Leicester Square, London: Cinema and Entertainment centre of the capital

One big, youthful party

Violence and Sin

By night Leicester
(pronounced Lester, as in the Adams Family) Square is one of the busiest spots in London. Buskers entertain the crowds with anything from an impromptu song to a political rant, tourists pay good money to have their faces ridiculed by cruel cartoonists and suburban kids queue to dance the night away at the Hippodrome, Equinox or Maximus.

Especially on Friday and Saturday nights, the whole pedestrianised area can seem like one big, youthful party. It wasn’t always like this.

Before the local council’s long-awaited clean-up of Leicester Square in 1993, many locals avoided the area, mainly due to the small patch of grass at the centre of the square which was a haven for junkies. Now that’s closed in the evenings and it is safe to wander through without tripping over piles of old, used needles.

Today a copy of the Shakespeare memorial in Westminster Abbey stands in the centre and a statue of Charlie Chaplin looks on from the edge next to busts of Sir Isaac Newton, William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds – all of whom lived in the area during the 18th century.

But it wasn’t until the mid-19th Century that the square began to be recognised as a playground for entertainment, with Turkish baths, oyster rooms and music halls sprouting up all over the place. Then in the 1930s movie mania set in and cinemas replaced the old-time attractions.

Movie Mania

Leicester Square is still the perfect place to catch an afternoon matinee followed by a cappucino and gossip in one of the many pavement cafes. The Square is a popular meeting place for friends looking for a drink and a chat after a hard days slog and for tourists who seem to enjoy congregating outside the tube station. The cinemas claim to be the biggest and best but consequently tickets are the most expensive in town. It will cost you at least £7.50 to see Independence Day at the Empire, for example. For good value movie magic check out the Prince Charles cinema on Leicester Place, where tickets for a good selection of cult films start at £1.50.

People watching is one of Leicester Square’s great attractions as representatives from virtually every country on litttle old planet earth walk past and simply gawp at each other. Ordinary people are interesting enough but if you’re really lucky you get the chance to eyeball visiting stars who attend the regular movie premiers.

Despite its movie-made image of constant fog, London does get hot from time to time. Luckily for Leicester Square visitors, there’s a handily placed Haagen-Dazs where you can gorge yourself on Triple Brownie Overload until one in the morning.

– David Clee

Leicester Square in Brief

Where is it?
– Between Piccadilly and Covent Garden, just north of Trafalgar Square.

What is it?
– On a good day, it’s a huge meeting place for the world, where multi -million pound movies vie with nickle and dime street theatre for attention.
On a bad day? A loud, brash, sweaty mass of seething humanity looking for quick fix kicks.

What’s with the funny spelling?
– Okay it’s spelt funny, but it’s pronounced Lester. Easy, huh?

So who was this guy Leicester?
– It’s a place, in central England.
But this is London, right? Yes but, you know, Venice Beach isn’t in Venice for example.