A couple of years ago I had the idea that it might be fun to take photos of London without humans – yes, I was motivated by that scene in Westminster from 28 Days Later. Unfortunately, not being a film director I was not really in the position to have half of London sealed off for photos – but realised that on Xmas morning there could be an opportunity.

Alas, last year it poured down with rain – but this year the weather was good, and despite having a bad cold for the past few days I was determined to get up early and cycle around the West End of London taking photos.

Despite the early hour and nature of the day, there were still some people around, and as I started heading home at around 11am, some of the tourist locations were almost as busy as a normal day.

Below are some of my personal favourites, and the whole collection of 68 photos can be found on my usual Flickr account.

Most of the photos are literally as the scene presented itself, although on a few occasions there were the odd car I had to wait to pass, or just didn’t bother waiting and cropped the photo a bit.

Click on the photos for larger versions

Belvedere Road, Waterloo Station

Belvedere Road

The South Bank

South Bank

Hungerford Bridge

Hungerford Bridge

Carnaby Street

Carnaby Street

Tottenham Court Road

Tottenham Court Road

Sweeping Streets on Christmas Day

Street Sweeper

Trafalgar Square and St Martins Church

Trafalgar Square

Villiers Street by Charing Cross

Villiers Street

Bank

Bank

The full collection of 68 photos available on my Flickr account.

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88 Comments

  1. Wow, this is seriously impressive! Just looked through your entire set – this must have taken some dedication :)
    Seriously though, what time did you take these, as I live about a mile from Trafalgar Square and it didn’t look that sunny when I got up!
    Went for a walk at about 11am which took me past Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square and St. James’s Park and they were all absolutely heaving – was really surprised to be honest, certainly didn’t think it’d be as busy as it was.
    Merry Christmas fella :)

  2. IanVisits

    I was going around the City and West-End mainly between 8am and 10am.

    Alas, the flu/cold and effort was proving too much so started heading home from about 10:30 very slowly along the South Bank.

    I was surprised how busy Westminster was – and disappointed as I had hoped to recreate “that scene” from 28 Days Later. Maybe next year ;)

  3. Rob

    You covered a large part of London, especially with no buses and trains running. Have always wanted to do a similar thing at sunrise on the longest day :).

    Good work!

  4. Maldwyn

    Sheer recklessness, what would you have done if you needed to take a leak!
    (excellent photos btw)

  5. I was actually thinking it would be neat to do something like that… beat me to it. Great stuff!

  6. Munky

    Top photos!
    I actually have managed to see bits of London like that, a rare enough treat.
    You must have had a brilliant time doing this, despite the lurgi.
    cheers

  7. Rickard 5

    All I can say is you LUCKY B@ST@RD, to live in such a great city and have a whole morning where the city is yours to do with as you will. I’d give anything to be in London on Christmas day and have a Vintage BSA, to ride around and shoot the city like that! How cool would it be to have a picnic Breakfast in Trafalgar Square? Nice shots

  8. Dan

    Actually, Danny Boyle just went out at day break to get those shots. He didnt have the budget to close London. Very few films do.

  9. IanVisits

    As I understood it – they did close roads off for the filming.

    However by doing the filming very early in the morning during Summer when there is a fair bit of daylight, they were able to minimise the disruption and they also only closed the roads for a few minutes per shot.

    Even at 4am, London is still a busy city.

    It was very cleverly done, and rightly applauded when the film was released.

  10. Texture

    You can also take multiple photographs and composite them together to make it seem like there are no humans.

  11. Thinking about it, I may try and do something like this myself on New Year’s Day if the weather is good…try and gets few good shots. Think a few ravers would still be going home at 8am though, it’d ruin the effect a bit! ;)

  12. that was great, i love the balloon in the air with no one watching…ahahahha

  13. I spent christmas last year in London and after the manic shopping/binging frenzy the empty streets were a welcome treat. Amazing photos.

  14. Mm Ll

    look into TOKYO NOBODY by Masataka Nakano.

    he spent years trying to do this in Tokyo…

  15. IanVisits

    Think a few ravers would still be going home at 8am though, it’d ruin the effect a bit!

    If they are still off their heads on drugs – then they’ll probably make for good zombies.

  16. Excellent. I went for a walk in the afternoon expecting scenes like this and was disappointed by hordes of miserable looking tourists queuing outside the handful of restaurants that were open.

