London's West End is the Mecca for international theater lovers. — Photo courtesy of London On View
You can't miss London's West End. Home to some 40 theaters in total, the tourist magnet is located bang in the middle of the city and bursts with neon signs, flashy billboards, gourmet restaurants and hurrying theater-goers.
Bring this novice guide. It has everything you need to know from where to stay to what to eat.
1. Location of the theater district
London's theatrical heartland, often referred to as Theaterland or West End, is roughly bounded by Piccadilly Circus to the west, Trafalgar Square to south, Tottenham Court Road to the north and Covent Garden to the east. However, the proper geographic definition of West End is much bigger. The Theaterland offers numerous sensational musicals, comedies and classic plays around the year. You can find the main stretch of theaters on Shaftesbury Avenue. Red carpet is a common scene in Leicester Square as major film productions usually choose the 1,683-seat Odeon Leicester Square to host their UK premieres.
2. What to watch
Although theater titles change regularly in West End, a number of regular shows forms a list of must-sees for any visitors to the entertainment haven. The Mousetrap at the 550-seat St. Martins Theater is the longest continuously running show in London, performing from 1952. The Lion King at the Lyceum Theater is considered by many as the most celebrated musical in the city. Other brilliant long-standing shows include Les Miserables at the Queen's Theater, Mamma Mia! At Novello Theater and Wicked at Apollo Victoria Theater. For information on touring shows, check out the posters in the London Tube stations. They are a great source of information for theater, books and exhibitions.
TKTS in Leicester Square offers half-price last-minute tickets for West End theater shows. — Photo courtesy of London On View
3. Where to buy tickets
Half-price ticket booths are on every street corner in West End. Among all, the most reputable stand is called TKTS which is located on the southside of Leicester Square. Run by Society of London Theater, the independent ticket stand offers a variety of half-price tickets for shows on the same day. It's a great place to snap up last-minute deals. While making the purchase, make sure you check the face-value of the ticket (some sellers would add considerable amount of commission on top of it) and ask about whether or not the seat has a restricted view.
4. Show schedules
Most shows start from 7:30pm with a 20-minute interval and they usually have one day-time matinee during the week and one over the weekend. Sunday is no-show day for many titles though some family friendly shows choose Monday as the off day.
5. Where to go for pre-theater dinner
Treat your stomach before treating your eyes in West End. — Photo courtesy of London On View
A typical theater show lasts two to three hours so it's recommended to eat beforehand. Sit down for your early dinner at least an hour and half before your show starts so you won't have to rush over your meal. Many restaurants in West End offers pre-theater set menus which features highlight dishes and speedy service. Popular choices include steakhouse Hawksmoor which offers a two-course Express Menu for GBP23 and modern British restaurant Hix Soho which offers a two-course theater dining set menu at GBP19.50.
6. How to get to Theaterland
London's theater district is extremely well connected by public transport. Underground is a popular means to get there. Piccadilly Circus on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo Line as well as Leicester Square on Northern and Piccadilly Line are packed any time of the day. Covent Garden station is usually overpopulous during weekend. Bus No. 38 slices through the heart of the theater district and the 24-hour line is equipped with the sleek new hybrid routemasters.
7. Where to grab a post-theater drink
West End is not only the theater central, but also the nightlife hub. Some of London's best bars are on the door step for theater-goers. Trendy bar Slug and Lettuce on Hanover Street and Dean Street Townhouse on Dean Street as well as live music venue Floridita on Wardour Street are three of the popular post-theater hangouts in Soho. Hit up Christophers Martini Bar or Covent Garden Cocktail Club for a glass of top-notch cocktails. For an impressive roof-top view, head to the Radio bar in ME London Hotel on Strand or Paramount on New Oxford Street.
8. Where to stay
Pair your London theater experience with an unforgettable hotel stay and your choice is plenty around the West End. You can live like a royal in luxury hotels such as The Savoy, The Waldorf Hilton and Cafe Royal. Or feel London's trendy heartbeat by checking in some charming boutique hotels such as Hazlitt, Radisson Edwardian, London Edition and Covent Garden Hotel.
9. Backstage tours
The Royal Opera House invites the public to tour its backstage. — Photo courtesy of London On View
For those who want to look into London's theater scene further, enjoy the shows from a different angle by exploring the mysterious theater backstages. Theater Royal Drury Lane, Royal Opera House and London Coliseum offer backstage guided tours. Book in advance to secure a ticket. The Society Of London Theater has partnered with Secret London Walks to offer History of Theaterland Walking Tour and Haunted Theaterland Walking Tour regularlyin 2014. Check Secret London Walks's website for details.
10. What else to do
There are some great museums in London's theater district so you can whet your artistic appetite in one or several of them before stepping into the show. The National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square as well as Royal Academy of Arts near Piccadilly Circus house artworks by some of the world's greatest painters; London Transport Museum in Covent Garden is an ideal destination for families while the grand Neoclassic mansion of Somerset House on the Strand is now home to an impressive arts and culture center.