Today, the tourism industry is inspired by the entertainment industry more than ever — and Hollywood just might be the world’s most successful travel agent! It’s difficult to think of Great Britain without conjuring thoughts of 007 or Harry Potter. London — the energetic heart of Great Britain — has always been a popular destination for culture-seekers, and its landmarks, historic architecture and cobblestone streets have provided the film industry with the perfect backdrop for many blockbuster films. Seeing the iconic sites of Great Britain through the lens of popular films is a fun and unique way to explore the coolest places this city has to offer. So take a strut down the red carpet and visit sites in London that are truly some of the biggest film stars in history!
Somerset House is one of London’s most renowned arts and cultural centers. The courtyard of this Neo-classical building features dancing fountains during the summer months, while in the winter its plaza is transformed into the world’s most glamorous ice skating rink, which you may recognize from the opening sequence of Love Actually. But this area can be easily transformed to suit any film’s need; in Tomorrow Never Dies, it’s used to portray the Ministry of Defense, and in Goldeneye it serves as a public square in St. Petersburg.
Old Royal Naval College
The Old Royal Naval College UNESCO World-Heritage site is one of Greenwich’s most famed architectural gems. The buildings are said to be the finest and most dramatically sited architectural and landscape ensemble in the British Isles. Dozens of movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Thor: The Dark World, The Dark Knight Rises and Sherlock Holmes have been filmed here. The Painted Hall, often described as the finest dining hall in Europe, is a must-see! You may recognize it from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides when Jack Sparrow is dragged through its grand foyer. The Painted Hall is open to visitors free of charge and also available as a venue to rent for formal occasions.
Film lovers can’t miss a trip to the trendy Canary Wharf area, one of London’s business districts and home to some of the city’s tallest buildings. Canary Wharf appears in The Bourne Supremacy as the CIA’s London monitoring station. 20 Canada Square is where Alfie (Jude Law) and Nikki (Sienna Miller) filmed the New Year’s Eve party scene in Alfie, and the Plateau Restaurant in Batman Begins is where Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) meets Rachel (Katie Holmes). Canary Wharf also has a cameo in Fast and Furious 6.
The EDF Energy London Eye
The London Eye is one of the world’s largest Ferris wheels and the perfect spot to take in sweeping views of London and the River Thames. On a clear day, views can extend as far as Windsor Castle — about 25 miles away! This celebrated site appears in many cherished films. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix features the London Eye during its broomstick chase scene. It also appears in Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer when it comes close to falling into the River Thames. The Eye also has brief appearances in Austin Powers’ Goldmember and Wimbledon.
Piccadilly Circus is a popular plaza and shopping district located in London’s West End. This busy intersection, filled with illuminated billboards, serves as a backdrop in many popular films like An American Werewolf in London, Love Actually and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (the famous Coca-Cola billboard blinks “Mark and Bridget are the real thing!”).
While you’re here, you must visit the Criterion Restaurant, regarded as one of London’s premier fine dining establishments, it’s utterly soaked with history. It opened in 1874 and has hosted a vast array of esteemed guests from Winston Churchill to H.G. Wells, the pioneer of science fiction. This is also where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle imagined the first meeting to be between Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes to be. More recently, the restaurant has been featured in Russell Crowe’s A Good Year and Batman: The Dark Knight. Beyond its history, though, the restaurant’s opulence is unsurpassed. It’s no wonder that in The Dark Knight’s billionaire/playboy, Bruce Wayne set out to buy the entire place!
Take a stroll across the iconic Tower Bridge while you’re in town. Designed in 1884, it is one of London’s most recognizable landmarks. Just steps away from Tower of London (another world-famous landmark) Tower Bridge offers stunning views of the River Thames (which coincidently is home to many a James Bond chase scene. Book your own high-speed excursion with Thames RIB Experience — such fun!). Tower Bridge has served as the picturesque backdrop in films such as Mission: Impossible, The World is Not Enough, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Lara Craft: Tomb Raider, and Sherlock Holmes.
King’s Cross Station is the central London train station featured as the starting point of the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter books and films. The train departs from the fictitious 9¾ platform, which is accessed through a false brick wall between platforms 9 and 10. Harry Potter fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the shooting location should head to the arched wall between Platforms 4 and 5. But those looking for a bit more magic can check out the entrance to Platforms 9, 10 and 11 where you can find a trolley that disappears through a wall marked “Platform 9¾”.
True Harry Potter fanatics should also be sure to check out the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, which provides a fun look behind the scenes at movie sets like the Great Hall and Diagon Alley.
This majestic abbey, consecrated all the way back in 1065, is not only the burial site of most English monarchs, it also houses remains of famous writers like Charles Dickens. You may also recognize the exterior from Westminster Abbey Da Vinci Code when Robert Langdon realizes he misinterpreted the clue “A knight interred by A Pope” and heads off to look for the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton. Film crews were only permitted to film the exterior of Westminster Abbey, so the “interiors” were actually shot in Lincoln Cathedral, a couple hours outside of London. The Lincoln Cathedral also played the interior of Westminster Abbey in The Young Victoria.
This is London’s oldest market, dating back to the thirteenth century. Borough Market is now a mecca for foodies to find delectable goodies. There are over 70 food vendors selling everything from artisan breads (Oliver’s Bakery) to Argentinean empanadas (Porteña). This bustling market has become a hip place to shop as well as to film. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were all filmed here.
St. Pancras International and St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel
St. Pancras International is one of the most beautiful Victorian Gothic buildings in London. Aside from being home to the Eurostar, it’s a unique shopping and dining destination — and also home to Europe’s longest champagne bar! The latest movie from the creators of Love Actually, I Give it a Year, was filmed here. Its exterior is also used as the King’s Cross station since its facade is considered more impressive than the real site. The attached St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel has also been featured in many films. Its grand staircase is architectural eye candy and has been used for the memorable scene in Batman Begins when Batman descends through the air as well as the legendary “Wannabe” music video by the Spice Girls.
If you really want to experience being in the movies for yourself, you’ll have to experience the spectacle that is Secret Cinema. Your world is transformed into your favorite film and you become part of the action. Be prepared to dress up and join in on the fun. Or check out our guide to James Bond’s London!
And don’t forget that two of the best scenes in Love Actually were filmed in London’s Heathrow Airport — so the movie magic really begins the moment you touch down!