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Have you just moved to London? Maybe you’ve been there a while or are in the process of relocating. Well, either way, you’ve probably seen a lot of England’s capital city in film and TV shows. But is it all accurate?

Probably not. In this post, we’re going to get to the truth behind the London you see on screen and dispel some of the myths, and downright lies film and TV shows have told you. We’ll also look at some famous sights and give you the full lowdown on what to actually expect when you visit, as well as highlighting areas and buildings in London that have played the part of somewhere entirely different.

The Houses of Parliament (including Big Ben)

Where have you seen it?

Alongside a red bus, a black cab, or ever dwindling number of telephone boxes, the Houses of Parliament, incorporating Big Ben, are often used as a shorthand establishing shot to show the audience the following scenes take place in London. As such it made an appearance in everything from TV Shows, like Doctor Who to The Iron Lady (the film about Margaret Thatcher starring Meryl Streep, not a spin-off superhero movie). You can also see it in films like “The Darkest Hour” and “28 Days Later”.

Parliament was also, rather spectacularly, exploded in the film, V for Vendetta. The title character “V” wore a mask meant to depict Guy Fawkes, the most famous of the conspirators in the “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605 whose aim was to blow up parliament. Of course, the parliament building of the time was completely different from the one you’ll see now. The current building, more formerly known as the Palace of Westminster was finished in 1876 and was built to replace the previous building, which burnt down in 1834.

What’s it really like?

Parliament consists of two houses, The House of Commons and the House of Lords. The commons is where elected members of parliament debate the matters of the day while the upper house, the Lords, largely consists of selected and hereditary peers (lords and Baronesses) who have the final say on whether laws are passed.

Outside of news coverage, filming inside the Houses of Parliament is rarely allowed. In fact, filming of Parliament while in session has only been permitted since the 21st of November 1989. Generally, when you see the inside of parliament (usually the House of Commons) it’s more often than not a set.

The building is undergoing extensive renovation at the present time at a cost of billions of pounds. Those who visited in recent years might have been disappointed to see that the visage of Big Ben was entirely covered in scaffolding, but it’s now in full view, resplendent with its newly painted clock face with navy blue Roman numerals showing the hour.

Visitors to Big Ben might actually be surprised to find out that the building itself is actually called the Elizabeth Tower, after the late monarch. Prior to that, up until 2012, it was called St. Stephen’s Tower. Big Ben is, in fact, the name of the bell that chimes out the hours, and it’s renowned for ushering in the dawn of the New Year.


Where have you seen it?

Marvel superhero movie, “The Eternals” featured a battle on Camden High Street as the titular heroes faced off against a computer-generated miscreant. Classic films such as Hitchcock’s “The Man who knew too Much” and the Alec Guinness starring Ealing Comedy “The Ladykillers” also used Camden as a backdrop to each films’ events. Alfie, the 1960s version starring Michael Cane, and 90s classic crime caper, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels were also shot around Camden. Staying in the 90s, the 1999 film, “This Year’s Love” focusing on the love lives of a group of 30-something, was also set in Camden.

What’s it really like?

Well, unlike in the Eternals, there are far fewer superpowered individuals on the actual streets of Camden, though you may find the odd one or two “enhanced” people who think they can fly. Camden certainly has a reputation for being a fun place to be and its market, pubs, bars, and places to eat attract a lot of tourists to the area. The more realistic films actually get an awful lot right about the Camden of their time period. If you’re looking for a lively place to live or just a good place for a night out, then Camden is the place to be.

Tower Bridge

Where have you seen it?

Countless films from Sherlock Holmes (2009) to Paddington 2 along with TV shows like Fronds have filed on or been set on the bridge and there are probably far too many to list here. Quite recently, Spider-Man: Far From Home had Tower Bridge as the backdrop for the films climactic battle where Spidey had to fend off a squadron of drones in a chaotic and destructive scene. It was also used, rather ludicrously, as the home of Peter Cushing’s character in 1986 time travel romp, Biggles. Needless to say, you can’t live in Tower Bridge.

What’s it really like?

Perhaps the biggest myth about Tower Bridge has nothing to do with its depiction on film; it actually relates to its name. A lot of people misidentify it as London Bridge. However, London Bridge is a far more boring basic, flat, immovable Bridge across the Thames, whilst Tower Bridge has far more interesting features, like two towers (hence the name) and the ability to open to let tall ships pass through it.

Despite its fame, Tower Bridge is a relatively recent addition to London (at least by the standards of the city), with work having been completed in 1894. Tours are offered which allow you to explore the engine rooms, the walkway across the top of the bridge, and the two towers.

