Despite living in or close to London for most of my life I haven’t ever really acted like a tourist visiting common locations such as the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace. To rectify this I’ve decided to explore more of what’s in my backyard, starting with a Disney Tour of London. So join me on aphoto tour and commentary of Disney sights in London.
The idea for this Disney tour came from a map that was given away for a limited time during the opening of the Disney Store on Oxford Street in 2011. This map contained 16 locations in London that are related to Disney in some way, showcasing just how many London locations that have been used in Disney’s animated and live-action films. Without further ado, onto the first location, and because I feel short changed by the list including two Disney Stores, I have added a bonus final 17th location to the tour. A high quality copy of the map can be downloaded from VisitBritain.
1. Oxford Street – Disney Store
The current Disney Store on Oxford Street opened in May 2011 as part of the worldwide imagination redesign of Disney Stores that started in 2010. The new store offers more space with the store being split across two floors. The centre of the store contains a 28-foot high tall castle, still rather small compared to the 189-foot tall Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom in Florida. The Disney map of London extends into the store with the front of the shop and walls within the shop containing silhouettes of Disney characters at London locations. Dotted around the floor space are wooden cutouts of trees that have animations projected onto them to advertise the latest film or replicating trees in the current season with snow for winter or blossoms for spring. Each tree animation includes a Hidden Mickey or two. The store is opened everyday with a special ceremony, where one child gets to open the store using an oversized Disney key. Upon completion of the ceremony, the child is gifted their own smaller replica of the Disney store key. While exploring the store, keep an eye out for more interactive features such as Disney characters coming to life by mentioning quotes from characters. For example saying aloud “To Infinity and Beyond” may see a space ranger from Intergalactic Alliance appear on the walls. Apart from all neat features in this store you will all see the usual Disney store merchandise seen around the world. However as this is the flagship store for the UK, you will find some special specific merchandise for London and the UK. During my most recent visit, this range included t-shirts, mugs, stickers, pins, Vinylmation and Mickey or Donald soft toys dressed as the Queen’s Foot Guards.
2. Baker Street – Basil Great Mouse Detective
The film known as The Great Mouse Detective in the US is known as Basil the Great Mouse Detective in the UK. The film is based upon a series of stories written by Eve Titus called “Basil of Baker Street” and was going to the have the title as the books. But Disney executives at the time deemed the name Basil to be “too English” thus the film was retitled as The Great Mouse Detective in the U.S. Animators weren’t particularly pleased by the announcement and a fake memo went around the company announcing simplification of all its previous films as well. The LA Times got hold of a copy and the list of replacement names included:
Seven Little Men Help A Girl (Snow White)
Colour and Music (Fantasia)
The Girl with the See-Through Shoes (Cinderella)
The Girl in the Imaginary World (Alice in Wonderland)
The Amazing Flying Children (Peter Pan)
Two Dogs Fall in Love (Lady and the Tramp)
Puppies Taken Away (One Hundred and One Dalmatians)
A Boy, A Bear and A Big Black Cat (Jungle Book)
Of course Baker Street is most known for being the home of the fictional character Sherlock Holmes at 221B. Much like the character 221B Baker Street does not exist, instead you will find a plaque for this number above the Sherlock Holmes Museum that sits between 237 and 241 Baker Street. If you arrive by the tube station at Baker Street, take a look at the wall tiles; these display an image of Sherlock Holmes complete with smoking pipe and deerstalker hat.
3. Portobello Road Market – Bedknobs and Broomsticks
A market that has been running for over a hundred years made famous for antiques but these days you will find everything from fruit and veg, books, music, clothing, fashion, bric-a-brac and toys. The market has the most traders on a Friday or Saturday and can contain over two miles of rows of stalls. The lengthy song and dance number in Bedknobs and Broomsticks explains all you need to know about the market such as this extract from the chorus.
Portobello Road, Portobello Road
Street where the riches of ages are stowed.
Anything and everything a chap can unload
Is sold off the barrow in Portobello Road.
