10 Best Places for Celebrity Spotting in London
Go where the stars hang out!
London is the world’s capital of theatre, music and the arts, and has the world’s highest concentration of celebrity residents outside Los Angeles.
The main difference between London and Tinseltown isn’t the weather or the baffling topography. It’s that London doesn’t have an area devoted to celebrities, cordoned off from the rest of the world.
Of course, there are a lot of bars and clubs that cater to a mainly celebrity clientele and therefore are a bit out of most people’s price range, but it’s exciting that the majority of star-studded hangouts are open to everyone else too.
If you’re prepared to be a little cynical (and we’re here to tell you how), then it’s much likelier that you’ll get to see a few of the world’s most talked about people in London than anywhere else. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve to give you the head start if you want to catch a glimpse of our country’s biggest names. And, if you’re feeling confident, you could start a conversation too.
Obviously, TravelStay can’t guarantee any celebrity spottings; sadly we don’t have blow-by-blow accounts of everyone’s schedules. But the list below does come from our experience of running into big names and having unexpectedly pleasant chats with global superstars. Book accommodation from £15 per person per night near your chosen venue and the money you save can be spent on paying the entrance fee!
Attached to Shakespeare’s Globe, The Swan is a reasonably pricey restaurant bar that is in a great location on the South Bank. During the day, it’s jam-packed full of tourists getting a quick drink before or during a show, as well as London’s richer arty clientele getting a quick lunch.
But if you’ve got your beady eye out for a celebrity or two, the best time to go is after an evening show at the theatre. Usually, the cast of the show and their friends will stop off at The Swan for a couple of post-production drinks.
You can get a better chance by choosing a show that has a star in the cast. The theatre often get accomplished British actors with good names to take the main parts in plays, and the friends of such people who come to see them are usually pretty influential themselves.
So after the show, nip into The Swan and buy a drink and see who wanders in! The end nearest the street entrance has a private area that can be reserved, but it’s only separated by a rope, not a different room. Take your time with your drink, some people arrive later.
Notable personalities we’ve encountered in The Swan include Mark Rylance, Dame Judi Dench, Stephen Fry, Jude Law and Derren Brown.
Typically, the celebrities you’ll meet here are the talented, character actors who take their work very seriously. This, coupled with the informality of the venue, means that you’re likely to meet a higher calibre of celebrity and actually chat to them instead of just gawking from afar.
Address: 21 New Globe Walk, Southwark, London SE1 9DT View Map
This Covent Garden restaurant will be on anyone’s list of prime celebrity spotting areas. The Ivy is a virtual who’s who of names in London, and tends to be the go-to place for high-power meetings between agents and clients.
The problem is that it’s a pretty expensive place to eat, and that’s largely because a lot of people go there simply to spot celebrities. It’s probably got the highest celebrity concentration of any one venue in London.
A meal will set you back in the region of £40.00 per person for two courses, so it’s pricey. Having said that, it is nothing like as expensive as other, money-flashing restaurants.
Bear in mind, you can follow our guides on eating cheaply and either get a pre/post theatre menu option (which is cheaper) or just order a main or a starter. The drinks will also set you back a fair ol’ whack, but again, if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime splash-out, then there’s no problem. And it’s your best chance to run into a celebrity. Book cheap accommodation for your stay in London and you’ll increase your spending money budget too!
Address: 1-5 West Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9NQ View Map
Also in Covent Garden, Joe Allen’s is an American franchise come to London with a sizeable helping of style whisked in with friendliness and relaxation. From the outside, you’d barely notice that it’s there, with a small awning and gold plaque on a red brick wall the only exterior signs it exists.
But it’s there all right, and once you’re through the door you’re transported into a world of swanky New York brasseries, with brick walls, live piano music and a high-quality, all-American menu. The pricing is reasonable and three courses from the set menu will only set you back £17.50 (though the menu is more limited than their a la carte options). By anyone’s standards, that’s good value.
The greatest thing about Joe Allen’s is that it’s such a warm, friendly atmosphere and promises a great night out and unparalleled dining experience for the price. The food is adventurous on a theme; you won’t find MasterChef style innovation, but you will be able to have a classy interpretation of your favourite American food.
And then, there are the celebrities. Generally speaking, like with The Swan, the best time to go is post-theatre (i.e. after 10pm) as that’s when actors and musicians from the surrounding Theatreland productions all go for a spot of dinner with their celebrity pals.
Celebrities do come here with reliability, and if you time it right, you could be at the next table to Stephen Fry (whom we have encountered there). Unlike The Ivy or The Swan, there isn’t a private area reserved for the elite; everyone eats together in the main restaurant.
There isn’t a hamburger on the menu, surprisingly, but if you ask a waiter for the chef to cook you one, you can guarantee it’ll be a fantastic steak burger and come with all the trimmings you’d expect.Address: 13 Exeter Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7DT View Map
This one’s a bit tricky. On the plus side, you’re extremely likely to meet a celebrity if you go in on a Friday or Saturday night. On the down side, you have to work for the National Theatre to be able to go there.
