Covent Garden in London
Covent Garden is a district of central London.
This is one of the main shopping and entertainment districts of the English capital and is hugely popular with visitors, who swarm to its shops, bars and restaurants, especially at weekends. Covent Garden incorporates some of London's Theatreland and also forms a smaller extension to London's gay village that is centred on the neighbouring district of Soho.
Covent Garden takes its name from history; it used to be Convent Garden many years ago and over the years this has changed to Covent Garden.
This is an extensive area of high density building and narrow streets, officially bounded by High Holborn and New Oxford Street to the north, by Kingsway to the east, by The Strand to the south and by Charing Cross Road to the west. For all practical purposes, however, the district can also be seen to extend down to The Embankment along the Thames between Northumberland Avenue and Hungerford Bridge and to The Temple.
The main focus of the Covent Garden district for visitors is the Covent Garden Market Piazza. Further north, a secondary focus is Seven Dials, an intersection of seven streets, marked by a tall pillar with (you guessed it) seven (sun) dials. It is very easy for visitors to move on from here by foot to the attractions around Trafalgar and Leicester Squares, to Soho and to Bloomsbury.
Owing to the London Congestion Charge and the general shortage of parking spaces (plus stringent parking restrictions and fines), it is generally recommended that visitors to the area consider public transport to access the district.
This district is well served by the following tube stations:
- Covent Garden (Piccadilly line). Exiting Covent Garden Tube Station, turn right (southwards, downhill) to walk to the Piazza, or turn left (northwards) to find the main shopping areas of Long Acre, Neal Street and also Seven Dials.
- Leicester Square (Piccadilly and Northern lines). The distance between Leicester Square and Covent Garden stations on the Piccadilly line is the shortest on the whole London tube network.
- Holborn (Piccadilly and Central lines).
- Tottenham Court Road (Northern and Central lines).
- Embankment (District, Circle and Northern lines).
- Charing Cross (Bakerloo, District, Circle and Northern lines).
- Charing Cross mainline station services the south-eastern region of England.
- Charing Cross and Charing Cross Station
Old train station with an enormous office and shopping complex in glass and pale stone.
- Covent Garden Piazza and Central Market (directions: tube: Covent Garden)
Covent Garden is a covered shopping mall with shops predominantly selling clothing, but also gifts and cosmetics. There is a popular pub, The Punch and Judy Tavern at the western end, with a large balcony overlooking a square where street entertainers perform. At the eastern end, the corresponding balcony is occupied by Chez Gerard, a restaurant selling relatively-expensive but good continental cuisine. In the central area of Covent Garden is The Apple Market, a small market of handicraft stalls (Tu-Su) or antiques stalls (Mo), 10:30AM-7:30PM. Most shops are open 10AM-7PM daily, but may close earlier on Su. Classical musicians will often busk in the lower level of Covent Garden, including extremely talented opera singers.
- Seven Dials (directions: tube: Covent Garden)
An intersection of seven streets in the northern part of the Covent Garden district. Lots of of mid-range designer clothing and shoe stores
- St. Paul's Church (address: Bedford St WC2) (directions: tube: Covent Garden. At the western end of the Piazza)
Completed in 1633 to a design by Inigo Jones.
Museums and Galleries
- Benjamin Franklin House (address: 36 Craven St WC2N 5NF) (directions: tube: Charing Cross) +44 20 7839 2006
price: £7, under 16s free.
The only remaining home of Benjamin Franklin in the world. The founding father of the United States lived here from 1757 to 1775. Many exhibits charting his life and achievements as well as original artefacts. A special Historical Experience Show runs at noon, 1PM, 2PM, 3.15PM and 4.15PM We-Sunday all year round.
- London Transport Museum (address: Covent Garden Piazza) (directions: tube: Covent Garden) +44 20 7565 7299
price: £5.95, concessions £4.50/2.50, accompanied children under 16 free
As the name suggests, dedicated to the history of transport in London, past, present and future, old buses and tubes feature in a big way.
- Photographers' Gallery (address: 5 & 8 Great Newport St) (directions: tube: Leicester Square) +44 20 7831 1772
open: M-Sa 11AM-6PM, Th 11AM-8PM, Su noon-6PM
The gallery is actually split across two galleries, No. 8 houses the main exhibition and an interesting little bookshop (with a small stock of novelty lomo cameras), and No. 5 has a small cafe with more photos on the walls. The exhibitions are wide and varied, from documentary photographers to fine artists, some long gone, and some on their way up. With the crowds and chaos of Leicester Square on one side and Covent Garden on the other, this is a welcome retreat.