You’ll find what you want in the Portobello Road.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is in some ways the sequel to Mary Poppins that never got made, similarly mixing live action with animation and being set within London, along with sharing many of the same cast and crew. David Tomlinson who plays Mr Banks in Mary Poppins returns as the male lead Mr Emelius Browne. At one point Julie Andrews was going to star opposite as Ms Eglantine Price but the role eventually went to Angela Lansbury. Behind the camera the films share director Robert Stevenson, art director Peter Ellenshaw, music director Irwin Kostal and the Sherman brothers as songwriters.
4. Kensington Gardens – Peter Pan Statue
Kensington Gardens is one of the Royal Parks of London; once upon a time it was the private gardens of Kensington Palace. Within the gardens there is a sculpture of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, commissioned the statue in 1902. It was sculpted by Sir George Frampton and installed secretly within the gardens for May 1st 1912. The gardens were an ideal choice due to their usage within one of the original Peter Pan tales, “The Little White Bird.” Barrie let the secret out by placing an advertisement in The Times. It said: “There is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning. Down by the little bay on the south-western side of the tail of the Serpentine they will find a May-day gift by Mr J.M. Barrie, a figure of Peter Pan blowing his pipe on the stump of a tree, with fairies and mice and squirrels all around. It is the work of Sir George Frampton, and the bronze figure of the boy who would never grow up is delightfully conceived.” There are six other casts of the statue spread around the world in Brussels, Belgium; Newfoundland, Canada; Camden, New Jersey USA; Perth, Australia; Liverpool, England and Toronto, Canada.
5. Belgravia/Belgrave Square – Mary Poppins
Belgrave Square is possibly the largest and most impressive 19th Century Square in London. Built in the 1820s, it is made up of four sets of terrace houses set around a private central garden. The houses are rendered in white stucco and are very grand and majestic. Nowadays the majority of houses in the square play home to the world’s embassies. The houses within Belgravia and Belgrave Square are believed to be the basis of the Banks home on Cherry Tree Lane in Mary Poppins. However it is to the north in Hampstead where you find the Admiral’s House on Admiral Lane. This house is the one P.L. Travers bases Admiral Boom’s house in Mary Poppins on for a couple of reasons. The original owner of the house, Admiral Barton, was reported to fire cannons from the roof of the building for royal birthdays. The second reason is for the unusual look of the building created by Lieutenant Fountain North who owned the house from 1791 and gave it a striking feature by constructing a ship’s quarterdeck on the roof of the house.
6. Buckingham Palace – National Treasure 2
The sequel to National Treasure finds the treasure hunters in London at one point to look at the Resolute Desk in Buckingham Palace for clues. However, apart from some exterior shots, filming was not allowed in Buckingham Palace, so instead, nearby Lancaster House was used to replicate the famous palace. Just like it was for the filmmakers, general public admission to the Palace is not allowed during most of the year. It is only normally open during August and September when the Queen visits her Scottish residence, Balmoral Castle. I plan on finally visiting the palace during the summer season this year.
I’m sure Buckingham Palace has appeared in more Disney films than just National Treasure. I recently randomly stumbled across Buckingham Palace in another Disney film, Candleshoe, a 1977 film starring Jodie Foster. Foster plays an American orphan called Casey who is bought to England by a con man to pretend to be a lady’s long-lost granddaughter to help steal the family’s treasure. On arrival in England she is driven past Buckingham Palace.
7. St James Park – 101 Dalmatians
This park is seen in the 1996 live action remake of 101 Dalmatians. St James Park is the location where the owners of the dalmatians Pongo and Perdy fall in love, thanks to their dogs chasing after each other. This Royal Park is most famous for having peculiar residents; living near Duck Island in the park are several pelicans. They were first introduced in 1664 as a gift from a Russian Ambassador and have been residents ever since. Three new Great White pelicans arrived last year as gifts from the City of Prague. There are currently six pelicans residing in the park including 5 Easter Great Whites and 1 South American White.
