/ The Baby Boomer Travel Guide
Baby Boomers, London — By Jenni Ingersoll on August 15, 2010 at 11:58 pm
Filed under: dining, pubs, restaurant, theater, tickets, top-feature

Theater & More in London’s West End

I was once the recipient of a mystery trip.  I knew very few details – the length of the trip and the weather forecast at our destination (for packing purposes)  and who would be watching over our children, (because I am a worry wart).

I am a huge planner when it comes to travel, so this surprise trip was a very bold move on the part of my husband.  Our plane touched down in London, and then each day unfolded with another well thought out adventure.  I couldn’t have been happier if I planned the trip myself.

With a fabulous transit system, better known as the Underground or Tube,  the attractions and experiences of London are easily at hand.  London is so compact with its multitude of attractions and points of interest, that I recommend visitors select one area and spend the day there.   That gives you an opportunity to really get to know a neighborhood as well as maximize your time.

As an example, let’s explore London’s West End.

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London is considered by many to be the “home” of  theater, and the West End to be the theater district, but make no mistake about it.  While the majority of London’s larger productions are housed in the West End, there is more to see here than just musicals.

From somber dramas to witty comedies, the diversity of the offerings and number of venues available, practically guarantee a choice that will appeal to everyone.  My favorites happen to be the musicals, and I am hard pressed to select a favorite from these:

Mamma Mia will always be dear to my heart as the first musical I saw in London.  Set on the eve of her wedding, this musical features the songs of ABBA and explores the relationship between a daughter and her mother.   So fun and light-hearted and full of familiar tunes, just try not to hum along.  Mama Mia is currently running at the Prince of Wales Theatre (map).  This theatre was originally built in 1884 with a new theatre designed in 1937 and it is one of the  smaller venues among the bright lights and flashy venues of the West End.

As a Disney fan, The Lion King, with its outstanding costumes, music and sheer theatrics, is never easy to pass up.  In a timeless tale of good vs. evil,  a young lion prince is thrown into the world of power, greed and corruption when his father dies.  While this musical is suitable for the whole family, don’t think just because you are a grown up, that you won’t enjoy the production.  The Lion King is currently running at the Lyceum Theatre (map), a larger venue offering three tiers of seating options.  TIP:  Some of the action takes place in the aisles of the theater, so you may wish to select seats on or near the aisle, if available.

Wicked, literally brought me to tears in a story line that I never expected.  The production, based on the book by Gregory Maguire, chronicles the tale of two unlikely friends and how they become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda, the Good Witch.  I could see this musical over and over.  The fun catchy tunes will have you humming “Popular” all the way out of the Apollo Victoria Theatre (map).

I have to admit I was brought to tears several times during Avenue Q as well, but these were tears brought on by giddy laughter.  Honestly, with muppet-like characters singing about one-night stands, gay rights and having s-e-x on stage, who wouldn’t be brought to tears?!  While I was a bit skeptical if my husband would enjoy a “musical puppet show”, I gotta tell you I caught him wiping his eyes a time or two.  Shown at the intimate 750 seat Wyndham’s Theatre (map) makes watching Avenue Q all the more fun.

Tickets are available for purchase in several ways.  In advance, purchase tickets online through reputable ticket agencies like Lashmars or another member of STAR ( Society or Ticket Agents and Retailers).  You may also call the theater box office.

In person, tickets may be purchased at the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) Tkts Booth (map) in Leicester Square.  TIP:  There are several Tkts Booths in Leicester Square, be sure you are at the correct one. Tickets may also be purchased at the theater box office.  This might be your best bet to pick up a few returned tickets to a sold-out performance, as well.  Under no circumstances should you buy tickets from a person on the street, or as they are called in London, a ticket tout!

While you might want to spend your afternoon taking in a matinee, there are other attractions  within easy walking distance that can occupy your day until the evening curtain call.  With the more relaxed, anything goes dress code currently in place for the theater, playing tourist by day and audience member by night is a whole lot easier than it once was.

The West End encompasses the entertainment area known as Leicester Square, with its restaurants and cinemas that often hold large movie premiers, as well as the area west of the city center of London including the City of Westminster.

