The best things to do in Soho, London

Liberty London Shop in Soho

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“Except for the city itself, which after working hours is left to the caretakers and the cats and the odd penthouse millionaire, there is no London neighbourhood more resembling the restless downstream tide of the Thames than the ragged square mile of Soho.”

                      – Keith Waterhouse, Soho.

 

For much of its history, Soho was a rather seedy and less than desirable part of the capital, however, over the last couple of decades, the area has transformed into one of London’s coolest neighbourhoods.

Known now for its trendy shops, unmatched restaurant selection, lively nightlife and LGBTQ+ scene, there are so many great things to do in Soho that even locals like myself find ourselves returning again and again to experience everything this bustling area of central London has to offer.

Not sure where to start? Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Soho, London…

 

How to get to Soho

Soho can be found in the heart of London’s West End, between Oxford Street (London’s most famous shopping street) to the north and Picadilly Circus and Leicester Square to its south.

Soho can be reached by a few different tube stations in central London, the closest being;

    • Oxford Circus – Central, Victoria and Bakerloo Lines
    • Tottenham Court Road – Central and Northern Lines
    • Picadilly Circus Station – Picadilly and Bakerloo Lines
    • Leicester Square Station – Picadilly and Northern Lines

 

The best things to do in Soho, London

Historical Attractions in Soho

Although Soho is probably best known these days for its many shops, bars and restaurants, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore the area’s long and fascinating history…

Hunt down the Seven Noses of Soho

Nose shaped statue on the wall in Soho London

The Seven Noses of Soho are unusual little nose-shaped statues that appeared on the side of buildings in London in 1997.

In fact, to start with, 35 noses were installed all around central London and nobody knew where they had come from or why they were there, sparking numerous theories and rumors.

Eventually, it was discovered that the noses were plaster reproductions of artist Rick Buckley’s nose and were installed as a prank provoked by the controversial introduction of CCTV cameras throughout London during the 1990s – the noses were installed under the noses of the cameras. 

Out of the original installations, only 10 noses still remain today, with 7 of them hiding in plain sight on walls around Soho.

Therefore, one of the best things to do in Soho is to hunt out these tiny statues. It’s even now said that if you find them all it’ll bring you good luck.

 

Find Soho’s hidden Victorian street

The grille looking down into Little Compton Street in Soho London

You can’t see much in a photo so you’ll have to go find it for yourself!

One of the best things about London is that even if you live here your entire life, there are still always new things to be discovered.

I used to walk down Charing Cross Road in Soho every day for two years on my commute to an old job, yet it wasn’t until sometime after that I found out I’d been walking straight past one of the city’s coolest hidden historical landmarks without ever noticing.

Sitting under Charing Cross Road are the remains of Little Compton Street, which dates back to Victorian London when the street level was much lower than today, with two perfectly preserved Victorian road signs which can be seen through a grille in the road.

How to find Little Compton Street: Head to the intersection of Charing Cross Road and Old Compton Street with the Coach and Horses pub on the corner, then walk to the traffic island in the middle of the road. Look down through the grille and here you’ll find the mysterious Little Compton Street.

 

Visit John Snow’s Water Pump

John Snow Pub in Soho London

No, not Jon Snow from Game of Thrones.

John Snow, a leading British physician during the Victorian period.

This John Snow is considered to be one of the founders of modern epidemiology after identifying the source of a deadly cholera outbreak in Soho in 1854.

Through extensive research, Snow discovered that cholera was waterborne and that the epidemic could be traced back to one water pump on Broad Street.

The handle was removed from the pump which eventually stopped the outbreak and saved the lives of hundreds of people.

Today you can still visit a replica of the handle-less pump which sits in the very same spot. While right next door you’ll find a pub named after the man himself; The John Snow.

 

Learn about Soho’s seedy past

Though not all too obvious by visiting the popular neighbourhood today, Soho once had a reputation as one of the seediest and most undesirable parts of London.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Soho was known for being the epicenter of London’s sex industry, filled with brothels, sex shops, peep shows, strip clubs and shady nightclubs.

Unsurprisingly, the early to mid-1900s also saw Soho become London’s ‘gangland‘, with rival gangs controlling many of the clubs, drugs and prostitutes in the area.

