Soho borders the two main shopping streets in London – Oxford Street and Regent Street – but delving into the heart of Soho can yield rewarding results, with a bountiful selection of quirky boutique stores. The best places to go are Berwick Street and Carnaby Street, where Kingly Court can also be found tucked away through unassuming arches. Unusual shops like Mor Jewellery, Irregular Choice or Cheap Mondays can be found amongst better-known stores like Diesel, American Apparel and Replay. If you are looking for something classically London, make sure to check out the mock-Tudor Liberty department store for a glittering bazaar of gifts.
Take in a bit of culture at one of Soho’s many art galleries: The Photographers’ Gallery is globally renowned, and its exhibitions receive great media attention, locally and internationally. You can take a look at The Frith Street Gallery, which hosts popular Artists Talks which have previously featured big names such as Tilda Swinton.
Join a Walking Tour
One of the best ways to see Soho is on foot. Soho has a fascinating history, from its red-light past to its prominence in the introduction and perpetuation of jazz and rock culture in the UK. The Original Punk Rock Tour is a must for music geeks; or for something a little quirkier, join the Seven Noses Walking Tour to find out more about Soho’s strange and exciting past.
Sometimes considered a separate neighbourhood, Chinatown is located at the southern end of Soho; it comprises three bustling streets of restaurants, take-outs and exotic gift and food stores. The pedestrianised and gated Gerard Street is the heart of Chinatown, but a variety of restaurants, cafés and street stalls can be found along Shaftesbury Avenue and Lisle Street too – Beijing Dumpling and New Loon Fung are very good, or for something a little more sophisticated, try Plum Valley or Opium for delicious dim sum. It is worth checking out the Chinese New Year festivities, as there is always plenty going on and it makes for a very interesting atmosphere.
Go to the Hippodrome
For an evening of entertainment, head to the Hippodrome. Even if you are not the gambling type, the old theatre setting allows you to watch the casino floor from the balcony while you enjoy a drink at the bar. If you want to stick around for dinner, the restaurant, the Heliot, serves a sensational steak in this fast-paced and engaging setting.
Check Out a Comedy Show
The Soho Comedy Club and Amused Moose operate in different venues around the neighbourhood, putting on shows every Friday and Saturday night, regularly hosted by Alex Zane and Mark Dolan. For laughs every night of the week, The 99 Club in Leicester Square has comedy shows Monday-Sunday, with weeknights at reduced prices – plus, it’s a bar and restaurant too so the entire night is wrapped up in one.
Go to the Theatre
With a reputation for being the entertainment centre of London, and a history in all things dramatic and risqué, Soho is bursting with great theatres. The Gielgud, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, Ambassador, Queens and Lyric theatres, among others, typically put on a great selection of shows, from the recent stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time to the musical Stomp!.
Visit the Society Club
A bar, a café, a bookshop and a meeting space all in one, The Society Club is hub of creativity for arts and literature. Hosting weekly film nights, poetry readings, author talks and book launches, this is a must for anyone who loves to read or write. Priority is given to members of the club, but there’s no reason you can’t pop along to see what all the fuss is about. Sip on a classy cocktail and enjoy your Hemingway against a shelved backdrop of the greats of 20th century literature.
Do a Bar Crawl
Soho has a buzzing night life, with a variety of bars, pubs and clubs on every corner to suit all tastes. Check out Ronnie Scott’s for an authentic jazz bar that celebrates Soho’s cultural significance in bringing jazz to the UK; or become a part of history at The French House, which has been frequented by famous writers and artists over the years, like Dylan Thomas, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. Enjoy an elegant cocktail at Milk and Honey, or try something weird and wonderful at Garlic and Shots, where they have over 100 different flavoured spirits and shooters (and of course, many with garlic!). Lucky Voice Karaoke is a great way to spend an evening, and The Shadow Lounge, open from 9pm until late, is one of the best nightclubs in the Soho area. Soho is also lucky enough to have a vibrant LGBT nightlife, with Freedom Bar and The Admiral Duncan being firm favourites within the community.
You may not know this, but Soho is an amazing place to eat chocolate. If you are feeling flush, pick from the Mayfair or Evening Chocolate Ecstasy tour, which takes you around various chocolatiers (with samples and tasters!) within and near the Soho neighbourhood. Or maybe you would rather take a chocolate-making class? Ideal for an alternative date activity or something different with a friend, Paul A. Young holds monthly classes and tasting events at its boutique shop on Wardour Street. Or maybe you would rather eat chocolate straight up? Choccywoccydoodah is the place for you. A shop and café, it’s the perfect place to sample as many chocolatey delights as possible. They also have ‘secret rooms’, which can be booked out at £25 a head – perfect for hen parties or an indulgent family gathering!
Picnic in Soho Square
Get your daily dose of vitamin D by heading to Soho Square for an afternoon in the sun. The square is surrounded by huge media conglomerates like 20th Century Fox, Dolby Europe and the British Board of Film Classifications, and it featured in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. Take a picnic along with you, or get pizza to go from Princi, a fresh-cut Spanish meat roll from Enrique Tomas, or French pastry from Maison Bertaux to eat al fresco.
Eat with friends, a date, family, business partners or colleagues, old school friends or housemates – you are going to need to eat with all of these people, just to begin to make a dent in the several hundred eateries in Soho. There are many chain restaurants, but for something more uniquely Soho, go for delicious noodles at Cha Cha Moon, wine and dine on Mediterranean small plates at 10 Greek Street, or grab a bargain at the Hummus Bros with their delicious Levantine cuisine. From the Bangkok lunch served at the delicious Busaba Eathai, to the Costa Del Sol with Spanish seafood at Barrafina, and exquisite dim sum at the Michelin-star Yauatcha, Soho can take you around the world with its culinary delights. Whether you go for an all-out dinner or a basic business lunch, this remains one of the simplest pleasures of Soho.