Editor’s Note: This is the first in a new ongoing series at Anglotopia where we’ll highlight the top 10 things to see and do in specific London neighborhoods.
Once the pasture of greenery that its name would suggest, Covent Garden today is one of London’s neighbourhoods that is truly at the heart of the city. A 17th Century fruit and vegetable market is credited with the area’s start as a thriving commercial center, with the market eventually becoming what we know as Covent Garden Market. Despite a seedy period as a red-light district in the 18th Century, today Covent Garden is a place where everyone can find some good wholesome fun, whether you’re shopping, studying history, looking for a show, or just taking in the atmosphere. So, without further ado, here are ten of our favourite things to do in Covent Garden. Let us know some of your own in the comments.
London Transport Museum
Getting from place to place is something we tend to take for granted. Whether you’re using a black cab, the Underground, the busses, or even just walking, London Transport Museum documents the history of getting around Britain’s biggest metropolis. You can see the history of transport in London first-hand with exhibits that include an early horse-drawn omnibus and one of the first steam-powered underground trains.
Covent Garden Market
As stated above, the market was the first major draw to this part of London and responsible for much of its growth. Today the market features a number of permanent and rotating shops selling everything from fruit-and-veg to unique collectibles and all man of high and low-end items. The Jubilee Market on the south end of the building is a tad more eclectic and home to sellers who bring in their goods on a daily basis. One day may feature antiques while another could showcase handmade arts and crafts.
One of London’s premier churches, St. Martin-in-the-Fields is just off Trafalgar Square was built in 1726 and is a fine example of the mixture of neoclassical and baroque architecture. As part of that, the altar window is one of the most unique pieces of glasswork in the city and the church has a very rich history. More than a place of worship, St. Martin’s regularly puts on concerts featuring baroque and classical music. It also features one of coolest cafes in the city, one located in the building’s former crypt.
Speaking of Neoclassical, Somerset House is a fine example of the style in London. Originally a Tudor palace, Somerset was greatly expanded during the Victorian period. Today the building finds a number of uses whether it is hosting concerts, art galleries, workshops, or tours featuring its history. Even if you don’t go inside, the courtyard’s fifty-plus fountains are worth viewing alone, though taking the tour will definitely help you realize what’s so spectacular about this Grade I listed structure.
Long one of the city’s public green spaces, today Leicester Square is surrounded on nearly all sides by London’s biggest cinemas and regularly plays host to movie premieres. If you’re not up for a film or an attempt to get an autograph from your favourite stars, there are a number of other attractions that will bring you to the square including Ripley’s Believe It or Not and M&M’s World. A relatively new LEGO store is yet another anchor and features a great number of professional LEGO sculptures in addition to the sets you can buy for yourself or your children.
Arguably the best public square in the city, it is bordered on all sides by any number of attractions, though it is certainly one itself. From Nelson’s Column to the Four Plinths, the square presents much to see itself. While three of the four plinths are occupied by statues dedicated to Britain’s heroes, the fourth has, in the past, been subject to revolving public art exhibits and speakers. Throughout the year, the square plays hosts to any number of public protests, concerts, art exhibits, performances, and festivals. It can also just be a nice quiet spot to people watch and take a break.
Of course, once you’re done with your break, you can go on into the National Gallery, which is the-the top art museum in the United Kingdom. The gallery features more than 2,000 paintings from the Middle Ages to the present day, including works from masters such as Leonardo, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt. There are also a number of rotating exhibits, and presently the gallery features exhibits from Van Ecky and Murillo as well as galleries highlighting monochrome paintings and architecture in Monet’s works. You can feel free to browse on your own, join a tour, or purchase an audio tour guide.
Lamb & Flag
Certainly one of the area’s most notable pubs, its history is much more infamous than its present name would suggest. In the 1800s, the Lamb & Flag earned the nickname “The Bucket of Blood” for the bare-knuckle fistfights it would host. Now much more of a family-friendly establishment, Fuller’s makes sure that its beers are kept on tap and any fighting gets a call from the police. Of course, the pub also has a great history as the drinking establishment of notable literary figures including poet John Dryden and Charles Dickens.
Royal Opera House
A major performing arts venue since 1732, the Royal Opera House was once known as the Theatre Royal and the present building dates to 1858. Today the Royal Opera is home to three main companies, the Royal Ballet, the ROH Orchestra, and the Royal Opera. What’s more, the ROH is home to some spectacular architecture since its renovation a few decades ago, including a glorious terrace looking over the piazza. You can also go on tours of the building, visit the gift shop, or dine at the ROH’s bars and restaurants.
London Film Museum
The London Film Museum is dedicated to the city’s role in some of the best films made in the last century. The museum’s current exhibit features the largest number of cars from the James Bond films collected in one place. Everything from Goldfinger’s Rolls-Royce to Bond’s submersible Lotus Esprit.