In recent years, Central London’s Covent Garden has developed a reputation as something of an obvious and, dare one say it, expensive tourist trap. One that’s aimed at drawing in newbie visitors who aren’t aware of all the other wonders the city offers. But is that fair?
Well, the small area – centred in and around the Covent Garden piazza – certainly has a very mainstream touristy vibe and many of its restaurants and bars aren’t cheap. Yet, to rule out a visit here on the grounds it’s predictable and offers nothing you can’t see or do elsewhere is to do it a big disservice.
Indeed, here are the major reasons why you might want to add Covent Garden to your London itinerary…
Covent Garden Market
Lying at the very heart of the piazza, its market is one of the Garden’s main claims to fame. That being said, although the piazza itself was established back in the 17th Century, the market can only dates back to the 19th Century. Mind you, today’s indoor marketplace is especially worth visiting for its beautiful architecture; not least its glorious glass roof – definitely somewhere to get snap-happy with pics for your Instagram feed, during that stay at The Montcalm At Brewery London City.
Just off the piazza, you’ll find the always charming, always worth-visiting Neal’s Yard. To enter this place is like stepping into a multi-coloured version of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, with all its vibrant, boldly-coloured, higgledy-piggledy-arranged boutiques, health and fitness shops and cafés down quaint, cobbled alleyways.
The small area’s development dates to the 1970s, when Nicholas Saunders, founder of the Whole Food Warehouse brand, drove its rejuvenation, basin a number of his ethical and eco-friendly companies and shops here. Don’t miss the chance to browse around and buy a souvenir in the famous Neal’s Yard Remedies.
Royal Opera House
The UK’s Royal Opera Company has called Covent Garden home since the early 19th Century, with a building (containing its HQ and theatre) having stood on the site of its present building since at least 1808. While it would be a wonderful way to top off your time in the capital (staying at accommodation near Brewery Road) with a night spent at the opera, catching a performance, the building itself is worth visiting and nosing around on its own; so ornately beautiful is its interior and interesting its many features. Here, then, you’ll find a particularly fascinating museum, the inevitable gift shop and an outdoor terrace attached to the restaurant/ café, which is a wonderful spot to idle away a warm evening with a cool glass of something alcoholic.
St Paul’s Church
Not to be confused with its truly illustrious namesake, St Paul’s Cathedral, this 17th Century church is still worth checking out, being located on one side of the Covet Garden piazza and referred to by those-in-the-know as ‘the actor’s church’, owing to a long and heralded association with thespians. In fact, this place was the location of the first ever recorded Punch and Judy show, way back in 1662. Open to the public on weekdays and Sundays, the church also plays host to ticketed evening events and performances put on by its own stage company.
Only a short walk from the heart of Covent Garden, Somerset House is definitely deserving of your time. One reason is that, of the several palaces that lined the Thames during different eras of history, Somerset House is effectively the last of them to still exist in London proper (yes, *technically*, it actually is a palace). The present building was mostly constructed in the late 18th Century on the site of a Tudor palace.
These days, though, belying its historical background, the locale largely serves as an entertainment and arts venue for the masses, being widely known for its open-air cinema screenings, winter skating rink, concerts and sundry events that make use of its splendid piazza (just the venue, then, for a special night out while enjoying London hotel deals).
Indoors, you’ll find The Courtauld Gallery, which is renowned for its world-class collection of medieval, early Renaissance, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artworks. Masterpieces by everybody from Van Gogh to Botticelli to Pieter Bruegel the Elder occupy its walls.
Not entirely dissimilar to Neal’s Yard, this small street located just a moment or two from Covent Garden’s piazza offers another world – nay, an ‘olde world – to experience. Its appearance, believe it or not, has remained relatively unchanged since the 17th Century. Perhaps fittingly, then, it’s packed with old-fashioned bookshops, as well as some of London’s very last gas lamps – yes, really. Did much of London really look like this, a hundred, even two hundred or so years ago? Quite possibly. Either way, it’s fun to speculate as you look about and snap photos for your Insta in Cecil Court.
K2 red telephone boxes
Sadly, iconic British red telephone boxes are far less a common sight than in yesteryear. Yet, one of the rewards of a trip to Covent Garden is that you can catch sight of (and, yes, photograph) not just one, but five of them – all in a row. You’ll find them located in Broad Court, just behind the really rather lovely Young Dancer statue. Officially referred to as K2 (Kiosk Two) telephone boxes, this classic type was first installed in the UK way back in the 1920s; no wonder they’ve become so ingrained in the minds of London travellers, then (many of them, no doubt, booking a stay at hotels near The Brewery London).
London Transport Museum
Finally, maybe Covent Garden’s biggest surprise of a great attraction is this, admittedly, rather bland-sounding venue. Don’t be deceived, though, because the London Transport Museum is anything but dull; taking, as it does, the critical role that today’s Transport for London (TfL) organisation (and its forebears) plays for commuters and visitors and translating it into a fascinating subject terrifically conveyed through examples of Overground and Underground trains, buses and interactive exhibits of all kinds. So much so you’ll probably never look at a train, a bus or even an Oyster card in quite the same way again. Have a nipper who’s a budding train or bus fan? Make sure you take them to this place – it’ll make their London vacation and then some!