The neighbourhood was riddled with crime, gang warfare, police bribery and regular appearances by the notorious Kray twins.

It wasn’t until the 1970s to early 2000s that the area really started to clean up its act, and parts of Soho are still regarded as London’s ‘red-light district‘ today due to the number of sex shops and strip clubs still in the area, but generally speaking, Soho is now much, much safer and far more desirable than during its debaucherous heyday.

One of the best ways to learn more about Soho’s seedy history and ‘gangland’ past is to go on a Gangland Soho Walking Tour.

 

 

Music in Soho

For a good part of its history, Soho has had strong links with the music industry, with many world-famous recording studios, music venues and clubs calling the neighbourhood home. Here are a few of the most important places to go in Soho for those looking to uncover the area’s musical heritage…

Pass by Trident Studios in St Anne’s Court

Trident Soho Studios

Open in Soho for just 13 years from 1968 to 1981, Trident Studios was one of London’s most famous recording studios and the location where many musical legends – including The Beatles, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bee Gees, Queen and Elton John – recorded some of their most famous songs

While Trident may now be shut, music fans can still visit the iconic studio’s original location in Soho’s St Anne’s Court, where you’ll find a plaque commemorating the many songs that were recorded there.

Interested in finding out even more about Soho’s musical heritage? Check out this walking music tour of Soho, Bowie’s Soho walking tour or a Soho punk tour.

 

Enjoy some jazz at the legendary Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club

Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club in Soho London

Ever since it opened in 1959, Ronnie Scotts has been once of the most iconic jazz clubs not only in Soho but in the entire world.

The internationally recognised club has hosted some of the most famous jazz musicians of all time, including the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson and Kurt Elling.

The cool and cosy club in Soho still has regular jazz nights, as well as plenty of other live music including Latin, jive, blues, flamenco and more.

If you’re a fan of jazz, you should also pay a visit to the legendary 100 Club – a Soho staple since 1942 which was voted as having had made one of the most important contributions to jazz music in the United Kingdom during its early days.

 

Discover the hidden musical secret of the Toucan Pub

A much lesser-known part of Soho’s musical history is the Toucan Pub, just off from Soho Square.

The unsuspecting Irish pub really doesn’t look like much from the outside and is often ignored by passers-by in favour of one of Soho’s other more vibrant drinking establishments.

But what many don’t realise is that it was in the small basement of this pub that Jimi Hendrix played his first-ever London gig.

So grab a Guinness and walk in the footsteps of one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century at this secret Soho spot.

 

Go vinyl shopping on Berwick Street

Vinyl record store in Soho London

Another of the best things to do in Soho for music lovers today is to hit the record shops of Berwick Street.

Back in the 1980s, Berwick Street was the top destination in London for vinyl record collectors and was once even known as ‘The Golden Mile of Vinyl’.

Today the street and surrounding area of Soho are still home to central London’s largest concentration of independent record shops, including Reckless Records, Sister Ray, Phonica and Sounds of the Universe.

 

 

Theatre in Soho

Located in the West End – the heart of London’s world-class theatre scene – it’s no surprise that one of the best things to do in Soho is to head for a night at the theatre…

Take in a West End Musical

Harry Potter Theatre in Soho, London

Lining the southern edge of Soho is the famous Shaftsbury Avenue, home to many of the biggest and most iconic theatres in London’s West End theatre district.

If you’re looking to enjoy a night at the theatre in Soho, check out these venues and their current shows;

 

See something a little different at the Soho Theatre

Soho Theatre is an independent venue in the heart of Soho which hosts a regularly changing schedule of new theatre, comedy and cabaret.

While many other theatres in Soho stick to the better-known musicals and plays, Soho Theatre prides itself on nurturing new and emerging talent and ‘championing voices that challenge from outside of the mainstream’.

The theatre stages performances by the best new emerging theatre companies, offers artist development programs and gives a stage to up-and-coming artists and performers.

In fact, big names such as Russell Brand, Michael McIntyre, Catherine Tate, Ricky Gervais and Martin Freeman all performed at the Soho Theatre early on in their career.

Take in a show a the Soho Theatre and you never know who you may end up seeing.

