The West End: Uncovering London’s tourist hotspot for groups

Date Posted: 21/07/2017

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

We take a look at why you London’s West End has more to offer visitors beside the theatre.

The West End is famously known for being Britain’s centre stage for theatre, from huge productions of popular musicals, to famous Shakespearean plays. And there’s plenty more for groups to discover in this historic part of London. 

Tours

Groups wanting to explore the West End further can arrange guided tours of the theatres including a behind the scenes look at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. On this tour you and your group will be taken by costumed guides to discover London’s oldest theatre, from spine-tingling ghost stories to finding our why lavender is a banned substance at the venue.

Alternatively you can also take a tour of the National Theatre which will take you to see the unseen areas of the theatre which produces on average 20 new productions each year, with props, costumes and sets being prepared onsite. 

You can also take a West End Musical Theatre Walking Tour which involves a costumed guide leading you through the streets of the West End, giving a mix of musical performance, entertainment and historical facts.

Rainforest Cafe

Pictured: Rainforest Cafe, London.

Dining

Big names like The Rainforest Café and Planet Hollywood are great ideas for those wanting pre-theatre dining or a dining experience near the West End. The rainforest themed restaurant and Hollywood experience both offer you a fun and delicious evening of group dining, with special group and pre-theatre menus available.

If you fancy something a little more low key there’s plenty of smaller restaurants and boutique cafes which offer something a little different on your trip. For quirky ideas visit the Cereal Killer Cafe or Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium. There's also Polpo in Soho which serves simple food and good wine and offers an Italian menu. In Mayfair, visit Momo, the North Africa venue opened in 1997 which offers food, music and art and creates authentic North Africa dishes. There's also Pizza Express, Angus Steakhouse, Brewmaster, Jamie's Italian, Bella Italia in Covent Garden and Leicester Square, and Cafe Rouge among plenty other.

Oxford Street

Pictured: Oxford Street (Photo credit: Visit Britain/ Briatin on View)

Shopping

For West End shopping ideas, why not visit Liberty, Fenwick of Bond Street and Selfridges, or pop into Cath Kidston for some floral delights or indulge in the giant M&M World store, where you can find out which colour M&M you would be. There's also a wealth of independent brands in the Newburgh Quarter, from Levi's Vintage Clothing, to Barbour Heritage, Lazy Oaf and The Ragged Priest. Not to mention pretty Covent Garden with boutiques and cafes and unique stalls, for groups wanting an iconic and memorable London shopping experience.

There is of course Oxford Street too, possibly the most iconic shopping destination in the West End which features high end shops and brands all the way through to a giant Primark for those who love a bargain.

Miranda Hart in Annie

Pictured: Miranda Hart as Miss Hannigan in Annie (Photo credit: Paul Coltas)

Shows

The West End, is of course best-known for its impressive theatreland. Groups are welcome to all theatres and there is always a wide array of shows taking place in the West End, and to be honest, you’ll be spoilt for choice whatever the month. Currently showing at the West End is Annie at Piccadilly Theatre starring comedian and actress Miranda Hart; An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre; Dreamgirls at Savoy Theatre; and Matilda at Cambridge Theatre.

There's also Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, starring Sienna Miller at Apollo Theatre running until October; Aladdin at Prince Edward Theatre running until February; and The Lion King at Lyceum Theatre also running until February.

Other West End shows include the National Theatre's Follies starring Imelda Staunton opening on 22nd August and Wicked which has just announced a cast change and is playing at Apollo Victoria Theatre.

The History of the West End

The West End's theatreland is thought to date by to the 1500s when The Theatre was constructed in 1576, later joined by The Curtain, which are both believed to have been used by William Shakespeare. 

Theses theatres later closed in the 1600s. Then in the 1660s two companies were licensed to perform: the Duke's Company and the Kings Company. 

The first ‘West End theatre’ was known as Theatre Royal in Bridges Street which was built on the site where Theatre Royal, Drury Lane stands. The theatre was destroyed by a fire in the 1670s and was replaced by the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

For more information on where to visit in the West End, go to www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/london-areas/west-end

Lead image: Inside Theatre Royal Drury Lane (Photo credit Visit Britain and Pawel Libera)

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