Ahh showbusiness. There's no business like it, or so we hear. And what's more showbiz than the West End? Bright lights, the big city and more show tunes than you know what to do with.


Whether you're a seasoned Londoner who can navigate your way around the labyrinth that is Bank station without batting an eye, or if you're coming to the capital for the first time hoping to catch a show - we've got you covered. This is our guide to the West End, full of facts and tips to make your theatre trip more enjoyable so you can have the best possible time.

If you're wondering which show to see, check out our guide to the best West End shows, which we keep updated with all the shows coming to theatreland. In our Going Out section we also have guides to all the latest shows, like how to get Diana the musical tickets, The Ocean at the End of the Lane tickets and tickets to see Andrew Scott in Vanya.

Read on for everything you need to know before going to see a West End show.

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What to wear for a West End theatre show in London

Even though going to a show in the West End is a big event, you don't need to dress up. The most important thing is that you're comfortable, and theatres don't generally have dress codes. So whether its jeans or a ballgown, wear whatever makes you happy! Just keep in mind that you'll be sitting down for a long period of time — it's not an event for your tightest jeans!

In the past, going to a West End show was probably something people would have dressed up for, but even events like the opera or ballet rarely have a dress code nowadays.

Where is the West End of London?

Best west end shows
Pamela Raith via London Theatre Direct

London's geography can be confusing. Most Londoners answer to where they live give nothing more than a compass direction like 'I'm out East' - and don't even get us started on the tube map! While the name would suggest that theatreland is out West, it's actually more in central London. It has the name West End because it is located directly to the West of central London, but now that London has expanded so much, most people would consider this very central.

The West End, which is also known as theatreland, is in the middle of the triangle of restaurant-filled Soho, historic St James's and retail heaven Covent Garden. The nearest large train station is Charing Cross, but it can also be accessed by the numerous surrounding tube stations, the closest of which are Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. Most of the West End theatres are on one street — Shaftesbury Avenue — which has six theatres.

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While the West End is the place where all the big shows are being performed like The Lion King, Hamilton and Matilda, there are theatres across London where you might be able to see more alternative plays and shows, often at a lower cost or with audiences.

How long is a theatre interval?

An interval is a break in the middle of a play or musical, where the audience has a chance to stretch their legs, use the bathroom, get a breath of fresh air and maybe get a drink or snack. It also is a chance to do any big set changes on stage and for actors to change costumes. Not all shows have an interval, so it's important to double-check before booking. Especially with musicals, you'll probably hear a big number just before the interval, and often in plays, there will be a cliffhanger event to make the audience excited to return to their seats for the second half.

Typically, plays and musicals last anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours including the interval. This first half will likely be slightly longer with a shorter second half. The length of time a play or musical lasts is known as the running time, and these include the time for the interval.

Intervals generally last around half an hour. A bell will ring around the theatre to indicate to the audience that it's time to return to their seats for the second half, so don't worry - you're unlikely to miss it! If you have to leave during a performance, many shows won't allow you to return to the auditorium so as not to disturb the actors and distract the audience so try and make sure you have everything you need when you take your seat.

What are the most famous West End theatres?

best west end shows
London Theatre Direct

The West End is, of course, famous across the world, but which theatres are the best known? Well, the oldest West End theatre still in use is the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which first opened in 1663 and was the first place where people heard the National Anthem. It is currently the home to Frozen the musical — from the National Anthem to 'Let It Go' is quite a history!

The London Palladium, which is slightly further west on Argyll Street just the other side of Soho, is famous for the TV show Sunday Night at the London Palladium, which ran in the '50s and '60s. The London Palladium will soon be home to The Wizard of Oz, starring Jason Manford and Ashley Banjo, which opens on 23rd June.

St Martin's Theatre is well-known because it has been home to the longest-running show currently on the West End, Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which has been there since 1974.

What time should I arrive at the theatre?

The Crucible
National Theatre Live

A good rule of thumb is to arrive to the theatre about half an hour before the show is scheduled to start. This will give you time to have a look round the theatre — many like The Gieldgud have ornately decorated foyers — and buy a programme before finding your seat. As we've already mentioned, many productions won't let you in once the show has begun so you definitely don't want to be late.

Programmes are a booklet which provides information about the show like who is playing which role, photographs from the rehearsal process and interviews with the creative and production teams. As they can be quite pricey, usually around the £20 mark, they're definitely not a must-have to enjoy a show but can be a great keepsake.

Can I take photographs of a West End show?

The short answer is no, you aren't allowed to take photographs of a West End show. Whether it's on your phone or with a camera it won't be allowed, and you'll likely be asked to stop by one of the front-of-house stewards or even asked to leave. Most shows will have signs at the beginning of a performance indicating that filming and photography aren't allowed and asking you to turn off mobile phones to prevent any disruption.

There are some instances where you might be allowed to take photos during the curtain call — when the cast comes out to take a bow at the end — but this is quite rare.

Where to eat in London’s West End?

If you plan your timings right you can enjoy an amazing meal as well as take in a show when your in the heart of London. Since the West End is so central, there are unlimited options of where to eat at pretty much every price point, and catering to every palette.

If that amount of choice is a bit overwhelming (and we can't say we blame you!) our friends at olive.com have done some of the hard work for you, with guides to the best restaurants near Oxford Street and where to eat and drink in Covent Garden, both of which are just a short walk from the West End.

Can you eat and drink in the theatre?

Yes, most theatres will let you eat and drink while in the theatre, with many having bars where you can buy a tipple and a snack before the show or in the interval. It's also not unusual for stewards to have small tubs of ice cream available to buy during the interval.

It might raise a few eyebrows if you're eating anything that's too noisy and potentially disruptive to other people in the audience so maybe leave the pork scratchings at home.

What is a pre-theatre menu?

Restaurants near theatres often take advantage of the crowds coming to a show by putting on a pre-theatre menu. Since most evening shows start at 7:30 and with a pre-theatre menu you can get a quick, early bite to eat before doing a short walk to the theatre.

Most pre-theatre menus will be two or three courses of a set menu, at a set price.

How to buy West End tickets?

You can buy tickets for West End shows from lots of ticketing sites including Ticketmaster Theatre, London Theatre Direct, ATG Tickets and LOVEtheatre. If you're on a budget have a read of our guide to how to get cheap theatre tickets where we have tips on saving some money.


Check out our Going Out section for things to do in London this summer. We've got everything from our guide to the best LGTBQ+ experiences for Pride month to how to get Sex and the City the experience tickets.