It’s one of the most recognisable skylines in the world and we took closer look at the locations around London that remain popular with filmmakers.
1. South Bank
The most popular location in London, by quite some distance, is the South Bank area. To be fair, this does constitute quite a large stretch along one side of the Thames River, but most of the filming will be concentrated in the areas surrounding the main bridges. James Bond’s current residency is actually an amalgamation of several buildings on the South Bank, with the most iconic being the current Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, MI6) headquarters.
Romantic comedies also tend to head to the area around the National Film Theatre and the BFI Southbank. The picturesque promenade outside is well lit in winter and host to various pop-up bars and restaurants in the summer. The now-annual Festival of Love adds to the area’s reputation of being one of the most romantic spots in London.
2. Canary Wharf
This one is famous for being inadvertently spotted by viewers in recent years when the trailer for the Star Wars spin-off Rogue One (2016) was first released online. Eagle-eyed fans couldn’t help but notice that one of the locations featuring Felicity Jones, the star of the movie, was actually Canary Wharf tube station. Producers didn’t even dress up the location all that much, and it looks pretty much the same if you head there now. The area is one of the more modern parts of London, having undergone a renovation in the late 1980s, and is also popular for movies looking to depict affluent business types and media ‘luvvies’.
Used in 50 films including Love Actually (2003) and Rogue One (2016)
3. Piccadilly Circus
Everyone has been here; it’s one of those places that if you spend long enough in, you’re bound to bump into someone you know. It’s no surprise, then, that the location has been used in numerous films. You’ve almost certainly seen footage of the famous electronic advertising boards used as establishing shots to show characters in London (usually with a red bus and black taxi to hammer home the point). Nothing says ‘welcome to London’ like a trip to Piccadilly Circus.
4. Trafalgar Square
A five-minute walk from Piccadilly Circus is Trafalgar Square, another tourist hot spot popular for taking selfies with lions and old stories about being pooped on by pigeons. Nowadays you’re more likely to see film crews as the area has featured in numerous recent blockbusters.
Used in 48 films including Wonder Woman (2017) and Skyfall (2012)
5. Old Royal Naval College
A world heritage site, and the centrepiece of Maritime Greenwich, the Naval College was actually a royal palace and was the birthplace of queens Mary I and Elizabeth I. The vast buildings with impressive art and architecture lend themselves perfectly to epic scenes in present-day features. The real calling card, however, is in recreating bygone eras – and there is no doubt that this is one location that simply cannot be recreated in a studio.
Used in 43 films including Thor: The Dark World (2013) and Les Miserables (2012)
6. Houses of Parliament
Suffragette made history by being the first film actually shot in and around Parliament itself, although the surrounding buildings have been used a number of times before. There are many instantly recognisable views in this area, as seen in the thrilling Danny Boyle zombie horror 28 Days Later (2002). But be warned… you’ll have to get there at 6am on a Sunday morning, as the producers of this movie did, if you want to avoid traffic and tourists.
Used in 38 films including The Iron Lady (2011) and Suffragette (2015)
7. Wembley Arena
Known as the home of English football, Wembley Stadium and the nearby arena actually don’t feature in all that many sports movies. Having undergone a revamp recently, the site is often used as a backdrop for fast-paced action scenes or as a symbol of regeneration across London.
A prime example of the aforementioned regeneration is Camden. Once an arty but affordable part of London, the area is now arty and entirely unaffordable. Camden Market remains a hot spot for tourists but retains something of a seedy reputation. Late at night things definitely take a turn for the worse, and you can understand why Stanley Kubrick decided to film some scenes from his adult drama Eyes Wide Shut (1999) here.
Used in 30 films including Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
9. Hampton Court Palace
Technically not in London, but we’re giving this one a pass as a regular old travel card will get you here. On the border of Surrey, this is still somewhere relatively easy to get to – and perhaps that is the appeal for filmmakers? Hampton Court Palace has an unmistakable opulence that works brilliantly on camera, as well as plenty of open spaces to recreate medieval courtyards or Victorian-era murder mysteries on cobbled paths.
Used in 29 films including Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (2011)
10. Wood Lane
We’ve excluded major film studios from this list, so the likes of Elstree and Pinewood aren’t included, but Wood Lane counts as it is predominantly known as the old home of the BBC. The main building, made up of several smaller studio spaces, is currently being converted into living quarters and retail space. Surprisingly, the nearest tube station isn’t Wood Lane but actually White City… although to be honest they are about a minute apart!
Used in 28 films including Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
11. Buckingham Palace
The Queen’s residence is particularly hard to get on film, being surrounded constantly by security and tourists, so despite it being one of the most recognisable places in the world it isn’t on screen as much as you would think. Producers are quite savvy to this fact, and have a number of tricks up their sleeves to make it look like they are at Ol’ Liz’s place. In The BFG, Steven Spielberg gained permission to briefly film the front of the palace and then used the rear of Blenheim Palace to complete the scene.
Used in 27 films including The BFG (2016)
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