London’s West End – Your Theatre Guide

No trip to London’s West End is complete without seeing a theatre show. London has some of the best plays and musicals in the world, but there’s so much more to this cultural district than neon lights and famous faces.

So before you take your seat at a London theatre, here are some essential facts and tips you should know about London’s West End.

You can book London theatre tickets here.

A history of London’s West End

The glamorous, buzzing West End we know and love today is at the heart of London’s cultural scene. But entertainment wasn’t always legal in London. In 1642, the Puritans closed all London theatres – a ban that lasted 17 years. But when the ban was lifted in 1660, London theatres started to thrive, and London’s West End has been entertaining residents and visitors ever since – that’s over 350 years.

The West End’s oldest theatre which is still in use today is Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which opened in 1663. It was a huge success with the King, Charles II, and it’s been a royal favourite ever since. In fact, it’s the first place people heard both the National Anthem and Rule Britannia.

Slowly, more and more theatres opened in what we now call the West End. In 1720, the Theatre Royal Haymarket opened, followed by the Adelphi in 1806. Then, thanks to the Theatres Act 1843, laws on performing plays relaxed and even more London theatres opened and Theatreland was born.

As well as theatre, the West End has many of London’s major attractions, shops and restaurants making it a must-see for any visitor.

What are some of the most famous theatres in London’s West End?

The London Palladium is an iconic London West End venue

The London Palladium is an iconic London West End venue

From historical prestige to iconic landmarks, some West End theatres are as famous as the productions they host.

For example, the London Palladium has long been a TV favourite having hosted the ITV variety show Sunday Night at the London Palladium from 1955-1967. In addition to frequent television appearances through interviews, variety shows and pantomimes, London Palladium has also found fame by being the setting for many award ceremonies, including the BAFTAs and Brit Awards.

The Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road became an iconic landmark, thanks to a giant gold statue of Freddie Mercury which sat upon the entrance of the theatre for 12 years. The Dominion Theatre also frequently hosted the London auditions for Britain’s Got Talent.

Shaftesbury Avenue is the most famous street in London’s West End, as it has six theatres! Home to the Apollo Theatre, Gielgud Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Palace Theatre, Queen’s Theatre, and Shaftesbury Theatre, it’s the busiest and glitziest road in Soho. And that’s without mentioning that the Palace Theatre is the home of the Olivier Award record-setting Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, and Les Misérables has been at Queen’s Theatre since 2004.

What’s playing in London’s West End theatres?

There’s so much to see in London’s West End. From world-class plays, to musicals, to comedies, dance shows and operas, there’s something for everyone, at every budget.

For a full list of West End shows, and to help you choose which London theatre tickets to buy, check out our London shows page.

What’s the smallest theatre in London’s West End?

The Arts Theatre is London's West End's smallest

The Arts Theatre is London’s West End’s smallest

The theatre with the smallest capacity in the West End is the Arts Theatre, with just 350 seats. Trafalgar Studios comes in a close second, with the main space holding just 380 seats and Studio 2 seating just 100.

Coming in a close third and fourth are the Fortune Theatre, which has a capacity of 440, and Ambassadors Theatre, which holds 450 seats.

It’s not just massive spectacles that London’s West End caters for, then – there’s also plenty of hard-hitting intimate drama to enjoy.

What’s the largest theatre in London’s West End?

The English National Opera’s London Coliseum seats an incredible 2,359 people, while the London Palladium holds a whopping 2,286 seats.

What are the longest-running shows in London’s West End?

The West End has some of the longest-running shows in the world. The top five longest-running West End musicals and plays which you can still see today are:

  1. The Mousetrap at St Martin’s Theatre – 1974 to present
  2. Les Misérables at Queen’s Theatre (originally Barbican Centre) – 1985 to present
  3. The Phantom Of The Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre – 1986 to present
  4. The Woman In Black at Fortune Theatre – 1989 to present
  5. Mamma Mia! at Novello Theatre (originally Prince of Wales Theatre) – 1999 to present

Discover the 20 longest-running West End musicals here.

How do I buy West End tickets?

