Leicester Square, located in the heart of London’s West End Theatre District, is a bustling and vibrant neighbourhood that offers a plethora of exciting activities and attractions. From world-class cinemas and theatres to delicious dining options and street performers, Leicester Square has something for everyone. In this comprehensive guide, we will take you on a journey through the top things to do and see in Leicester Square.
Leicester Square: A Historical and Entertainment Hub
Leicester Square, named after the 2nd Earl of Leicester, has a rich history dating back to the 17th century. Originally a private residential area, it transformed into a public space in the late 19th century and quickly became a hub for entertainment and cultural events. Today, Leicester Square is renowned for its vibrant atmosphere, world-class cinemas, and thriving theatre scene.
Film Premieres Leicester Square’s home to some of the most prominent cinemas in the UK, including the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square, Vue West End, and the Cineworld Leicester Square. These venues regularly host the UK, European, and even world premieres of major films. Notably, many of the James Bond films, as well as a number of the Harry Potter movies, had their premieres here.
World War II Damage: During World War II, Leicester Square experienced significant damage from bombing. The square was later fully restored and continues to be a bustling hub for London’s entertainment industry.
Swiss Glockenspiel: In 1985, a Swiss Glockenspiel was erected in Leicester Square as a token of thanks from Switzerland for the UK’s support during World War II. The clock played periodically until it was removed in 2011 for the renovation of the square.
The TKTS Booth: The TKTS booth, a staple of Leicester Square, was established in 1980. This ticket booth offers theatregoers a chance to purchase last-minute tickets for West End shows at a discounted rate.
Public Demonstrations: Leicester Square has been the site of several demonstrations and public gatherings over the years, given its central location and prominence.
Leicester Square Garden Redevelopment: In 2012, Leicester Square Garden underwent a significant redevelopment. The new design was opened to the public in May 2012, just in time for the London Olympics.
Chinese New Year Celebrations: Leicester Square is part of the annual Chinese New Year celebrations in London, where festivities include traditional Chinese music and dance, martial arts, food stalls, and a grand parade.
How to Get to Leicester Square
Getting to Leicester Square is convenient, thanks to its central location and excellent transport links. The nearest underground stations are Leicester Square, Covent Garden, and Piccadilly Circus, making it easily accessible from various parts of London. If you prefer travelling by rail, Charing Cross is the closest rail station. Additionally, several bus routes pass through Leicester Square, providing further accessibility options.
Street Performers: The Heartbeat of Leicester Square
Leicester Square is synonymous with street performers, who have been entertaining visitors for decades. As you stroll through the square, you’ll encounter an array of talented magicians, musicians, and artists showcasing their skills. The north side of the square is a hotspot for street performances, where you can witness mind-boggling magic tricks and enjoy live music. Don’t forget to get your portrait drawn or caricatured by one of the talented artists!
Cinematic Delights: Catch a Movie or Film Premiere
Leicester Square is renowned for its association with the film industry, hosting numerous film premieres and red-carpet events throughout the year. The square is home to three major cinemas: Odeon Leicester Square, Vue Leicester Square, and Cineworld Leicester Square. These cinemas offer a wide range of film screenings, from blockbuster hits to independent films. If you’re lucky, you might even score tickets to a star-studded film premiere and catch a glimpse of your favourite celebrities.
West End Theatres: A Haven for Theatre Enthusiasts
For theatre enthusiasts, Leicester Square is a paradise. World-class West End theatres surround the neighbourhood, showcasing a diverse range of plays, musicals, and performances. From long-running classics to gripping dramas and toe-tapping musicals, there’s something for every taste. Some notable theatres in Leicester Square include Her Majesty’s Theatre, home to the iconic musical “The Phantom of the Opera,” and the National Gallery, which houses a collection of European art masterpieces.
Gastronomic Delights: Dining Options in Leicester Square
Leicester Square is a culinary haven, offering a wide array of dining options to suit every palate. Whether you’re craving authentic Chinese cuisine from Chinatown or looking for international flavours, Leicester Square has it all. Additionally, the square is dotted with restaurants serving a range of cuisines, from Italian and Mexican to Indian and British. Also, don’t forget to visit Americana London for a delicious dish of Soul Food just a short walk away in Haymarket.
Nightlife and Entertainment: A Vibrant Evening Experience
Leicester Square comes alive at night, offering a vibrant nightlife scene for those seeking entertainment after dark. The area is home to several bars, clubs, and casinos, where you can enjoy a night of dancing, live music, or a game of poker. The Café de Paris, with its grand sweeping staircases and glittering chandeliers, is a popular venue for a memorable night out. If you prefer a more laid-back evening, head to the Carlsberg Sports Bar or the Icon Balcony Bar for cocktails and stunning views of Leicester Square.
Leicester Square Gardens: A Serene Oasis in the City
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city by visiting Leicester Square Gardens, a serene oasis nestled in the heart of Leicester Square. Take a leisurely stroll through the well-maintained gardens and admire the beautiful fountain and statues. The gardens offer a peaceful retreat, surrounded by lush greenery and colourful flower beds. It’s the perfect spot to relax, picnic, or soak up the atmosphere.
Shopping in Leicester Square: Souvenirs and More
Leicester Square is not only a hub for entertainment but also a fantastic shopping destination. Explore the largest LEGO store in the world, where you can marvel at impressive LEGO creations and even create your own personalized LEGO kit. Visit M&M’s World, a four-floor chocolate paradise, where you can indulge in a wide variety of M&M flavours and browse through an extensive range of merchandise. Don’t forget to check out the Swiss Court and its glockenspiel, a charming reminder of the square’s history.
Nearby Attractions: Exploring Beyond Leicester Square
While Leicester Square offers an abundance of attractions, there are also several noteworthy sites and landmarks nearby that are worth exploring. Take a short walk to Trafalgar Square, a popular public square featuring Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery, home to a remarkable collection of European art masterpieces. Visit the iconic Piccadilly Circus, known for its vibrant neon signs and bustling atmosphere. And don’t miss the opportunity to explore London’s Chinatown, adjacent to Leicester Square, where you can savour delicious Chinese cuisine and immerse yourself in the vibrant culture.
In conclusion, Leicester Square is a vibrant and dynamic neighbourhood that offers a multitude of attractions and experiences. Whether you’re a film lover, theatre enthusiast, foodie, or simply looking to soak in the lively atmosphere, Leicester Square has something to offer everyone. So, plan your visit to this entertainment hub and immerse yourself in the excitement and charm of Leicester Square, London.