London's Covent Garden: The Complete Guide

Low Angle View Of Covent Garden Market Building Against Sky
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Covent Garden

Covent Garden, London, UK

The vibrant neighborhood of Covent Garden welcomes visitors to London throughout the years. During the holidays, the Christmas lights add a gleaming sparkle, while the summer brings outdoor events and crowds of people from all over the world. The area, nestled in the heart of central London, is one of the most popular with tourists, thanks to its shopping and attractions like West End plays and museums. Whether you're looking for a quiet afternoon in the National Portrait Gallery or you want to search for bargains around Seven Dials, Covent Garden is full of possibilities.

Discover the best places to shop, eat, drink and generally be merry in this guide to Covent Garden.

History and Background

Covent Garden, part of London's West End, was originally the home to Covent Garden Market, a fruit and vegetable market that dates back to the 17th century. That has since been relocated south to New Covent Garden Market, but the bustling vibe remains. The area is particularly historic, dating back to Roman Times, and since the 1980s, it's been a popular shopping destination. Many of the major attractions are also historical, including the Royal Opera House, which was built in 1732. There are several old pubs, like the Lamb and Flag, which go back to the 18th century. Because Covent Garden is part of the West End, it's home to many of London's historic theaters, including the Garrick Theatre, the Adelphi Theatre, and the Savoy Theatre.

What to See and Do

Covent Garden is a popular area for shopping and dining, and visitors will find a vast array of options for both. Popular brands like Hackett, Aesop, Sandro, and Chanel can be found through Covent Garden's bustling streets, with a hub of shops and eateries in Covent Garden Market. The area is also known for West End theaters, where you can take in a musical or a play, as well as several museums. Don't miss the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, and the London Film Museum, and the London Transport Museum is a good option for kids. Somerset House, located along The Strand, houses rotating exhibitions and events, including a summer concert and film series (and a wintertime ice skating rink). The Royal Opera House is also worth a visit.

Near Covent Garden Market, look for the main piazza, where street performers often create a spectacle. These include magicians, musicians and even acrobats, and most are impressively skilled.

Where to Shop

Start in Covent Garden Market, where you'll find everything from The Disney Store to Tom Ford Beauty. The surrounding streets boast tons of other stores, including chains and smaller boutiques. Head to Seven Dials, located a few blocks north of Covent Garden Market, for more shops, including Carhartt, Club Monaco, and the Vintage Showroom, which hocks one-of-a-kind finds. Covent Garden’s Apple Market is open several days a week with independent traders and pop-up stalls with crafts and jewelry. On Mondays, the market also features antiques for sale.

Those who want to discover London brands should look for Orla Kiely, Barbour, Fred Perry, Paul Smith, and Burberry. For something different, visit Stanfords, a local travel book shop that sells travel guides and maps. Great gifts and souvenirs can be found at Neal's Yard Remedies, the Cambridge Satchel Company, and Coco de Mer.

What to Eat and Drink

There's something for everyone in Covent Garden, from high-end restaurants to low-key fast food. Start with an ice cream cone at Udderlicious in Seven Dials to whet your palette, and then decide on your dining out budget. For something on the pricier side, head to The Barbary, Barrafina, Frenchie, or Balthazar. Dishoom is a trendy Indian restaurant that draws crowds daily (and can be worth the wait). If you want to keep things simple, Homeslice in Neal's Yard is London's best pizza and will deliver a massive pie to your table for only 20 quid. Those who are keen on history will love Rules, the city's so-called oldest restaurant, which serves up classic British dishes in a chic formal setting.

Coffee is everywhere in Covent Garden, but some of the best can be found at Covent Garden Grind and Abuelo, both local cafe with food options as well. For a stronger drink, the famous American Bar in the Savoy Hotel was named one of the world's best bars. Hawksmoor Seven Dials, an achingly cool steakhouse, is a great place to sip a cocktail while snacking on the bar menu (or eating a perfectly seared ribeye). Other good bars include the Beaufort Bar, Lost Alpaca Bar, and Dirty Martini. For a glass of wine, Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, in Neal's Yard, or Gordon's Wine Bar, across from Embankment station, don't miss. Meanwhile, The Porterhouse is a massive pub with a beer from every country in the world, as well as outdoor seating.

Tips for Visiting

Covent Garden can get severely crowded, especially on the weekends or during bank holidays. If you want to shop, aim to peruse the stores during a weekday morning before the crowds of tourists take over. This holds for the museums as well, which are best experienced during the week. It's also important to note that many of London's most popular restaurants don't take reservations, so arrive early or be prepared to wait.

The central Underground station for the area is Covent Garden, but that station can get overly crowded and can be difficult to exit due to its limited elevator space. Instead, take the Tube to Charing Cross or Holborn and walk a few blocks into Covent Garden. Many buses service the area, most of which are best accessed from along The Strand.

There are numerous public events around Covent Garden throughout the year. Some take place in Trafalgar Square, while others can be found near Covent Garden Market in the piazza. These include the New Year's Day parade, Chinese New Year celebrations, and West End Live. Somerset House also hosts an annual exhibition called Photo London during the summer. When visiting during the winter, be sure to attend the Covent Garden Christmas Switch On, where the sparkling holiday lights are officially illuminated.

What to Do Nearby

Because Covent Garden is London's most central area, it's easy to access the rest of the city. Soho, Leicester Square, Bloomsbury, Holborn, and Fitzrovia are all adjacent, and a walk across Waterloo Bridge will bring you to bustling Southbank. Soho and Covent Garden are kindred spirits, and both boast fantastic shopping and dining out. Slightly north of Covent Garden, near Tottenham Court Road, the new Arcade Food Hall is a great spot to grab a quick bite to eat (look for Tou Eatery upstairs).

Once in Covent Garden, it's also quite easy to walk to Trafalgar Square, 10 Downing Street, and Parliament Square, as well as Buckingham Palace. The Churchill War Rooms and the Household Cavalry Museum are also popular places to visit. For a respite, grab a bench in the picturesque Victoria Embankment Gardens.

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London's Covent Garden: The Complete Guide