8. Big Ben/Houses Of Parliament – Peter Pan
Possibly London’s, if not the UK’s, most famous landmark is Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. As seen in countless films including Peter Pan as the children fly to Neverland and even land on one of the clock face hands. The name Big Ben is a nickname for the Great Bell within the tower. The original bell weighed 16.3 tonne but this bell was cracked beyond repair during testing and was replaced with a lighter bell weighing 13.76 tonne. Big Ben was still the largest bell in the UK until “Great Paul” was created for St Paul’s Cathedral in 1881 weighing in at 17 tonne. More recently, the tower was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honour of the Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The Houses of Parliament’s official name is the Palace of Westminster and has been based upon the site since the 11th Century. The current perpendicular gothic building was constructed during the 1840-1870 after the previous building being destroyed in 1834 due to a fire. The palace was also nearly destroyed on 5th November 1605 due to the failed Gunpowder Plot and Guy Fawkes. The plot was to re establish Catholicism in England by the assassination of the then Protestant King James I and replace him with a Catholic monarch. A group of conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, laid large quantities of gunpowder below the Palace that they were planning to detonate at the opening of Parliament on 5th November 1605. However the plot was discovered and conspirators found themselves tortured at the Tower of London and trialed for high treason, resulting in them being hanged, drawn and quartered. If the plot hadn’t been foiled, it would have resulted in the death of the King, his family and most of the British aristocracy. The failure of the plot is celebrated throughout the country on the 5th November each year with large bonfire and firework displays.
9. Southbank and the London Eye – Cars 2
Southbank is a popular pedestrianized area of central London along the River Thames housing various tourist attractions, shops, eateries and bars. You will also often find street entertainment or a festival due to the British Film Institute, the National Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall being based along the Southbank pedestrian walkway called the Queen’s Walk. A hidden gem of Southbank is the secondhand and antique book market held underneath Waterloo Bridge. One of the more famous landmarks on the route is the London Eye, which is Europe’s largest ferris wheel. The entire structure is 443 feet tall and the wheel has a diameter of 394 feet and contains 32 capsules which can hold up to 25 people. Each of the capsules represents one of the 32 London boroughs. A full rotation of wheel can take around 30 minutes and it is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the UK with about 3.5 million visitors a year. A version of the wheel is currently being built in Orlando on I-Drive and expected to open for New Years Eve 2014. The Orlando Eye will be 425 feet tall and also play host to Madame Tussauds and Sea Life Aquarium attractions along with shops and restaurants.
10. Southwark Bridge – National Treasure 2
Southwark Bridge is the location at the end of the elaborate car chase through London in National Treasure 2. The current day bridge is painted yellow and green and was rebuilt in steel between 1912-1921 replacing the original bridge of an iron structure built between 1814-1819. Nearby you can find the modern day pedestrian bridge built for the new millennium and aptly named the Millennium Bridge. The bridge is most prominently seen in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince when the bridge is destroyed by Death Eaters. Its also well known in the UK for being the “wobbly bridge,” as when it opened it had an uncomfortable swaying motion which resulted in it being closed for nearly two years for re-engineering works to reduce these vibrations. Crossing over each of the bridges to the south you will find the replica Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern art museum.
11. Greenwich (University & Cutty Sark Gardens) – Pirates of the Caribbean
The fourth film of the franchise was shot partially around Maritime Greenwich and the Royal Park of Greenwich. This area and the buildings are recognised as a World Heritage Site, in part due to the buildings displaying the highest quality of human artistic and creative endeavours. It was created from the architecture by Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren that shaped and inspired architecture within Europe over future generations. It is also home to the significant scientific endeavours into navigation and astronomy at the Royal Observatory leading to the establishment of the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time as world standards.
12. Southwark – Disney Street SE1
Despite the name, there is nothing magical about this street, it is more of a back alley within the suburbs of London. The street wasn’t named after Walt Disney, but Diane Disney Miller once recounted that Walt Disney had visited the street once on a visit to London. On a trip with his wife Lillian, their driver had told them of Disney Street. They visited and had their pictures taken and on retelling this Diane noted that Walt had said it was a “little tiny half street.” He had researched into the street and discovered it used to be called a rather different name “Dung Hill Street.”
