Named for the 2nd Earl of Leicester, London’s Leicester Square is at the heart of London’s prime entertainment district.
History of the Square
Situated in an area that was once part of a four-acre tract owned by Robert Sydney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester, Leicester Square was open to the public around 1640 after locals protested the privatization of the land that was once common ground.
Development of the area began around 1670 and it quickly became a fashionable place to live as homes sprung up around the original Leicester House which, for some time during the very early 1700s, was the home of Frederick, Prince of Wales.
By the late 18th century, however, the character of the square changed and it soon became an area known for its entertainment venues, one of the first of which was a “museum of natural curiosities” known as the Holophusikon.
By the 19th century, more entertainment facilities sprung up around Leicester Square, including Wyld’s Globe, which was built for the International Exposition and housed a giant scale map of the world; and the 1854-built Alhambra, which for many years dominated the square. It was joined thirty years later by the Empire Theatre of Varieties. All would help to establish Leicester Square as the heart of the West End entertainment district.
What You’ll See Today
Visitors shouldn’t dismiss this London attraction as “just a square.” A close look at what’s there will reveal many interesting sights. In the center of the square, for instance, visitors will find a garden. In the middle of the park/garden is a statue of William Shakespeare surrounded by dolphins, and at each corner of the park is a statue of another famous Londoner, including Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Joshua Reynolds, John Hunter, and William Hogarth. Another likeness, that of Charlie Chaplin, was recently added.
In addition, the square is surrounded with floor plaques that include the names and handprints of famous actors, similar to those found at the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California. A handful of TV and radio stations also have their headquarters at Leicester Square.
Several major cinemas line the square, giving it its nickname “Theatreland.” Visitors will also find a “TKTS” half-price ticket booth here, where discount tickets can be purchased for popular West End shows and musicals. In addition, the square is home to several nightclubs and restaurants and is often quite busy and crowded, especially on weekend evenings.
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Leicester Sq. (Piccadilly, Northern)