For the third — and judging by my track record of being ill at Xmas — the last time, I got up early and walked into central London to hire a bike and cycle around taking photos of the city minus its human population.

Well, almost deserted, and by 10am, while still incredibly empty, most of the main areas had people walking around enjoying the atmosphere of a silent city.

Apart from the emptiness of the city, it is the silence that makes the experience such an addictive one for me.

London is never silent, not even at 3am, but on Xmas morning, it is almost silent. The background drone of aircraft approaching Heathrow has gone, and away from main roads, the streets lack the sound of car tyres rolling over tarmac.

Heading home, also a sound you never really hear now – the pealing of church bells. Not just coming from a single church you are nearby, but from all over the city as the sound carries far further than usual and surrounds you from all sides. Magical.

This year though – Christmas Eve was on a Saturday, so I thought it might be possible to photograph the City of London on Saturday and save time. Despite what people might say, the City is never empty and quiet at weekends, as builders and maintenance workers displace office workers, and road traffic is still fairly high along the main roads.

This year though, the city was unusually empty for a Saturday, and worth the effort.

A few of my favourite “Deserted London” photos below – the full set from 2011 available here. Also, the original set from 2008 and some more from 2010.

Enjoy!

Well, you just have to try and recreate that famous scene from 28 Days Later.

109And2more_tonemapped

I rather like the combination of old and new buildings, and taking it in B&W seems to work better than in colour, especially for the older buildings.

Old and New in Empty London

You don’t need to know anything about where this street is for it to work – as you see four lanes on the road and wide pavements and instinctively know it should be busy, but isn’t.

Embankment

One of the busiest bridges across the Thames.

Waterloo Bridge

Again, this one seems to work better in black-and-white and the area seems to look more desolate as a result.

Clerkenwell

Busy Bank with Mansion House standing alone over one of the main road junctions in the area.

Bank

This was taken just as the sun was rising, so it lacks the “middle of the day” lighting effects of the other photos, but the empty street lined with so many shops and offices feels right for this.

Moorgate

Not that good technically as it was just too early in the morning – but I did have a nice chat with three policemen who also turned up to take photos in the morning.

Wobbly Bridge

Empty Trafalgar Square – although there were a couple of security guards huddled in a doorway nearby.

Trafalgar Square

Hyde Park Corner – London’s scariest road junction looking a little safer than usual.

Hyde Park Corner

A giant pigeon in Picadilly Circus – presumably that advert isn’t a serving suggestion?

Picadilly Circus

And the new X-Crossing at Oxford Circus. Actually not as empty as it looks, I just had to wait a while for the cars to go away. I also had a nice chat with three Chinese tourists who were stunned at the lack of public transport.

Oxford Circus

You can see the full set of 89 photos here.

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95 Comments

  1. Brilliant. Id love to do this. Great photos

  2. Heike

    Ian, this is such a great post! I have Never Seen London like this! Would Not habe thought that it’s possible To be on an Empfang Tower Bridge…merry Christmas!

  3. john meagher

    Wonderful, London as we never see it. I agree that B&W makes the older buildings look older

  4. Ian, those are fantastic photos. Ghostly.

  5. Martin

    Is it my memory, or was it not that many years ago (pre Sunday shop opening) that the City was almost silent on a Sunday morning as well?

    • Chris

      It used ot be that on Saturdays and Sundays, the city was dead.

      Many times through the late 70′s and early 80′s, I went into Liverpool Street with my dad riding on the 149 and the only thing that used to be open was Dirty Dicks pub (where his brother used to drink) and the cafe that is now Pontis.

    • Askii

      My partner and I walked from St Paul’s back to Shoreditch along London Wall on Monday (Jan 2, Bank Holiday) and it was dead as a doornail. Quite eerie in fact.

    • It used to die around 1pm on a Saturday afternoon, when the shops in the center closed. I can remember going to London in the 60s (in my teens) and being very disappointed at the quiet when I was expecting a “Swinging London”.

  6. peter

    I always find its a lonely place even when its full…great pictures and very readable …

  7. AristoClaret

    Beautiful pictures. But reminds me why I prefer to spend Christmas away from the UK.

  8. Looks too spooky for my liking but the Millennium Bridge & view towards Tate Modern looks absolutely stunning!

  9. Jette

    Absolutely wonderful pictures!

  10. Maggie Dodson

    Amazing photographs Ian………..it’s quite unnerving to see the streets of London looking that way but it’s all down to the lack of public transport. I’m with the Chinese tourists on that one.
    Btw I really like the colour photographs and personally I think they work very well.

  11. Alan

    Absorbing pictures, but I get a kind of sadness or melancholic feeling when viewing pictures of an apparently empty city.

  12. nicholas

    Did the Daleks finally win?