Along with neighbouring London/Leicester Square, this is the capital of London's theatreland. For current programmes please check the relevant theatre website or the official London theatreland listings here . Budget travellers should look for last minute bookings and off-peak performances.
Most of the booking office numbers given will only work from within the United Kingdom. If you want to make a booking from overseas, use the relevant website.
- Adelphi Theatre (address: Strand, WC2E 7NA) +44 0844 412 4651
- Aldwych Theatre (address: Aldwych, WC2B 4DF)
- Ambassador's Theatre (address: West St, WC2H 9ND) +44 0844 8112 334
- Cambridge Theatre (address: 32-34 Earlham St, WC2 9HU) +44 0844 412 4652
- Donmar Warehouse (address: Earlham St, WC2H 9LX) +44 0844 871 7624
- Drury Lane Theatre Royal (address: Catherine St, WC2B 5JF) +44 0870 890 6002
- Duke of York's Theatre (address: St. Martin's Ln, WC2N 4BG) +44 0870 060 6623
- New London Theatre (address: Drury Ln, WC2B 5PW) +44 0844 412 4654
- Noel Coward Theatre (address: St. Martin's Ln, WC2N 4AA) +44 0870 950 0920
- Novello Theatre (address: Aldwych, WC2B 4LD) +44 0870 950 0935
- Savoy Theatre (address: Strand, WC2R 0ET) 0844 871 7627
- Shaftesbury Theatre (address: 210 Shaftesbury Ave, WC2H 8DP)
- Theatre Royal Drury Lane (address: Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JF)
- St Martin's Theatre (address: West St, WC2H 9NZ) +44 0844 499 1515
The theatre which has been showing The Mousetrap continuously for the past 58 years!
- English National Opera (address: London Colliseum, St. Martin's Ln, WC2N 4ES) (directions: tube: Covent Garden) +44 871 911 0200 firstname.lastname@example.org
A little easier to get tickets here than it is at the Royal Opera House but still difficult for the most notable productions. Look for last minute availability and and off peak performances.
- Royal Opera House (address: Covent Garden, WC2E 9DD) (directions: tube: Covent Garden) +44 20 7304 4000
One of the world's great Opera and Ballet venues. Peak time tickets are like gold dust and it is very unlikely that a casual visitor will be able to obtain one. However, at least 65 tickets per performance are held off for on-the-day in person sales from 10AM, and tickets are sometimes available for off peak (especially matinee) performances and can be surprisingly affordable. Check the website or at London ticket agencies.
Shoes are a speciality of Covent Garden, particularly in Neal Street where virtually every shop sells shoes, from Birkenstocks to trainers, campers to Doc Martens.
Like its neighbour Soho, Covent Garden has a wide range of clothing shops. Head to Floral Street and Long Acre for a start, but explore the back-streets too as they often house more interesting stores. If you are on a budget, head to Earlham Street for occasional clothing stalls and Oxfam Originals.
- The Australia Shop (address: 27 Maiden Ln directions)
open: M-F 10:30AM-6:30PM, Sa 11AM-6:30PM, Su 11AM-5:30PM
Provides antipodean visitors with a taste of home, albeit at London prices.
- Ben's Cookies (address: 13a The Piazza) (directions: Inside the Covent Garden Market) +44 20 7240 6123
open: M-F 7:30AM-7PM, Sa 9:30AM-6:30PM, Su 10:30AM-6:30PM, bank holidays 10AM-6PM
Very nice cookies. Try their white chocolate with macadamia cookies. Price is about £1 per cookie, and the cookies here are almost twice as big as those at Millie's. They also have branches at 12 Kensington Arcade, Kensington High St; at 39 Leadenhall Market; and at 9 Pelham St, South Kensington.
- Monmouth Coffee (address: Monmouth St) (directions: Near Seven Dials)
Arguably the best coffee in London. Primarily a venue for quality coffee roasters, the shop on Monmouth street has a tasting room, i.e. a café, where you can marvel at the fact that not everywhere in London sells poor chain-café coffee. A selection of goodies such as croissants, pastries, and brownies are also available. As you would expect of a roasters you can also purchase excellent coffee in bean form or ground, with various blends to suit your taste. Helpful and knowledgeable staff can help you make a selection.
