200 years ago, Piccadilly Circus (which is often described as the “Times Square of London”), was created to connect people from all over London, but today it connects people from all over the world.
A lot of first-time visitors might be underwhelmed by its simplicity, but once you take a seat by the Eros statue and people-watch for a few minutes, you'll see why Piccadilly Circus is considered such a special place in London.
Piccadilly Circus is one of the most famous intersections on the planet, and it is estimated that nearly 100 million people walk through Piccadilly Circus each year. Piccadilly Circus connects Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Covent Street, Glasshouse Street and Haymarket, all famous London streets in their own rights.
The name “Piccadilly” is derived from the name of a 17th-century frilled collar called the piccadill. Apparently there was a tailor by the name of Robert Baker who made a name for himself in London by designing these piccadills, and he soon built an elaborate residence in the area. The junction now known as Piccadilly Circus was named after his home, (which was called “Piccadilly House”), and the name has stuck ever since.
During the World War II era, London’s West End served as a prime location for American soldiers based in Britain who were looking to hit up some clubs for a night out on the town. Because of this, many prostitutes worked in and around Piccadilly Circus, and as a result were nicknamed the “Piccadilly Commandos.”
But Piccadilly is perhaps most famous for its digital advertisements (the Piccadilly Lights) which are displayed on its buildings. Companies pay big bucks to have their logos and products displayed on Piccadilly's massive electronic advertising billboards, and it is said that the advertisement costs are somewhere around “the million-pound mark.” The lights have been on in Piccadilly since 1908 (when a Perrier sign was first illuminated), and over 50 different companies have bought advertising over the years. The Piccadilly Lights are on 24/7, but were turned off to mourn the deaths of Winston Churchill and Lady Diana, as well as to mark Earth Hour.
Piccadilly Circus Highlights
From the Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Museum (which is located to the northeast along Shaftesbury Avenue), not to mention tons of notable London theatres, many people visit Piccadilly Circus with the sole intention of visiting a tourist attraction. But there's also a handful of delights located throughout the square that are worth taking a picture of.
The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain is located at the center of Piccadilly Circus, and was built in 1893 to commemorate the famous philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury. The statue at the top of the fountain depicts the Angel of Christian Charity, however, it was later renamed Eros (after the Greek god of love and beauty).
The London Pavilion is another notable attraction in Piccadilly Circus, (which is located on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Coventry Street), as well as the Criterion theatre (to the south) and the world-famous Lilywhites department store (to the south of Ripleys).
But the ultimate must-do for any first-time visitor to Piccadilly Circus would be to pose for a photo underneath the Piccadilly Lights; (which normally have pictures of hats or balloons so you can place your hand and/or head underneath them accordingly).
- Avoid driving into Piccadilly Circus at all costs as it is an extremely busy area in London (and expensive!) If you're interested in getting some retail therapy done while visiting London, take a stroll down Regent's Street from Piccadilly Circus, and head towards Oxford Street.
- There aren't many places to sit in Piccadilly Circus unless you're in a restaurant, so if you want to take a seat on the stairs near the Eros statue, you may not want to wear expensive clothing.
- If you've snapped some photos of Piccadilly Circus during the day, try to come back at night as that is when the area truly comes to life.
- If you're visiting London during the winter, taking a stroll from Piccadilly Circus to the historic Leicester Square along Coventry Street will make you feel as if you're in a Charles Dickens Christmas novel.