  13. Great pics – slightly eerie too. The only time I’ve seen the centre of London that empty was during a bomb scare.

    On the other hand, I had a wander around Crystal Palace Park yesterday (Xmas day) and that was very busy, and not just with parents taking the kids out to play with their new bike/remote controlled car.

  14. grhluna

    Ok this is great thanks a lot have a good one

  15. Wow, what a great idea! Definitely something I’d do in the future in a different city :-)

  16. Well done. Great idea while I was asleep. Damn! There’s always somebody thinking a good idea even as I am recovering from getting plastered!

  17. This is incredible! Kudos to great images and the thought process
    Simply looks like an empty city been neglected due to war or poverty
    …just a lil food for thought…
    It would be awesome if you would go back to the exact locations (on a busy day; preferably rush hour) and position the shots together
    Maximum respect to you! Happy Holidays

  18. gerald King

    Great photos! Looks like HDR through photoshop, but not much over the top tomemapping. Thanks for posting these.

  19. This talkes me back to my favorite part of traveling in Rome……early mornings with nearly no one in sight. Beautiful!

  20. Andeas Duess

    Wonderful. I lived in London all through my twenties and early thirties, the days between Christmas and New Year were always my favorite, especially Christmas morning.

    One of my favorite memories of London is me and my girlfriend getting up early on Christmas morning, then taking the old Jaguar we were driving for a spin through the deserted city, with John Barry on the stereo. It was truly magical.

    Thanks for posting these. I need to get myself back over the pond one of these days.

  21. Jeremy

    Great idea but I would love to have seen your project without all the photos being HDR processed..

    • IanVisits

      Isn’t that a bit like saying “lovely cake, but I would have rather seen the ingredients first”?

      I only use HDR where it’s necessary to preserve contrasts between buildings and sky which isn’t really possible otherwise at that time of the morning.

  22. Yinka

    I can help but quote a line from the British Airways advert [1994];

    “Where is everybody!”

  23. Johnda

    Great photos. Quite eerie. But I have seen pictures of empty big cities before–from North Korea, and their cities are always like that. Ian’s London pics make me want to go visit on Christmas morning….that would be great–no cars, no crowds, I’ll bet is strangely quiet. too cool

  24. Romlah Kassim

    I was in London once during Christmas and i don’t like empty London,I miss shopping……

  25. Vermont Dweller

    Great idea! Good thing iowntheworld featured a few of these great photos. I came here to see the rest. I was not disappointed.Nice work!

  26. Andy Williamson

    Reminds me of the night I came out of the Green Room on John Adam st about 10pm (I think) to find The Strand deserted and covered with an inch of undisturbed snow. It was the night an IRA bomb went off on a bus at Aldwych, so The Strand was blocked off from Traf Sq. Really eerie. Wish I’d had a camera with me then. Beautiful pics. Thanks for posting.

  27. Amanda

    Wonderful motives and brilliant pictures? What type of camera did you use?

  28. Love those silent streets and the contrast of old and new. Must be a kick to be able to photograph so well.
    Zoe.

  29. obaey

    very fantastic. I love it.

  30. Wow – great shots! I’ve never seen Piccadilly Circus that bare before – very eerie!

  31. Stunning in the emptiness!

  32. daniel

    reminds me the film “I am a legend”

    very nice pictures

    thanks for sharing

  33. what an inspired idea
    fabulous
    thanks

  34. Rattling On

    A friend sent me a link to your post. I try never to have people in my shots, so love your early morning jaunt!

  35. Thanks for postings those pictures. I just mentioned to some friends here in Berlin this Christmas Eve that London looks like 28 Days Later on Christmas Day and they didn’t believe me ;)…Just reminds me of riding from Brixton to the City to visit my landlady’s family in 1994.

  36. Grant

    Totally eerie. All we need are the Daleks trundling about Westminster Bridge and Trafalgar Square (showing my age, I know!)…

  37. Fud Livingston

    Due to the success of your project, next year the place will be jam-packed with photographers.

  38. Brilliant and a bit spooky.

  39. Brenda Joyce

    Beautiful photos of my favorite city. Have ever driven the the five boroughs of New York on Christmas morrning? Another amazing experience

  40. bob jones

    what is your username on instagram?

    • IanVisits

      I am perfectly happy using Flickr to host my photos.

  41. Nick Fitzgerald

    Brilliant photos tell a story , It could almost be a film set from ” The end of the world ” or a dawn of a new world” I loved them and think they would print onto Clothing very well !! Food for thought !

  42. Lukas

    I’m gonna plan my visit to London on 25 December 2012. I want to see empty London.

  43. phil

    marvellous set of pictures! amazing to see nobody around – a job well done!

