In the heart of London’s bustling West End, Piccadilly Circus stands as an iconic hub of activity, pulsating with energy. This legendary junction is renowned for its iconic illuminated billboards and is a vibrant epicentre of entertainment and culture. From its hidden Linear clock to its abundance of souvenir shops, there is always plenty of Things to Do in Piccadilly Circus London.
It’s not just all about the lights in Piccadilly Circus there are so many things to do in Piccadilly Circus, such as galleries and historic places to visit. From this epicentre of London, you will also find world-class theatre, high-end shopping, historic landmarks and dining options.
Let’s explore things to do in Piccadilly Circus that make it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking the heart and soul of London.
What is Piccadilly Circus?
Piccadilly Circus is a famous traffic intersection and public square in London’s West End, known for its iconic illuminated advertising signs, central location, and vibrant atmosphere. It’s a popular meeting place, tourist attraction, and transportation hub, often compared to Times Square in New York City.
How to get to Piccadilly Circus
By Tube: To reach Piccadilly Circus in London, the easiest option is to take the London Underground (Tube). Hop on the Piccadilly or Bakerloo line and disembark at Piccadilly Circus station.
By Bus: If you prefer buses, several bus routes pass through the area; these are :
9, 12, 14, 19, 23, 38, 88, 139, 159, 453, N3, N9, N15, N18, N19, N25, N38, N97, N109, N113, N136
By Foot: If you’re in central London, you can enjoy a leisurely walk to the bustling square from all of these easy-to-reach places:
- Leicester Square ( 5 minute walk )
- Covent Garden ( 12 minute walk )
- Oxford Street (15-minute walk )
- Tottenham Court Road ( 12-minute walk )
- Soho ( 5 min walk, depending on where you start )
- Westminster ( 18 minute walk )
The history of Piccadilly Circus’s name
Piccadilly was created in 1819. The place’s name comes from Piccadilly Hall, built by a local tailor in the early 17th century.
The name “Piccadilly” comes from the 17th-century term “piccadill,” which referred to a type of collar or ruff that was fashionable at the time. The word “circus” in this context doesn’t refer to a place for performing circus acts but rather to the Latin word for “circle” or “ring,”. This Indicated the circular shape of the traffic intersection. However Piccadilly is not circular any more, as it was changed when Shaftesbury Avenue was added.
Top Things to See and Do in and Around Piccadilly Circus London
See the Piccadilly Lights
The Piccadilly Lights are a collection of illuminated advertising screens and digital displays on the buildings surrounding the Piccadilly Circus.
They are known for displaying various advertisements, videos, and art installations. The lights are vibrant and impressive at night, so plan your visit accordingly.
Piccadilly Lights interesting facts: Here are some interesting facts about the Piccadilly Lights in London:
- They were first advertisement billboards and were installed in 1910. These later became electric billboards in 1923, making them one of London’s oldest illuminated advertising displays.
- Unlike traditional billboards, the Piccadilly Lights are never turned off. They shine 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- The advertising displays cover a significant area, with a total screen space equivalent to more than two tennis courts.
- The Piccadilly Lights have appeared in numerous movies such as Harry Potter, TV shows, and commercials, making them an iconic backdrop.
- Some of the displays have interactive elements that respond to pedestrians or environmental factors. For example, they might change based on the weather or the movement of people passing by.
Explore Piccadilly at Night
Piccadilly Circus at night transforms into a dazzling and vibrant hub in the heart of London’s West End. The square comes alive with the colourful displays of the iconic Piccadilly Lights, showcasing advertisements and artwork. Crowds gather, creating a bustling atmosphere as people explore, take photos, and enjoy the energy of the city.
Go shopping on Regents Street.
This world-famous shopping destination offers a grandeur and charm that is hard to match. The street is known for its stunning architecture, featuring elegant Georgian and Victorian buildings that house an array of high-end boutiques, flagship stores, and designer shops. Regent Street boasts a diverse selection of shopping options from iconic brands like renowned fashion houses like Burberry and Liberty London.
As you explore the street, you’ll also find a variety of cafes, restaurants. The famous Regent Street Christmas Lights, usually unveiled in November, is a spectacular sight and a highlight of the holiday season.
Hamleys is one of the world’s most famous and oldest toy stores. Established in 1760, it has a rich history of delighting children and adults alike with its vast selection of toys, games, and entertainment. The store is renowned for its seven floors of fun. Each floor is dedicated to different categories of toys and games, and it features interactive demonstrations, live entertainment, and various events.
Hamleys is not just a store but a destination for families, tourists, and toy enthusiasts, offering a magical shopping experience. Its flagship store on Regent Street is an iconic landmark, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to witness the wonder of this historic toy emporium.
Take a stroll down the Burlington arcade.
Burlington Arcade is a historic and elegant shopping arcade in London’s Mayfair neighbourhood, just off Piccadilly. Opened in 1819, it is one of London’s oldest covered shopping arcades. The arcade is famous for its neoclassical architecture, ornate wrought-iron gates, and polished marble floor. It houses a collection of upscale boutique shops specialising in luxury goods and is home to the largest bookstore in Europe, Waterstones.
