It’s easy to get tickets for a London West End theater break. With a little planning ahead and some last-minute luck, we saw three musicals and one grand opera in three great days. Based on my personal experience, here’s how to plan your trip:
- When to Visit London West End Theaters..
- Where to Stay in London for a West End Theater Break.
- How to Buy Tickets for London West End Theater shows.
- Where to find London Theater Tickets at the Last Minute.
- What is the dress code for London West End theaters?
When to Visit London West End Theaters
The West End is the Broadway of London. The mainstream professional productions here rank as perhaps the finest theater in the English-speaking world. The busiest times are during summer and the Christmas holidays, but it operates year round.
How to Get to London’s West End: If you arrive by plane, all of London’s big airports have train connections to the center city. My son and I took an EasyJet flight to Gatwick Airport. From there, we connected with the Thameslink train to St. Pancras station. We bought “anytime” tickets online. From any train station in London it’s easy to connect to the theater district by “the tube” underground. You can walk to most of the theaters from the stations at Covent Garden, Holborn or Leicester Square.
Where to Stay in London for a West End Theater Break
We’d already been to London to do all the tourist sites. And this was a theater break! So we decided to stay as close to the theaters as possible. Get ready for some sticker shock when booking a London hotel in this popular and central area.
I felt lucky to find an “affordable” vacation rental on quiet Red Lion Square, near the Holborn tube station. Paying just $250 USD per night, I didn’t mind climbing up 4 flights of stairs to a quirky flat. It was only steps away from busy High Holborn Street, lined with co-working spaces and all kinds of international food choices. We enjoyed authentic Mongolian Hot Pot and Dutch-style pancakes.
How to Buy Tickets for London West End theater shows
If something is a must-see, you should book your tickets weeks or even months in advance. Go directly to the website of the theater where the show is playing. You’ll be able to select where you want to sit and the price range.
For example, search for the official website of Phantom of the Opera, at His Majesty’s Theater. My son loves Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and had never seen the show. It became a must-see for us in London when we heard it had closed on Broadway. I paid nearly 70 pounds each (about $85 USD) for excellent seats smack in the middle of the Grand Circle.
How Much Should You Expect to Pay for West End Theater Tickets? My personal benchmark for Broadway-type theater tickets is the equivalent of $100 for a really good seat. You can spend less for nosebleed or seats with a limited view of the stage. But if I’m investing time and effort to go to the theater, I’ll spend a little more to enjoy the show. You may find the West End is cheaper than Broadway overall, due to lower production costs.
Where to Find London West End Theater Tickets at the Last Minute
You can visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square to line up for discounted same-day tickets. It is still the only official non-profit ticket booth run by the Society of London Theater. Tickets go on sale daily at noon.
Or you can skip waiting in line and just go to the TKTS website of Official London Theatre. I snapped up two prime seats to a same-day performance The Book of Mormon for 161 pounds (about $195), within my benchmark of $100 per seat. Only downside was that my son and I couldn’t sit together, with single seats in the sold-out Prince of Wales theater.
Or just go directly to the theater and inquire at the box office. The matinee Phantom of the Opera finished in time for us to go searching for an evening performance. We struck out at Cabaret, but hit the jackpot at the Savoy Theater for an innovative new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard. Two excellent seats together for the equivalent of under $100 each. And otherwise sold out for this limited run starring former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger — one of the hottest tickets in London!
What is the Dress Code For London West End Theaters?
There is no dress code for London West End Theaters. Smart casual is the norm, unless it’s a formal event like a premiere. But you’ll see everything from jeans and t-shirts to festive attire. And we saw a few people dressing in Hogwarts costumes, apparently headed for the Harry Potter show. Pretty much anything goes.
What NOT to do at a London West End theater?
Do NOT arrive at the last minute. Allow at least half an hour before showtime because of the line for the required security check of your bag.
Do NOT be late. Due to the complicated special effects, NO latecomers are admitted to the theater for Sunset Boulevard. Other shows might let you in during an appropriate break or make you wait until intermission. Someone sitting in front of us was late getting back from the interval at Phantom. She disturbed everyone by wiggling into her seat after the performance had resumed.
Silence your phone and do NOT take pictures during the show. We never had an issue with photos during the intervals or a discreet snap of the cast taking their final curtain calls.
Do NOT expect a free printed program. Either look up the cast online, or pay for a fancy souvenir program.
Terry’s Theater Thoughts
While I appreciated the high level of talent on stage and in the orchestra pit, I found the music to be overamplified to the point of distortion. Loudness may be a crowd pleaser for audiences accustomed to cranking up the volume in their earbuds. But I much prefer the natural acoustics of opera, where the performers do not wear microphones.
Another bad idea, in my humble opinion, is allowing drinks and snacks inside the theater, at times giving these grand venues the ambience of a discount movie theater. You’ll be stepping around empty cocktail glasses and trash on your way out.
We combined our West End theatergoing with a night at the Royal Opera House. We even took part in a fun, affordable event that allowed us to Sing at the Royal Opera House. (No talent required.)
Want more ideas for a culture trip in Europe? It’s possible to see two different operas in two different theaters during a weekend in Paris. A pilgrimage to Teatro La Scala in Milan is a must for every serious opera fan. Or take a break from the crowds in Venice to enjoy an opera at Teatro La Fenice.
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