The road junction connecting Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, The Haymarket, Coventry Street and Glasshouse Street is called Piccadilly Circus, having originally been built to connect Regent Street with Piccadilly. The name “Circus” refers to the round space formed by the street junction and comes from the Latin word for circle. A popular tourist attraction, the Circus is linked to the important entertainment and shopping areas in London’s West End. The place is also known for its lit neon signs advertising various companies, much like Times Square in New York City.
- Criterion Theatre – With a seating capacity of 600, the building was originally designed by Thomas Verity to be a concert hall. The entire building is underground, with a descending stairway from the box office area. It first opened as a theatre in 1874, but was soon closed to undergo improvements and replacements; fortunately reopening the next year. The next time it was renovated was between 1989 and 1992.
- London Pavilion –The London Pavilion is situated on the corner between Coventry Street and Shaftesbury Avenue – originally having a different location. When it opened as a music hall in 1859, it had been built on the site of the present Shaftesbury Avenue, and had to be relocated at a later date. The famous electric billboards were mounted on the side of the building in 1923. It served as a cinema starting in 1934 after undergoing some changes in structure, and was rebuilt almost entirely in 1986 to be turned into a shopping arcade. The only part of the old building that was kept was the or iginal façade from 1885. It was eventually connected with the Trocadero Centre in 2000 and was renamed in 2003 to London Trocadero.
- Shaftesbury Memorial and the Statue of Anteros – Built between 1892 and 1893 in what is today the centre of the Circus, the Shaftesbury Memorial was meant to commemorate Lord Shaftesbury and his philanthropic work. It features Anteros, the Greek god, also known as The Angel of Christian Charity, who is often taken to be Eros. After World War II, the memorial was moved from its place to where it stands today, at the southwestern side of the Circus.
- Illuminated Advertising Billboards –One of the most iconic features of Piccadilly Circus is, of course, its many neon advertisements that draw an instant similarity to New York City’s Times Square. The first billboards were put up in the early 1900s, making use of incandescent light bulbs, which were later substituted for neon lights and moving signs, followed by digital projectors, LED displays and finally neon lamps. The signs once surrounded Piccadilly Circus, but are now only featured on one building and have decreased in number, due to the high cost of rent.
- Shopping – A lot of people, especially tourists, visit Piccadilly Circus for the complete shopping experience, as it’s a prime place for retail and also dining. Gap, Boots, The Sting and Lillywhites are available for anyone seeking the former. Fortnum and Mason are also great if you wish to stop for a bite to eat.
- London Underground – The Underground station at Piccadilly Circus is one of the only stations that is entirely underground. It is on the Bakerloo Line between Oxford Circus and Charing Cross, and the Piccadilly Line between Leicester Square and Green Park.
- Railway – The Charing Cross Railway Station is a 10-minute walk away, while Victoria Railway Station is a 20-minute walk away.
- Car – There are car parks available at Leicester Square Masterpark and Brewer Street NCP, both about three minutes’ walk away, but it is not recommended to travel to Piccadilly Circus by car, because the traffic is very dense and parking spaces extremely scarce.
Piccadilly is a street that connects to Piccadilly Circus and which gave the square its name. The name of Piccadilly comes from a house on this street that was owned by a tailor named Robert Baker, who sold piccadills (collars). Piccadilly Circus appeared in 1819, when it created a junction only with Regent Street. It lost its circular shape that gave it the name of Circus when Shaftesbury Avenue was introduced in 1886.
The junction became busier and busier as time went by and traffic increased. The number of pedestrians visiting the area also grew, especially tourists, who have always been attracted to this part of London, thanks to its popular shopping and entertainment areas.
Redevelopment was considered in the early 1960s in order to facilitate traffic flow, and the plan consisted of creating an upper level for pedestrians only and a lower one for vehicles. This design also proposed the demolition of the Criterion, Trocadero and the “Monico” buildings (the latter having taken its name from the Monico café that was hosted here long-term, and building three 240-foot towers instead. The plans fell through, because the traffic flow would have not been increased as much as needed and no other major remodeling has occurred since.
- Charles Ginner, a British painter, has a work named Piccadilly Circus, which was executed in 1912 and pertains to the Tate Britain collection.
- Another artist who chose the Circus as his subject was L.S. Lowry R.A, and his painting was worth over 5 million GBP in 2011.
- Citizens of the UK have adopted the name “Piccadilly Circus” to represent a very crowded place, busy or with very many people.
- The lights are switched off on special occasions, the most notable being the deaths of important figures such as Winston Churchill, in 1965 and Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997. The Lights Out London campaign also called for a one-hour complete switch-off in 2007.