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Chiara Dalla Rosa / © Culture Trip
Chiara Dalla Rosa / © Culture Trip
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Art Tour of Soho: 12 Stops in London’s Most Artistic District

Picture of Jessica Barnfield
Updated: 20 February 2018
Soho has long been known as London’s most creative quarter – home to numerous bohemian artists, writers and creative figures, all attracted by its laid back, debauched reputation. We take you on a tour of Soho’s artistic history, from the boozers where artists drank, to the galleries keeping Soho’s artsy spirit alive.
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Chiara Dalla Rosa / | © Culture Trip

Way back in Tudor England, the cry ‘Soho!’ signalled the sighting of a hare in the King’s hunting grounds, which comprised of a small patch of London that is now better known for its restaurants, bars, clubs, and theatres. From being Henry VIII’s hunting ground, Soho went on to become home to French Huguenot immigrants in the 17th century, who characterised the area as the French quarter, before becoming home to a host of bohemian writers, artists, and creative individuals attracted by the area’s reputation for debauchery.

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Chiara Dalla Rosa / | © Culture Trip

These individuals left their mark on Soho, which today is being changed yet again by a tide of gentrification, alongside a relentless flow of tourists. It still has its charmingly naughty reputation, and the raw spirit of Soho’s artistic past can still be captured; allow our art map of Soho to guide you through the most interesting and historical places left standing in London’s most dynamic quarter.

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Chiara Dalla Rosa / | © Culture Trip

Begin your day with a stroll through Anne’s Garden, where you can see an unusual work of art. Taking its inspiration from Duchamp’s Fountain, the community project toilet was erected in St Anne’s Gardens (a burial ground for sufferers of the plague) to allow children to play in the park for longer, and also engage locals to stretch their artistic muscles by decorating the interior.

Anne’s Garden, 55 Dean Street, London W1D 6AF, UK, 020 7437 8039

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Chiara Dalla Rosa / | © Culture Trip

The Brewer Street Car Park

Check out this iconic structure, which in recent years has come to be recognised as one of London’s key cultural spaces. The former car park is used for cultural displays across a range of media; children’s choirs video installations, live performances, talks and dinners. Take a peek at their website to find out what’s coming up.

Brewer Street Car Park, Brewer Street, London, UK

Frith Street

Wander down the historic Frith Street, where what is now Bar Italia was once the laboratory of John Logie Baird and is the site where he demonstrated television for the first time. From the most modern of all art forms, TV, to classical music: this same street houses the Prince Edward Theatre, which identifies the site to be where Mozart once lived.

Prince Edward Theatre, Prince Edward Street, 28 Old Compton Street, London W1D 4HS, UK, 0844 482 5151

Bar Italia, 22 Frith Street, London W1D 4RF, UK, 020 7437 4520

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Chiara Dalla Rosa / | © Culture Trip

From the site where television was first demonstrated, take a peek at the giant electrical sculpture on Ganton Street; a giant plastic plug socket that is either an eyesore or a fantastic artistic comment on modern culture’s dependency on electricity – you decide.

Ganton Street Plug, Ganton Street, Soho, London, W1F, UK

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The Spirit of Soho mural

Take a look at the Broadwick Street mural, and see how many famous faces from Soho’s eclectic artistic history you can spot. You might be able to spot Dylan Thomas, and the famous jazz musician George Melly, amongst others.

Spirit of Soho Mural, St Anne’s Tower, 55 Dean Street, London W1D 6AF, UK

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James Gould / | © Culture Trip

The dive bars and peep shows of Dean Street might be fast becoming a thing of the past, but the independent members’ clubs still thrive in the area, with The Groucho Club being one of the most infamous. Dreamed up by publishers as an alternative to gentleman’s clubs, anyone can be a member provided they work in the creative industries and are backed by two current members. So get on the phone to Rachel Weisz, Stephen Fry, or Zadie Smith and get yourself a membership.

The Groucho Club, 45 Dean Street, London W1D 4QB, UK, 020 7439 4685

Grab a lunchtime pint at a Soho institution. Just off Soho Square stands the mighty Pillars of Hercules, a pub famed for its inclusion in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, but which in real life, has been the watering hole of Casanova, Thomas De Quincey, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes.

The Pillars of Hercules, 7 Greek Street, London, UK, 020 7437 1179

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Chiara Dalla Rosa / | © Culture Trip

The Photographers' Gallery

Art Gallery
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The Photographers' Gallery | Courtesy TPG

The Photographers’ Gallery

More Info
Mon - Wed:
10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Thu:
10:00 am - 8:00 pm
Fri - Sat:
10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Sun:
11:00 am - 6:00 pm

Accessibility & Audience:

Accessible (Wheelchair), Family Friendly

Services & Activities:

Gift Shop

Atmosphere:

Indoors, Instagrammable

If photography is more your thing, head over to the Photographers’ Gallery, which showcases some of the best established and up-and-coming names in the field. Being the largest public gallery in London dedicated solely to photography, you can expect to find a treasure trove of historical photographs of London and beyond, as well as fantastic exhibitions such as Tamas Dezso’s Notes For An Epilogue, on until June 13th, which attempts to capture the rapidly disappearing worlds of Hungary and Romania.

The Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW, UK, 020 7087 9300

From photography that aims to capture the rapidly fading past, wander past the iconic Colony Room Club, which recently closed its doors on Dean Street after battling with raising rent prices. Pushed out by the gentrification of Soho, the Colony was once a favourite dive-bar of Bacon and John Milton. Described by locals as being more like a front room than a bar, this last bastion of the old Soho will be missed, as the area becomes increasingly colonised by chain restaurants and gastro-pubs.

The Colony Room Club, 41 Dean Street, London W1D 4PY, UK, 020 7437 9179

Grab dinner at popular Soho restaurant Polpo, where you can enjoy not only their delicious Italian tapas-style menu, but also some artistic history. The building dates from the 18th century and was once home to Italian landscape painter Canaletto. Canaletto resided on Beak Street between 1746 and 1755, and painted some of the most beautiful views of London’s streets.

Polpo, 41 Beak Street, London W1F 9SB, UK, 020 7734 4479

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Chiara Dalla Rosa / | © Culture Trip

Finish off the day with drinks at the Soho Lounge, which is a celebrity hot spot to this day. Whilst now you might be more likely to spot Jay Z or Orlando Bloom within its walls, back in 1925, it was home to the infamous Gargoyle Club, which counted a young Matisse amongst its members. The ballroom’s Moorish interior was inspired by Matisse’s colourful and expressive style.

The Soho Lounge, 26 Peter Street, London W1F 0AH, UK, 020 7437 3877

Still popular with local writers and artists, the French House has long been a favourite haunt of London’s creative residents. It’s most famous ex-patron perhaps being Francis Bacon, the Irish-born British painter best known for his emotionally raw, visceral portraiture. Bacon is in good company, as the pub has also been a favourite of Lucian Freud, George Melly and Damien Hirst.

The French House, 49 Dean Street, London, UK, 020 7437 2477