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Soho is besieged by the four Circuses - Oxford, Piccadilly, Cambridge and St Giles's. Wardour St divides Soho neatly in two halves; high Soho to the east, and low or West Soho opposite. Old Compton St is the de facto main High Street and the gayest street in London. The West End's only fruit n' veg market is on atmospheric Berwick St. The epicentre of 1960s fashion, Carnaby and Newburgh Sts, have recovered from a decade of tourist tack shops and are home to some of Soho's hippest shopping once again.

SOHO SQUARE & AROUND Mapp68 At Soho's northern end, leafy Soho Sq is the area's back garden. This is where people come to laze in the sun on spring and summer days, and where office workers have their lunch or gather for a picnic. It was laid out in 1681, and originally named King's Sq, which is why the statue of Charles II stands in the northern part of the square. In the centre is a tiny mock-Tudor-style house -the gardener's shed - whose lift was a passage to underground shelters. Apart from being a relaxing green space, Soho Sq (along with the rest of Soho) is media central: 20th Century Fox and the British Board of Film Classification have their offices here.

Heading south of Soho Sq, down Dean Street, you'll come upon number 28, the place where Karl Marx and his family lived from 1851 to 1856. Marx, his wife Jenny and their four children lived in extreme poverty, without a toilet or running water, and three of their children died of pneumonia in this flat. While the father of communism spent his days researching DasKapitaI in the British Museum, his main sources of income were money from writing articles for newspapers and financial help from his friend and colleague Friedrich Engels. The Marx family were eventually saved by a huge inheritance left to them by Mrs Marx' family, after which they upped sticks and moved to the more salubrious surroundings of Primrose Hill. Today it's a lively street lined with shops, bars and many other consumer outlets that no doubt would have given Marx indigestion.

Seducer and heart-breaker Casanova and opium-addicted writer Thomas de Quincey lived on Greek Street, whereas the parallel Frith Street (number 20) housed Mozart for a year from 1764.

CHINATOWN Map p68

Immediately north of Leicester Sq - but a world away in atmosphere - are Lisle and Gerrard Sts, the focal point for London's Chinese community. Although not as big as Chinatowns in many other cities - it's just two streets really - this is a lively quarter with fake oriental gates, Chinese street signs, red lanterns, many, many restaurants and great Asian supermarkets. London's original Chinatown was further east, near Limehouse, but it was moved here after heavy bombardments in WWII. To see it at its effervescent best, time your visit with Chinese New Year in late January/early February (see p191). Do be aware that the quality of food here varies enormously - it pays to get recommendations as many places are mediocre establishments aimed squarely at the tourist market. Try Jen Cafe (p243) or New World (p239).

PICCADILLY CIRCUS Map P68

t Piccadilly Circus

Together with Big Ben and Trafalgar Sq, this is postcard London. And despite the stifling crowds and racing midday traffic, the flashing ads and buzzing liveliness of Piccadilly Circus always make it exciting to be in London. The circus looks its best at night, when the flashing advertisement panels really shine against the dark sky.

Designed by John Nash in the 1820s, the hub was named after the street Piccadilly, which earned its name in the 17th century from the stiff collars (picadils) that were the sartorial staple of the time (and were the making of a nearby tailor's fortune). At the centre of the circus is the famous lead statue, the Angel of Christian Charity, dedicated to the philanthropist and child-labour abolitionist Lord Shaftesbury, and derided when unveiled in 1893, sending the sculptor into early retirement. The sculpture was at first cast in gold, but it was later replaced by the present-day one. Down the years the angel has been mistaken for Eros, the God of Love, and the misnomer has stuck (you'll even see signs for 'Eros' from the Underground). It's a handy meeting place for tourists, though if you don't like the crowds, meet at the charging Horses of Helios statue at the edge of Piccadilly and Haymarket - apparently a much cooler place to convene.

