Once upon a time, its unlikely that a 12-hour sojourn through Soho would have taken place in the day. Soho has traditionally been known as one of London’s coolest (and seediest) night spots — an eclectic mix of jazz bars, red lights and drinking holes. And while it still holds its reputation as one of the trendier, nightlife-focused districts in London, there’s plenty to enjoy for the day-tripper in a rush. With some of the best restaurants and pubs in the capital, not to mention galleries, museums and world-class shopping nearby, what’s not to love? Welcome to Soho.
Things to Do in Soho
Soho may be most famous for its nightlife, but there’s a lot that can be packed into the day here too. If you’re looking to do some shopping, then wander over to Carnaby Street — the beating heart of Swinging Sixties London. Independent designers are nestled next to bigger name chain stores and chic boutiques, not to mention plenty of spots to eat and drink to rest those weary feet.
For something more upmarket, strolling around the cavernous, wood-panelled Liberty is a fun experience in itself. It may be grand (some of the clothing on offer comes with some pretty jaw-dropping prices) but it doesn’t take itself as seriously as some of the other big names in posh London department stores (think Harrods). Just don’t go before Christmas if you want to avoid being crushed in the chaotic crowds.
Exploring Soho also means you’re incredibly well situated to see what’s on in London’s West End, the home of many of the capital’s theatres. If you’re savvy, you may even be able to get some bargain prices by opting for standby tickets in the theatre itself, or seeing what’s available at one of the many ticket booths in the area.
Places to Eat in Soho
Soho could well be the foodie capital of London. Street vendors rub shoulders with mouth-watering Chinese buffets, French bistros and outstanding gastropubs. Soho has earned its place as one of the top dining destinations in the city for a reason.
If you’re looking to get some lunch in a rush, we’d definitely recommend Princi. A Milanese bakery with an authentic wood-oven, Princi serves up pizza by the slice and the best focaccia in town. With a seasonally-focused menu and a heavy emphasis on quality ingredients, this is Italian comfort food at its finest. Be warned, seats are few and far between during the busy lunch hours, but you can always grab to go.
We couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t mention Hoppers. Yes, you can’t book. Yes, the queues are already 20-people long by 12.30pm. But quite simply, it’s worth the wait (and you can always duck in to a nearby pub or coffee shop with their automated queuing system too). Named after the fermented milk and coconut pancakes that accompany the colourful array of dishes, Hoppers is a sumptuous slice of Sri Lankan cuisine. Our personal recommendations include the hot devilled shrimps and bone marrow varuvals, which are guaranteed to leave you licking your plate.
For another taste of Asia, it’s worth heading to the bustling Chinatown a short walk away. Choosing a restaurant here can be tough, with a huge number of options that at times can seem daunting. We’d therefore recommend opting for Baiwei. Low prices and the highest quality are what you can expect from this renowned Sichuanese establishment. True to its name (Baiwei means ‘a hundred flavours’ in Chinese), you’ll leave having had a truly unforgettable culinary experience. Rave reviews suggest that the pig’s ear appetiser is certainly something Baiwei doesn’t make a pig’s ear out of.
Pubs in Soho
We’re jealous. Really. You’re absolutely spoiled for choice for watering holes in Soho. If it’s a traditional pub you’re after, the French House is a much-loved and historic London institution. Renowned drinker and Welsh poet Dylan Thomas frequented the bar, which was even used by Charles de Gaulle as a workplace during the Second World War. Trinkets, photos and letters adorn the walls, adding to the sense of history here. This is, however, literally a pub that does things by halves. The French House only serves half pints — use it as an excuse to sample more of the excellent range of ales, or go fully continental and opt for a glass of wine instead.
If you stick around a bit later, Ronnie Scott’s is a real treat. One of London’s most iconic jazz venues, and hosting some big names throughout the decades, Ronnie’s is the perfect place to soak up some late-night atmosphere.
Soho is the centre of London’s gay community, and some of the most iconic LGBTQ venues in the city can be found here. Old Compton Street is the site of Comptons, one of the oldest gay establishments in the city, and the world famous G-A-Y Bar is a short walk away, serving cheap drinks on three floors where you can dance the night away.
Fancy a coffee instead? Matt from the Stasher team rates The Soho Grind. The Grind serves a range of house-blend and specialty coffees to perk up the energy levels after a busy bout of pavement stomping (there is a hidden cocktail bar downstairs though if you’re after something stronger).
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