Shop in the Wizard and Wonder, the Harry Potter-style store.
Shop in the Wizard and Wonder Harry Potter style store in Coventry Street for a real treat of wizard paraphernalia and gifts. Here, you can find Licensed merchandise from Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, Fantastic Beasts, The Hobbit and Vikings. This is just a small selection of the things you can find available at the Wizards & Wonders fandom theme store.
Check out the The Horses of Helios statue.
The sculpture of the Horses of Helios was originally placed in 1991 within a fountain, sheltered by a canopy, at the base of the building situated at 1 Jermyn Street.
This building stands at the junction of Piccadilly and Haymarket, in close proximity to Piccadilly Circus in London. Notably, this installation coincided with the refurbishment of the Criterion Theatre, which stands adjacent to the building.
The Horses of Helios consists of three bronze elements featuring a dark patina. This assembly comprises four horses, each weighing approximately 4 tons. These four horses are depicted rearing and seemingly emerging from a water fountain. They symbolize Aethon, Eous, Phlegon, and Pyrois, associated with Helios, the Greek god of the sun. Today, they are hidden behind a huge iron fence but you can still see them. Do not forget to look up to the daughters of Helios who are gracefully leaping from the building’s sixth floor. You will see them just above the horses situated below.
Admire the Eros Statue
The Eros statue, officially known as the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, is an iconic landmark located at Piccadilly Circus in the heart of London’s West End. Designed by sculptor Alfred Gilbert and unveiled in 1893, it features Eros, the Greek god of love and desire, poised as a winged archer. The statue memorialises Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, a noted social reformer. This area is always busy with street street performers whose audience sits on the steps of the fountain.
Watch the Swiss Glockenspiel chime
The Swiss Glockenspiel Clock is situated outside the Swiss Centre building, a 2 min walk from the square. It is a replica of the original in Bern, Switzerland and puts on a fantastic display of little figures moving around the clock.
It was installed in 1985 to mark the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation and as a gift from Switzerland Tourism. The clock has a wooden mechanism and 27 bells, which chime every hour and a half. At 12 pm and 6 pm every day, a parade of Swiss figures emerge from the clock tower and perform a short show, complete with music and dancing.
Explore Fortums and Masons
Fortnum & Mason is a prestigious and historic department store. Established in 1707 by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason, it is one of the world’s oldest and most renowned luxury stores. Fortnum & Mason is celebrated for its exceptional selection of gourmet foods, teas, wines, and luxury goods. It offers a unique shopping experience with its food hall, tea department, luxury gifts, and the opportunity to enjoy traditional British afternoon tea in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.
Listen to the Tick Tock of the Linear Clock at Piccadilly Circus underground station.
If you find yourself arriving in London’s West End through Piccadilly Circus underground station, I recommend not hurrying away from the station too quickly. Instead, pause for a moment to admire the splendid 1920s architectural designed Linear clock. This extraordinary timepiece was integrated into the station during its expansion in the early 1920s.
The clock reads:
“This clock shows the time of day in any part of the world. The time band moves across the map to correspond with the earth’s rotation so that the solar time at any place can be ascertained by taking a vertical line from that point to the band”
Depicting the time around the world illuminated with tiny lightbulbs draws attention to select cities, such as London, Cape Town, Sydney, New York, Victoria (Canada), and Buenos Aires. These cities were once significant reference points based on GMT for travellers seeking to understand the time across the globe. If you rest your ear on the clock, you can hear the patient tick-tock.
Walk into Soho
Take a stroll through the narrow, winding streets of Soho as it is only a few minutes walk from Piccadilly. The atmosphere is a delightful blend of history and modernity, with historic buildings standing alongside trendy boutiques, chic bars, and cutting-edge art galleries.
Soho has long been associated with the music and entertainment industries, and you can still feel that spirit in the many theatres, recording studios music venues such as Ronny Scotts Jazz Club.
Take a walk around Leicester Square.
Leicester Square is just a few minutes walk from Piccadilly and is Known as the “entertainment hub” of the city; it exudes a lively and vibrant atmosphere. The square is surrounded by cinemas and iconic film statues, and it’s a popular spot for movie premieres and red-carpet events. From here you can also pop into the nearby M&M store and the fun Lego store with its life-size Lego displays.
You’ll find an array of restaurants, cafes, and bars, making it an ideal place to grab a meal or a drink before or after a show.
It’s also one of the best places to grab your cheap West-end theatre tickets at the TKTs booth.Leicester Square truly comes alive at night when its dazzling lights and neon signs illuminate the area. Creating a captivating and electric ambience that defines the essence of London’s entertainment district.
Go to a theatre show.
