It may not be the biggest, not the most picturesque in London, but Leicester Square is as iconic to the city as say, Piccadilly or Trafalgar. Why, you wonder? This is the beating heart of the West End, with no less than 2.5 million visitors passing each week. Iconic theatres, cinemas hosting red-carpet film premières (52 a year!), incredible shops, a wealth of cafés and restaurants: it’s incredibly vibrant. Don’t know where to star? We’ve got you covered.
Known for its wealth of street entertainers, Leicester Park is sure to put a smile on your face… Next, head to the LEGO store, which features a 6,400-metre replica of Big Ben and a Tube carriage all made in the famous plastic bricks: picture perfect! Cross the street and you will find another flagship store: M&Ms world. Its chocolate wall comes with a hundred different sweets to choose from. Need a break? The little park, at the centre of the square, proves ideal for an impromptu picnic. Parents can relax on the benches while the little ones play with the gentle water jets near the Shakespeare statue.
The big screen
Let’s start with cinemas, of course, with the regular red-carpet events giving you a chance to get a glimpse of your favourite stars, maybe even snap an autograph. But “normal” days have their share of excitement too. why not try Cineworld’s 4DX? This amazing experience really revolutionises a movie experience: it stimulates all five senses through seats that move/vibrate AND adds special effects such as snow, wind, fog, lightning, bubbles, water, and scents. For arty/classic movie, head for the Prince Charles cinema. Keep an eye on their program: they occasionally run double features, themed nights, singalongs…
Plays and musicals
Leicester Square is home to some of London’s oldest theatres. The Apollo, the Harrold Pinter and The Garrick’s superb settings, to name only a few, are sure to wow you… Let’s add a special mention to the Leicester Theatre, which used to be the legendary Cavern in the Town where the Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, The Who, The Clash played some of their early gigs in the 1960s.
Our tip? Go to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, which offers half-price and discounted theatre tickets. But come early, the queue can get rather impressive!
A little culture
Look out, at the entrance of the Square, for the Swiss Clock, a reminder that the Swiss Centre used to be where M&Ms World now stands. Not only is it stunning: the bells ring every hour and the figurines (traditional Swiss farmers) move. It’s also worth wandering to the Notre Dame de France Church to admire the mural painted by Jean Cocteau in 1959.
While Leicester Square itself is so touristy it seems to only feature majors restaurant chains, foodies still can find happiness in the area. Our favourite is the Japan Centre where you can both shop Asian ingredients, get a bottle of sparkling sake or indulge in ramen, yakitori, sushi… Ole and Steen‘s Danish open sandwiches and pastries also prove a budget-friendly and soul-warming option. Looking for something more high end, we recommend Burger & Lobster – juicy, tasty, heavenly. Still peckish? Chinatown (and all the dumplings you can dream of) only is a couple of streets away, so is Covent Garden.
Thirsty? Try De Hems, London’s only Dutch pub, for a beer. For the perfect glass of wine (+ charcuterie and cheese), head to the Cork and Bottle. And for a fantastic cocktail no hesitation, only the glamorous The Perception Bar at the shimmering, shining W hotel will do.
The James Bond touch
We can’t help mentioning The Hippodrome, a majestic building at the edge of Leicester Square. It originally opened as a circus variety theatre. Quite a grandiose one: it had at one point a 100,000-gallon tank in which polar bears and sea lions would swim! Later one, Harry Houdini, Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr, The Jackson 5 and Tom Jones would perform there. After various different reincarnations, it is now home a fantastic casino (those who don’t want to play at casinos can find no deposit bonuses through Oddschecker and play online) but also hosts quite a few shows.