The Green Room is a nod to the tradition of having ‘green rooms’ (retiring rooms for actors) in theatres. The National Theatre on the South Bank’s Green Room has a bar and a balcony. It’s in no way the glitzy, spangled affair you might expect.
Yet the National Theatre will almost always have a high-flying celebrity in at least one of their repertory shows, and at the end of the week this tends to double with the celebrities who’ve come to watch the show and want to hobnob with the stars of the stages.
As we say, you can’t just walk into this bar; you need to be invited by a National Theatre staff member or work there yourself. This is easier said than done. However, if you do know someone who works at the NT (even a barman or usher) then you can go in with them.
Celebrities we’ve chatted to in the Green Room include Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Burton, Russell Brand, Imelda Staunton and Lenny Henry.
Address: 101 Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PP View Map
This isn’t a venue, so we’re cheating a little bit by including it on the list. Indeed, it’s not the most exciting place in the world at all, really. What is on Margaret Street (which is an Oxford Circus backstreet) is the central hub of London’s biggest acting agencies. The offices of huge agencies, such as Hamilton Hodell, Universal, Curtis Brown and similar are in this area.
As an added incentive, there are a great deal of quirky little cafés, pubs and start-up businesses in these little passages, hidden from the main thronging mass of tourists and Oxford Street crowds. Who knows? You might end up getting a coffee next to Hugh Grant whilst hoping to see a few of his famous contemporaries wander past.
Address: Margaret Street, Westminster, London, W1W 8JG View Map
As the venerable Kevin Spacey steps down from his magnificent tenure as artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in Waterloo, you don’t have long to feel the vibe at The Pit Bar. It’s unlikely to change much though, as there’s a great deal of good energy around a venue that, until recently, was barely a blip on anyone’s radar.
The Pit Bar is a popular venue with theatregoers and non-theatre-goers alike, with music sessions on Friday nights and a relaxed vibe with snacks and a decent drinks menu. Like with all of the previous theatrically focused venues, the best time to go is on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night as they’re the theatre’s most popular but also draw an external crowd as well.
You’re in with a good chance of seeing a few medium to big names on a night out here as it’s both a good theatre bar and a good club in its own right. Moreover, people who go to The Pit Bar tend to stay there as there isn’t really anywhere else in the locality that’s any good.
The venue is also popular with drama school students, which means that while they’re not stars now, you may strike up a good friendship with one of the future.
Address: The Cut, Southwark, London SE1 8NB View Map
This Leicester Square venue is a members’ club nestled comfortably beneath the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road. The “member’s” bit shouldn’t miff you too much; it’s always possible to negotiate your way in with a willing bouncer, especially if you ask about temporary membership.
This is a subterranean, opera-themed venue with a fantastic vibe and a few dark corners for fun chit chats. The venue is known as a hangout for the middle-aged celebrity market, and the heavy velvet curtains must strike up fond remembrances of bygone am-dram days.
The wall above the bar at Phoenix Arts Club is adorned with headshots of famous actors and personalities who’ve come in for a few drinks, and some of the celebrities more noteworthy for their capacity to imbibe huge amounts of alcohol are now ghosts in the walls.
And, even if you don’t see a celebrity (which, if you go on a party night, is quite unlikely) then you can at least say you were in a venue that Peter O’Toole and the like used to get monumentally drunk in.
Like The Pit Bar, The Phoenix Arts Club is a popular club in-and-of itself and draws a big arts crowd. One of the most fun things about going there is that you’re probably in the presence of an enormously powerful celebrity, only you don’t recognise them because they’re a director or a producer and don’t get photographed often.
In any event, if you’re able to talk your way in, you might as well not worry about seeing a celeb, as you’re going to have a good night anyway.
Address: 1 Phoenix Street, Charing Cross, London WC2H 8BU View Map
8. Celebrity Night Clubs
Again, we’re cheating a bit by lumping in a few clubs together on this point. Of course, we’d go way past 10 if we were to list them all individually, so we’ve decided to do it this way as they’re all much of a muchness: expensive, guest-list focused and jam-packed with celebrities.
These clubs are as close to London gets to having a Beverley Hills elite in London. But just because they’re full of celebrities, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go. Obviously, anyone can go. You’ll need a stuffed wallet, however; or a very rich friend.
That said, you do tend to get treated extremely well in these clubs and the cocktail menus tend to be very impressive. The expense is something you’ll just have to get used to if you want to go, because there’s no way to do this night out cheaply (trust us, we’ve tried).
Moreover, the celebrities in these clubs are not limited to just theatre or music. Sports personalities and royalty are regular patrons of these institutions, and whatever your taste, there’s likely to be a celeb to match out on the tiles.