From the National Gallery(map), House of Parliament and Big Ben (map), Westminster Abbey (map), and Buckingham Palace (map) many of London’s top tourist attractions are found here.  When you get tired, there are lots of pubs and cafes where you can take a rest or re-check your maps and itineraries.

The Victorian buildings of Covent Garden (map) and its open air cafes, street entertainers, markets and stylish shops makes this one of the West End’s, if not London’s, liveliest areas.   And if you’re in the mood for a little shopping, be sure to visit Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street where you can find everything from large department stores to trendy shops.

Hungry? There are so many dining options at your disposal in the West End including traditional pub fare like Fish ‘n Chips to ethnic meals to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  For something unique, try dining at Rules (map)  This oldest restaurant in London specializes in game and was established in 1798.  Not old enough for you?  How about the Lamb and Flag (map), where portions of the pub date back to 1623 or the iconic Red Lion (map) that boastfully holds the second oldest continuously held beer license in London.

The Courthouse Hotel (map) is set in what was once the oldest Magistrates Court and has converted one of the courtrooms into a fine dining establishment, with prison cells from the 1840′s converted into private drinking booths.  If this seems a little to stifling for you, try heading to the open-top roof terrace for a nightcap.

Other area hotels include the five-star St. Martins Lane (map) that unfolds like an urban resort.  Don’t miss the opportunity to catch a pre- or post-theater cocktail at the member’s only club, Light Bar which specializes in trendy concoctions like a Raspassion Martini, Lighten Up Champagne or a Strawberry Cheesecake Collins.  TIP:  Non-members must apply for guest reservations in advance.

More traditional surroundings await guests at Le Meridien Piccadilly (map) where you can stop the madness of Piccadilly Circus (map) long enough for a relaxing afternoon tea served here daily from noon – 6:00 pm.  While I cannot think of The Savoy (map) without picturing the popular film, Notting Hill, I join others in anxiously awaiting its grand reopening, scheduled for October 2010, following its massive restoration.

In one area we have seen some of London’s finest culture and rich history, experienced lively entertainment and renowned dining,  shopped from classic retailers to trendy and unique stores  and the best part, the West End is only one neighborhood.  There is so much more of London waiting to be explored.

Photo Selections: PlanetEye flickr pool, Lyceum Theatre

Related places:
  1. A
    Prince of Wales Theatre
    View Details and Book
  2. B
    Lyceum Theatre - London
    21 Wellinton Street, London, Greater London, WC2E 7DA, United Kingdom
    View Details and Book
  3. C
    Apollo Victoria
    17 Wilton Road, London, Greater London, SW1V 1LL, United Kingdom
    View Details and Book
  4. D
    Wyndham's Theatre
    View Details and Book
  5. E
    tkts Leicester Square
    View Details and Book
  6. F
    National Gallery
    Pall Mall East, (Trafalgar Square), London, WC2N 5DN, United Kingdom
    View Details and Book
  7. G
    Palace of Westminster Clock Tower
    View Details and Book
  8. H
    Westminster Palace
    St Margarets Street, SW1P 3, London, United Kingdom
    View Details and Book
  9. I
    Westminster Abbey
    20 Dean's Yard, Westminster, London SW1P 3PA, United Kingdom
    View Details and Book
  10. J
    Buckingham Palace
    Buckingham Palace Road, (Pall Mall), London, SW1A 1AA, United Kingdom
    View Details and Book
  11. K
    Covent Garden Grill
    16 Henrietta Street, London, WC2E 8QH, England
    View Details and Book
  12. L
  13. M
    The Lamb & Flag
    33 Rose Street, London, WC2E 9EB, England
    View Details and Book
  14. N
    The Red Lion
    View Details and Book
  15. O
    Courthouse DBH London- Regent
    19 21 Great Marlborough Street , London, GRB104, GB
    View Details and Book
  16. P
    St Martins Lane
    View Details and Book
  17. Q
    Le Meridien Piccadilly Hotel
    21 Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BH, GB
    View Details and Book
  18. R
    Piccadilly Circus
    View Details and Book
  19. S
    The Savoy, A Fairmont Hotel
    View Details and Book
Tags: dining, pubs, restaurant, theater, tickets, top-feature

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