  17. Nick

    Bank area is always that deserted on a sunday – it’s all offices so becomes an urban desert for 1 day a week.

  18. Micha

    Really Nice shots, brilliant idea making such photos.

  19. Clive Brown

    I can remember when I was younger that very early on most Sunday mornings there were very few people around, and it is quite an eerie feeling – I can remember being out and about in about 1979 to try and photograph some of the night bus ‘N’ routes around Trafalgar Square and it was remarkably quiet between about 04:30 and 07:00.

    Sadly things have changed a little these days!

  20. Clive Brown

    Actually I am surprised you didn’t get stopped by the police for suspicious behaviour!

  21. IanVisits

    Laughs – as it happened some security guards did give me puzzled glares on a couple of occasions.

  22. I just had a crazy empty experience in Geneva, though I didn’t plan on finding the city empty. Couple pictures here:
    http://questingforadventure.com/?p=373

  23. Hi Ian,

    I had a similar experience in London back in 2001. I was in London on May Day and there were huge protests and a threat of a transit strike. London Police recommended staying out of the core. The areas around the Cabinet War Room, the boardwalk by the Thames were all similar to the pictures you took. To block parade routes, the bridges were all shut down near the Parliament. It was an eerie feeling. Thank you for putting up these pictures.

    Crispin
    Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada

  24. Would you mind if I featured your pictures on my blog for Anglophiles – Anglotopia?

    Thanks!

  25. Brilliant photos Ian, I tip my hat to you. I have a similar interest in trying to capture some of the quieter bits of London – http://thecabbiescapital.co.uk/2008/12/16/londons-least-used-roads-1-queensbridge-road-e8/ although I am only at No 1 in what will almost certainly turn into a (very) occasional series! Keep up the excellent work!

  26. Will

    A great idea coupled with great execution.

    Have you seen this film?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Days_to_Noon

    It has long and eerie shots of a deserted London: filmed near dawn in midsummer.

  27. toasted

    hi! i just discovered your site! what beautiful pictures you have here :D

  28. Amanda

    Just wanted to say thanks for taking these amazing photographs. Spent the past semester in London and miss it dearly. Will treasure these real images of London until the day I get to go back.
    Happy New Year.

  29. Ed from Denver

    Very Clever. I’ll have to remember that idea when I travel next.

  30. Debra

    Absolutely beautiful… and something I’m sure you’ll never forget. Thanks so much for sharing… seeing pictures of London always makes me feel like I’m looking at the home I should have been born to. These are particularly beautiful – I love them!

    Cheers!
    ~Debra

  31. petoskystone

    great photos! just jumped over from gadling- gave you a nice shout-out-very impressive. esp. given the added delight of a cold!

  32. Very interesting project and to see so many well known places so deserted! I first spotted his on LadyBanana’s site and guessed you were on a bike (maybe the one in one of the slideshow pictures?)

    I was around Knightsbridge late on Christmas Eve (videoed a short snip) and most of the main streets were still buzzy.

  33. fantastic idea. i know what i’ll be doing next time i’m in london for christmas!

  34. Liz

    Hi Ian

    Awesome photos. I went into town on Christmas Eve morning and walked across Traf Square and had to ring my hubby who works in the City. The place was empty – it felt eerie beyond belief. This was at around half ten in the morning. The only people I saw at TS were the heritage wardens. Now usually, there are around fifty to a hundred people on the Square, walking to work / wherever along with tourists taking photos…seeing no one freaked me out…very 28 Days Later.

    Liz

  35. Jon T

    The only time I’ve ever seen London like this was the day of Princess Diana’s funeral. A strange experience, the streets deserted and the same classical music coming out of everybody’s windows.

  36. I’ve got some I took of 6th Street in Downtown Austin, TX.

    6th St, Austin, TX

  37. Ruth

    Stunning, thank you. Reminded me of one night 15 years ago: I couldn’t sleep so went walking leaving home (in Islington) at 3am; walked down to and around the city, passed a rave club with people spilling out, watched the sunrise on the shore of the Thames, ambled along the Southbank (pre its sprucing up), around Hyde Park.

  38. Nice work fella, that’s great..

    Would I be able to use one of your images? I write a cricket website, and would love to post the Wisden Offices shot. Obviously, I’d credit you, and link to either here or your flickr page.

