Things to do in Piccadilly Circus, London

Piccadilly Circus in London

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Built in 1819, Piccadilly Circus is one of the most famous intersections in London, if not the world.

Sitting in the heart of London’s West End, it is estimated that nearly 100 million people walk through Piccadilly Circus each year, with the large intersection joining Piccadilly and Haymarket with Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue.

With much of the area taken up by traffic, there are only a few things to do in Piccadilly Circus itself.

However, there are also plenty of things to do around Piccadilly Circus, including Piccadilly shopping street, the entertainment district of Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue’s many theatres, and shopping on famous Regent Street.

Things to do in Piccadilly Circus

Visit the Anteros Statue (Eros Statue)

Anteros Statue Piccadilly Circus London

One of the most prominent attractions in Piccadilly Circus is the statue of Anteros on top of a Victorian fountain in the southeast of the Circus.

The statue is officially known as the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, as it was built in 1893 to commemorate the good deeds of philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury.

Although the statue is widely believed to be of Eros, the Greek God of Erotic Love, this is a common misconception as the statue was actually intended to be his twin brother Anteros, the Greek God of Requited Love (a slower and more selfless type of love).

The confusion with Eros may have come around due to the bow in Anteros’ hand reminding people of Cupid, the corresponding Roman God of Love.

Take a photo with the Piccadilly Lights

Piccadilly Circus in London

Despite their primary use as advertising boards, the Piccadilly Lights have become one of London’s most recognisable landmarks in their own right.

Lighting up the northwestern corner of Piccadilly Circus, the illuminated advertising hoardings are similar to those which you’ll find in Times Square in New York.

The lights date all the way back to 1908 with the very first advertiser at the site – Perrier.

Since then, a number of large companies have advertised on the famous boards, with the screens keeping up with technological advances, moving from incandescent light bulbs to neon lights to digital projectors and finally to the LED displays which remain today.

See a show at the Criterion Theatre

Sitting on the south side of Piccadilly Circus is the Criterion Theatre.

The Grade II* listed Victorian building was built in 1874 and is entirely underground except for the box office, the only theatre of its type in London.

With an audience capacity of just 588, Criterion is considerably smaller than many other theatre’s in London’s West End, however, its size is still well suited to comedies and smaller plays, including the current run of The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.

Shop at Lilywhites

Lilywhites is a sports department store that sits inside a historic building in Piccadilly Circus. It is one of the biggest and most important sporting goods stores in the UK.

Set over 8 floors, Lillywhites sells everything from a wide range of international football uniforms to larger sporting equipment such as pool tables, tennis nets and trampolines.

Lillywhites is one of those stores where you’ll go into needing nothing and come out with a massive bag.

Things to do around Piccadilly Circus

Shopping on Picadilly 

Photo credit: wikimedia.

Picadilly is a road in Westminster, after which Picadilly Circus was named.

The street is believed to have been a main thoroughfare since the medieval times and acquired its current name from a prominent landowner in the area in the early 1600s who made his fortune producing piccadills – the large broad lace-work collars which were in fashion at the time.

Nowadays the road is an affluent shopping street in the capital, with everything from trendy modern stores to elegant Victorian shopping arcades, as well as the upmarket Fortnum & Mason department store.

Where to shop in Piccadilly:

  • Piccadilly Arcade – a high-end shopping arcade with small stores selling luxury tailored fashion and one of a kind jewellery, sitting inside a Grade II listed building dating back to 1909.
  • Burlington Arcade – another prestigious 19th-century covered shopping arcade with high-end retailers.
  • Fortnum & Mason – an upmarket department store established in London in 1707, the perfect place to pick up some unique and beautiful gifts such as fine foods, hampers, teas and wine.
  • Waterstones Picadilly – the largest bookstore in Europe, spanning 8 floors.