 

 

Galleries in Soho

There are numerous art galleries in Soho, with the neighbourhood being one of the creative hubs of the capital. Here are just a few you shouldn’t miss…

Geek out at the House of MinaLima

Soho’s House of MinaLima is the design studio founded by Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima that was responsible for the props that required graphic design or artwork in all of the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts movies.

The studio designed everything from Harry’s acceptance letter from Hogwarts and the Maurader’s Map to the newspapers, books, posters and signs used throughout the movies.

House of MinaLima is now a free gallery and shop where you can take a look at their original designs and buy some fun Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts memorabilia.

 

Feel empowered at Sophie Tea Art Gallery

Sophie Tea Art London in pink

Wandering down Carnaby it’s pretty difficult to miss Sophie Tea Art Gallery, with its two-story fluorescent pink exterior covered in beautiful floral displays.

But while many people just visit for the photo ops outside, don’t miss the opportunity to step inside and take a look at Sophie’s gorgeous and playful artwork which is all about female body empowerment.

The quirky gallery also has some other cute additions including a secret infinity room, pink arcade machines and a compliments mirror which visitors are welcome to contribute to.

Check out some of the other prettiest pink spots in London.

 

Browse The Photographers Gallery

Last but definitely not least, the Photographers Gallery is perhaps the most prominent gallery in Soho and somewhere everyone needs to visit at least once.

Opened in 1971 as the UK’s first public gallery dedicated solely to photography, it quickly outgrew its original building and moved to a renovated warehouse in Soho.

The world-leading gallery now has several floors of exhibition space dedicated to local and international modern and contemporary photography.

As well as its fascinating and regularly changing exhibitions, the gallery also hosts numerous events, talks and educational courses on the medium of photography and its significance to the wider world.

 

 

Where to shop in Soho

The fashionable neighbourhood of Soho is home to many of London’s coolest brands, independent fashion boutiques, beauty emporiums and more. Here are the best places to shop in Soho…

Get lost inside Liberty Department Store

Liberty London Shop in Soho

Liberty London is a high-end department store sitting inside a striking Tudor-revival building just off of Oxford Street.

Probably the most famous shop in Soho, Liberty holds everything from designer clothing and luxury beauty products to stylish homeware from top brands and artisanal foods.

The historic store is most well-known for its bold and floral print fabrics and for working with up-and-coming luxury British artists and designers.

In fact, many now well-known British brands have been stocked in Liberty long before they could be found on shelves elsewhere.

Even if you’re not out to buy anything yourself, taking a look around colourful Liberty Department Store is still one of the best things to do in Soho – you’ll probably end up purchasing a little something anyway.

 

Take a stroll through Carnaby

Carnaby is one of my personal favourite places to go in Soho and a definite must-visit in London.

The area of Carnaby is made up of 14 little streets on the western edge of Soho, centered around colourful Carnaby Street.

The area was once the heart of the Swinging Sixties in London, with a vibrant cultural scene that saw many celebrities of the time regularly frequent its numerous restaurants, bars and night clubs.

Today, Carnaby is still one of the best places in all of London to head out for dinner or evening drinks, but now it’s also one of the city’s most popular shopping districts, home to plenty of independent boutiques, one-off concept stores and the coolest chain brands.

 

Go book shopping in Foyles

Dating back over 100 years, Foyles flagship store in Soho once held the Guinness World Record for being the biggest bookshop in the world.

Even though it’s now unfortunately lost this title, the iconic shop is still a book lover’s dream, with the UK’s largest range of books spread across four miles of shelves over 5 large floors.

Take a wander around and discover your next read, sit and relax with a book and a coffee at the on-site cafe, and be sure not to miss the gallery on the fifth floor.

 

 

Where to eat in Soho

There are countless great places to eat in Soho, from tasty street food to 5* restaurants. These are just a few of my top recommendations…

Be overwhelmed with options in magical Kingly Court

Kingly Court Soho London (1)

Kingly Court can be found tucked away in Carnaby and offers a great variety of delicious places to eat set over three-stories surrounding a vibrant open-air courtyard.