  44. as everyone has already said, the photo are amazing, but i wanted to comment on your statement that you have a track record for being sick at Christmas. i have known many people who had the same problem, only to find out that they were allergic to live christmas trees. they give off mold spores and make many unsuspecting people sick on the holidays. if you normally have a live tree, you should consider trying an artificial tree and see if that remedies the problem…it would be sad if you had to give up the tradition of taking these wonderful photos on christmas morning.

    • IanVisits

      Thanks, but this year was the first time I have had a Christmas Tree in over two decades – and it was artificial.

  45. Richard D

    It’s almost a relief to read that you had to wait for traffic to clear at Oxford Circus before taking the photo! Otherwise too spooky for words! I know of someone who drove from Suffolk to Hampshire on Christmas morning and went round the M25 – what an opportunity they missed….

    A great set of photos Ian, thanks for sharing them with us.

  46. san wata

    I like it. Very beautiful. But it’s awesome if london is silent cause of another reasons.

  47. Wow, a total opposite from my trips there during the touristy season . Nice set! Thanks.

  48. Amazing to be able to see these iconic places sans humans.

  49. Dave Baxter

    Hi,

    Excellent images.

    How did you get around, you seem to have covered a lot of areas. Was it a case of u could dump your car any where as no chance of a ticket ?

    I came down to London on the bank holiday in August, first time I had been to photograph it and really struggled for time.

    Dave

    • Bibi

      It’s there in the first paragraph – he walked in and hired a bicycle.

      Fantastic pics, by the way.

  50. Gordon Lindsay

    Great set of images congratulations on a good result.

  51. Love your photos for themselves and for the fact they give us a totally different look at familiar places. I like the black and white especially, and agree that this is a totally acceptable use of HDR (said with tongue in cheek….I used to loathe it, but have come to realize what I loathe is the overdoing of it. Using it to present a scene as seen with the eye is fine in my book now!)

    It took me an age to get used to the fact that here in Spain (or at least in the warmer parts!) everyone is out strolling or doing something sporty on the 25th – in attempts to work off the feasting of the night before, when the main Christmas family meal is enjoyed! The kids don’t get their presents until January 6th, so although it’s a holiday it’s a pretty normal day for street activity!

  52. BradL

    Amazing that London is so quiet. I especially like your comment about the pealing of the many church bells throughout the city and can imagine how special that must have been to hear. Nice work.

  53. Erin

    Thank you very much for sharing these. They’re just lovely!

  54. museque

    amazzing fotos of London and a wonderful worthwhile idea..well done

  55. Absolutely stunning. Thanks for getting up early for all of us :-)

  56. PR

    Great photos!! I had never seen London so silent and empty, it is very amazing!!

  57. Wow, you weren’t kidding when you said “empty”! I have never seen anything like this before, London is usually so packed that I thought it would be busy even on holidays.

  58. Wow! Absolutely beautiful! I would have never thought that London could ever be so quite even on Christmas day!

  59. My husband and I were in London Christmas Eve and day, but we were still asleep when you were going around taking amazing pictures. :) We went out later and there were people everywhere! Thanks for sharing!

  60. alan

    Great photos,but i’ve beem a bus driver in London for 20+yrs and Xmas or not i’ve never seen nobody on the streets as portrayed I’ve driven through the streets at all hours,never seen them empty……

  61. wow I really have to try to do this one day. I believe this is only possible at Christmas morning when everyone is asleep, because the city never seems to sleep. amazing really. It’s quite a unique experience

  62. Chi

    These are stunning – thank you so much for sharing, and for rising so early to capture the desolate streets!

  63. Brilliant collection of shots at such an opportune time! Love the emptiness of a normally busy city!

  64. Sarah

    lovely pics

  65. John

    Very nice photos shame you did not record the sound of the church bells would of made a great video

  66. Wow – this is awesome! And a great inspiration as well. It’s amazing to see the city that is usually so full of life that empty. I would think that even on Christmas morning there would still be quite a bit of activity. Did you have to wait for just the right moments when cars and people left your framed shot or was it really that empty?

  67. Sarah G

    I want to try this! I think if we all get a feel for it, it won’t be the same “London empty except the 50+ photographers wandering around”…. but still! Looks so different

  68. Londonbird

    This is my town where I have live almost my entire life……you’re photos are stunning.

  69. Linda

    Amazing Photos! Thank you for sharing them, and Merry Christmas!
    /Linda from Sweden

  70. Paula

    I’ve never seen London like that. It’s just too empty. But it is indeed very interesting to see the streets abandoned. Great shots!

  71. Jimmy Bee

    Great photos. The B&W works well in sleepy London. I can remember London back in the 60s when you could have fired a shotgun up Oxford Street and not hit a single person, except perhaps, for a cleaner or two. Another great memory was having breakfast in the Mayfair area in winter when it was still quite dark, something that doesn’t happen here in sunny Queensland.
    Cheers and keep up the good work,

    Jimmy Bee (Cycling with Jimmy Bee)

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