London might have more iconic landmarks than any other city in the world. Big Ben, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye are all instantly recognisable to people all over the world, even if they’ve never so much as changed flights at Heathrow. A lot of this is down to film and TV. Hundreds of establishing shots of London’s skyline have fixed it firmly in the public imagination. Let’s have a look at some of the most famous London film locations. And once the lockdown’s over, you can go and find them yourself!
Let’s begin with some classics. You might remember this iconic scene, in which Richard Hannay hangs off the minute hand of the clockface atop Big Ben. Of course, it wasn’t filmed at the real Big Ben, but it’s a famous image nonetheless. This iconic scene is from the 1978 version of The 39 Steps, and was invented for that film: you won’t find it in the original book or Hitchcock’s (superior) version.
You’ll see this location on our soon-to-be-launched London Streets Hunt, alongside locations for two Hitchcock thrillers, Frenzy and Blackmail, which feature chases through Covent Garden and the British Museum respectively! Covent Garden is also where Eliza Dolittle is found selling flowers in My Fair Lady. That musical classic was based off a play by George Bernard Shaw called Pygmalion. Another famous musical site is St Paul’s Cathedral, seen when Mary Poppins sings Feed the Birds.
Mary Poppins became such a famous British film (despite Dick Van Dyck doing one of the least believable London accents ever) they had to return for the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns. In the film, there are many picturesque London alleys like Bedfordbury, Goodwin’s Court and Middle Temple Lane where they dance to Trip a Little Light Fantastic.
From Paddington (Station) to Bond (Street)
Other iconic British franchises now bring tourists by the boatload to the city too. They come to see Paddington Station, where Paddington Bear is first found. Or the MI6 Building at Vauxhall, seen in many James Bond films. You can also follow in Bond’s footsteps into the National Gallery to see Turner’s Fighting Temeraire, where 007 meets the new Q for the first time in Skyfall. Interestingly, Q, Paddington AND Jonathan Banks in Mary Poppins Returns are all played by the delightful Ben Wishaw! Want to relive the fast-paced hunt around the museum from the end of Paddington? Why not do a treasure hunt at the Natural History Museum!
How could we talk about iconic British franchises without Harry Potter? Head to Kings Cross Station to find Platform 9¾, and grab a photo disappearing onto the magical platform. It’s not actually between platforms 9 and 10 though, just railway track there! There is now a Wizarding World shop and photo point now by platform 10.
But there are plenty of other Harry Potter filming locations to be found in London. You can find the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Leadenhall Market. It’s now disguised as the London Migraine Centre to keep the muggles away!
Harry also travels to the Ministry of Magic via Westminster tube station, entering via a phone box on Great Scotland Yard.
And in part one of Deathly Hallows we also see Harry, Ron and Hermione apparate to Picadilly Circus and infiltrate the Ministry of Magic through a public toilet on Horse Guards Avenue (by the muggle Ministry of Defence). And who could forget the Death Eaters destroying Millennium Bridge at the start of The Half-Blood Prince!
Love, Actually, Is All Around
Fancy scouting for London film locations featured in the many romantic comedies set in the city? Here are a few hints… Bridget Jones lives in a flat in Borough Market on Bedale Street in all three Bridget Jones’s Diary films. Notting Hill was, somewhat unsurprisingly, filmed around Notting Hill. There you can still see Hugh Grant’s bookshop, now just a regular corner shop or ‘convenience store’, on Portobello Road. Nearby in St Luke’s Mews is where Andrew Lincoln’s character silently declares his love for his best friend’s wife. A cute, though in hindsight possibly problematic scene, in everyone’s Christmas guilty pleasure Love Actually.
Out of This World
Finally, the biggest blockbuster franchise in the world has also come to London on multiple occasions. The Marvel movies feature climactic battles at Tower Bridge in Spider-Man: Far From Home and at Greenwich Royal Naval College in Thor: The Dark World. That film also features a funny, if totally incorrect, scene when Thor is told Greenwich is three stops from Trafalgar Square on the tube… London has seen everything from alien spaceship battles to ninja wizard fights. Millennium Bridge appears on an alien planet in Guardians of the Galaxy. And Tilda Swinton fights off evil magicians right next to Harry Potter’s Ministry of Magic filming location on Great Scotland Yard in Doctor Strange!
If you’re in London, you might be lucky enough to pass by one of these spots on your government-approved daily exercise! The rest of us will have to wait a little longer to see these famous London film locations. But there has perhaps never been a better time to stay home watching movies. Let us know your favourite movies set in London in the comments!