The Streets Of Soho
The former red light district was never my favourite London neighbourhood. When I first arrived on the doorstep of London, some decades ago, Soho struck me as touristy, loud and well, ugly. And that initial feeling sort of stuck with me until I got to know her and I guess, started to appreciate her diversity. I was a keen walker back then, still am, and Soho quickly became a shortcut as I navigated between different areas. Which led me to discover sides of her that I wouldn’t have otherwise, found streets that would become favourites and that I still return to, whenever I’m in the area. Today I would even stretch as far as saying, I like Soho.
Soho is an energetic area, to put it mildly. She is rough around the edges and carries quite a shady past. She features an eclectic mix of restaurants, clubs and shopping. Greek, Frith, Dean, Beak and Wardour street form the heart of Soho. Shaftesbury Avenue proudly reigns theatre land and stroll friendly Carnaby Street, iconic Liberty’s and Oxford and Regent street in the outskirts, are appreciated shopping streaks.
The atmosphere is identifiable by a pounding pulse, no matter what time of day you arrive. And I can safely say that from visiting Soho during the early hours all the way to peak hour, at night. There’s shouting, cars come to a screeching halt, an argument somewhere in the distant, the honking horns followed by the sound of glass breaking and then, the loud obnoxious music. It is filthy. Alleys are lined with bin bags and traces from sordid ladies and gents of the night, stain the corner of the eye. The soho crowd is widespread, from the drug dealers to the hen dos to the business men and the couples en route to dinner before the show. But Soho also boast a happy vibe all around which lifts any mood and I can easily people watch from morning to night without being remotely close to bored.
From a storyteller's perspective, Soho is inviting. The broad mix of people, the setting and the constant action, inspires both photographers and writers alike. You can spend hours at one street corner, injected by a constant flow of inspiration. But surprisingly, Soho also has her quiet corners, even quaint ones. And as with any neighbourhood she too has her gems, it’s just a matter of tracking them down. If you get tired of the busy streets and the loud atmosphere, take any side street and you’ll discover something new.
Whether you’re planning a visit to London or are a born and bred Londoner, I really urge you to find the version of her, that suits you. The old girl has many secrets up her sleeve and doesn’t really show and tell, so it’s up to you to make the effort. These are just a few of my favourite corners of Soho:
If you like me, enjoy a book and a peaceful moment away from the crowds, Soho Square is a great spot. Especially in the morning, when Soho is still sobering up. In the summer, it can get quite busy during lunchtime, when the craving for greenery becomes unbearable to most Londoners. If you’re commuting, it’s only a stone’s throw from Tottenham Court which makes it a great spot to inhale and exhale before stepping into the office.
One of my favourite streets is Lexington Street, just below Carnaby Street. Facade lovers, foodies and frequent hashtag IHaveThisThingWithDoors users will appreciate this part of Soho. Start by the John Snow water pump, adjacent to the corner pub. There’s a row of cute terraced houses just across the street that you might want to snap. Then start your walk down Lexington with creamy coloured Taiwan restaurant Bao, baby blue Mildred’s, night black Andrew Edmunds, the Fernandez & Wells cafe, the vintage shop front of John Wilkes and Bills, recognisable by the huge butterfly in the window. The wonderful Instagram sensation, Lina Stores, is a stone’s throw away, on Berwick Street.
Carnaby Street rightfully get a lot of attention but I prefer the side streets that offer a quiet ambience and shelter from the crowd. Cobbled streets Newburgh, Marshall and Ganton, Foubert’s Place and Lowndes and Marlborough Court constitutes the charming Newburgh Quarter. It’s a delightful stroll and offers a generous selection of restaurants, independent stores and iconic names. It is a popular hangout amongst the creatives of Soho, a great spot to meet friends and offers plenty of photography opportunities.
Rupert Street is located only moments away from Theatre Land and is well known for its cosy LGBT venues. It looks especially vibrant during Pride Festival in July, when it’s decorated in rainbow regalia. It’s also a culinary hotspot all year round. Street Food Union runs a street food market, every Tuesday through Friday between 11 and 3. A great place to sample food from London’s best up and coming street food talent and also a great spot to shoot drool worthy photos for your social channels.
Grab a coffee and a cinnamon swirl at Nordic Bakery and bag yourself a sunny spot at Golden Square. But come early, it’s a popular place for lunchers, sun seekers and tired feet alike.
The Seven Noses of Soho
As an advocate of discovering by walking, I want to highlight artist Rick Buckley’s seven noses of Soho. Buckley scattered 35 nose shaped art installations on various London locations back in 1997, as a form of protest against the rising amount of CCTVs that were being installed in the city. Only seven remain, all of which can be discovered in Soho. They are quite tricky to find so many opt for a guided tour. Or you can try to locate them yourself on Endell Street, Floral Street, Admiralty Arch, Great Windmill Street, Meard Street, Bateman Street, and Dean Street.