An In-Depth Guide to Piccadilly

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Piccadilly Circus has never been perceived as a tourist hotspot; in fact, quite the opposite. It is crowded with commuters and visitors looking to make their way elsewhere and is more of a stop-gap between destinations, rather than a place to sit back and watch the world go by.

Yet there is so much more than meets the eye, as the place has a great deal of history behind it, and there are so many fascinating facts which may make you change your mind and observe the surroundings before boarding the next tube to Camden Town or Leicester Square. Of course, it’s located right by the vibrant West End, and there are numerous places of interest situated nearby such as museums, markets and high-end eateries, but making a stop off in this vibrant square will give you an enriching feel for the soul of the city.

If you are heading to work and need to be at the office within half an hour then it is likely that you will pass through Piccadilly Circus many times. It is one of the main connecting points in London for those who prefer to use public transport as opposed to a car; therefore, residents do not get the time to see what they could be missing out on.

History of Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus saw a major resurgence throughout the Victorian era and the 20th century. From being the prime location in films such as Harry Potter and An American Werewolf in London, it’s become not only a major thoroughfare and iconic street but a symbol of the London West End.

What many may not know, is that its routes lie far further back in the 1620s’, when Robert Baker began selling his Piccadilly collars here. Named Piccadilly Hall, the large commercial street that eventually became known as Portugal Street, named after Charles II’s Queen Consort, Catherine of Braganza’s country of birth. With the further building in the 18th century under famous London architect John Nash, the area became better designed and even more of a focal point for wealthy London locals.

Attractions on Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus has become synonymous with the West End, but it actually holds a number of attractions independent of the popular London district. With its own theatres and plenty of shops, you could spend a whole day exploring the wealth of entertainment and commerce available in Piccadilly, especially if staying in the nearby London hotels with advance purchase offers.

Criterion Theatre

This West End Theatre has a long history dating back to 1874 when it was opened as a concert hall. After renovations in 1989, the Grade II listed theatre reopened and has played host to a wealth of West End shows that promise everything from musicals to cutting edge drama, encouraged by its yearly West End theatre writing programme for emerging writers.

Body World

Open from 10 am till 7 pm daily, Body World is an interactive museum and exhibition space that explores the literal ins and outs of the human body. From permanent galleries to stunning, informative and often spine-tingling temporary exhibitions, at Body World, you’ll be able to find out about the history of human surgery and the complexities of the human anatomy.

Picturehouse Central

Located just off of Piccadilly Circus, the Picturehouse Central on the corner of Great Windmill Street is one of the most popular cinemas in London. With a renovated interior and an eclectic programme of independent, international and mainstream releases, this three-floored cinema also offers plush dining and cafe areas, alongside regular special events.

Shops of Piccadilly

Piccadilly Circus is no stranger to shopping. Though the nearby Oxford Street and Soho are more obvious draws for consumers, Piccadilly Circus promises much more than just tourist tat. With chain stores such as Gap and Wholefoods having branches on the street, there’s a reason why the billboards are so vibrant on this secret high street.

Restaurants in Piccadilly

The restaurants near Piccadilly can provide everything from high-class dining experiences to well-known quick bites. Alongside the hotel restaurant at the Piccadilly West End, you can find fine dining and tea room experiences at spots such as the Oscar Wilde cocktail Lounge on Quadrant Arcade and the small plate Italian boutique Cicchetti, well known for its canapes and tapas-style dishes.

Here are 10 reasons why you should make Piccadilly Circus a definite stop off on your next London ‘to do’ list.

The Fountain

Before the cups were pilfered, it was actually possible to drink from the fountain. The Duchess of Westminster did just that when it was unveiled in 1893. The basin was not as grand as Gilbert’s initial creations, and this resulted in people becoming saturated with overflowing water when the fountain was turned on. Gilbert did not attend the ceremony, as he was so furious by the amendments made to his design, as it resulted in completely different-and rather embarrassing-consequences.

The Statue of Eros

The Statue of Eros is not actually Eros himself, but his twin brother Anteros. Anteros represents mature, selfless love whilst Eros was the god of romantic, frivolous love. This gives an entirely different meaning to the statue’s purpose altogether. It was the first of its kind to be cast entirely from aluminium, and still stands to this very day.

Memorial Fountain

The official name of the centrepiece is the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain and is thus entitled due to the great Victorian philanthropist, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper). It was financed by public subscriptions, which is an indication of his work with charities, and he was regarded as a considerate, magnanimous individual.

The Mansion

In 1612, Robert Baker, a man of enormous wealth built a mansion house to the north of what is now known as Piccadilly Circus. He made his fortune selling Picadils to the noble, rich and famous. Picadils are stiff collars favoured by those who hold influence and power and carry it off with aplomb. However, he was not popular with the locals, who called the mansion ‘Picadil Hill’ behind his back. Yet the name ‘Piccadilly’ has still stuck.

