Famous for holding world-premieres of films in London, Leicester Square is a central location filled with night-life, restaurants, artists and theatres. In the heart of the West End, many visitors to London consider Leicester Square a must-see locale in London.
Leicester Square is named after the 2nd Earl of Leicester, Robert Sidney. When this western area of London was still countryside, the Earl purchased four acres (1.6 hectares) in the neighbourhood and built himself a house in the northern corner of his property, named Leicester House. The area he owned rapidly became known as Leicester Field and later, Leicester Square.
By the 18th century, Leicester House was taken over by Frederick, the Prince of Wales (son of King George II, although he never reached the throne himself). But by the latter half of the 1700s, the Square area had become not only unfashionable but became the centre of entertainments and curiosities. This continued and by the 19th century, Leicester Square was known as an entertainment venue, boasting such attractions as Wyld’s Great Globe (housing a giant scale map of the Earth, previously on display at the Great Exhibition). Soon hotels and theatres began springing up around the square, it remains the centre of West End entertainment today.
In the centre of Leicester Square is a small park. Price of place in the centre of the park is a statue of William Shakespeare (somewhat curiously surrounded by stone dolphins). Previously, in each corner of the Square were four artistic busts depicting Sir Joshua Reynolds, John Hunter, William Hogarth and Sir Isaac Newton, as well as a statue of Charlie Chaplin. After a 2012 refurbishment, all the artwork was removed – aside from the statue of Shakespeare.
Leicester Square is the heart of London’s cinema land and even boasts a signed reading, “Theatreland.” The cinemas here have played host to the world premieres of various films throughout the year and one of the theatres has seats to hold 1,600 patrons! Clubs, bars and restaurants are constantly popping up around the square – some only to last a few months before something new comes along.
The Square is also home to TKTS – previously known as the Official London Half-Price Theatre Ticket Booth. Tickets for theatre performances throughout the West End that day are sold from the booth for around half the regular price. A popular stop for those hoping to see London West End shows at a reasonable price, TKTS is licensed and regulated and is the best known third-party theatre ticket dealer in London.
Visiting Leicester Square?
Leicester Square is always open, and as the hub of London’s tourist night-life scene, it is not only easy to find, but is surrounded by other London locations worth visiting (Covent Garden, Chinatown, Trafalgar Square, etc.).
It is perhaps worth mentioning that those of us who live in London rarely visit Leicester Square, as it is considered a bit of a tourist trap. Worth visiting to enjoy the garden and the bright lights, or indeed the street artists and the discount TKTS book, Leicester Square can be a bit overpriced and a quick walk up to Chinatown or Soho can provide better dining – and drinking – for those out on the town in London.
Nearest Underground Station: Leicester Square
Bus Routes: 24, 29, 176