John Nash had originally designed Regent St and Piccadilly to be the two most elegant streets in town (see Regent Street, p70), but curbed by city planners, Nash couldn't realise his dream to the full. In the many years since his noble plans, Piccadilly Circus has become swamped with tourists, with streets such as Coventry St flogging astronomically priced cheap tat at unsuspecting visitors. Coventry St leads to Leicester Sq, while Shaftesbury Ave takes you to the heart of the West End's theatre land. Piccadilly itself goes to the sanctuary of Green Park. On Haymarket, check out New Zealand House (built in 1959 on the site of the Carlton Hotel, bombed during the war), where the Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) worked as a waiter in 1913. Have a look down Lower Regent St for a glimpse of glorious Westminster.

Just east of the circus is London Trocadero (Map p68; %0906 888 1100; www.troc.co.uk; 1 Piccadilly Circus W1; admission free; |»i10am-1am), a huge and soulless indoor amusement arcade

THE CENTRAL WEST

INFORMATION

Boots 1 C5

Britain Visitor Centre 2 C6

easyEverything 3 D1

easyEverything 4 C5

New Zealand High Commission.. 5 D6

SIGHTS (pp66-71)

Burlington Arcade 6 B5

Centre Point 7 D2

Chinatown 8 D4

Eros Statue 9 C5

Horses of Helios Statue 10 C5

London Trocadero 11 D5

Piccadilly Circus 12 C5

Regent Street 13 B5

Royal Academy of Arts 14 B5

Soho Square 15 D3

St James's Piccadilly 16 B5

White Cube Gallery 17 B6

Agent Provocateur 18 C3

Algerian Coffee Stores 19 D4

Ann Summers 20 C4

Apple Store 21 A3

Aquascutum 22 B5

Bang Bang Exchange 23 C1

Berwick Street Market 24 C4

BM Soho 25 C3

Borders 26 B3

Computer Shops 27 D2

Dr Harris 28 B6

Fortnum &. Mason 29 B6

Foyle's 30 D3

Grant & Cutler 31 B3

Hamleys 32 B4

Harold Moore's Records 33 B3

Jess James 34 B4

Liberty 35 B3

Marshmallow Mountain 36 B4

Minamoto Kitchoan 37 B5

On the Beat 38 D2

Phonica 39 B3

Ray's Jazz Shop (see 30)

Reiss 40 A3

Revival 41 C3

Rigby & Peller 42 A4

Sister Ray 43 C3

Sounds of the Universe 44 C3

Tatty Devine 45 C4

Taylor of Old Bond Street 46 B6

Topshop &. Topman 47 A3

Urban Outfitters 48 B3

Vintage House (see 19)

Vivienne Westwood 49 A4

Waterstone's 50 C5

EATING (D (pp235-75)

Amato 51 D3

Andrew Edmunds 52 C4

Arbutus 53 D3

Back to Basics 54 A1

Bar Italia 55 D3

Bar Shu 56 D4

Barrafina 57 D3

Berwick Street Market (see 24)

Breakfast Club Soho 58 C3

Busaba Eathai 59 D1

Busaba Eathai Wardour St 60 C3

Carluccio's 62 A3

Criterion Grill 63 C5

Fino 64 C1

Gay Hussar 65 D3

Hakkasan 66 D2

Hamburger Union Soho 67 D3

Kerala 68 A3

Kettners 69 D4

Kulu Kulu 70 B5

La Trouvaille 71 B3

Leon 72 B3

Maison Bertaux 73 D4

Masala Zone 74 B4

Mildred's 75 C4

Momo 76 B4

New World 77 D4

Pâtisserie Valerie 78 D4

Rasa Samudra 79 C2

Red Fort 80 D3

Red Veg 81 C3

Roka 82 C1

Sakura 83 A3

Sketch 84 A4

Veeraswamy 86 B5

Wolseley 87 A6

Yauatcha 88 C3

Yo! Sushi 89 B3

DRINKING BD (pp2 77-96)

