Arguably, Piccadilly Circus is the most famous junction in the world. The circus itself was built during construction of a road to link Regent Street to Piccadilly in 1819. It once used to be a circle (to which the name refers) but its shape was lost in 1886 after Shaftesbury Avenue was built to the east.
Piccadilly Circus has been a busy thoroughfare since the last cobbles were laid in the early 19th Century. Today around two million pedestrians pass through the Circus every week. That’s due in part to the area being at the epicentre of some of the best London hotel deals.
‘Piccadilly’ refers to the street of the same name that leads from the Circus westwards towards Hyde Park. All along this road from the 1750s were privately-owned mansion houses. By the 1920s the houses had either been demolished to make way for redevelopment or were in the hands of businesses.
The name ‘Piccadilly’ was first attached to a row of houses on the east side of Windmill Street. The name was eventually applied to the whole of the neighbouring district. Piccadilly boasts some of the finest restaurants in the West End of London.
Since 1908 Piccadilly Circus has been known for its illuminated advertisement signage on the North side, with the first advert ever for Perrier water. The Piccadilly Lights, one of the UK’s most iconic landmarks, were updated and re-lit in 2017.
With history out of the way, here are our top ten things to see and do in Piccadilly.
Boasting Royal warrants and one or two prime ministerial customers, Hatchards is worth a browse. The bookshop opened in 1797 and bears the moniker of the most aristocratic bookshop in London. It has moved only once in all those years and is now found at 187, Piccadilly (beside posh department store Fortnum and Mason).
- Faraday Museum
Michael Faraday was a 19th Century English scientist best known for his studies of electromagnetism. The Faraday Museum within the Royal Institute is located on Albemarle Street in Mayfair, and is a shrine to centuries of experimentation. Faraday’s laboratory is displayed exactly as it would have looked in the 1850s.
- Piccadilly Theatre
The Piccadilly Theatre is located on Denman Street just less than half a Klick north of Piccadilly, and more easily reachable from Shaftesbury Avenue. It has a simple frontage but is blessed with a stunning Art Deco interior. The 1,232-seat auditorium consists of sports bars and a foyer and was opened in 1928. Jerome Kern’s Blue Eyes was the first show to be put on at The Piccadilly.
- Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus is a bustling junction; busy and bustling at all times. But – never fear – the pedestrian shorelines offer ample protection from the traffic and a welcomed respite on a day of sightseeing. Esteemed movie director Alfred Hitchcock was so taken by the intensity and energy of the Circus that he gave it starring roles in some of his films. He said the Circus, ‘symbolised everything glamorous and exciting about London.’
- Piccadilly Arcade
This ‘jewel of London architecture’ can be found just across the road from Burlington House on Piccadilly. In 1909 this ground-floor arcade of shops was laid out between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street; the upper floors were kept as offices and chambers. In 1941 the Jermyn Street end of the arcade was severely damaged in a Blitz raid.
- Karl Marx Walking Tour
Karl Marx was a 19th Century philosopher. Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics (known as Marxism) describe how we as humans grow into societies by an eternal class struggle. The Karl Marx Walking Tour takes you through the story of Marx’s life in London. The hosts explain Marx’s ideas and how his teaching influences our understanding of destiny.
- St. James’s Church
St James’s Piccadilly is arguably one of the finest examples of a building designed by Sir Christopher Wren (with the exception of St Pauls). The church’s congregation is an eclectic mix of alternative groups of spiritual explorers, labyrinth walkers, Vagabonds and LGBT activists.
- Green Park
The Green Park is one of London’s Royal Parks. The park was first created in the 1500s but not landscaped until 1820. Even then landscapers did not include lakes or buildings. Today Green Park is a tranquil oasis of mature trees and meadow. It is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a busy day of travel, and it is within easy reach of Buckingham Palace.
- Fortnum & Mason
William Fortnum started out as a Royal footman. Fortnum noticed how much candle wax would be wasted by the royal household over the course of a day and decided to collect it up for re-sale. With this profit he was able to open a grocery shop, and along with his landlord Hugh Mason the pair opened their first jointly owned store at St James’s Market in 1707.
St. James’s Palace
Built in the 1530s St James’s Palace was Henry VIII’s hunting lodge. Very little is left of the original Tudor building except its chapel and gatehouse. Unfortunately, St James’s Palace is not open to the public but there are plenty of other royal residences to visit.
What is there to do in Piccadilly?
There are a lot of beautiful theatres near Piccadilly Circus. Just some of those within easy walking distance include: The Criterion, Piccadilly, Shaftesbury and Palace.
Just five minutes walking time from Piccadilly Circus is Leicester Square. Here there are restaurants and an ODEON Lux cinema.
Head south from Leicester Square and you will find Trafalgar square. Opened in 1844 its name commemorates Admiral Nelson’s triumph at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
What is there to see in Piccadilly Circus?
Piccadilly Circus is an ideal starting point for visits to Chinatown, Soho, Oxford Street and even Buckingham Palace.
What is Piccadilly famous for?
Today, Piccadilly is regarded as one of London’s principal shopping streets.
What is the statue in Piccadilly Circus called?
The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain is sometime known as Eros. The figure on top of the fountain is, in fact, Anteros.
Where did the name Piccadilly come from?
‘Piccadilly’ is rumoured to have be named after a 17th Century frilled collar called a Piccadil. The tailor who designed the Piccadil was thought to have lived on the road running west from the Circus.
What is there to do in Soho London?
Soho hosts a myriad of night clubs, theatres and eateries. The shops of Oxford Street are only a stone’s throw from Soho. The Piccadilly Hotel with its spa rituals, restaurants and bar is found on Shaftesbury Avenue just on the southern edge of Soho.