Billboards

The sign for Coca Cola has been a focal point of Piccadilly Circus since 1955 however the first products advertised in neon lights were erected in 1908. Two notable brands were Bovril and Perrier (sound familiar?), amongst many others. The lights were switched off during World War II, and also for the funeral of Winston Churchill and Lady Diana, Princess of Wales (in 1965 and 1997 respectively).

Yoko Ono’s Insignia

In 2002, Yoko Ono spent a recorded £150,000 so that she could have the lyrics from John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ emblazoned on a black and white background for a sum total of three months. The immortal lines, ‘Imagine all the people living life in peace’ were displayed for the world to see, but have since been removed.

The Noses of Soho

There are ‘7 noses in Soho’, one of which can be seen in Piccadilly Circus.

Piccadilly Circus has not always been known by this moniker. The original name for the street was Portugal Street, credited to the home nation of Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II. It changed its name to Piccadilly Circus by the middle of the 1700s.

Beatlemania

When the Beatles introduced ‘Beatlemania’ to the masses, Bruce Forsyth was the compere. He played the ‘host with the most’ when they performed at the London Palladium on Sunday October 13th, 1963.

The “Circus”

The area has the feel of an open-plan circus since the pedestrianisation of the south side in the 1990s. It has buildings assembled in a circular line, so lives up to its title. The word ‘circus’ comes from a Latin term, meaning ‘ring’ or ‘circular line’. Well; if the cap fits!

Hotels

And, if you need another reason to explore the hidden depths of the area, then a stay at the decadent, luxurious Hotel Piccadilly London West End surely must be at the top of the list. It is grand, opulent and beautiful without being ostentatious, and guarantees exceptional service.

One of the finest hotels in Piccadilly Circus the Piccadilly West End prides itself on its exceptional facilities, stunning rooms and central location. Every bespoke request will be taken into consideration, and you will want to return time and time again for a truly magical experience.

Questions Concerning Piccadilly

1. Why do they call it Piccadilly Circus?

The name ‘Piccadilly‘ originates from a seventeenth-century frilled collar named a piccadil. Robert Baker, a tailor who became rich making piccadils lived in the area. The word ‘Circus ‘refers to the roundabout around which the traffic circulated. However, it’s not a roundabout anymore.

2. What does Piccadilly mean?

It is a happening street in London and Piccadilly Circus is the perfect example of that.

3. When was Piccadilly Circus built?

It was built in 1819 with the aim of connecting Regent Street and Piccadilly Street, which was famous for its ample shopping opportunities.

4. What is Piccadilly Circus famous for?

Alongside being one of the main thoroughfares in central London, Piccadilly Circus has been featured in many films, videos and paintings. With a long history involving royal residences, not least the nearby Albany Apartments once owned by Frederick Duke of York in the 18th century, Piccadilly is a signifier of the wealth and reputation of London.

5. How do I get to Piccadilly Circus?

Piccadilly Circus is reachable via bus or underground on the aptly named Piccadilly Line. There are also nearby national rail connections from Charing Cross Station which is located just a five-minute walk away off another famous London landmark, Trafalgar Square.

6.        Is Piccadilly Circus worth visiting?

Even if you are only stopping by for a quick selfie, there’s much to learn from this vibrant central London thoroughfare. Acting much like the Times Square of London, the area’s central location might even mean you pass through completely by accident anyway!

7.       What time do Piccadilly Circus shops close?

The shops of Piccadilly Circus vary in their opening and closing times, but many stay open until at least 10 pm. In part, this is because of the popularity of Piccadilly Circus as a tourist and commuter thoroughfare, so there is much more footfall after standard business hours than other areas and districts of London.

8.        Is Piccadilly Circus Good for Shopping?

As is mentioned above, Piccadilly Circus is located close to some of the most popular shopping districts in the centre of London. With the Circus based Piccadilly West End being one of the best special offer London hotels, shopping is mostly geared towards tourists and commuters, making it perfect for a quick stop off or last-minute gift purchase.

9.       Is Piccadilly Circus station step-free?

Unfortunately, there are no lifts in Piccadilly Circus station. There are several sets of escalators though, but alongside this, you’ll find at least 40 stair steps that will take you from street level to your platform.

10.        When was Piccadilly circus built?

There was no one time that Piccadilly Circus was built but there were moments that helped it to stand out amongst the other London landmarks. With London being built upon since 50 AD as the Roman city of Londinium and its history as a settlement predating even that, it’s no surprise to find that Piccadilly Circus has seen many incarnations over the years. From market street and tailoring hotspot in the 1620s’ – through the aforementioned Robert Baker – and into West End commuter hub, the area has seen many buildings developed and redeveloped in its time. Even as recently as 2017, the lights and billboards on the street underwent building works and renovations.

17. Where is Piccadilly Circus?

Piccadilly Circus is located in the heart of London’s West End and theatreland. With Piccadilly Circus underground station serving the street, you’ll also find that Charing Cross station and Covent Garden Station are an equilateral distance away. About 600 metres from the River Thames and the Jubilee Bridge, Piccadilly Circus is one of the easiest to reach landmarks in Central London.

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