It's one of the most famous squares in London, but Albert Square from EastEnders isn't even in the capital.
Brits first started tuning into the comings and goings of Albert Square more than a third of a century ago. Since 1985, the show has broadcast over 6,000 episodes and been watched by tens of millions. But where, exactly, is Albert Square? It depends which level of reality you're after.
Real life models
Eastenders is set in the fictional borough of Walford. If we had to pin it on a map (and we did), then it'd be centred somewhere round Bromley-by-Bow, whose tube station is replaced by Walford East in on-screen tube maps. Alternatively, it might be closer to the Olympic Park, which shares the square's postcode of E20. A third option would be Fassett Square in Dalston, whose terraces are said to be the inspiration for the fictional square.
The "Actual" Albert Square
All well and good, but where is the actual bricks-and-mortar Albert Square in which the soap is shot? It'll come as no surprise to hear that it's an artificial film set. Perhaps less expected is that this bastion of East End culture isn't in London at all, but Hertfordshire.
The set can be found at the BBC's Elstree studios (not actually in Elstree, but neighbouring Borehamwood; and not to be confused with the similarly named Elstree Studios just down the road, where Strictly is filmed, also not in Elstree). If you'd like to visit, it's a simple 20 minute train ride from St Pancras on the Thameslink line.
Five minutes from the station, the entire square has been built in the kind of details necessary to convince an HD audience. These are no empty facades, but real buildings with depth, as can be seen in Google satellite view.
The secret park from which you can glimpse the Queen Vic
The word 'secret' gets bandied about in articles like this with blithe abandon. But the one place from which you can glimpse the famous Queen Vic pub without entering the studios is truly hidden away. Indeed, I lived a 10-minute walk away for eight years before I found it.
The place you're heading for is called Clarendon Park in Borehamwood. It barely registers on Google Maps, but is more visible on satellite view. To reach it from the station, you have to walk along this uninviting service road. Have confidence, for the park is there, and actually quite nice when you reach it. Alternatively, loop the long way round to Grosvenor Road, and an unpromising dog-leg will take you into the park through a slightly less intimidating route.
After about 50 metres, you'll find an open gate on the left with a sign informing you that you've found Clarendon Park. You still have to walk through a scrappy patch of land past an abandoned building before you reach the true entrance to the park, which is much more welcoming.
The park itself is rather pleasant - a small landscaped area with a few interesting shrubs. I've never seen anybody else inside, which isn't terribly surprising. You can immediately see the buildings of Albert Square towering over the northern perimeter wall. But first, one must pay respects to the park's resident bear, who I've dubbed Grizzly Adams Woodyatt, in a terrible double-pun.
From the park, it's possible to get a limited view of the comings-and-goings of the film set. Time it right and you can see and hear quite a bit. There's only one spot in the park, though, from which you can get a good butcher's (pun intended) at the famous Queen Vic pub. Head back to the entrance and stand upon the bench to the left, as you look at the gate. Here's the view:
OK, it's not exactly rubbing shoulders with the stars, but it's the best you'll be able to do without getting hold of a security pass from the studios. Sadly, there's no cliffhanger "dum-dum-dum-da-da-da-da-da" conclusion to this story, though you're welcome to walk back over to the bear and make something up.
No public tours of the EastEnders set are possible, but if you'd like to learn more about this famous square's past, then we've got a previous article on the history and development of the set.