Discover London | The West End
The West End of London (more commonly referred to as simply the West End) is an area of central London containing many of the city’s major tourist attractions, shops, businesses, government buildings, and entertainment venues (including the commercial West End theatres). Use of the term began in the early 19th century to describe fashionable areas to the west of Charing Cross.
Located to the west of the historic Roman and Mediaeval City of London, the West End was long favoured by the rich elite as a place of residence because it was usually upwind of the smoke drifting from the crowded City. It was also located close to the royal seat of power at Westminster, and is largely contained within the City of Westminster (one of the 32 London boroughs). Developed in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was originally built as a series of palaces, expensive town houses, fashionable shops and places of entertainment. The areas closest to the City around Holborn, Seven Dials and Covent Garden historically contained poorer communities that were cleared and redeveloped in the nineteenth century.
The name “West End” is a flexible term with different meanings in different contexts. It may refer to the entertainment district around Leicester Square and Covent Garden; to the shopping district centred on Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Bond Street; or, less commonly, to the whole of that part of central London (itself an area with no generally agreed boundaries) which lies to the west of the City of London.
Taking a fairly broad definition of the West End, the area contains the main concentrations of most of London’s metropolitan activities apart from financial services, which are concentrated primarily in the City of London. There are major concentrations of the following buildings and activities in the West End:
- Art galleries and museums
- Company headquarters outside the financial services sector (although London’s many hedge funds are based mainly in the West End)
- Educational institutions
- Government buildings (mainly around Whitehall)
- Institutes, learned societies and think tanks
- Legal institutions
- Media establishments
- Places of entertainment: theatres; cinemas; nightclubs; bars and restaurants
The annual New Year’s Day Parade takes place on the streets of the West End.