Covent Garden is one of the most popular neighbourhoods in London – and for good reason! I loved hanging out in Covent Garden after work and would often even make a detour to grab a glass of red wine in one of the many pubs and restaurants overlooking the market square.
Covent Garden is a Mecca of cosy restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy amazing food and drinks after a busy day of shopping and walking around. There are many great stores in the neighbourhood and if you are into luxury brands you will want to visit Seven Dials where you can (window) shop many exclusive boutiques and brands.
More than 30 million tourists and locals visit the Covent Garden market halls every year. It may be very busy, but Covent Garden is nevertheless a great place to visit when exploring London. Especially in summer, this pleasant neighbourhood emerges as the place to be when you want to see some excellent street performances or enjoy great classical music.
As Covent Garden cannot be absent from your London Itinerary, I have made a list of the 10 best things to do in Covent Garden, London.
1. Covent Garden Market
The Covent Garden Market has a very rich history. Once a herb garden of a Benedictine covent (a community similar to a monastery), Covent Garden was later repurposed to become one of the biggest fruit, vegetable and flower markets in London.
Remember Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady? She was a flower seller at Covent Garden Market! But Eliza would probably not recognise Covent Garden as the market itself was moved to Nine Elms in South London and although renovations have tried to keep the spirit of the building and the market intact, Covent Garden Market has changed a lot since it was a place to sell fruits and vegetables.
Covent Garden Market currently houses many little antique and tat shops together with a large number of food stalls and craft beer stands. It is also a great place to grab a bite and when you are spending Christmas in London; Covent Garden Market NEEDS to be on your Itinerary as it is impressively, and beautifully decorated.
The little kitschmarket is closed on Mondays.
2. Somerset House
Although less well-known with tourists (and some) locals alike, Somerset House is considered one of the most beautiful and significant historic buildings in the United Kingdom. Somerset House is currently one of the most important centres of art with a large number of events, exhibitions and even courses taking place every year.
Edward Seymour (yes, family of poor old Jane Seymour), the Duke of Somerset, began building Somerset House in 1547. This Palace by the Thames was confiscated by the English Crown in 1553 after Edward Seymour was hanged and Princess Elizabeth lived in Somerset House until she was crowned Queen of England.
The original Somerset House was demolished in 1775 and rebuilt by 1779 after which the Royal Academy of Arts moved into the North Wing of Somerset House.
Somerset house is an amazing palace in the heart of London. Not only is the courtyard of Somerset house vast and impressive, walking through the building to the side of the Thames will grant you with an amazing view onto the river and the riverbanks. It also houses the little known Courtauld Gallery, which houses a number of iconic and important pieces of art through time.
3. Neal’s Yard
Neal’s Yard has to be one of the most colourful spots in London. As someone who lived in London for more than 2 years, I can assure you that London can be a drab and dreary place at times. Neal’s Yard is one of the best remedies against overcast skies and grey Mondays as this little street of colourful houses can paint a smile on the stiffest upper lip.
One of the things that immediately stand out when walking into Neal’s Yard are the colourful buildings. Grab a coffee or have a drink at one of the little boutique cafes while admiring the colourful surroundings.
Although it can get quite busy on the little square, I would say even walking through Neal’s Yard should be pretty high up in your list of things to do in Covent Garden. I would sometimes make a detour just to be able to take in this typical London street.
The name Neal’s Yard pays homage to the wealthy businessman Thomas Neale, who received a large piece of land from King William III at the end of the 17th century. Neal turned this piece of land into the Seven Dials district, coincidentally also the area in which Neal’s Yard is located.
As the Seven Dials district does not stand out on its own, it is commonly counted as being part of Covent Garden.
4. The Royal Opera House
Although I have only been to a few Operas in my life, I do love going. I would never say no to a good piece of Wagner. The Royal Opera House is an amazing and beautiful building in the middle of Covent Garden and has been the home base of the Royal Opera, the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House Orchestra.
More than 2200 people can be accommodated in the Opera. The Royal Opera House is actually the third opera house on this exact spot. In fact, the Opera House was built in 1858 but renovations in the 90’s only preserved the façade, the foyer and the hall.
As the programming is very diverse, I would definitely recommend having a look at what’s on during your visit to London – especially when you are into Ballet and Opera.
5. London Transport Museum
Not many tourists know about the London Transport Museum – but I would say you absolutely NEED to visit this museum when you’ve booked quite some time in London or when it is your second or third time in the city.
The London Transport Museum will take you back to a time of wooden metro carts and the very first red double-decker busses but will also let you take a glimpse into the future at what the city is planning for their public transport – from hyper efficient busses to futuristic metro trains.
I would say that The London Transport Museum is a great museum to visit when you are bringing kids. Not only can kids take pictures behind the wheel of a bus, they can also play with miniature trains and play games teaching them more about public transport of London throughout the ages.
6. London’s last gas lamps
Although this is something of a strange landmark, It would be wrong not to mention that at Covent Garden you can find the last gas lamps in London. As you might know, every night the street lamps in London had to be lit by a guy on a ladder or a really long pole. When electricity made it into the city and the homes, these lamps were obviously switched out for electric streetlamps.
Here at Covent Garden you can experience the oddly warm glow of the last few gas street lamps of London. It is an iconic piece of London history that is being preserved.
7. St Paul’s Church
St Paul’s Church doesn’t look much like a church. In fact, it looks more like a temple! According to legend the Earl of Bradford asked for a church not better than a barn to which Inigo Jones – the architect, said that he will have the handsomest barn in England!
St Paul’s church was commissioned by the 4th Earl of Bradford and is known as The Actor’s Church as it has a long history with actors and playwrights having a special affinity with this church.
As the church lies close to the Royal Opera House and served the many little theatres in the area, it soon became the local church of many actors and playwrights. It is also the setting of the first scene of Shaw’s Pygmalion – which was later adapted to become the classic better known as My Fair Lady.
In St Paul’s Church you can find memorials dedicated to famous actors such as Sir Charlie Chaplin and Boris Karloff.
8. Watching the performers at Covent Garden Market
I love street performers and Covent garden is probably the finest place in London to go to watch amazing street performers. There have been street performers around in Covent Garden ever since the 17th century. All performers are auditioned in front of a panel which means that these are some of the highest quality street performers in London.
Whether you like classical music, some slapstick or absolutely amazing clowns and dancers, there is always something to see, hear and watch around Covent Garden. There are two places where you can enjoy performances: On the West Piazza you can find a bit of everything – from clowns to jugglers to amazing dancers, while inside the market itself you will be able to enjoy classical music and Opera.
9. Windowshopping at Seven Dials
Although Seven Dials is a mini district on its own, these seven streets going off form the same little square are often considered to be a part of Covent Garden. Seven Dials is known for its luxury shops and amazing chocolatiers. This amazing pedestrianised shopping extravaganza will have you salivating over immaculate window displays and amazing high fashion.
Although there is not much more to do than shop in Seven Dials, I would absolutely recommend just walking through Seven Dials as the neighbourhood looks like something out of storybook London.
10. Spend Happy Hour at The Roadhouse
Whenever friends ask me what to do in London or what to eat and drink, I always send them to The Roadhouse at Happy Hour. The Roadhouse on Covent Garden is a little cellar cocktail bar with a great and cheap happy hour.
2 cocktails for £9 is extremely cheap for London standards and their food is great! If you are looking for a place to wind down after exploring London, then you might want to spend some time at The Roadhouse!