A much admired and, although notoriously sophisticated, genuinely diverse small area of Central London, the capital’s Fitzrovia district – originally named after a local pub, which is still going strong today (the Fitzroy Tavern) – truly is a must-visit for anyone who’s spoilt themselves and is staying in one of the London 5 Star hotels; even if the accommodation’s location is a little distance away like The Montcalm London City at The Brewery hotel (for Fitzrovia’s transport links are second-to-none). So, here’s our guide to this most splendid of West End areas…
What to see and do
• Pollock’s Toy Museum (1 Scala Street W1T 2HL) – located in a marvellously old, creaky Georgian townhouse, this collection of puppets, dolls, board games, toy theatres and more (including the world’s oldest surviving teddy bear and an ancient Egyptian toy mouse) is a cornucopia of nostalgic goodness that’s sure to beguile and fascinate young and old alike. Great fun.
• Banksy in Fitzrovia (junction of Clipstone Street and Cleveland Street, W1) – yes, that’s right, even in sophisticated Fitzrovia you can find an example of legendary street-artist Banksy’s work (it’s next to the BT Tower), featuring a stencilled rat giving a message via dripping red paint; if it’s your cup of tea, then seek it out now because, who knows, the local council may remove it at any time!
• BT Tower (45 Maple Street W1T 4JZ) – once bizarrely considered a British ‘official secret’ (yes, really!), the BT Tower has long been a major perpendicular icon of the capital, even if it’s been overtaken in the height stakes by the likes of The Gherkin and The Shard; despite its background in telecoms, it’s nowadays most revered for its retro-cool revolving restaurant, for which you can enter a ballot for dining tickets
• Grant Museum of Zoology (Rockefeller Building, 21 University Street WC1E 6DE) – rarely talked of in the shadow of South Ken’s Natural History Museum, but unfairly so because this smaller and so easier-to-consume collection of preserved animal specimens and fossils (including the extinct dodo and Tasmanian tiger) is both more intimate and just as fascinating.
• Alison Jacques (Orwell House, 16-18 Berners Street W1T 3LN) – crammed full of the works of (previously) unknown UK artists, this is the gallery to head to for now well-established female names in modern UK art, such as Lygia Clark, Hannah Wilke and Ana Mendieta, as well as the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe
• Tiwani Contemporary (16 Little Portland Street W1W 8BP) – an eclectic and exceedingly interesting depository of art, this one; why? Because all its works are related to Africa and African diaspora around the world, including video-based work from Theo Eshetu that considers slave ships’ history and legacy, as well as the truly exotic and unusual; for instance, 2016’s ‘Pineapple Show’ exhibit featured works from Kenyan, Nigerian and US artists all connected by a tropical fruit theme. Tasty!
• TJ Boulting (59 Riding House Street W1W 7EG) – housed in an exquisite arts and crafts building, this establishment often puts on exhibits and displays that straddle the worlds of curating and publishing; works by photographers including June Calypso and painters such as Boo Saville can be seen here
• Carroll Fletcher (56-57 Eastcastle Street W1W 8EQ) – if ultra-modern art that explores the possibilities of multimedia’s your bag, then this gallery may well prove a must for you; here you’ll find celebrated the likes of computer art pioneer Manfred Moh and political ‘Internet artist’ Constant Dullaart (whose art is anything but dull!); don’t miss its online screening platform, which showcases a new experimental film each and every week.
• Dominion Theatre (268-269 Tottenham Court Road W1T 7AQ) – owing to its location at the junction of Tottenham Court Road, Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street, the Dominion Theatre is arguably one of the West End’s most recognisable playhouses for both locals and regular visitors to the city; it’s definitely one of its most distinguished, with an auditorium seating more than 2,000 and having played host in its near 90-year history to major musicals like South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Grease and, most recently, We Will Rock You
• The New Diorama Theatre (15-16 Triton Street NW1 3BF) – it’s all about dynamic, physical theatre at this modern and relatively new venue, where young companies can mount their exciting productions thanks to the nurturing of the theatre’s artist support programmes; its annual Incoming Festival offers a blitz of oh-so fresh shows each year
• Regent Street Cinema (309 Regent Street W1B 2UW) – as historic a cinema as any you’ll come across in the UK (if not more than any other), this early-Victorian, Grade II-listed building, with its 187 seats, can lay claim to being the site on which moving footage was first screened in Britain, as well as the nation’s first cinema to screen an ‘X-rated’ movie; closed for 30 years, it only reopened in 2015, but is once again going strong, all right
• The Wheatsheaf (25 Rathbone Place W1T 1JB) – a marvellous, classic English pub right in the very heart of the capital, it may be a little tucked away but it’s an utter delight, not least because apparently it was a favourite watering hole of legendary 20th Century poet Dylan Thomas and, with a fine range of ales on tap, its upstairs does a roaring trade thanks to hosting regular comedy nights. Cracking stuff.
• London Underground (Tube) stations – Euston Square (for the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines); Great Portland Street (for the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines); Goodge Street (for the Northern line); Warren Street (for the Northern and Victoria lines); Oxford Street (for the Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines) and Tottenham Court Road (for the Central and Northern lines)
• Mainline railway stations – Euston (Euston Road NW1 2DU/ mainly for trains, via Birmingham, to and from Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow); King’s Cross (Euston Road N1 9AL/ for trains, via Newcastle, to and from Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as much shorter routes); Marylebone (MarileGreat Central House, Melcombe Place NW1 6JJ/ mostly for trains to and from Birmingham) and St. Pancras International (Euston Road NC1 4QP/ mostly for Eurostar trains to and from Paris and Brussels).