Whether you’re hoping to live your Downton Abbey fantasy or go full Meghan Markle and snatch up a handsome royal, there’s no shortage of reasons to visit the United Kingdom.
Long a favorite of LGBTQ travelers, the United Kingdom is a welcoming, inclusive and safe destination. Even if you’re not in the market for a charming prince, the UK’s blend of rich history, pastoral wonder and cosmopolitan thrills is enough to lure anyone across the pond.
Performing arts aficionados in particular should start packing. London has an arts and theatre scene so vibrant and diverse, it’s widely considered the best in the world. (And that’s coming from a diehard New Yorker.)
Learn how to navigate London’s arts scene like a pro with our guide below.
The crown jewel of London’s performing arts scene is the renowned West End. Also known as Theatreland, the theatre district includes about 40 venues showcasing the biggest productions for large audiences. Many of the gorgeous, historic theaters date back to the late-Victorian and Edwardian eras, featuring stunning architecture and luxurious interiors.
This year is a particularly exciting time for theater fans to visit the West End. Many of Broadway’s biggest hits (and toughest tickets to score) are opening in London — often at a fraction of the price of the Great White Way.
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Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen is coming to the Noel Coward Theatre (dates and cast to be announced). Smash star Katharine McPhee will reprise her role in Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre through May 25. The beloved musical 9 to 5 is at the Savoy Theatre through August.
If you’re looking for big stars, you’ll find them in London. Broadway legend Patti Lupone appears in Company at the Gielgud Theatre through March 30. The show features several notable gender swaps, including newlyweds “Amy” and “Paul” portrayed as gay couple “Jamie” and “Paul.”
There’s plenty of star-studded plays as well. John Malkovich will star as a Harvey Weinstein-esque monster in the David Mamet dark farce Bitter Wheat June 7 to Sept. 14 at the Garrick Theatre. It will mark Malkovich’s return to the stage after 33 years. Also returning to the London stage for the first time in 12 years, Dame Maggie Smith stars in Christopher Hampton’s solo show A German Life, April 6 through May 11.
It’s a gay icon extravaganza when Lily James (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) and Gillian Anderson (X-Files) tackle the classic All About Eve. Performances are scheduled at the Noel Coward Theatre through May 11.
And speaking of icons, the late Whitney Houston will be paid tribute in a stunning concert production Whitney — Queen of the Night March 24 and June 2 at the Savoy Theatre.
In addition to all the exciting theatre coming in 2019, the West End is home to the longest-running production in the world, The Mousetrap, at St. Martin’s Theater. The show has run continuously since 1952. The longest-running musical in the West End is Les Miserables. That show will end its run at the Queen’s Theatre this year in July to allow for renovations, moving for a few months to the Gielgud Theatre and then returning to Queen’s Theatre in December with a new company and the 2009 production created for the show’s 25th Anniversary.
Other long-running crowd-pleasers include The Lion King (closing in June), Wicked (closing in November), Mamma Mia (closing in September) and The Book of Mormon (closing in April). TINA – The Tina Turner Musical made its world premiere in London and runs at the Aldwych Theatre through the end of the year. Upcoming productions include Mary Poppins returning to the Prince Edward Theatre in October and Fiddler On the Roof, opening in March.
The Royal National Theatre is the United Kingdom’s publicly funded flagship theater, containing the Olivier, Dorfman and Lyttelton theaters. A-list stars often showcase their dramatic chops here, including out actor Denis O’Hare (True Blood, American Horror Story) starring in Tartuffe through April. Take advantage of the 75-minute backstage tour, or spend two hours visiting wardrobe and wig teams working on the costume tours. There are also talks and workshops offered.
Of course, if you’re on the hunt for something less traditional (and less expensive), there’s thriving theatre outside the West End. Be the first to see new work or rediscover old classics within the intimate Finborough Theatre. Find gripping drama at Ovalhouse or catch a show at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
There are few better incubators for new work than Bush Theatre (showcasing LGBTQ piece And the Rest of Me Floats Feb. 20-March 16), while the best emerging companies can regularly be found at the Southwark Playhouse. Get an even deeper glimpse into the artistic process at the Battersea Arts Centre, where work is performed at various states of development to gain audience input. Currently, Battersea is featuring No Kids, a show about deciding not to have children from real-life same-sex couple George and Nir. You can often find LGBTQ-themed content at Above the Stag (the only full-time professional LGBTQ theater in the United Kingdom), Royal Vauxhall Tavern and King’s Head Theatre.
Adventurous theater patrons can find various fringe theatre at OffWestEnd.com. However, there are other ways to make your theatre-going more enjoyable. Swing by the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for last-minute tickets to West End shows. Many theaters also offer “release” tickets the day of the show, typically for front-row seats, but it may require you to “queue” up early in the morning. Call the box office and find out the theater’s policy.
Beyond theatre, London offers world-class opera and dance as well. The Royal Opera House — a 2,200+ seat venue with elements dating back to 1858 — is the home of the The Royal Opera, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet.
With all of these artistic offerings, the only thing that would make a visit to London better would be booking an encore trip.
(OK, and maybe a prince to join you.)