Bradley's Spanish Bar 90 D2

French House 91 D4

Garlic & Shots 92 D3

Milk & Honey 93 C4

Player 94 C3

Sun and 13 Cantons 95 C4

Two Floors 96 B4

NIGHTLIFE O (pp297-310)

100 Club 97 C2

Amused Moose Soho 98 D3

Astoria 99 D3

Bar Rumba 100 C4

Borderline 101 D3

Comedy Camp (see 126)

Comedy Store 102 D5

Madame Jo Jo's 103 C4

Mean Fiddler (see 99)

Pizza Express Jazz Club 104 C3

Ronnie Scott's 105 D3

St James's Piccadilly (see 16)

ARTS 0 (pp311-21)

Apollo 106 C4

Comedy 107 D5

Criterion 108 C5

Curzon Soho 109 D4

Dominion 110 D2

Gielgud 111 D4

Her Majesty's Theatre 112 D5

London Palladium 113 A3

Lyric 114 C5

Palace 115 D4

Phoenix 116 D3

Piccadilly 117 C5

Prince Charles 118 D4

Prince Edward 119 D3

Prince of Wales 120 D5

Queen's Theatre 121 D4

Soho Theatre 122 D3

Theatre Royal Haymarket 123 D6

SPORTS & ACTIVITIES (pp323-29)

Central YMCA 124 D2

Third Space 125 C5

GAY & LESBIAN (pp331-37)

Barcode 126 C4

Candy Bar 127 C3

Edge 128 D3

Friendly Society 129 C4

Ghetto 130 D2

Prowler 131 C4

Shadow Lounge (see 131)

Trash Palace 132 D5

Yard 133 C4

Brown's Hotel 134 A5

Charlotte Street Hotel 135 C1

Courthouse Hotel Kempinski.,.136 B3 Grange Langham Court Hotel..137 A1

Hazlitt's 138 D3

myhotel Bloomsbury 139 D1

Number 5 Maddox Street 140 A4

Piccadilly Backpackers 141 C5

Ritz 142 A6

Sanderson 143 B2

Soho Hotel 144 C3

YHA Oxford St 145 B3

that has six levels of hi-tech, high-cost fun for youngsters, along with cinemas, US-themed restaurants and bowling alleys. But the drabness of Trocadero has perked up a bit with the introduction of Amora - The Academy of Sex & Relationships (94>7734 2529; www .amoralondon.com; 13 Coventry St W1; hi 11am-midnight; admission before 5pm £12, after 5pm £15). Amora calls itself an 'amusement park' and consists of several rooms that explore, well, sex and relationships. The idea is that you take a tour around and come out enlightened and miles better at the stuff between the sheets, but it's had mixed reviews from Londoners, particularly from those who take their sex seriously. The silly themes, such as encouraging punters to 'find out how to kiss' (in the Sensorium) and a lesson aimed at improving foreplay skills (at the Sexplorium) don't help matters much.

SEX & DRUGS & ROCK'N'ROLL - THE HISTORY OF SOHO

Soho's character was formed by the many waves of immigration, and residential development started in the 17th century, after the Great Fire had levelled much of the city. An influx of Greek and Huguenot refugees and, later, the 18th-century influx of Italian, Chinese and other artisans and radicals into Soho replaced the bourgeois residents, who moved out of the area and into Mayfair. The following century saw Soho as no more than a slum, with cholera frequently attacking the impoverished residents. But despite its difficulties, the cosmopolitan vibe attracted writers and artists, and the overcrowded area became a centre for entertainment, with restaurants, taverns and coffee houses springing up.

The 20th century was even more raucous, when a fresh wave of European immigrants settled in, making Soho a bona fide bohemian enclave for two decades after WWII. Ronnie Scott's famous club, originally on Gerrard St, provided Soho's jazz soundtrack from the 1950s, while the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd did their early gigs at the legendary Marquee club, which used to be on Wardour St. Soho had long been known for its seediness but when the hundreds of prostitutes who served the Square Mile were forced off the streets and into shop windows, it became the city's red-light district and a centre for porn, strip joints and bawdy drinking clubs. Gay liberation soon followed, and by the 1980s Soho was the hub of London's gay scene, as it remains today. The neighbourhood has a real sense of community, best absorbed on a weekend morning when Soho is at its most villagelike.

