly convenient for generalist tourists and the very hefty price premium you pay deters most. Along Park Lane, that faces Hyde Park there are some very large flagship hotels on the upmarket chains. Marriott, has four properties in this area.
If you are comfortable mingling and dining with high society and can live with the prices, this might be for you - you won't find a McDonald's or convenience store around the corner.
Along the south border of Mayfair is Piccadilly, a major thoroughfare. Along here there are some large hotels, particularly in the vicinity of Green Park Underground. Piccadilly and the streets of it is where you can find some of the most upmarket shopping districts, Bond Street with designer shops, high class jewellers and art auction houses, Burlington Arcade collectibles and Savile Row tailors and Fortnum & Mason the Queen's grocer among them. If you are comfortable with the room rates this is great place to base yourself in London.
Many Londoners might argue that Oxford Street is not really part of the West End, certainly by the time you get to Marble Arch at the western end of Oxford Street you are stretching the envelope.
Oxford Street is the busiest shopping street for the mass market, most UK chains have their flagship store here.
You will also find some theatres and nightclubs.
The area is dominated by the shops which are open daily, just a late start on Sunday mid-morning. Most of the hotel accommodation is at the western end of Oxford Street, particularly around Marble Arch. There is more variety in hotel types than Mayfair and Leicester Square too with room rates softer than these areas.
There is little here if you are not interested in a little retail therapy, you will need to be on the Underground or bus to get to the main sights.
Room rates are volatile and tend to be much firmer during the working week. Some of the larger 4 star hotels around Marble Arch can have very attractive rates at slower times of the year.
Although the West End is in the very centre of London it is not well served with direct, affordable options to London's airports and cruise ports. All of the central train stations if you are travelling from within the UK are also outside the West End.
Unless you are extremely wealthy, Heathrow is the only airport most people would consider a taxi to and from the airport. Hotel shuttles, common in many countries have not found a place in the market in London, because of the excellent public transport links. The only direct link to any of the airports from the West End by public transport is the London Underground to Heathrow Airport.
The Piccadilly Line stops at Green Park, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden from Heathrow. At the extreme north west tip of the area at Marble Arch you can get airport buses to Stansted and Luton Airports.
Otherwise you'll need a taxi to one of the gateway train or bus stations to the airports and cruise ports from your hotel in the West End.
Traffic in the West End is often at gridlock, best way to get about is to walk or get the Underground. As a result day tour vehicles do not like to come into the West End district if they don't have to. If you are taking a day tour out of London to somewhere like Stonehenge or Oxford there will be token pick-up hotels in the West End when traffic is light in the morning before 8am but the vast majority will be in the hotel districts surrounding the West End.
In the evening, no day tour company will venture into the West End for drops, you'll be put off the tour bus outside the West End and expected to get the Underground or a taxi to your hotel.
If you want to be in the centre of London and the price of hotels for your dates are not acceptable value for money then the neighbouring districts of Bloomsbury and Victoria are worth checking out as alternatives. The County Hall area by the London Eye and around the Tower of London hotel district are also great for the leisure visitors, especially at weekends when the businessmen are away (both areas have lots of business customers). Bloomsbury is a particularly attractive district to stay in its own right.
Bayswater, Paddington and Victoria have cheaper rates if you are visiting during the working week, the Tower of London, County Hall and Euston districts have their cheapest rates at the weekend normally.