Head to Good Egg for a tasty brunch, grab some of London’s best pizza from Pizza Pilgrims, indulge on NYC-inspired comfort food at Dirty Bones or try the Caribbean flavours of Rum Kitchen (my favourite!).

 

Dine in the basement of a sex shop at La Bodega Negra

La Bodega Negra's sex shop entrance in Soho London

This unusual restaurant in Soho made quite the impact when first opening in the capital due to its secret entrance at the back of a sex shop – and there are plenty of these in Soho.

Once you’ve managed to find your way inside and past the mannequin in a PVC gimp suit, you’ll descend a staircase into the mysterious underground restaurant and bar.

The restaurant itself is Mexican-themed, with dishes such as quesadillas, tostadas, tacos, ceviche and plenty more, as well as an extensive drinks menu of tequila and mezcal to be enjoyed in the unusual candle-lit venue.

A fun and unique spot to surprise your friends or even an unsuspecting date.

 

Grab some tasty street food from historic Berwick Street Market

Berwick Street Market, London

Soho’s Berwick Street is home to one of London’s oldest markets, dating back to 1778.

Once home mainly to fruit and veg traders, Berwick Street Market is now primarily a daily street food market and a favorite lunchtime haunt of the many office workers in the surrounding area – trust me, I was one of them for several years.

At the lunchtime market you’ll be able to find a variety of international street food vendors, including Freebird Burritos, Jerusalem Falafel (seriously one of the most delicious falafel wraps in London), Paella Fellas, Savage Salads and plenty of other options. One of the best value lunches in Soho!

 

‘Press for Champagne’ At Bob Bob Ricard

 

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For those looking for somewhere a little more up-market for dinner in Soho, head to Bob Bob Richard.

As well as its luxury Russian-British menu, Bob Bob Richard is known for its decadent art-deco interiors, neatly uniformed waiting staff and, of course, the ‘Press for Champagne’ button which will have a glass of bubbles immediately delivered directly to your table.

There’s really nowhere quite as impressive in all of Soho than Bob Bob Richard for celebrating a special occasion in style.

 

 

Where to drink in Soho

And finally, on to what is perhaps the most famous of the many things to do in Soho – heading for a night out at one of the neighbourhood’s chilled-out pubs, quirky bars and many vibrant nightclubs…

Go back in time at Cahoots

Cahoots underground bar in Soho London

Hidden down a secret staircase in Soho’s Kingly Court, Cahoots is an underground 1940s-themed cocktail bar set inside a disused London underground tube station.

The speakeasy-style bar transports guests back in time to post-war Britain, with its elaborately themed decor, exciting cocktail menu, regular live entertainment and special events including cocktail making classes and their Bootlegger Breakout escape-room-esque challenge.

Cahoots is definitely one of Soho’s coolest bars and one of my favourite spots in the city for enjoying a few cocktails with friends. Just remember to book a table in advance as it can get extremely busy.

Want to discover more of the best cocktail bars in Soho? Try this Lush Life cocktail tour. I know Susan who runs it personally and I can absolutely guarantee you’re going to have an amazing time. Nobody knows (and loves) their cocktails quite like Susan!

 

Embrace Soho’s LGBTQ+ scene

Regent street with lots of people and rainbow flags during pride celebrations in London

Soho has long been the heart of London’s LGBTQ+ scene, with the city’s highest concentration of gay bars, drag clubs and other inclusive evening venues.

Enjoy some casual drinks at the historic Admiral Duncan pub or the Duke of Wellington, then step your night up a notch with cheap cocktails and cheesy hits at famous G-A-Y bar or keep things a little classier with a night on the dancefloor at modern Ku Bar & Club.

Soho is also the epicenter of London’s annual pride celebrations which take place around the West End in June or July each year. A great event that shouldn’t be missed no matter what your sexuality!

 

 

Where to stay in Soho

Looking to use Soho as your base while visiting London? Or just want to enjoy a staycation in one of the city’s coolest neighbourhoods? These are my recommendations for the best places to stay in Soho…

 

 

Best things to do in Soho, London – map

 

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Emily is a born and raised London girl, starting life in the north of the capital then moving down to Fulham in the south west. She has a masters degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from University College London and now works as a freelance travel writer, digital marketer and VA, splitting her life between London and travelling the world.

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