Itinerary for London’s Soho: sex, music, shopping and culture (I)

London Soho is one of those neighbourhoods that is in a constant state of flux. It’s as though something is always bubbling just under the surface And unfortunately, most tourists barely make time to take in two or three of its most famous streets, like Carnaby Street, for example. Well, that’s their loss.

This district was farm and grazing land up until the 16th century, and later became a royal park during the reign of Henry VIII. That’s right, the royal hunting grounds. In fact, the name Soho appears as early as the 17th century and was probably some sort of war cry. But it wasn’t until the end of that century that, having distributed the land among various owners, the first buildings began to be erected.

Soho is bounded by Regent Street to the west, Oxford Street to the north, Charing Cross Road to the east and Shaftesbury Avenue to the south. And it is true that, depending on the street one takes, one may find any number of brothels, cabarets, strip clubs and so forth, which may be somewhat intimidating. However, you shouldn’t let this be the case. On the contrary, over the last twenty years Soho has changed dramatically.


To get an idea of what the neighbourhood means to the world – a strange idea, I know – these streets have always set the trend. And I mean trends of all types. And this is still the case today. It was here that the first rock club was established, the famous 2i’s Coffee Bar, located in the basement of 59 Old Compton Street. We could also mention The Flamingo Club, La Discothèque, Whisky a Go Go as well as many other landmarks. Depending on your age, you’ve probably heard some of these names in songs from the 60s and 70s. Am I right?

These streets have been the stomping grounds of many great artists. From The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, from Eric Clapton to Brian Jones, who even lived here for a while. As a curious detail, the Rolling Stones‘ debut performance took place here. Where? At number 90 Wardour Street, at The Marquee Club. Anyone else? The Sex Pistols lived at 6 Denmark Street, where they even recorded their first demos.

Now do you feel more inclined to wander around Soho?

As I said before, Soho has changed. And while it has been renovated and updated, it still breathes the same revolutionary spirit. Today the district is home to numerous top fashion shops, shops specialising in Pukka products, the most extravagant hair salons and the top advertising agencies, just for starters. So if you are staying more than two days in London, I recommend you spend at least one morning strolling around this neighbourhood. And, of course, if you are staying even one night, you should check out any of the venues hosting live music.

Without further ado – I realise I’ve been rambling on – I leave you with our proposed itinerary through the London’s Soho, though no doubt many more stories and anecdotes will come to mind. As will many other ideas – that’s the nature of Soho. So off we go!

We begin this itinerary at Piccadilly Circus tube, on the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines. To make it fun and easy, we begin by taking Sherwood Street towards Carnaby Street, the busiest shopping street in Soho. Be sure to pop into the Octopus and Diesel shops, among others.


At the top, turn right at the famous O’Neill’s and take Great Marlborough Street then turn right onto Poland Street until you reach the corner of Broadwick Street. Do you see the water pump here? This is called the John Snow water pump. Although it’s a replica erected in his honour. Why? I’ll tell you: in 1854 there was a serious outbreak of cholera in the Soho that took 700 lives in just a few days and, interestingly enough, at the time it was believed that cholera was airborne. However, John Snow had the theory that the infection was spread by water from pumps such as this one. And that proved to be the case, though it took a long time to prove him right. As a result this English doctor became both a true hero and one of the precursors of modern epidemiology.

At this point you may want to have a drink at the bar next door. It is easy to find as it’s on the corner, has a nice wood exterior and bears the name of John Snow! Ah, ok! Feel free to ask them to show you the original water pump. They don’t mind showing their relic to tourists, though they are not exactly the friendliest.

After your snack, or drink, take Lexington Street then Great Windmill Street till you reach the famous Windmill Theatre, where the Soho equals sex equation is most evident.

This theatre, acquired in 1930 and directed by Laura Henderson, was the home to the first nude revue in London. When? In 1931. And as another curiosity, it didn’t even close in wartime. Hence its motto – We Never Closed. After the Laura Henderson period many comedians made their debuts here, such as Peter Sellers, for example.

And may I recommend a very interesting film to see: “Mrs Henderson Presents“, the 2005 film by Stephen Frears. Starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins. It’s excellent. You can see the trailer here:

By the way, next to the famous Windmill Theatre is Soho parish school. Another example of the type of contrast that is only possible in Soho 😉

Walk east for a bit and head up Rupert Street, where you will see many of the remaining local business involved in the sex industry. An interesting combination of peep shows, cabarets and cafes in pretty cobbled streets.

Arriving at Brewer Street, continue straight to Walkers Court, underneath the curious passageway that connects the buildings. It’s really only a short walk and full of truly curious clubs. It’s worth taking a look during the day. At night-time, you’re probably better off staying away.

Anyhow, when you leave this alley behind you’ll come upon a small market where the locals do their daily shopping.

Continue with part II of our itinerary through London’s Soho.

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply