What to see and do in Piccadilly, London (Festive Edition)

Sunday, 24 November 2019 Piccadilly Circus, London W1B, UK


We're nearing the end of November and there are signs of Christmas everywhere, no more so than London! I was delighted to be invited on a press trip with Le Meridien to experience all that Piccadilly and the surrounding areas have to offer during the festive period. From spectacular Christmas lights displays to a stroll down Britain's first arcade, it was a magical few days which I can't wait to share with you!

What to see and do in Piccadilly, London (Festive Edition)

“London opens to you like a novel itself… It is divided into chapters, the chapters into scenes, the scenes into sentences; it opens to you like a series of rooms, doors and passages. Mayfair to Piccadilly to Soho to the Strand.” – Anna Quindlen

1. Admire the festive lights in and around Piccadilly

With the shorter days and chilly temperatures, cheery Christmas lights are often a very welcome sight. Personally, I enjoy nothing more than setting out for a late afternoon or evening walk around the streets to admire the Christmas light displays and festive shop windows, and I felt spoilt for choice during my recent trip to London. As I was staying at Le Meridien, the best bit was I didn't have to travel too far to see at least three different light displays. I've heard that Le Meridien has various rooms that overlook the festive lights on Piccadilly or you can also pay a visit to their Terrace restaurant's balcony for a brilliant view down the street.

A tour of the surrounding Christmas lights displays
  • A few minutes walk from the hotel will bring you to Regent Street which has one of central London’s largest festive lights displays. The display is named 'The Spirit of Christmas' and showcases 16 glittering angels with a wingspan of 55ft and is inspired by Regent Street's Christmas display in 1954. 
  • Just off Regent Street, lies Carnaby Street which has garnered quite the reputation for creative Christmas light displays over the years. This year certainly doesn't disappoint with its 'Under the Sea' theme in collaboration with ocean conservation charity Project 0. Perhaps, the most impressive aspect of the display is that its made entirely from recycled, repurposed, or reusable materials. I'd heard a lot about this year's display but it wasn't until I visited it myself that I really appreciated the hard work that went into making this display not only convey an important message but also look simply mesmerising.
  • Head west of Carnaby Street and you'll soon reach Bond Street's peacock-inspired festive lights. The display is inspired by the late 1700s when Bond Street was the favourite haunt of ‘The Bond Street Loungers’; dapper men who promenaded down the street and became the early fashionistas, or ‘peacocks’ of their day.)

Regent Street's Christmas Lights

2. Royal Academy of Arts (Burlington House)

The Royal Academy of Arts is housed in one of the most spectacular buildings on Piccadilly, Burlington House. So grand in fact that Horace Walpole once said: "It seemed one of those edifices in fairy-tales, that are raised by genii in a night’s time". It was once the private Palladian mansion owned by the Earls of Burlington before the RA moved in during 1867. From then onwards, the RA has succeeded in championing various artists and their current exhibitions feature Antony Gormley and Lucian Freud, as well as many more. 



3. Experience Fortnum & Mason at Christmas (181 Piccadilly)

Founded in London’s Piccadilly in 1707, Fortnum & Mason came about thanks to an enterprising footman in Queen Anne's household by the name of William Fortnum. At the time, Queen Anne's household insisted on fresh candles every night so Fortnum began to sell on the spare palace wax and did so well that he was able to leave royal service and start a business with his landlord Hugh Mason. Today, F&M's flagship store at 181 Piccadilly attracts visitors from around the globe to peruse their famous Food Hall, purchase one of their iconic hampers, and browse their magical Christmas store during the festive season.
I spotted F&M from Le Meridien's Terrace restaurant's balcony and was so looking forward to my first visit. I enjoyed it so much that I could easily have spent all day browsing around their beautiful store.


4. A wander through the Burlington Arcade (51 Piccadilly)

The Burlington Arcade is a simply beautiful place to shop any time of the year, however, when shop windows get dressed for the festive season and the arcade dons its Christmas decorations, it turns into an incredibly magical experience. We were fortunate enough to be led through the arcade by its head beadle, Mark. As we walked, Mark filled us in on the arcade's fascinating history and I've included some of what we learned below.
  •  It was commissioned by Lord Cavendish (owner of Burlington House, now the RA) as he wanted a safe place for his wife to shop. 
  • It was also a charitable enterprise that hired widowed women whose husbands hadn't returned from the Napoleonic war as shopkeepers. They also often lived within the stores, and it was fascinating to peek into one of the store's basements to see the original fireplaces and small living quarters. 
  • As you walk through the arcade, there is little to no indication that beneath your feet lies a tunnel that runs the length of the arcade and was once used to transport customers' purchases to from the store to the end of the arcade or to the customer's home, as it was seen unladylike/ungentlemanlike to carry your shopping. It was often children who were hired for this task as the passage is fairly small and it allowed them to make some income and stay off the streets.
  • Lastly, the floor is made from 68,000 pieces of English stone and it was installed during the evenings so the Burlington Arcade didn't lose a day's business. 

 

5. A visit to BAFTA (194 Piccadilly)

Almost directly opposite Le Meridien, sits another beautiful building, BAFTA. It's currently closed for renovations until summer 2021, however, they have a temporary space next door with a cafĂ© and various exhibition spaces centred around the crafts behind BAFTA winners and nominees! One of their current and extremely popular exhibition is Phoebe De Gaye’s costume design from season one of Killing Eve, including the iconic Molly Goddard pink dress paired with the original Balenciaga boots worn by Jodie Comer in her BAFTA-winning performance as assassin Villanelle.


Staying at... Le Meridien (21 Piccadilly)

Despite visiting London on several occasions, this was the first time I was based so centrally and it felt like a treat to be able to walk everywhere we visited (mentioned above). Also, if like me, you arrive by train to London King's Cross station, it was really easy to hop on the tube to Piccadilly Circus (no changes) and cross the street to the hotel.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Le Meridien Piccadilly, it's a luxury 5-star hotel with a lovely restaurant called Terrace on Piccadilly where you can have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even afternoon tea. The hotel has everything from an indoor pool and two squash courts to a spa and London's only live magic bar called Maskelyne & Cooke. So, if you do happen to experience pretty miserable weather on your visit to London (hopefully not!), there's plenty to keep you entertained within the hotel. Overall, I really enjoyed my visit and I'm already looking forward to returning at some point to further explore!

If you'd like to see more photos from my trip, check out my Instagram saved highlight 'Festive London'!


I was invited to London by Le Meridien Piccadilly as part of a paid partnership and press trip. All opinions are my own.



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