    Mail me, if that would be OK.

  39. Heh :) I thought everyone left London at Christmas because of all the alien invasions! Except, of course, for Her Majesty and a lone newsagent on the high street.

  40. i wanna be there (hope so not)

  41. That’s so cool … like the apocalypse. My wife and I were going to spend these past Christmas holidays in London, but the recent financial dip prevented the trip. I was planning an expedition to capture images like these. Nice work!

  42. Jes

    That’s awesome.. I lived down the street on the right in the Tottenham Court Road pic. :) beautiful.

  43. Some of the scenes for ‘London’ in 28 Days Later were actually filmed in my home town; Croydon. Croydon has a good city skyline, and is cheap to close off roads. A lot of movies shoot in the town as well as adverts. The current Night Nurse TV advert was filmed here (albeit about 10 years ago), I walked past it (Dingwall Road if you’re interested), the rain is fake and it was a bit odd to walk past these guys at a fake bus stop with a guy hosing them down :)

  44. ronanogueira

    wonderful pictures Ian…
    Congratulations…..

    ronaldo

  45. I write film music and I couldn’t hear anything in my head if I had to underscorfe the scenes. That’s not a bad thing. These shots have a quality I just can’t touch on readily.

    Well done.

  46. Jackie

    Cool photos thanx

  47. James

    Actually you can do this pretty easily with photoshop. Just use “Load multi-shots into stack” ~> ‘Auto Align Layers’ ~> ‘Convert to smart object’ ~> ‘Stack mode : Median’ and as long as you have photographed every part of the scene you want it will edit out the people. You can take the shots at different times so long as the angle is just about the same. Enjoy! -J

  48. IanVisits

    It’s a lot more fun to do it “for real” though.

    Sitting at home with a computer is not as atmospheric an environment as cycling around a genuinely very empty city centre.

  49. RaiulBaztepo

    Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  50. Sara

    I really love your shots, such a great idea to see the city at peace.I used to work nights and you get this lovely stillness when you are going to bed and everyone else is starting to wake up! good stuff! :-)

  51. Tom

    Hi Ian,

    I’ve been meaning to tell you that I always get directed to this page when I put Ianvisits.com into my browser (as opposed to .co.uk).

    Not sure if it’s a problem at my end or yours but it happens on two separate computers at different locations so I felt it was worth a mention.

    Best,

    Tom

    • IanVisits

      Fixed. Thanks

  52. Loved your pictures. 7 years ago we did the Samuel Pepys London Walk on Christmas Day. Then we moved to America for 6 years, but we’re back now, returning 4 months ago. Were going to do the Charles Dickens London Walk this Christmas, but I’ve been pretty sick with a chest infection. It’s getting better, but I’m not looking forward to walking about in the cold for 2 hours this Saturday, so instead we’re going to hang out at the Dickens House Museum. I didn’t realize they were open on Christmas Day. According to their website, it sounds like quite a Christmas-y treat going on there that day. Anyway, Merry Christmas to you! (I found this via London Interesting on Facebook)

  53. Ian Craig

    Well done. Excellent

  54. ruth_dt

    In fact, 28 Days Later didn’t really have the money to cordon off London either. They filmed at dawn in summer and politely asked clubbers not to wander into shot. Because of the time of day, all the rubbish in the streets is real – they couldn’t afford to “dress” the streets either.

    I can’t find the interview with Danny Boyle where I remember hearing about this, but there’s an entry on IMDB.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0289043/trivia

    • IanVisits

      The first sentence on that link you provided said “For the scenes in London, poilce would close the roads at 4am and filming would begin immediately. “

  55. Reminds me of a number of 1960s and early ’70s Doctor Who episodes. But then, that was the first thing I thought of when I saw “that” scene in 28 Days Later… I may have a one-track mind, or it was an homage. Or a bit of both. :)

  56. Kitty

    I love the pictures. As an ex-pat I so miss seeing London. Thank you for sharing.

  57. Sandy

    Lovely pics. I miss London!

  58. Brilliant pics…

  59. Alia

    These are lovely! A friend pointed me at them after (similarly motivated by 28 days later) I decided to make an entire video of a girl wandering around a completely deserted London. We didn’t manage to get trafalgar square, but we just about managed parliment – even with the morning joggers.

    The video is here if you’d like to see it

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_qK6Km5xOo

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