- Neal's Yard Dairy (address: 11 Shorts Gardens WC2H 9AT) (directions: tube: Covent Garden) +44 20 7240 5700
open: M-Th 11AM-6:30PM, F Sa 10AM-6:30PM
A fabulous cheese shop specialising in British cheeses. The smell as you walk up the street can be enticing or repulsive, depending on your preference for fragrant cheese. But regardless, a trip to this shop is well worthwhile. Whether they are busy or not, the staff are always keen to have you taste a few cheeses to ensure you find what you are looking for. Everyone here is passionate about their cheese, and while the prices are higher than you will pay pretty much anywhere else in the world for cheese, the quality and taste are second to none.
- The New Zealand Shop (address: 27 Maiden Ln)
open: M-F 10:30AM-6:30PM, Sa 11AM-6:30PM, Su 11AM-5:30PM
Provides antipodean visitors with a taste of home, albeit at London prices.
- Stanfords (address: 12-14 Long Acre WC2E 9LP) (directions: tube: Covent Garden) +44 20 7836 1321
open: M-F 9AM-7:30PM, Sa 10AM-7PM, Su noon-6PM
This is the flagship store of the world's largest map retailer. They have been been selling maps and travel guidebooks of all descriptions from this location since 1901. With three floors of regional maps, walking maps, guidebooks, travel books, a digital mapping service and more this is a huge store that is interesting even if you do not intend to buy anything.
- Thomas Neal's (address: 29-41 Earlham St)
A nice shopping plaza with clothes shops, design shops and cafes.
- The George (address: 213 The Strand) +44 20 7353 9638
Established in 1723, not much of the decor has changed in this traditional English pub, where you can order happily inexpensive, tasty food.
- [www.primrosebakery.org.uk Primrose Bakery] (address: 42 Tavistock St) +44 20 7836 3638
price: Prices start from £1.75 for a regular cupcake
You can get possibly the best cupcakes in London here. They have an impressive clientele that includes U2 and Kate Moss. They also supply Selfridges food hall, Fortnum & Mason and Libertys, where the prices are MUCH higher (£1 more in Fortnum & Mason). They have another branch at 69 Gloucester Ave, Primrose Hill. Try their chocolate on chocolate cupcake with cherry filling.
- Brown's (address: 82-84 St. Martin's Ln) +44 20 7497 5050
Always buzzing, this popular restaurant is frequented by hip (often single) clientele, who are served by attentive staff. Meals are good, the braised lamb shank is especially tasty.
- Cafe des Amis (address: 11-15 Hanover Place WC2E 9JF) (directions: tube: Covent Garden) +44 20 7379 3444
Brasserie and wine bar wihch has been around for a long time in a highly competitive environment. Excellent, uncomplicated French food. The set menus are very good value for the quality of food served.
- Food For Thought (address: Neal St, WC2)
Tasty range of choices for vegetarians and vegans.
- Maison Malinowski Brasserie (address: 63 Neal St)
Serves really delicious crêpes among other things. Perfect for a break while shopping!
- Paul's Bakery (address: 29/30 Bedford St) +44 20 7836 3304
open: M-F 7:30AM-9PM, Sa Su 9AM-9PM
A French favourite, now in London, Paul's serves coffee and teas together fine French pastries, tarts, cakes and breads for savouring on or off the premises. Light snacks, lunches and dinners are also catered for, at prices a little higher than your average café (but reasonable for the touristy Covent Garden), somewhat less than a restaurant.
- Cafe Pacifico (address: 5 Langley St) +44 20 7379 7728
open: M-Sa noon-11:45PM, Su noon-10:45PM
London's original Mexican Cantina, serving all your typical Mexican food along with a good range of margaritas and tequila.
- La Perla (address: 28 Maiden Ln) +44 20 7240 7400
open: M-Sa noon-11:30PM, Su 4PM-10:30PM
Another of Cafe Pacifico's venues, this one is slightly smaller with more of a bar feeling.
- Scoop Fine Italian Gelato (address: 40 Shorts Gardens) +44 07944779693
This place is popular among the university students in London. Come here for some genuine Italian gelato or coffee and cake. Try their hazelnut gelato, which is simply amazing. For a large cup the price is around £3.60.
