London is known for many things: a plethora of skyscrapers, some of the best food markets in the world, and the various restaurants and hostels that you can attend on a budget. That last part, when traversing this great city, is essential: if you don’t look around enough or plan ahead, you could end up blowing half of your trip savings on an emergency cab, an overpriced dinner, or by getting lost in a tube station so diverse and vast, its map evokes the human nervous system. Of all the areas of London I have visited most frequently and most efficiently in my two months abroad has to be its Theatre District. After studying its history, the locations of its most famous theaters, and understanding how pricing and ticketing works, I’ve created a -step plan on how best to see a show (or two or three) during your visit in England’s biggest and best city.
Step 1: TKTS Website! By far one of the most surprising (and helpful) ways to buy tickets in London is by waiting until the last minute. By going to the Official London Theatre website (or by searching TKTS Last Minute Theatre Tickets), you can find discounted and decent seats of any show for that day. Other websites may have a sale or a discount farther out from the showtime (this website also has that option), but if you’re in need of a last minute fun night out, TKTS is your savior. Ideally, if you have a specific show in mind, you can check the day before and see if any are available. By going to this website right once the clock strikes midnight and the “same day sale” starts, you can get some of the best balcony seats in the house for way cheaper than the person behind you. In other instances, you can scroll through all of their options, and the website may even have a “Show of the Week” that provides super cheap tickets. I was fortunate enough to snag $50 balcony seats for Les Miserable in the early morning before showtime. Another time, I saw one of the final West-End performances of Heathers: The Musical for only $40 thanks to the constant discounts that this website provides. Apparently, you can even see the long-running “The Mousetrap” if you look early enough. So, if you’re in need of a show, be sure to search up TKTS or check out their booth in Leicester Square (the hub of the London Theatre District) to have a professional find you the best and cheapest seats for that same evening.
Step 2: Other Websites! If the Official London Theatre website isn’t having the right sales and discounts for you, or if you are trying to buy tickets weeks in advance, I highly recommend using either the London Theatre District website, or the London Theatre Tickets website. While all three of these websites are similar in name and structure, the last two will not have same day deals, but instead their own separate weekly discounts. Usually, more plays can be found on these websites than musicals, but the “Show of the Week” discounts are still prevalent, and oftentimes unique per each website. Both of these sites are easy to navigate, with both giving you a plethora of prices and showtimes. The one note I have is: double check the date. Oftentimes, the day on the calendar won’t lineup to the day of the week on the calendar (an infuriating error that I’ve run into plenty of times when trying to book tickets). So, your best bet is to go in knowing what numbered day of the month you want to see a show, that way you don’t end up buying non-refundable tickets for the wrong day. These are the websites where I was fortunate enough to find a massive sale for Jersey Boys at The Trafalgar Theatre, where I got incredible, front-row balcony seats for only $30. If you’re trying to book in advance, these are the websites for you!
Step 3: Be on time! Similar to theater venues in the states, the ones in London’s West End are oftentimes packed come showtime. Make sure that you are not only on time, but that you are early in case your seat is in the middle. If there’s one thing that theatergoers hate, it’s having to stand up and shuffle around seconds before showtime just because the people in the middle of their row weren’t on time. To avoid the groans, side eyes, and comments under your fellow attendees’ breath, try to know where your seat is, and arrive at a respectable time. Furthermore, arriving on time will save you and any of your friends lots of pain, and in some cases, money. It’s a rare occurrence, but there are theaters in London that won’t let you in if the show has already started, or if you are already inside the venue, won’t let you disrupt the audience once the curtains have risen. When I saw Jersey Boys, a woman in the middle of my row got up at 7:29 for a 7:30 showing to use the bathroom. I turned to my girlfriend and said “No way she’s gonna get back to her seat in time,” and sure enough, she didn’t. She had to spend the entire 1 hour and 20 minute first act sitting in one of the wooden side chairs meant for security. So, for the sake of yourself and those around you, be there at least 15-30 before the time on your ticket.
Step 4: Take the tube (and walk a quarter mile in their shoes) This should be a rule for anyone that goes to London: the tube is your friend. Sure, it may seem intimidating and complicated, but once you do it twice, you can be a natural. There’s a feature in Google Maps that gives you the fastest route via public transit, so you can pop in your current location and the theater venue (or any other place) you want to go to, and it will map out everything: how far of a walk it is to your closest tube station, which of the many lines you will hop on, how many stops, how long it will take, etc. You can go anywhere so long as you plug your destination into Google Maps before you go. Once you’re in the underground station, your cell service will be cut off, so be sure to take a screenshot of your stop and the line you want to take, that way if it crashes, you can use the maps located inside the station and the trains. Of course, walking is a great way to get to know the city, but if you’re in a rush (either to your venue or to your train back home), the tube is your best (and cheapest) option.
Step 5: Take a chance! The key theme of London theatre is chance. Sometimes, the show you want to see the most will be sold out. I’m still trying to find decent and cheap seats for my girlfriend and I to see The Phantom of the Opera, and I’ve been in the UK for almost two months now. So, when a good deal or discount comes up, take it. Maybe you’ve never listened to the soundtrack before. Maybe it’s a show that just had its debut. Or maybe you aren’t sure if it will be your thing. Regardless of any anxieties you may have, just go for it. Being in one of the greatest theatre hubs in the world (essentially the UK’s version of New York City’s broadway) is a once in a lifetime experience. You may never get the chance to come back here in your life, so why not roll the dice and have the time of it. Go see Shakespeare, buy a ticket for an up and comer, go see Wicked for the 4th time if you have to. There’s nothing quite like theatre in London, so you might as well make the best of it.