13. The City – A Christmas Carol
London is actually considered to be two cities – Greater London and The City of London. The City of London is a city within the city of London retaining its original boundaries from the middle ages. It is also often know as the “Square Mile” as it is 1.12 sq. miles in area. Because of holding its own rank as a city and county, it has its own mayor, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, that is separate to the better-known Mayor of London. The City or Square Mile are often used in reference to the financial industry and district within London. London is still a key centre of the world’s business and finance industries. It is estimated that there is $1.9 trillion foreign exchange turnover every day in London and $5.1 trillion of funds are under management in the UK. However, The City of London has a very small resident population of about 7,000 from the last census compared to over 8 million living within Greater London. Yet over 300,000 people commute daily to work in The City mainly for the financial sector.
14. St Paul’s Cathedral –Mary Poppins
Every time I visit I expect to see the little old bird women surrounded by pigeons on the steps of St Paul’s. This has yet to happen but I still find myself humming the poignant song “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins. St Paul’s Cathedral sits upon the highest point in The City of London and was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. St Paul’s dome is iconic and most remembered for a photograph of it during the Blitz in the Second World War, surrounded by fire and smoke but still standing tall and unwavering, immortalising the British attitude of a stiff upper lip and keep calm and carry on. The American Memorial Chapel represents the special partnership between America and the UK. This is located within a space destroyed during the Blitz and commemorates the 28,000 Americans killed during the Second World War. The names are recorded on a 500-page book that was presented to the cathedral in 1951 by General Eisenhower. Each day a page is turned in the book. The metalwork, stained glass and wood within the chapel all depicted imagery related to North America. St Paul’s still offers a place of peace and contemplation within the hustle and bustle of a large city like London. Due to its position the cathedral can offer some of the best views of the London skyline as seen in the photos below. But beware. To reach the top and visit the Golden Gallery you must climb 528 steps. One more reason I enjoy visiting St Paul’s is because of it being a few steps away from the UK branch of Earl of Sandwich and the world’s greatest hot sandwich.
15. Lyceum Theatre – The Lion King Musical
The West End production of The Lion King Musical debuted at the Lyceum Theatre on October 19th 1999 and is due to celebrate its fifteen anniversary later this year. For the 10th anniversary a special performance took place that saw 250 former cast members gather on stage along with designer and director of the show Julie Taymor. A press released announced at that point the West End show had grossed over £289 million and been seen by more than eight million people. A version of the Lyceum Theatre has stood on the site since 1765. After the Second World War in 1951 it was converted to a large ballroom and renamed the Lyceum Ballroom. During this time it played host to the Miss World contest until 1968. Many big bands played in the theatre during the 60s and 70s such as The Clash, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Led Zepplin, Queen, The Police, The Who and U2. For a time the theatre went dark until it was restored by Holohan Architects in 1996 to be once again used for large-scale plays and musicals. Before The Lion King took residence, the restored theatre played host to Oklaholma! and Jesus Christ Superstar.
16. Covent Garden – Disney Store
The addition of this location on the map feels like Disney trying to make up the numbers. This Disney store is rather small and unimpressive compared to the one just up the road at Oxford Street. However it does give you an excuse to visit Covent Garden. This area centres on a former fruit and vegetable market square containing an eclectic mix of boutiques, market stalls, restaurants and bars. You will also find the Royal Opera House and the Transport for London museum. Covent Garden is well known for street entertainment from magicians to musicians to living statues to mimes to dancers. Covent Garden is always an interesting place to slow down and enjoy the entertainment and for any Brits wanting a taste of America nearby you can find the first UK branches of Five Guys and Shake Shack.
17. 23 Egerton Terrace – Parent Trap
One of the two houses in 1998 remake of Parent Trap was in London. More specifically, the Elizabeth James home is to be found at 23 Egerton Terrace. A short walk along Egerton Terrace brings you to Egerton Crescent that was recently named the most expensive street in England. Properties on this street on average sell for £7.37 million, about $12.12 million at current exchange rates. Other than ridiculously expensive houses, this area of London called South Kensington is to home to some of the world’s finest museums including the Natural History, Science and Victoria and Albert Museums. All of these offer an attractive admission fee of nothing, much needed after the price shock of the nearby houses. The Natural History Museum is also seen in the 1975 Disney comedy film One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing.
This tour allows you to see a broad range of London’s famous sights and indulge in your Disney side. So if you are ever in London with some spare time and unsure how to tour this big city, think about touring London Disney style.