Piccadilly Circus is where the lights are bright, the traffic is busy, where cupid rules and the West End starts – or is it?
Piccadilly Circus forms one of London's most famous junctions, right in the heart of the 'Theatre-land' of the West End. It's known for its rushing traffic, flashing neon signs and Eros fountain sculpture – often seen as a symbol of London. But much about this major tourist attraction isn't quite what it seems. The name Piccadilly Circus comes from the Latin for a round circulation of traffic – a 'circus' (not the popular tented entertainment). But Piccadilly stopped being a proper circle in 1886, when Shaftesbury Avenue thrust into it.
And those famous giant flashing lights? They are still here, but now only one building, at the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue, has a futuristic curved-screen of blinking logos and brand-names. Even the famous naked statue of Eros-with-bow isn't all he seems. In fact he's Anteros, the twin brother of the God of Love. But given the area's reputation as the Land of Theatre (and loose-living in Victorian times), the statue is widely ascribed to the bowed cupid.
All that famous rushing traffic has reduced, too, as more of the Circus has been pedestrianized. What you will find here, though, is a wonderful place to start your exploration of the West End, with its two famous theatres – the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatres – fronting right onto Piccadilly. There's also the Royal Academy of Arts, a private organisation that promotes the fine arts in the UK. It often hosts exhibitions, and Burlington House is where learned societies for Geology and Astronomy live.
Nearby are many popular shops and brand-name stores. One with a finer pedigree than most is Lillywhites, a purveyor of sporting goods since 1925. It's here that you can buy the best in cricketing whites, the latest in tennis gear, as well as this season's team-shirts for the top football teams. Piccadilly Circus may not have quite as much spectacle as it once did – but it is still able to furnish the spectators.