By Darwin Porter
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Extra info for Frommer's Portable London 2008 (Frommer's Portable)
These densely packed streets in the heart of the West End are famous for their cosmopolitan mix of people and trades. A decade ago, much was heard about the decline of Soho with the influx of sex shops; even the pub where Dylan Thomas used to drink himself into oblivion became a sex cinema. Since then, non-sex-oriented businesses have returned, and fashionable restaurants and shops prosper. Soho is now the heart of London’s expanding gay scene. Soho starts at Piccadilly Circus and spreads out, more or less bordered by Regent Street to the west, Oxford Street to the north, Charing Cross Road to the east, and the theaters along Shaftesbury Avenue to the south.
Reached by Waterloo Bridge (or on foot by Hungerford Bridge), it lies across the Thames from the Victoria Embankment. Culture buffs flock to its galleries and halls, which encompass the National Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Royal Festival Hall, and the Hayward Gallery. Although its day as a top hotel district in London may come in a decade or so (since there’s no room left in the West End), that hasn’t happened yet. The South Bank is a destination for daytime adventures and for evening cultural attractions.
The City lures hotel guests who prefer its quirky, quiet, offbeat flavor at night, when it’s part ghost town, part movie set. There is some nightlife here, including pubs and restaurants. It’s fun to wander the area when all the crowds are gone, pondering the thought that you’re walking the same streets Samuel Johnson trod so long ago. The City of London still prefers to function on its own, separate from the rest of London. It maintains its own Information Centre at St. Paul’s Churchyard, EC4 (& 020/7332-1456), which is open daily from 10am to 5:50pm.