Nowhere in London exudes more character, charm or unabashed edginess than Soho. It is here that people come to express themselves, whether it be in the field of art, music, food or any other facet of culture. Teeming with independent boutiques, theatres, comedy clubs and some of the world’s most cutting edge restaurants, it is the entertainment capital of London and a hive of activity day and night.
The area’s rich history is also recalled, both in its architecture and the enduring trades that have called Soho home for decades. Indeed, while many people claim that there are no true Londoners anymore, Soho remains dotted with a modern cohort of colourful characters who themselves will be remembered well into the future.
Needless to say, when it comes to unique things to do, Soho is truly blessed. Within its myriad of nooks and crannies, there is enough to keep you entertained until you reach exhaustion. Where to start? Well, why not work our way through our list, in which ever order you please.
1. Soho Punk Tour
When the punk revolution swept through London in the late 1970s, Soho was an area filled with dive bars and clubs that were perfect for up-and-coming punk bands. As the genre became more popular, the area quickly developed into Ground Zero for punks and punk music. Now Soho has moved away from its punk heritage but there are tours that can transport you back to an era still cherished by many. For £15, the Flipside London tour will take punk devotees to the legendary club where the Sex Pistols first played and to pubs where bands like The Jam and The Clash used to hang out. To book a Soho Punk Tour, click here.
2. Riflemaker Gallery
Widely considered one of the coolest art spaces in London, the Riflemaker Gallery is a place that promotes some of the world’s most exciting emerging artists. Built in an old gunmaker’s factory off Regent Street, one of the oldest buildings in the West End, the gallery is a must-visit destination for art lovers visiting Soho. While the gallery focusses on up-and-coming talent, it has also held a ‘bagism’ performance by Yoko Ono and displayed the – previously unseen – art of William S. Burroughs. With a regular turnover of exhibitions, the gallery always has something fresh and and interesting to enjoy. And if visitors are lucky, they might even be treated to a musical performance or discussion night.
3. The Society Club
At the turn of the 20th century, Soho was an affordable area, which attracted many modestly-incomed intellectuals and writers. Writers like Dylan Thomas were frequently seen in the area and Soho also made appearances in novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. Now the area is far less affordable, but it’s love of literature still persists. The Society Club is a book shop that doesn’t just sell books but celebrates the literary arts; specialising in out of print and rare books. Some nights the bookshop also turns into a performance space, with poetry readings and book launches.
4. Photographer’s Gallery
One of London’s most fascinating and long-standing art spaces, having been founded in 1970, The Photographer’s Gallery is teeming with exceptional contemporary photography, all spread over three floors. Having benefited from a significant revamp in 2012, the gallery in its updated form – now the largest in London dedicated to photography – also plays host to a studio floor for educational activities, as well as a bookshop, cafe and print sales space. Even better, there’s also a 12-month programme of free exhibitions and events that helps to draw visitors from far and wide.
5. The Great Frog Designers
The 1970s saw the emergence of music genres such as heavy metal and, later in the decade, punk. These genres came with their own style of jewellery and accessories that was far removed from the mainstream. Amid this atmosphere, the alternative jewellery store, Great Frog Designers, popped up in the epicentre of edgy London music culture – Soho. Boasting a striking black storefront, it has attracted both metal and rock ‘n’ roll royalty, such as Lemmy and Mick Jagger, who have been proponents of the Great Frog Designers chunky silver jewellery. The family-owned business has been in Soho for over forty years and remains a great place to pick up a unique item or get an insight into Soho life during a cherished and distant era.
6. Irregular Choice Fashion Store
A trip to Soho would be incomplete without visiting the legendary Carnaby Street. Located in the heart of Soho, the street became synonymous with the 1960s hippie culture and continues to celebrate the weird and wonderful. With its offbeat and colourful footwear, Irregular Fashion is hard to walk past without at least popping your head in. The company was founded in 1999 – and the store a little later – with the aim of offering an alternative to the increasingly dull footwear styles of the time, and has grown into a Soho icon. Today it continues to strive to be different, as exemplified by its recent launch of its enchanting Alice In Wonderland collection.
7. St Anne’s Soho
Churches designed by the legendary architect Christopher Wren are dotted across London – from St Pauls to St Dunstan In The West – but St Anne’s Soho is quite unlike any other. While the church has a classical Wren spire, and a history that’s as rich as the area around it, St Anne’s is different because of how uniquely ‘Soho’ it is. Run by a Rector, a former professional juggler and his Jack Russell, the church is designed to be inclusive for all, as a reflection of the locals it serves. St Anne’s is open all week, for those who wish to look at its beautiful interior architecture and explore the history of the area through the lens of this iconic church.
8. Reckless Records
Since it was featured on the cover of the famous Oasis album, What’s The Story Morning Glory, Reckless Records has always had a copy of the 1995 LP in its front window. For over thirty years, this record shop has sat in Soho as another reminder of the vibrant live music scene in the area. Reckless has a well organised stock of new releases, old classics and hidden gems. Customers will also find friendly and knowledgeable staff who are eager to discuss obscure releases with collectors or recommend something for newcomers to the vinyl resurgence.
9. Rebecca Hossack Gallery
Innovation, individuality, energy and excellence are the watchwords at the Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery, which has two locations in London, including one in the heart of Soho (plus another in New York). With the first opening a quarter of a century ago, all three outposts remain hugely popular – all the more impressive in an industry where galleries come and go like ships in the night. A great champion of Non-Western artistic traditions, the eponymous owner brings a truly global outlook to her galleries, evidenced in the fact that she lays claims to the first art gallery in Europe to exhibit Australian aboriginal painting. Today she continues to offer a platform for artists across the world – and the Soho gallery, like all of her venues, is a wonderful space for art lovers to come and visit.
10. Vintage Magazine Company
If you’ve ever wondered where you can get your hands on an obscure 1960s issue of Rolling Stone or the legendary TIME magazine with the ‘Afghan Girl’ on the cover, then you should probably pay a visit to the Vintage Magazine Company in Soho. Theunlikely business venture started in the 1970s and continues to be a place to find famous and forgotten magazines titles from every genre. Initially scoffed at by many for collecting what others considered junk, the shop was known to be frequented by the likes of Mel Torme and David Bowie, and is now one of Soho’s finest hidden gems.
11. Hauser & Wirth Gallery
The famous Hauser & Wirth gallery was founded by Irwan Wirth, who in 2015 was described by the New York Times as being “”one of the most powerful players in contemporary art”. With galleries in Zurich, New York, Los Angeles and London, Hauser & Wirth have a large stable of artists from which to choose. The London Soho outpost opened in 2003 and has exhibited works from esteemed names such as Paul McCarthy, Christoph Büchel and Joan Mitchell. With a notably international flavour, the Hauser & Wirth gallery offers visitors a chance to experience art from across the world, without leaving London.
12. Seven Noses of Soho
There’s a perfectly good explanation for why several plaster noses appear around Soho, although the urban legends around the mysterious sculptures may be even better. The comparatively prosaic truth is that, in 1997, with the proliferation of CCTV cameras causing controversy in the UK, artist Rick Buckley undertook a project to critique the spread of “Big Brother” society. Inspired by the Situationists – a mid-century artists’ group with a flair for avant-garde performance – Buckley made 35 plaster casts of his own nose and affixed them to buildings scattered around London, including seven in Soho. Visitors can get a look at them all thanks to London Walking Tours, who host one of the most perculiar activities the area has to offer.