See the neon lights at Piccadilly Circus

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Piccadilly Circus is #12 in our London Bucket List
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Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Piccadilly Circus review. Piccadilly Circus is in the heart of London’s West End which is a great place to see a theatre show. You can search for theatre shows this month, theatre shows next month and shows in August.

Piccadilly Circus is No.4 in our list of best photos to take in London, and No.10 in our Top 10 list of London’s landmarks.

Piccadilly Circus in London

History of Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus was built in 1819 when John Nash mapped out the curving line of Regent Street. Regent Street was intended as a impressive thoroughfare between St. James’s Palace and Regent’s Park, and the circus linked it with Piccadilly and Leicester Square. Its circular nature was lost when work began on Shaftesbury Avenue in the 1880s.

The bright advertising lights that dominate the square today were added in the early 20th-century, and have become one of the favourite photo-stops for tourists.

Neon lights at Piccadilly Circus in London

Eros statue and fountain

Ask any Londoner, and they’ll happily tell you that the Eros statue at the centre of Piccadilly Circus represents the Greek god of Love – but they’re wrong! It actually represents the Angel of Christian Charity.

It was erected in 1892 to commemorate Anthony Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, whose tireless work on behalf of the poor and mentally ill led to calls for a permanent memorial.

Craig’s review of Piccadilly Circus

This review originally appeared in his blog

Piccadilly Circus was probably the first part of London that I got to know well as a kid because they had a big Tower Records on the corner (gone now), and a HMV in the Trocadero Centre. And when you’re 16 years-old that is where you do your weekly shop. Forget food and groceries – who needs food? It was all CDs and DVDs (videos in my day).

Ripleys at the Trocadero Centre

Burger King has disappeared too – it’s Barclays Bank now. The only things that have remained the same are the neon lights, the fountain and the crowds. And me. I’m still here.

I know this sounds a bit daft, but there are no benches at Piccadilly Circus – not a single one. It’s full of traffic lights and litter and pigeons and tourists. Personally I would get rid of all the tourists and put a few benches in. And I would shoot the pigeons. But the litter can stay.

Horse fountain at Piccadilly Circus

Whenever I come here during the day it’s always heaving with traffic and tourists, and when I come here at night it’s exactly the same thing, because they all flock here to see the neon lights and Eros. The lights are the biggest attraction – if you come to London and don’t snap a photo of them then no one will believe you came. They are right up there alongside Big Ben and Tower Bridge as one of the must-see sights in London.

Photo: Umezo Kamata / Wikipeda

They just advertise all the usual kind of cr*p like mobile phones and clothes shops. Coca Cola has constantly hogged the biggest spot ever since I can remember. I wonder how many bottles of Coke that sign sells? If I advertised my guidebook up there how many do you think I would sell? I would probably quadruple my sales figures overnight. I’d be selling… what… four copies? or maybe even five copies a week – I’d be rich!

Piccadilly Circus in London

And as for the Eros fountain… well… that has been the source of many, many arguments, and I am in the mood for a right old ding-dong so let’s have an argument right now – come on, between you and me. Let’s have it out! (This may end up in a fist fight.) I will begin: He’s not Eros.

The Eros fountain, Piccadilly Circus

I don’t care what you think you know, or what anybody has told you, or how many guidebooks you’ve read saying that he is, because I am telling you right now that he’s not Eros. Just because he’s stark naked and holding a bow and arrow does not make him bloody Eros. Robin Hood carried a bow and arrow and no one thought that he was Eros, did they?

The Eros statue at Piccadilly Circus

So who is he then? Well the correct answer is the Angel of Christian Charity (whoever that is). But if you try and enlighten the tourists they won’t believe you – they don’t want to. They bring their wives and girlfriends along to hold hands and have a kiss and a cuddle under the fountain, thinking that the Greek God of Love will shower them with a lifetime of wedded bliss. But he won’t. Because it’s not him. It’s the Angel of Charity, so the most the you get with charity is maybe five years of happiness followed by fifty years of misery. After which she’ll probably die of dementia and you’ll succumb to heart complications in an old peoples’ home. But if you try telling that to the tourists they won’t listen; they just burst into tears. (I’m thinking about giving up writing and becoming a tour guide.)

The neon Coke sign at Piccadilly Circus

Sometimes I wonder what Eros would look like if we built him today. He wouldn’t have a bow and arrow, would he? – because we don’t use those any more. He’d probably have a machine gun. I’ve never understood what’s so romantic about Eros anyway. If I was in love with someone the last thing I’d want is some chubby little kid coming along firing arrows at her. If I wanted to fire arrows at her then I’d do it myself – I don’t need a 5-year-old hitman in nappies (because that’s basically what he is).

The neon lights at nighttime

The other argument that everyone has is whether his bow is pointing down Shaftesbury Avenue. There is an urban myth that Eros (although it’s not Eros – but I’m not getting into that again) is “burying his shaft” up Shaftesbury Avenue. We’ve got Stephen Fry to thank for this silly story because he gave it as one of his answers on QI. But I am telling you right now that he’s not. It’s actually pointing in the complete opposite direction towards the southern half of Regent Street – the part that leads down towards the Duke of York’s Column. And I should know, because I am standing underneath it as I’m writing this! So if anybody tries to tell you something different then just tell them they’re talking nonsense.

Have you ever been to a forest at night and heard the bats cheeping in the trees? Well Piccadilly Circus is a bit like that, only the buildings are the trees, and the car horns are the bats. Honest to god there is a horn blasting every ten seconds in this place – it is one of the busiest junctions in London. All the main roads come and bundle up into a knot – you’ve got Leicester Square to the east, Trafalgar Square down Haymarket, the West End up Shaftesbury Avenue, and the grand facades of Regent Street curving off to the north. And then there’s Piccadilly of course, with the Royal Academy and Ritz Hotel disappearing into the west.

  • exile – “You call them neon lights? You should get on a plane to times square and see what a proper set of neon advertisng lights is like. I went to japan once and they had the whole side of buildings lit up with computer lcd tv screens. Piccailly circus has got about a tennis court size amount of lights on just one building. From the impression I got of Piccadilly circus before I went, I thought it was going to be all neon lights and tv screens like time square. I almost had to a double take to make sure I was in the right place. They should get rid of all the traffic too, and make it so only people can walk around because some of the roads are like highways with traffic roaring round them.”

> Talk about Piccadilly Circus

> Craig’s review of Piccadilly Circus – “When I used to fly home from faraway places I'd jump on the tube from Heathrow airport and spill out here in the middle of the night. You come up the station stairs staring at the neon lights, everyone's milling around the West End after the pubs have shut, after their show has ended, it's freezing cold all of a sudden after sitting on that tube train for fifty minute… continued”

If you enjoy this then try: Covent Garden (walk it in 12 mins or catch a train from Piccadilly Circus to Covent Garden); Leicester Square (you can walk it in 4 mins) and Trafalgar Square (you can walk it in 6 mins).

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