- The Ivy (address: 1 West St) (directions: tube: Covent Garden) +44 20 7836 4751
price: Average price £40
Wining and dining rooms of celebrities, the actual difficulty in getting a table these days gives the restaurant slightly more kudos as an eatery than it deserves. Cosy and intimate, serving traditional but diverse restaurant meals. Competent cooking and reasonably good service, but not worth waiting 6 months for. Unless you are an avid star-gazer, go at a time when celebs are unlikely to be around.
- Joe Allen (address: 13 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT) (directions: tube: Covent Garden) +44 20 7836 0651 email@example.com
Legendary informal bistro which is incredibly hard to find for the first time - look for the dark, discrete door with a simple plaque on it on the north side of Exeter St. Food is a take on American style grilled fare using the very highest quality ingredients. Steaks and chops are superb. Favoured by lots of celebs and booking essential, especially pre- and post theatre.
- The Intrepid Fox (address: St Giles High St) (directions: Next to Centrepoint)
The best rock and metal pub in London.
- Porterhouse (address: 21-22 Maiden Ln) +44 20 7379 7917
A modern pub split across multiple levels connected by narrow staircases and walkways, with a selection of over 100 bottled beers from around the world.
- The Salisbury (address: St. Martin's Ln)
Beautifully preserved Victorian pub. Full of mirrors and lights, cut glass and mahogany, this place is nothing like the dark and dingy pubs that are all too common in London.
- Waxy's O'Connor's (address: 14-16 Rupert St, W1D 6DD)
Irish themed pub with a fibreglass tree inside it. It is almost invariably unbearably crowded. The smaller Waxy's Little Sister opposite it, however, is generally quieter and more relaxed.
- Box (address: 32-34 Monmouth St) (directions: At the Seven Dials) +44 20 7240 5828
A trendy gay bar.
- Rum Bar (address: 45 St. Martin's Ln) +44 20 7300 5588
Asia de Cuba, the trendy restaurant located inside the St. Martin's Lane Hotel, also houses the stylish Rum Bar. With tall, 'lean-on' tables designed by Phillipe Starck and a meticulously designed interior this is a great place to meet for a cocktails before or after heading out for an evening.
- Light (address: 45 St. Martin's Ln) +44 20 7300 5599
Stylish, ultra modern space inside the St. Martin’s Lane Hotel. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, many of London's most popular D.J.'s are featured.
- Freud (address: 198 Shaftesbury Ave) +44 20 7240 9933
If you blink, you'll miss this casual cellar bar that serves up a variety of cocktails you can't find anywhere else in London. Has good mojitos, and even an Apple Pie concoction that tastes like a drink version of the real thing! Always very crowded at night on the weekends despite the fact that you need to go down a rickety metal staircase to find it.
Gay and Lesbian
- Kudos (address: 10 Adelaide St, WC2N 4HZ) (directions: off Trafalgar Sq)
Bar popular with Asian guys and their admirers.
- Fielding Hotel (address: 4 Broad Ct W2B 5QZ) +44 20 7836 8305
price: From £90
No frills hotel located right opposite the Royal Opera House.
- Strand Palace Hotel (address: 372 Strand, WC2R 0JJ) +44 20 7379 4737
price: From £65
Good value hotel in a convenient location for Covent Garden theatres and shopping
- Travel Lodge Covent Garden (address: 10 Drury Ln, WC2B 5RE) +44 0871 984 6245
price: From £135
Popular hotel with visitors and decent value for the area. Convenient for Covent Garden theatres and shopping
- The Savoy (address: The Strand) +44 20 7836 4343
The famed Savoy is located on The Strand in the heart of the West End theatre district, offering magnificent views of the river Thames. The Savoy opened in 1889 and remains a popular destination in London. The hotel boasts 263 rooms and suites, a nifty blend of elegance and contemporary design. Inventive cuisine can be enjoyed in the Savoy Grill and the more informal Banquette. The theatres, opera, ballet and shopping of Covent Garden are located nearby.
- St Martins Lane (address: 45 St. Martin's Ln) +44 20 7300 5500
Ian Schrager (he of Studio 54 fame) is known worldwide for being an innovator in the ‘hip’ hotel business. His first foray into London, St Martins Lane, is a playful and urbane destination in the West End theater district off Trafalgar Square that combines urban cool and modern design (via design guru Philippe Starck). Unique features to this trendy-meets-luxury hotel include Asia de Cuba restaurant, the popular Light Bar and interactive light displays in every guest room that encourage guests to personalize their own individual space.