Piccadilly Circus is located in London’s West End, which is known for its vibrant theatre scene. There are several famous theatres and entertainment venues located near Piccadilly Circus, where you can catch a wide range of performances, including plays, musicals, and other live shows. Here are some notable theatres within walking distance of Piccadilly Circus:
- The Criterion Theatre
- Her Majesty’s Theatre
- Piccadilly Theatre
- Theatre Royal Haymarket
- Gielgud Theatre
- Prince of Wales Theatre
- Palace Theatre
- Apollo Theatre
Visit the royal academy of arts
The Royal Academy of Arts, commonly known as the Royal Academy, is a prestigious institution located in the Burlington House. Founded in 1768, it promotes and celebrates the visual arts, including painting, sculpture, architecture, and more. The Royal Academy hosts a variety of exhibitions, including the renowned Summer Exhibition, which features a diverse array of artworks.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6 pm
Some of the smaller displays are free to visit
Walk to Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is an iconic public square in the heart of London, known for its historical significance and cultural vibrancy. Named to commemorate the British naval victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, the square is dominated by Nelson’s Column and flanked by two large fountains. It is home to the National Gallery and various statues and plinths, including the Fourth Plinth, for contemporary art installations. From here, you can visit the two most popular galleries in London:
The National Gallery
The National Gallery is the most impressive art museum in London, and it can be found in Trafalgar Square. It is home to some of the world’s finest collections of Western European paintings, ranging from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Many famous artists, including Vincent van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci, are featured. There are several temporary exhibitions each year which focus on a particular artist or theme.
Opening times: Mon-Sun 10 am-6 pm (open till 9 pm on Fridays) (Closed 24-26 December and 1 January)
Free to Visit
Visit the National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is dedicated to showcasing portraits of important and influential people throughout history, including monarchs, politicians, artists, and scientists. It was founded in 1856 and moved to its current location in 1896. The gallery hosts a range of temporary exhibitions over the year, which often feature loans from other museums and galleries. The National Portrait Gallery offers a unique insight into British history and culture.
Opening times: Mon-Thurs & Sun- 10:30 am-6 pm, Fri & Sat- 10:30 am-9 pm (reopens June 2023)
Free to visit.
Explore St James Square
To explore this charming area, take a leisurely stroll through the square, admiring its beautiful Georgian architecture and private gardens. Keep an eye out for blue plaques denoting notable historical residents. While some exclusive gentlemen’s clubs and upscale dining establishments surround the square, you can also visit nearby attractions like St. James’s Palace and explore the art galleries and auction houses in the vicinity.
Here, you can pay your respects to WPC Fletcher was shot while policing a protest outside the Libyan embassy on the 17th of April 1984 aged just 25 years old.
Visit the comedy store.
The Comedy Store is a popular comedy club in Leicester Square. The Comedy store was established in 1979 and quickly became one of London’s most popular comedy venues. It has hosted many of the UK’s most famous comedians, such as Eddie Izzard and Jo Brand. It seats around 400 people and has a bar and restaurant serving a range of drinks and snacks. Every event is different with various comedians, and it is advisable to book.
Have a night at the Windmill
A night at The Windmill promises an unforgettable entertainment experience. This iconic venue is known for its burlesque and cabaret shows, featuring a mix of talented performers showcasing singing, dancing, and comedy. Steeped in history, The Windmill was famous for its daring nude tableaux vivants during World War II. The intimate setting allows close interaction with the performers and fellow audience members. You can enjoy drinks and possibly light dining while taking in the entertainment. Depending on the show, there may be a suggested dress code, so it’s wise to check beforehand.
Play the Crystal Maze in the Trocadero
Join The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience in London. The popular 90s TV show that’s now an amazing immersive adventure almost like an escape room. Housed in what was once the Trocadero Centre in London you can take part in the Epic game show.
Cost: Games cost between £59 and £70 pounds per person.
Visit the Church of St Jame’s Piccadilly that was designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren. Keep an eye on their events calendar for art displays and seasonal events or pop in to the Nero Coffee shop and sit in the Church Garden for some peace and quiet.
Food in Piccadilly Circus
Where to eat when Piccadilly Circus Here are some noteworthy restaurants and places to eat and drink in Piccadilly Circus:
- Hard Rock Cafe
- Veera Swarmy Oldest Indian restaurant
- Caffe Concerto
- Five Guys
- Masala Zone
- The Hawksmoor
Eat in the Hard Rock Cafe
The Hard Rock Cafe is just a stone’s throw from the iconic Piccadilly Circus; this legendary establishment blends American-style dining with an awe-inspiring collection of music memorabilia. The walls tell the story of rock and pop history, from guitars played by rock legends to iconic costumes and gold records. The menu features a array of American classics, including their renowned “Legendary Burgers.” On select nights, the cafe comes alive with live music performances, adding to the vibrant atmosphere.
Visit the oldest Indian restaurant in London, Veera Swarmy
The oldest Indian restaurant in London Veera Swarmy is just behind Picadilly and is one of my absolute favourite restaurants in London you will not be disappointed. It been in situ behind Regents street since 1926.