Monday, June 25, 2007

Piccadilly Circus - London's Times Square

The heartbeat of central London has got to be Piccadilly Circus. Often compared to Times Square in New York City, five major streets intersect to be one of the world's busiest traffic circles. Neon signs on one corner flash above the constant flow (or at certain times of the day, crawl) of traffic and tourists, workers and shoppers who visit or pass through the area at all times of the day. It's one of my favorite areas to wander about for the electric atmostphere. Underneath Piccadilly Circus is one of the largest and busiest tube stops in London.
The photo above is taken from the top level of the Virgin Megastore. This view east towards Coventry Street leads to Leicester Square, famous for the cinemas that host London premieres. The London Trocadero, on the left, is a center of shops, restaurants, cinemas, and even a bowling alley. The entry to the Criterion Theatre is at ground level on the structure at right. This theatre is the only one in London where the entire auditorium is below street level. You walk down to the balcony.
This pic is looking northwest at the curving grandeur of Regent Street. The building on the left holds a Virgin Megastore, one of the biggest retailers bordering Piccadilly Circus. This three-level shop, although huge, is comparable to the retailer's flagship store on Oxford Street. Until a few years ago, this was the location of Tower Records before it was forced into bankruptcy.
The focal point of Piccadilly Circus is the aluminium statue known as Eros situated above a bronze fountain and erected in 1892 as a memorial to the philanthropic 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (one of the five streets that meets here is Shaftesbury Avenue). The statue was intended by the designer to be a Christian angel of charity rather than the Greek god of love.
The building at left is the only one to host billboard type neon signs. This building is home on the ground floor to branches of The Gap, McDonald's and Boots. The red sign at the top is a LED video-display ad for Coca-Cola in motion. Shafesbury Avenue is straight ahead and host to more London theatres than any other street. Look carefully and you can make out the huge black & white marquee for 'Equus' starring Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe.
The origin of the name Piccadilly is commonly believed to be from a 16th-century frilly collar called a pikadil. A dressmaker who made his fortune selling these fashion items built his house nearby. By the way, the T.H.T. lucked out that blue sky finally appeared this Tuesday morning (29 May 07). However not for long. After visiting the Virgin Megastore, the weather quickly changed to its normal dreary wet self.
Piccadilly Circus serves as the southern hub to one of London's grandest thoroughfares, Regent Street. For the shopper, the mix of upscale and mainstream retailers makes this a popular avenue. Among the major retailers here is a branch of Hamleys. Once the biggest toy store in the world with six levels devoted to playthings, it has long since been been surpassed by Toys 'R Us. A list of all shops can be found at


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