What else to see on Piccadilly:

  • The Ritz Hotel – a Grade II listed 5-star hotel with Michelin-starred dining, the Ritz is the ultimate symbol of luxury and is one of the world’s most prestigious hotels.
  • The Royal Academy of Arts – set inside Burlington House, the Royal Academy is a private art institution with a world-class exhibition program spanning art and architecture.
  • Green Park – located at the end of Piccadilly is one of London’s 8 royal parks which leads on to Buckingham Palace, home of her royal majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Entertainment on Shaftesbury Avenue

Harry Potter in London Theatre

Shaftesbury Avenue in Soho is one of the most important streets in the West End of London and is home to many historic buildings and a number of the city’s most important theatres. It is one of London’s major entertainment hubs.

Things to do on Shaftesbury Avenue:

  • Go to the theatre – Palace Theatre, Apollo Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Gielgud Theatre and more.
  • Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum
  • The Crystal Maze Experience

Shopping on Regent Street

Shoppers and a red bus on Regent Street London

Regent Street is the curved road leading from Piccadilly Circus up to Oxford Street and is one of London’s best known shopping streets. Regent Street is known for its high-end designer labels as well as being home to several impressive flagship stores.

Where to shop on Regent Street:

  • Hamleys Toy Store – dating back to 1760 and moving to its current location in 1881, Hamleys is one of the world’s largest and oldest toy stores.
  • The Apple Store – the first-ever Apple Store in Europe when it opened in 2004, Regent Street is home to Apple’s flagship which is one of the most sleekly designed stores in London (there is an avenue of air-purifying ficus alii trees).
  • Burberry – the stylish flagship store of top luxury brand Burberry.
  • Niketown – the largest Nike store in the world.

Head next door to Leicester Square

MnM World Leicester Square

Just a couple of minute walk to the east of Piccadilly Circus is the equally popular Leicester Square.

However, unlike the busy intersection which consumes much of the former, Leicester Square is a pedestrianised square filled with flagship stores (M&M World & the Lego Store), huge cinemas (where red carpet premieres take place), flashy casinos, numerous restaurants, bars and more.

Restaurants in Picadilly Circus

There are many restaurants around Picadilly Circus and the surrounding areas.

In the immediate vicinity of Piccadilly Circus itself, you’ll find more of the big international chains which cater towards tourists. However, if you venture a little further away you’ll find many popular locals spots too.

Where to eat in Piccadilly Circus – big chains & tourist hotspots:

  • The Rainforest Cafe
  • TGI Fridays
  • Hard Rock Cafe
  • Planet Hollywood
  • Bubba Gumps Shrimp Company

Where to eat around Piccadilly Circus – local favourites:

  • The Palomar – high-end spot inspired by the cuisine of Jerusalem (book ahead to get a table).
  • Dirty Bones Soho – tasty American-style comfort food.
  • Duck and Waffle Local – the accessible little sister of one of London’s highest restaurants.
  • Anywhere in Chinatown – for central London’s best dishes from all across Asia.
  • Pho & Bun – specialising in traditional noodle soups and filled buns.
  • Ham Yard Restaurant – hotel restaurant perfect for afternoon tea.

Hotels in Picadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus certainly isn’t the cheapest area to stay in, but it is one of the best in my opinion.

Centrally located in the heart of the West End, Piccadilly Circus is easily walkable to many of London’s top tourist attractions, as well as the theatre district and much of London’s best restaurant and nightlife scene in Soho.

W Hotel London
W London. Photo credit: Marriott.

The best places to stay around Piccadilly Circus:

  • W London – modern and stylish 5* hotel belonging to Marriott on Leicester Square itself.
  • Thistle Piccadilly – modern chain hotel inside an ornate Victorian stone building.
  • Hotel Cafe Royal – elegant and luxurious 5* hotel on Regent Street.
  • Le Meridien – chic and stylish hotel just about as close to Piccadilly Circus as you can get.
  • Ham Yard Hotel – an ‘urban village feel’ revolving around a tree-filled garden in Soho.
  • The Z Hotel Soho – for those who are more budget-conscious but want a central location.
  • Haymarket Hotelsophistication meets country-house charm on Haymarket.

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London City Calling

Emily is a born and raised London girl, starting life in the north of the capital then moving down to Fulham in the southwest. She has a master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from University College London and now works full-time running this blog and as a freelance travel writer, splitting her life between London and travelling the world as a digital nomad.

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