Royal Holloway, University of London

Where have you seen it?

You might not have heard of the university, but its iconic Founders building has cropped up in films like Basic Instinct 2 and Avengers – Age of Ultron, as well as the 4th Season of the TV show “You”. For the most part, it’s used as a generic, if spectacular, university backdrop, but, for the Avengers Age of Ultron, it actually played itself as indicated by an on-screen caption.

What’s it really like?

Well, for a start, it’s not actually in London, despite what its University of London membership would suggest. When “You” protagonist/antagonist/anti-hero/villain Joe travels from his South Kensington flat to his workplace at the university, his trip would be a bit further than a couple of blocks. Royal Holloway is actually located in Egham, Surrey, so, as well as a walk to a tube station, you’d have to spend about an hour on a tube/train to get there.

The campus opened in 1886 and was the philanthropic endeavour of Thomas Holloway, a Victorian businessman who made his fortune selling snake oil panacea to punters looking to regain their wellness. The campus has expanded greatly since then, but the jewel in the crown, and the thing that attracts filmmakers, is the Founders building, a grade 1 listed palace-like building, housing accommodation, offices, and lecture theatres. It was based on the Chateau de Chambord in France’s Loire Valley and its red-brick façade certainly catches the eye.

It was initially founded as a women’s only college, but today, it welcomes all comers and is the place of study for over 10,000 students.

Notting Hill

Where have you seen it?

Topping the list of films is, unsurprisingly, the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts starring eponymous romantic comedy “Notting Hill”, though that’s not the only Richard Curtis-directed film with links to the area. Love Actually and About Time also feature scenes in the picturesque neighborhood. Paddington and its 2017 sequel are also set against the neighborhood’s well-to-do backdrop.

What’s it really like?

Expensive! Whilst it might be the neighbourhood many visitors think of when they have England in mind, the majority of properties are unaffordable to the average Londoner. That said, the area as depicted on screen, is largely as it is in reality. Locals and visitors alike can delight in the busy market on Portobello Road along with a cavalcade if independent stores. If you’re tired of shopping, there are plenty of bars, pubs, and restaurants to try out.


Where have you seen it?

Everywhere, quite frankly. Greenwich, and in particular, the Naval College there, has doubled for all manner of locations both in and outside of London and the UK. On occasion, such as in Thor – The Dark World, it even plays itself, though more on that later. Greenwich and its environs have also cropped up in films like Les Misérables and The Dark Knight Rises. You may have even spotted it in the Netflix show, Bridgeton.

What’s it really like?

Well, neither Norse Gods nor Caped Crusaders walk the streets of Greenwich, but it is still a great spot for tourists. There are plenty of restaurants and independent shops to keep you occupied if you visit or live there. Being set on the banks of the Thames, there’s’ a strong maritime feel to the place. Many pubs are named for nautical heroes and ships and there’s even a fully preserved sailing ship, the Cutty Sark, to view.

The Cutty Sark is a clipper ship that carried tea and other supplies from the east and dates back to 1869 when it was first built. It’s been maintained, repaired, and reconstructed (due to the fires in 2007 and 2012), over the years, but, even still, 90% of it is the original ship.

One of the more spectacular sights of Greenwich is the Old Royal Naval College. It was originally built in 1692 and served as a naval hospital. The hospital closed just over 200 years later in 1869 before being opened as a naval college in 1873. The college was finally closed in 1998 and has since been used for a variety of purposes. The University of Greenwich leases some parts if it whilst Trinity College of Music leases others. The site is also open to visitors and the odd film crew where it’s stood in for all manner of buildings, including Buckingham Palace in the King’s Speech, and as the outside of a café in the closing scene of The Dark Knight Rises.

Greenwich Park has some amazing views across the capital and it’s also home to The Royal Observatory. Let’s not forget that Greenwich is the home of time with all time zones across the world being measured by whether they are before or after Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

One tip; if you’re heading for Greenwich, don’t take the Jubilee line to North Greenwich. It probably isn’t really the part of Greenwich you’re most likely to be looking for. Instead, head to Greenwich or Cutty Sark Stations on the DLR ,or Greenwich or Maze Hill Stations on the National Rail.

Of course, there are plenty of places in London we’ve missed out on and quite a few from across the country too. Enough for another few blogs, perhaps? If there’s demand, it’s certainly a topic we can revisit in the future. For now, though, take some time to explore the places we’ve mentioned in this blog, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

If you’re considering expanding or relocating your team to London, reach out to our friendly team to explore how we can support you in this exciting journey!

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