REGENT STREET Map P68

Regent St is the border separating the hoi polloi of Soho and the high-society residents of Mayfair. Designed by John Nash as a ceremonial route, it was meant to link the Prince Regent's long-demolished city dwelling with the 'wilds' of Regent's Park, and was conceived by the architect as a grand thoroughfare that would be the centrepiece of a new grid for this part of town. Alas, it was never to be - too many toes were being stepped on and Nash had to downscale his plan. There are some elegant shop fronts that look older than their 1920s origins (when the street was remodelled) but, as in the rest of London, the chain stores have almost completely taken over. Two distinguished retail outlets are Hamleys (p224), London's premier toy and game store, and the upmarket department store Liberty (p220).

ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS Map P68

%7300 8000; www.royalacademy.org.uk; Burlington House, Piccadilly W1; admission varies; h 10am-6pm, to 10pm Fri; t Green Park; w

Britain's first art school was founded in 1768, though it only moved here in the following century. It's a great place to come for some free art, thanks to the John Madej-ski's Fine Rooms, where drawings ranging from Constable, Reynolds, Gainsborough and Turner to Hockney are displayed for nowt. The Academy's galleries have sprung back to life in recent years with mega-successful populist exhibitions such as the Art of the Aztecs and Turks, though the famous Summer Exhibition (early June to mid-August), which has showcased art submitted by the general public for nearly 250 years, is the Academy's biggest event.

The Academy is enjoying its new Annen-berg Courtyard, which features a dashing stone-paved piazza with choreographed lights and fountains flanking a statue of founder Joshua Reynolds, though he's often replaced or joined by various (and dubious) art pieces.

BURLINGTON ARCADE MaPP68

51 Piccadilly W1; t Green Park

Flanking Burlington House - home of the Royal Academy of Arts - on its western side is the curious Burlington Arcade, built in 1819 and evocative of a bygone era. Today it is a shopping precinct for the very wealthy and is most famous for the Burlington Berties, uniformed guards who patrol the area keeping an eye out for punishable offences such as running, chewing gum or whatever else might lower the arcade's tone. The fact that the arcade once served as a brothel isn't mentioned.

ST JAMES'S PICCADILLY MaPP68

%7734 4511; 197 Piccadilly W1; h8am-7pm; t Green Park

The only church Christopher Wren built from scratch and on a new site (most of the others were replacements for ones razed in the Great Fire), this simple building is exceedingly easy on the eye and substitutes what some might call the pompous flourishes of his most famous churches with a warm and elegant user-friendliness. The spire, although designed by Wren, was added only in 1968. This is a particularly sociable church: it houses a counselling service, stages lunchtime and evening concerts, provides shelter for an antiques market and an arts and crafts fair (from 10am to 6pm on Tuesday, and from Wednesday to Sunday, respectively), has a Caffe Nero attached on the side, as well as, what was the last thing...oh, yeah, teaching the word of God.

WHITE CUBE GALLERY Mapp68

%7930 5373; www.whitecube.com; 25-26 Mason's Yard SW1; admission free; h 10am-6pm Tue-Sat; t Piccadilly

Opened in early summer 2007, this central sister to the Hoxton original (p149) has recently hosted two major high-profile exhibitions: an Andreas Gursky collection of photographs from North Korea; and the massively publicised Damien Hirst'For the Love of God' exhibition -famed for its diamond skull - that brought back some of the media frenzy the Young British Artists (YBAs) were used to in the 1990s. Housed in Mason's Yard, a traditional courtyard with brick houses and an old pub, the White Cube looks like an ice block - white, straight-lined and angular. The two contrasting styles work well together and the courtyard often serves as a garden for the gallery on popular opening nights.

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