London/Soho

For other places with the same name, see Soho (disambiguation).
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

Soho is a district of central London, part of the West End, famous for jazz, its gay village, sex shops and alternative lifestyles.

Understand

Orientation

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   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. There is some overlap with the red light district, though there has been a decline in prostitution and strip bars in the area since the 60s and is not quite as seedy as it once was, although you may still get solicited on the street in certain parts of Soho.

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

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 hunting park for the Royal Court of Henry VIII some 100 years earlier.

Despite this royal attention and very grand development taking place in adjoining districts, Soho did not become fashionable until recent times 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 as recently as 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 as well as playing a number of infamous gigs. In the 1970s and 1980s Soho, and the Marquee in particular, was the place in London to head for 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

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

Get in

By tube

A  tube station serves each of the four approximate corners of Soho:

By train

The most convenient mainline rail station is Charing Cross, located 10-15 min walk to the southeast.

By car

Access to Soho by car 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

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

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

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.

Do

Explore

Watch

The Prince Edward theatre in Old Compton Street

Buy

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

Music and record shops

Gay-related

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

Others

Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross Road.

Eat

Budget

Asian fusion

Italian and pizza

Mid-range

Splurge

Patisseries

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

Drink

Soho used to be home to a number of establishments known as "clip joints" that exploited a loophole in the law. The usual scenario of such places: someone would stand outside extolling the number of attractive young ladies inside the establishment, some of which may be offering X-rated services. Upon entering, the unsuspecting customer would be asked for a considerable sum of money for the "entrance fee" or "membership fee" for the club they have joined simply by entering, and/or charged an extravagant rate for a glass of beer. Non-payment would result in threats of physical violence and possibly being frogmarched to a nearby ATM.

Generally, Soho is a safe place for people of all backgrounds. These establishments have mostly disappeared following a change in the law, but visitors should be aware that Soho's reputation as a hub for the sex industry means there are occasionally people who engage in scams and cons. Be careful not to go any place recommended by someone on the street, as this is more than likely a scam that will cost you hundreds of pounds with the suggester getting a commission. Exercise discretion and common sense.

Pubs

Jazz joints, bars and clubs

Predominantly gay

The Admiral Duncan

Sleep

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

Budget

Splurge

Connect

Go next

Routes through Soho

North London Bloomsbury  W  E  Leicester Square Southwark-Lewisham
West London Mayfair-Marylebone  W  E  Covent Garden The City
North London Bloomsbury  N  S  Leicester Square South London
Westminster Mayfair-Marylebone  S  N  Bloomsbury North London


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, April 01, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.