The first is Mahiki (Address: 1 Dover Street, London, W1S 4LD). This is probably the undisputed king of celebrity clubs in London. Places go in and out of vogue, with celebrity crowds gradually migrating around Chelsea and Kensington nightclubs, but Mahiki is the reliable go-to for guaranteed celebrity hobnobbing.
The first thing to consider with Mahiki is planning. Check out who’s playing The O2 Arena or another of London’s biggest venues, see when the last night of their tour is and put yourself and a few friends on the guest-list for that night. They won’t turn up ‘til gone midnight, obviously, so there’s no point in you emptying your wallet before then.
Guest-list status is usually imperative. This isn’t a club where you can just wander in; people try and will always get disappointed. Call up early (i.e. a few days in advance) and get your names down. Then save everything you’ve earned that year for a barrel cocktail or something like that. You can get an area reserved, but it’s not always the most cost-friendly way of going out.
With that said, a birthday party we attended with a private area ended up being next to Taylor Swift’s private area, separated only by a bit of red rope, and the whole experience ended up being rather fun.
The other biggy is Whisky Mist (Address: 35 Hertford Street, Mayfair, London W1J 7SD). This, like Mahiki, is a club you’ll only get into if you’ve got yourself on the guest-list in advance. That’s an absolute imperative here: you won’t get in if you’re not a permanent or temporary member. Fact.
Once you’re in, expect to blow the bank again. Drinks are almost prohibitively expensive, but it is absolutely full of celebrities. We suppose that that’s the cost of wanting to be around the rich and famous in London: it’s possible, but you’ve got to pay for it. Fair enough!
First things first: this is a confusing venue. It’s hosted in a bar with another name: St Moritz on Wardour Street. But it’s actually called Gaz’s (after its owner, Gaz Mayall). But you won’t see that name. Just go to St Moritz.
It’s another subterranean bar, and an absolutely great one. This is one of TravelStay’s little secrets; you need to know about Gaz’s to be able to go there. You’ll never stumble on it by accident and you certainly won’t hear about it in any celebrity magazine or interview.
It’s a blues venue and gets some stonking live music from established and up-and-coming blues bands from all over the country and the world. If you’re a blues fan, then you absolutely have to get to a gig here.
On a non-blues night, it’s a fantastic bar/club. Drinks are reasonably priced, it’s as no-frills as you can get and there’s a slightly rough vibe.
We’ve had some great nights out there, including one drinking American beer at a table with Josh Hartnett. Other celebrities we’ve seen there include Kirsten Dunst.
Address: 159 Wardour Street, London W1F 8WH View Map
“Groucho Club” are bywords for “famous people”. As soon as you’re inside the bar, you’re required to turn your phone off and hand over any cameras you might have in case you accidentally catch a celebrity doing something they don’t want the tabloids to see.
As it is something of a haven for the crème-de-la-crème of celebrities, you’re not going to be able to just waltz in and demand a glass of Dom Pérignon. In fact, you have to be a member to get in, and they’re not going to give you a temporary membership.
In fact, if you want to apply for membership, your application has to be recommended by more than one existing member. That means you have to really want to be a member, as well as knowing some influential people. Moreover, you then have to pay the membership fee.
BUT! There is a way in. You have to know a member, and they can get you in as a guest. If you don’t know a member, then we’re sorry, but you really have to in order to get in. If you don’t know one, then hang around outside until you make friends with one.
There is also a two-birds-with-one-stone opportunity here. If you go to The Swan and get chummy with an actor in one of their shows (whether they’re a celebrity or not) then they get an automatic temporary membership to Groucho, they may be headed there later. So you can get in and make a friend in the process, and a Globe actor at that!
Once you’re in, it’s virtually impossible that you won’t run into a celebrity or 50. This is the pièce de résistance of all celebrity spotting venues, and the gatekeepers are appropriately formidable.
Those are our top 10, but there are a couple of venues that deserve a special mention. The Hospital Club (Address: Royal Opera House, 24 Endell Street, London WC2H 9HQ) is, like Groucho Club, a pretty elite members club but is where the theatrical elite of London go to hang out.
Shoreditch House (Address: Ebor Street, London E1 6AW) and Soho House (Address: 40 Greek Street, Soho, London W1D 4EB) are similarly elite and, while they have membership schemes, are a little more lax about getting non-members in.
Finally, Notting Hill Arts Club (Address: 221 Notting Hill Gate, Notting Hill, London W11 3JQ) and the Arts Theatre Club (Address: 50 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4SQ) are great, non-membership venues with a fantastic vibe that do get the odd celebrity endorsement, and Café de Paris (Address: 3-4 Coventry Street, Leicester Square, London W1D 6BL) is a famous and almost touristy club which isn’t cheap but is popular with celebrities.
Address: 45 Dean Street, Soho, London W1D 4QB View Map