Tour 7 Piccadilly Circus

Our seventh walk captures London’s glitz, the flashing lights of Piccadilly and sparkling jewels of Mayfair, starting at the Ritz Hotel next to Green Park underground. From Victoria take a 38 bus or tube or walk up Buckingham Palace Road, cross the Mall with the Palace behind you and walk up Green Park on the path to the right by the fence. We cross Piccadilly from the Ritz walking up Berkeley Street to the heart of Mayfair. The tour takes in Faraday’s Museum at the Royal Institution, Burlington Arcade and the Royal Academy on the way to Piccadilly Circus, the World Time Today Clock and St James’ Church returning along Piccadilly to Green Park and Victoria Station.


From the Ritz Hotel cross Piccadilly and walk up the right hand pavement at Berkeley Street to the extraordinary Turtle fountain at Park Chinois and take the next left down Lansdowne Row to Curzon Street. Proceed to Shepherd Market where the original ‘May Fair’ was held which retains a village like atmosphere in the midst of London’s most expensive quarter. Further along Curzon Street lies an exotic bronze elephant adjacent to Aspinall’s casino. Retrace your route to Berkeley Street crossing via Hay Hill to Dover Street. Turn left and follow the road to the right via Grafton Street to the Royal Institution at the top of Albemarle Street. 

Royal Institution

Famous as venue for its televised Christmas lectures the impressive Royal Institution stands at the top of on Albemarle Street. A free museum commemorates the extraordinary achievements of chemist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) who started the lectures. His quote on lecturing captures his brilliance: ‘a flame should be lighted at the commencement and kept alive with unremitting splendour to the end’. In his laboratory he shed light on light itself. Faraday discovered light was affected by magnetism and opened the way to the ‘electric’ world so familiar to us from a dark room in Mayfair.

Burlington Arcade

Head right up Albemarle Street, turn right onto Grafton Street, right again onto New Bond Street and left into Burlington Gardens. Built in 1819 out of impatience at the adjacent Burlington House with folk throwing oyster shells over the garden wall Burlington Arcade - a covered passage - is famous as precursor of the universal ‘shopping mall’. Its 40 shops - originally 72 - serve its original purpose: ‘the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the gratification of the public’. In 1964 a Jaguar car sped down the arcade, scattering pedestrians. Six masked men leapt out and plundered a jewellers. The culprits have yet to be caught.

Royal Academy of Arts

Pass down Burlington Arcade to Piccadilly and turn left and left again into Burlington House which hosts a number of national agencies but chiefly the Royal Academy of Arts. Although advertised special exhibitions are accessed at a price there is a free section of exhibits at the Academy which is ‘an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects; its purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, education and debate’. The forecourt statue of first president Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) was recently adorned with fountains and lights in the pattern of his birthday star chart.

Piccadilly Circus

Though half a million people pass through Piccadilly Circus each day it's a famous meeting place for tourists and lovers as the steps of ‘Eros’ display folk to one another. Eros is a famous misnaming or shortening from Anteros since the bow in that Greek god’s hand makes everyone think of Cupid hence Eros! The Circus - or Circle - is famous for the illuminated displays on its surrounding buildings. In the 17th century people came here to buy frilled collars known as ‘piccadils’ hence the name Piccadilly associated with the wide straight road down to Hyde Park that is the southern boundary of Mayfair. 

World Time Today Clock

Descend the underground at PIccadilly Circus where you will soon find an antique-looking wooden case with a single glass pane on the wall that dates from the station’s renovation almost a century ago. The illustrated world map has an illuminated central timeband moving at the same pace as the earth’s rotation so passers by can see immediately times day or night right across the world. There’s a summertime correction for Britain! In its heyday commuters would crowd by to check the device but now they mainly rush past being less reliant on clockwork due to satellite phones that keep us immediately posted on such data.  

St James, Piccadilly

Returning down Piccadilly to Green Park a notable feature recessed on the left is St James’ Church designed by Sir Christopher Wren and consecrated 1684. Due to severe damage in World War II it has been subject of extensive renovation. The forecourt has a market with food (Mon-Tue) and arts and craft (Wed-Sat). Lunchtime concerts are free on some weekdays at which you can enjoy the ambience of Wren’s masterpiece with its galleries and barrel vault nave supported by Corinthian columns. Jerusalem author William Blake (1757-1827) was baptised at the carved marble font which is a notable example of the work of Grinling Gibbons.


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