In a district that was once pastureland, the name Soho is thought to have evolved from a hunting cry. While the centre of London nightlife has shifted east, and Soho has recently seen landmark clubs and music venues shut down, the neighbourhood definitely comes into its own in the evenings and remains a proud gay district. You’ll be charmed by the area’s vitality during the day too.

At Soho’s northern end, leafy Soho Square is the area’s back garden. It was laid out in 1681 and originally called King’s Square; a statue of Charles II stands in its northern half. In the centre is a tiny half-timbered mock-Tudor cottage built as a gardener’s shed in the 1870s. The space below it was used as an underground bomb shelter during WWII.

South of the square is Dean Street, lined with bars and restaurants. No 28 was the home of Karl Marx and his family from 1851 to 1856; they lived here in extreme poverty as Marx researched and wrote Das Kapital in the Reading Room of the British Museum.

Old Compton Street is the epicentre of Soho's gay village. It's a street loved by all, gay or other, for its great bars, risqué shops and general good vibes.

Seducer and heart-breaker Casanova and opium-addicted writer Thomas de Quincey lived on nearby Greek Street, while the parallel Frith Street housed Mozart at No 20 for a year from 1764.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby The West End attractions

1. Soho Square

0.12 MILES

At Soho’s northern end, this leafy square is the area’s back garden. It was laid out in 1681, and originally named King’s Square; a statue of Charles II…

2. Phoenix Garden

0.16 MILES

A tiny patch of wilderness in the heart of London’s theatreland, Phoenix Garden is at charming odds with its surrounds. Dotted with small ponds, thick…

3. Chinatown Gate

0.18 MILES

Northwest of Leicester Sq but a world away in atmosphere, this grand tile-roofed and red-pillared gate marks the entrance into Chinatown. Although not as…

4. St Giles-in-the-Fields

0.19 MILES

Built in what used to be countryside between the City of London and Westminster, St Giles-in-the-Fields isn’t much to look at but its history is a…

5. Leicester Square

0.23 MILES

Surrounded by cinemas that host regular film premieres (if you're there at the right time, there will be crowds by the red carpet), Leicester Sq is a…

6. Piccadilly Circus

0.27 MILES

Architect John Nash had originally designed Regent St and Piccadilly in the 1820s to be the two most elegant streets in London but, restrained by city…

7. Eros Statue

0.28 MILES

At the centre of Piccadilly Circus stands the famous statue (Alfred Gilbert, 1893) called Eros but actually modelled on Anteros, his twin brother. To add…

8. Photographers’ Gallery

0.32 MILES

With six galleries over five floors, an excellent cafe and a shop brimming with prints and photography books, the Photographers’ Gallery is London's…