1. The Photographer's Gallery
The Photographer’s gallery is the largest gallery in London dedicated to displaying the art of photography. It is housed in an old textile warehouse on Ramillies Street, just off Oxford Street, and is set across five floors.
The gallery was originally founded in 1971 to promote photography and illustrate why the art form deserves more recognition.
Rolling exhibitions of modern and past photography aim to champion this art form, inspiring and educating visitors on all things photographic. The exhibitions are open for viewing every day of the week.
The gallery has a number of activities to encourage participation and engagement in photography, including an education and learning studio. One of the gallery’s themes is slow looking, where you can relax away from the pace of modern life and just slowly look and observe, taking in the visual world around you.
The Photographer’s gallery has a cafe, as well as one of London’s best shops for books about all things photography.
2. Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club
Soho has a long tradition in musical creativity, and nothing epitomises this more than the iconic Ronnie Scott’s jazz club.
Jazz musicians and enthusiasts from across the world, including greats such as Miles Davis, have been welcomed to this Soho landmark. Located in Frith Street, pull up a chair, enjoy a whisky and lose yourself in the club’s distinctive vibe.
Ronnie Scott’s is open every night of the week, so there will always be a show to attend whenever you are visiting Soho. Famed across the world for the quality of the music, it is best to book early to avoid disappointment.
The club was opened in 1959 by saxophonist Ronnie Scott and retains the intimate feel which makes for such a special atmosphere. When you head upstairs you will find Ronnie’s Bar, a classic and sophisticated cocktail bar. You can also dine at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, either from a choice of starters and mains on their a la carte menu, or from their separate Sunday lunch offering.
3. Music Shops
Carrying on the music theme, Soho is a hub for independent music shops. The chance to flick through rows of vinyl remains strong in Soho. Whatever your music tastes, whether it is rock, pop, soul, house, or anything in-between, you will find it on the streets of Soho.
The independent stores in this area stock a huge collection of assorted music. There is a rich tradition of music in Soho, including the former Trident Studios, where the Beatles recorded ‘Hey Jude’. The music and vinyl offered by independent stores maintains a connection to this music legacy.
Sister Ray Record
Sister Ray’s is one of the most iconic record shops in Soho, providing a huge range of modern releases, classic albums, CDs, and rare vinyls. This store for music lovers is one of a number of music shops located on Berwick Street. Sister Ray’s was named after a song by The Velvet Underground and is set over 2 floors. Open every day, drop in and remember the pleasure of browsing through rows and rows of vinyl.
Soho’s mix of big name brands, independent boutiques and avant-garde stores makes for a fun shopping experience.
Soho was at the forefront of London fashion in the swinging 60’s. Carnaby Street was synonymous with Soho fashion at the time and this famous street remains a vibrant shopping destination, packed with popular fashion labels.
International brands and independent boutiques means Soho has the clothing and accessories to meet all styles. Whether you are looking for high-end fashion, casual wear or clothing tailored to your personal requirements, Soho has an array of stores offering quality womenswear and menswear. Stores you will find in Soho include Hugo Boss, Lyle & Scott, Diesel, Barbour, Chris Kerr, Oliver Spencer, The Collection, Fred Perry and many more.
Beauty and Skincare
There are plenty of options in Soho to shop for all your beauty and grooming products too. Stores include Aesop, Too Faced, Benefit, Muhle, Bleach and Sacred Gold, an acclaimed tattoo, piercing and jewellery haven.
Soho is an important centre for independent stores selling a range of lifestyle, collectable and gift worthy items. Shops to look out for include Liberty, Cloth House, Lazy Oaf, Cass Art, Gosh Comics and Folk.
Soho is a foodie haven, with a diverse range of cuisines on offer, catering for budgets across the board.
A small selection of Soho’s renowned dining options include:
Opened in 2015, Bao’s serves Taiwanese street food inspired dishes. Bao’s is located in Lexington Street, and the innovative food includes their signature fluffy steamed buns. These are hand-made each day and their classic bun with braised pork is a must try.
Enjoy classic French cuisine from this quintessential Parisian style bistro. Established in 2013, the a la carte menu offers a selection of French classics, including a cheese and honey pairings section. Music plays an important role in the bistro, creating a vibrant and convivial atmosphere for their customers to enjoy.
Whyte & Brown
Free-range chicken is at the heart of this restaurant in Carnaby Street. With an all day menu and a separate Sunday menu, Whyte & Brown’s serve a variety of inviting chicken based dishes. However, non meat-eaters are also made very welcome. Whyte & Brown’s are big on Vegan food, priding themselves on being a restaurant where sustainability and balance is key.
Drop in to Ember Yard for food inspired by the wood-fired grills of Spain and Italy. Part of the Salt Yard Group, Ember Yard is set over two floors on Berwick Street, the lower floor containing the Ember Bar where you can enjoy a cool cocktail. Small and large sharing plates allow you to enjoy dishes such as grass-fed rib eye with your friends and family.
6. Notre Dame De France
This Catholic church just off Leicester Square is an elegant building.
The church was originally consecrated in 1868, but was badly damaged in the second world war. The re-built church retained its circular shape, with a striking sculpture representing Our Lady of Mercy by Georges-Laurent Saupique above the main entrance.
However, what makes this lovely church stand out are the murals contained within. The bold murals are by the French poet and film-maker Jean Cocteau, and the scenes depict the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the Assumption. Above the altar sits a beautiful tapestry depicting Paradise on Earth by the Benedict Monk, Dom Robert.
7. Seven Noses
If you fancy a quirkier task while in Soho, then searching for the seven noses certainly fits the bill.
In 1997 over 30 noses suddenly popped up over a period of time attached to buildings around Soho. Eventually artist Rick Buckley confessed they were his handiwork, with the noses cast from a mould of his own nose.
