Millions – if not billions – of people around the world have heard of it (generations of people who’ve played Monopoly will have ‘stayed’ at it), but how much do they actually know about it? We’re talking Piccadilly Circus, of course. The circular junction that’s located slap-bang in the centre of the West End; specifically where snazzy Regent Street and the entertainment-filled Shaftesbury Avenue meet.
In fact, with its notorious neon lights and constant crowds of visitors that congregate around a certain statue, it’s famous throughout the UK as a tremendous tourist-trap and meeting place for those not familiar with the nation’s capital.
Piccadills and Eros
Indeed, such a mainstay of Central London is it, Piccadilly Circus feels like it’s been around forever –it’s been unofficially known by that name (after Piccadilly, another street that feeds in/ out of it) since 1743 and became officially known as it in 1819. Actually, Piccadilly itself took its name from ‘piccadills’, 16th Century-style wide, ruffled collars that were made and sold by a merchant whom owned a shop in the vicinity.
The focal point of the circus is, of course, the Eros statue, which is actually part of the Shaftesbury Memorial(along with the fountain on which it stands);erected in 1893 to commemorate one of the 19th Century’s Earls of Shaftesbury, a towering philanthropist of the Victorian age.In fact, as far as statues go, this one was actually a technological innovation, being the first cast using aluminium.
Elsewhere, in the circus’s north-eastern corner is located the London Pavilion building. Constructed in the 1850sand opening first as a music hall, it remained so for many years. Its original facade was added in 1885 and was conserved just over a century later when the building was rebuilt in 1986. At that time it became a shopping centre, which to some extent it remains, but now part of it too is taken up by the Trocadero entertainment complex, which boasts many family-friendly entertainment attractions like ten-pin bowling, bumper (or dodge ’em) cars, laser-quest and a cinema.
Worth looking out for too among Piccadilly Circus attractions are shops, naturally, such as the likes of the flagship store for the Lillywhites sportswear and equipment retailer. Meanwhile, below-ground there’s the London Underground railway network (or the ‘Tube’, in the locals’ parlance);specifically Piccadilly Circus station, all of which is subterranean – making it one of the few Tube stations of which no part rises above-ground. When you’re on the Tube during your time in the capital and catch a train into or through Central London (especially if you’re staying in the City of London at, say, accommodation near Brewery Road London), it’s actually worthwhile getting out at this station just to have a look around; given its ornate, hooped-shape interior, the ticket hall’s really something to see.
Get switched on
Fair dos, Piccadilly Circus doesn’t quite rival the neon pyrotechnics of Times Square (what does?), but it’s been famed for its huge illuminated advertising hoardings for many a long year. Indeed, the tradition began with a lit-up Perrier sign erected way back in 1908on the frontage of the building often referred to as ‘Monico’(after Café Monico, which was once housed in the building).
Since those days, the number of illuminated signs has steadily risen. The earliest of them were powered by incandescent light bulbs, which were eventually replaced with moving signs featuring neon lights (the first of which was for meat extract drink Bovril; another memorable one was a huge Guinnessclock). As the 21st Century dawned, though,LED displays became commonplace, only to be replaced themselves by neon lamps five years ago.
Breathe in the grease-paint
Situated very near both Lillywhites and Eros on his fountain is the Criterion Theatre. A venue that’s carved out a niche for itself in recent years by hosting vibrant, even cutting-edge comedy productions, it was home to the globally acclaimed ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’ for nearly a decade in the ’90s and ’00s and was then followed by a highly successful nine-year run for the innovative comedy adaptation of John Buchan’s classic espionage adventure novel ‘The 39 Steps’. Continuing this trend, right now you can catch ‘The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’ there.
A Piccadilly tipple?
Finally, what better attraction to finish on here than the pubs and bars at the heart of the nightlife offerings in and around Piccadilly Circus? Pretty much all of them are guaranteed to give you a wonderfully warm taste of what British culture’s all about. Don’t worry; they’re just as welcoming and friendly towards tourists from overseas as they are to London locals – and again, don’t worry; although they’re warm to their imbibing inhabitants, none of them are in the habit of serving warm beer!