How to Navigate the West End like a Londoner
London’s West End is a fantastic place to explore, but can be frustrating when you’re in a hurry – like on your way to see a show. Follow this guide to ensure a speedy and stress-free trip.
There are plenty of ways to get into the West End. Street vehicles like taxis and buses are generally slowest, as the roads get very congested – particularly in that peak evening travel time. Your best bet is either the Underground (Tube) or walking.
Taking the Tube
The West End features multiple stations, covering several Tube lines, so you should have no problem finding one that works for your route. Remember that the Tube map doesn’t reflect actual distances, so lots of those central stations are much closer together than they appear. You don’t need to change lines just to go from, say, Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square – it’s only a five-minute walk between them. Some stops get particularly busy – avoid Covent Garden, as it has slow, jam-packed elevators to the surface. Holborn, Embankment, Charing Cross and Leicester Square stations are all nearby.
The good news: London commuters are quick, organised, and knowledgeable. But they don’t like to be delayed. As pre-theatre overlaps with commuter hour, remember to obey all the Tube rules: Move down the carriage, stand to the right on escalators, and have your ticket or Oyster card ready ahead of the barriers.
Walking around the West End
Similarly, remember it’s not just visitors walking those central London streets. But unless someone is in an obvious hurry, Londoners are usually happy to help with directions if you get stuck. West End theaters are fairly well spread out, so it’s generally not too crowded going in. However, some streets have several big, busy venues, so bear that in mind if you’re heading to somewhere like Shaftesbury Avenue or the Strand.
Also, remember that there are many smaller streets running parallel – or at least roughly – so you can always turn off to avoid walking on crowded thoroughfares like Oxford Street, or through Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square, and then just turn back on when you’re closer to your venue.
A sad side effect of terror threats is bag checks at the door of West End theaters. They don’t take too long, but it’s something else to factor in.
Some of the more historic West End theaters – while beautiful to look at – aren’t the easiest to get around quickly, and some bars are tiny. That means fighting your way to the front of the line and finally getting a drink is rather stressful in the 15-minute break.
Better to arrive early and order your interval drinks in advance. That way, you can sip at your leisure – and also have time to visit the bathroom, get some fresh air, or just enjoy the great city views you get from the top of many theaters.