This was not a random piece of art, as Buckley was protesting against the increase in CCTV surveillance on the streets of Soho. Many of the noses were removed, but seven have remained in place. This has given rise to the quirky pursuit of visitors trying to find all seven noses in a day.
For all the world class shops and restaurants, areas need these quirkier traits, adding even more character. The street locations of the noses are well documented online, so the hunt is more about good eyesight now, but it is still a fun pursuit while spending a day in Soho. Besides, the local myth says those who find all seven noses in one day can expect great wealth to come their way!
8. Pubs and Bars
Soho is a great area for a night out, with a huge choice of pubs and bars. Here are four worthy mentions:
The French House Pub
This iconic pub in a grade II listed building has played host to some historic visitors, including Charles de Gaulle. He is said to have been a regular while in exile from France during the second world war, when the pub became the unofficial headquarters of the Free French forces. This classic British pub in Dean Street has a bohemian tradition. Champagne features highly on the drinks list alongside traditional British ale. No mobile phones in this pub though, please!
Dog And Duck
You will be hard pressed to find a more British pub sounding name. Now run by the pub group Nicholsons, this pub still retains a traditional feel, replete with etched glass. This is another Soho pub familiar to figures of artistic historical significance, with John Constable and George Orwell among its former patrons.
Step back in time as you enter this 1940’s themed cocktail bar. With three distinctive bar areas, the Underground, the Ticket Hall and the Control Room, this is a bar with a unique feel. Set within an old underground train station previously used as a WWII air raid shelter, you can sip your cocktails, have a meal and enjoy live entertainment seven days a week.
The Old Coffee House
A traditional pub with a nod to its history when coffee houses were the gathering places for the hot political discussions of the day. For real ale lovers you are greeted with a good range of Brodie’s beers, the Leyton based microbrewery. This fine grade II listed building has interior walls crammed with assorted knick-knacks, though the taxidermy samples may not be to everyone’s taste.
Soho is part of the West End and has a rich heritage in theatre. Taking in a show feels a natural part of any visit to Soho.
The Prince Edward Theatre is definitely one for the musical lovers, with Mary Poppins in residence to at least February 2022.
The Soho Theatre stages plays, comedy and cabaret, producing an eclectic line-up of performances from its Dean Street location with its blue neon entrance lights. A walk along Shaftesbury Avenue alone opens you up to a raft of world class theatres, including the Apollo, Palace Theatre, Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Theatre and Lyric Theatre.
Soho is also home to great films. The Curzon Soho sits on Shaftesbury Avenue and has three screens from which to select your viewing. The Prince Charles Theatre is an independent cinema, which in non-pandemic times runs sing-along film sessions, as well as more traditional film viewing.
Meanwhile, the Picturehouse Central, close to Leicester Square, offers the choice of fine-dining in its restaurant or hot and cold food from its New York style cafe to its cinema goers.
10. Book Shopping
Soho offers bookworms plenty of opportunity to browse and buy their next good read. Most prominent of the stores is the huge Foyles book shop, located close to Soho Theatre.
Foyles has an estimated 200,000 books in stock over four floors in this flagship store. You will be hard pressed not to find something of interest on their shelves, and when you are finished shopping you can enjoy refreshments in the store cafe.
Foyles are far from the only book store in Soho. Charing Cross road is renowned for its book stores, including the independent Koenig books which specialises in books on contemporary art. Any Amount of Books is at 56 Charing Cross road and maintains the tradition of a book store in this building since 1920. Not only do they sell books, but they buy large book collections via appointment.
11. A Few More Places to Visit
Below are a few more places in Soho that are well worth a visit.
House of Minalima
This is one for Harry Potter fans. The House of Minalima is a gallery and a shop in Soho containing artwork from both the Harry Potter and the Fantastic Beasts series. Minalima is a design studio founded by Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, who created the graphic style for the Harry Potter movies.
The House of Minalima can be found at 157 Wardour Street in the heart of Soho. The gallery showcases the work of this talented pair, and has a few props form the Harry Potter film franchise on display. Open from Wednesday to Sunday, the free exhibition also showcases Minalima’s graphic artwork away from the world of Harry Potter.
You will find Chinatown on the southern fringes of Soho. This is a bustling, vibrant neighbourhood, whose red and gold decorations make for a colourful welcome. Chinatown offers authentic Asian cuisine from its many restaurants and street stalls. The area is also known for its authentic shops and for the events and festivals staged on its streets.
The original Chinatown was located in the East End of London, but from the 1950s it has become established on the southern edge of Soho. By the 1980s the Chinese gates and street furniture were added, creating a market feel. Accessible from Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus underground stations, visitors will find an array of authentic Asian produce.
Soho has long been an artistic hub, and at Diamond Jacks this artistry turns into striking tattoos. This is a tattoo studio with history, being the longest running tattoo parlour in Soho. If you want to mark your visit to Soho with a tattoo you can choose from thousands of designs or opt for a custom piece personalised for you.
Diamond Jacks opens five days a week, and although booking an appointment is recommended, walk-ins for smaller tattoos are welcome. The parlour can be found at 5 Walkers Court, and while you visit be sure to check out their distinctive merchandise.
Hank’s Guitar Shop
Guitar players will be like a child in a sweet store at Hank’s guitar shop. Even if you have never picked up a guitar in your life there is still much to admire here. For over 25 years Hank’s guitar shop has been offering its expert advice, helping musicians find the right guitar and accompanying gear.
The store offers an impressive selection of acoustic and electric guitars, amplifiers and effects pedals. Used guitars can also be bought in this store located on Denmark Street. The rare and vintage guitar collection is well worth a look.