The best way to book London theatre tickets? Online. Whether you’re a planner and like to book ahead, or you’re travelling to London for the first time, you can find tickets for all of the top West End shows right here with us.

As well as having the best available prices all year round, we have two annual theatre ticket promotions: Kids Week and the New Year Sale. But we know there’s more to buying tickets than opening a browser and picking a date. That’s why we have a guide to help.

Feeling a bit more spontaneous? You can also buy tickets in real life at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. Selling on-the-day tickets often at big discounts, it’s a great way to see a West End show for less. Plus, the TKTS staff are super knowledgeable and helpful so if you have questions, they’ll be more than happy to help you.

The TKTS booth in Leicester Square

The TKTS booth in Leicester Square

How do I travel into London’s West End?

Train, tube, bus, car, bike, even boat. There are so many ways to travel to London’s West End. You can find the address for each theatre on our venue pages and by using Transport for London’s Journey Planner, you can find the best route by public transport or by foot.

For Theatreland, the nearest National Rail station is Charing Cross. From there you can either grab a taxi, bus, walk or jump on the London Underground to get to your theatre of choice. From Shaftesbury Avenue, the closest tube stations are Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road. For theatres in and around Covent Garden, the closest stations are Covent Garden, Holborn and Temple. Just remember your Oyster Card and you’re good to go!

Prefer to take in more of the West End while on your travels? Hire a Santander Cycle! There are docking stations all over central London so you picking up and dropping off a bike is easy.

If you’re traveling by car, why not take advantage of the Theatreland Parking Scheme from Q-Park? You can save 50% on parking!

What else is there to do in London’s West End?

Yes, going to a London show will be the highlight of any day, but what do you do with the rest of your time in the West End? Luckily, there are loads of museums, attractions and places to see in London.

Before seeing your London musical, you could take in the sites by going on the London Eye, visiting the Tower of London, gazing at Buckingham Palace, climbing aboard a London bus tour, taking a trip up The Shard or sailing down the river on a Circular Cruise Westminster.

Or why not soak in a bit of culture before your West End play? The British Museum, National Gallery, Tate, Imperial War Museum, The Wallace Collection and The British Library are all either a short walk or bus ride from Theatreland. And if you’re looking for more of a wild affair, then ZSL London Zoo and the SeaLife London Aquarium are all close by, too.

Got a spare hour or two? Why not try our audio tour of the West End, voiced by the British acting icon Ian McKellen. All you need is your phone, the app, and your walking boots – it’s the perfect introduction to the stories behind some of the capital’s most fascinating buildings.

Whether you’re in London for the day, here for a week or you live in London, there’s so much to do in the West End. Start planning with our Visit Theatreland guide so you don’t waste a second.

The Theatreland Tour with Ian McKellen is a great way to learn about London's West End

The Theatreland Tour with Ian McKellen

Where can I eat in London’s West End?

There are literally thousands of restaurants in the West End; some serving the best food in the world. But which West End restaurant should you visit? Whether you’re looking for a quick cheap eat or a lavish Michelin Star feast, there’s literally something for everyone.

And if you buy your ticket with Official London Theatre or TKTS, you can take advantage of some brilliant meal deals. From 30% off at Zima to 25% off at Boulevard Brasserie, and a whole lot more, you’ll experience a lot more than a brilliant West End show with your ticket.

Looking for more? Burgers, chicken and pizzas make for swift and filling pre-theatre dinners. LEON, Planet Hollywood and  Jackson + Rye Soho serve Insta-worthy burgers that are famed the world over. Ping Pong and Asia de Cuba offer up finger-licking dishes you’ll be dreaming of long after your visit. Bella Italia and Mod Pizza offer very different styles of pizza – both delicious, both ridiculously good value.

But let’s face it. Going to a West End show is usually a celebration, so you deserve a slap-up dinner to match. Duck & Waffle Local, Hankies and Smith & Wollensky all provide envy-inducing dishes. Ranging in prices and cuisine, these top London restaurants are ideal for a pre-theatre dinner on that special day.

By Carly-Ann Clements