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Leicester Square- London's Mecca of filns

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Once you’ve settled in at one of SO Hotel & Resorts premium London hotels, it’s time to strike out and see what this incredible city has to give. The first port of call for any self-respecting traveller when they arrive in London is the West End. And with good reason. London’s thriving West End encompasses many of the city’s most cherished districts, including Soho, Covent Garden, Chinatown, Mayfair and Marylebone, and through the years has been home to hundreds of Britains’s best artists, writers and poets, who from the luxury of their beautiful Georgian apartments have enriched the lives of people across the world. Whether you’re a shopping addict, culture vulture, bookworm or theatre lover, London’s West End is the place to go.

A Historic Mecca of Film

Leicester Square lies right in the heart of the West End, with Trafalgar Square to the south, Covent Garden to the east, Piccadilly Circus to the west and Chinatown to the north. Wandering through the pedestrianised square, day or night, it isn’t unusual to catch globetrotting street performers drawing a crowd of onlookers, or street food vendors doling out delicious treats – often only for pennies. 

But the one thing Leicester Square is known for above anything else is film. For over a hundred years, the square has been home to some of London’s most famous old cinemas. For decades, the glitzy BAFTA Film Awards were held at the Odeon Leicester Square, and it still hosts the London Film Festival every year. It’s common for big budget films such as James Bond, The Dark Night and Dunkirk to have their premieres at one of Leicester Square’s historic cinemas, with stars like Daniel Craig, Keira Knightley and, in the case of The Dark Knight, a Batmobile gracing the red carpet. 

 

There are four cinemas in Leicester Square; Odeon Leicester Square and Empire Leicester Square, which are the largest and often used for premieres, a Vue cinema – another big old cinema – and the Prince Charles Cinema. 

 

The Prince Charles is different to the other three and the most beloved of London’s film buffs, and is the only cinema in the square with a toilet cubicle dedicated to an actor (Kevin Smith, since 2007). As opposed to the Odeon, Empire and Vue, which are your go-to if you want to see the latest big releases, the Prince Charles is an independent cinema. Instead of showing new releases, it concentrates on a weekly repertoire of cult, arthouse and classic films. It also hosts regular sing-a-long screenings of The Sound of Music, Joseph and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a quote-a-long screening of cult classic The Room, as well as Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings marathons. Director Quentin Tarantino has referred to the cinema as the ‘Mecca’ for lovers of quality films. Then, next to the TGI Fridays once can find TKTS – a large ticket booth selling discounted tickets to events across the capital. It’s always surrounded by crowds, and rightly so. 

 

Pastoral Beginnings 

 

Leicester Square wasn’t always so lively though. The Civitas Londinum, a woodcut map of London from the mid 16th century, shows Leicester Square as an area for drying clothes. In a striking illustration of how dramatically London has grown since then, the same map shows cows grazing close by. The square was created 100 years later, and named after the nearby Leicester House, built by Earl of Leicester. Later on, many famous faces lived in the area, including Frederick, Prince of Wales, the artist William Hogarth and Karl Marx, the father of communism. Frederick, Prince of Wales was the son of King George II and father of King George III. He would have been king himself, but he died before his time, aged 44, in Leicester House. Theatres arrived in the 19th century, after the grand house had been pulled down, and they were joined by many other retail establishments. The square became a centre for entertainment, and has remained that way ever since. Nowadays busy restaurants and bars huddle around the old cinemas, watched over by statues of Charlie Chaplin, William Hogarth, John Hunt, Sir Isaac Newton and William Shakespeare, who leans nonchalantly against a lectern with a pile of books on it.

Another famous former resident of the square was Scottish surgeon John Hunter. Hunter was one of the most famous and innovative surgeons operating in the 18th century. Of course, the word ‘innovative’ rather curdles the blood when associated with a surgeon. His experimental methods apparently included animal vivisection. Hunter claimed to have dissected thousands of human cadavers in his quest to discover the secrets of human anatomy, most of which were acquired on the black market from those who gave themselves the spooky name of ‘resurrection men’, and were referred to by the courts as grave robbers. The big house he owned in Leicester Square is said to have been used as a model for the house in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. London wouldn’t be London without a bit of macabre.

 

Getting There 

 

From The So Paddington, our Central London location, one can easily reach Leicester Square by hopping on the Bakerloo Line at Paddington tube station in the direction of Elephant and Castle, and getting off at Piccadilly Circus. From there, Leicester Square is a five-minute walk along Coventry Street. 

From The So London Star Hotel, there is a direct train from Acton Town tube station, a fifteen minute walk from the hotel. Take the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters, and you will arrive at Leicester Square tube station in around 25 minutes. If your legs are weary from so much exploring and you don’t fancy the walk to the tube station, the E3 bus towards Greenford Broadway will take you to Acton Town station, and back to the hotel at the end of the day.

 

Where to Eat

 

If there are two activities that go together better than any other, it’s a trip to the cinema and a meal out. And for your pre-cinema dinner, you won’t be short of choice in the West End. Millions of people from all backgrounds visit Leicester Square and the surrounding area every year, so whether you’re into high dining or something more down to earth and casual, you will find something to suit your tastes.  

 

In Brasserie Zédel, just off Piccadilly Circus, you will feel more like you’re in Paris than in London. But not the Paris of the 2020s, but the Paris of the 1930s – back when it was good. Brasserie Zédel serves tradition French fare in a stunning, cavernous Art Deco basement, accompanied by live music and delicious wine. Even better, the prices aren’t astronomical. A three course menu starts from only 14.95 – extremely reasonable for the location.

If you fancy something a bit more high-end and aren’t afraid to splash the cash a little, try Evelyn’s Table, a chef’s counter in the former beer cellar of Blue Posts, an 18th century pub in Soho. Sip your lesser-known wine and watch the cooks prepare your dish – Anjou pidgeon with lentils and Roscoff onion, for instance – right in front of you. More of an experience than a meal, and with only 12 seats in the whole place, it might be an idea to make a reservation before you go.

Or, for something a bit more fun, try The Palomar, an Israeli establishment popular with theatre and cinema-goers for its food as much as its atmosphere. Book a table, and try the glazed octopus with date molasses and harissa oil if you’re feeling adventurous. If not, stick to the mouth-watering middle eastern and Mediterranean classics the menu offers up. 

What Else To Do

Leicester Square is good fun at any time of day, though really comes alive at night. Still have energy after your film? Why not throw caution to the wind and see if tonight’s your lucky night in the Hippodrome Casino? Situated in a historic building built in 1900 to host circus and variety performances, the Hippodrome Casino has four floors of gaming, including slot machines and tables, as well as a restaurant, six bars, a smoking terrace and an old fashioned cabaret theatre.

Chinatown is also worth an explore. This formerly seedy district is packed full of Asian restaurants – some good, some not so – and has at its centre a giant, ornamental gate, designed according to Qing dynasty styles. 

For the more high-brow traveller, Leicester Square is only a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, where one can find the National Gallery – free to enter, and home to the work of many of Britain and Western Europe’s most famous painters, including paintings by Caravaggio and Van Gogh. 

 

When the day is done, and your eyes are tired from cinema screens, your belly bulging from delicious food and your feet weary from pounding London’s magnificent streets, you can relax in the knowledge that your luxury accommodation at The So’s London locations is just a short train ride away.  

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