Colorful shopfronts of Neal's Yard Covent Garden
Ian Packham

Things to do in Covent Garden London

Part of London’s West End leisure district, Covent Garden is a lively mix of museums, performance spaces, independent traders and traditional British boozers (pubs).

Seemingly a contraction of ‘convent garden’, the area comprised orchards and farmland owned by the church until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, after which a fruit and vegetable market flourished until the 1970s. It is also a part of London’s ‘theatreland’, second only to Broadway in scope and talent.

Although best-known for the street performers that occupy its pedestrianized piazza each day bar December 25, there are many more things to do in Covent Garden London and ways to spend your time. These are some of our favorites.

Take in the market stalls

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The era of fruit and vegetable sales may be well and truly in the past – with New Covent Garden Market in Nine Elms fulfilling this function – but that doesn’t mean the neighborhood has said goodbye to its traders completely.

Almost all the images you’ll see of Covent Garden are of the green-painted ironwork and glazing of the Apple Market, dating to its reconstruction in the 19th Century. Along its flanks are stores recognizable from any British high street, with its center given over to stall holders selling a range of gifts, clothes and antiques.

The Jubilee Hall Market, completed in 1904, sits on the south side of the piazza with another pick of stalls. Their goods range from the so-bad-they’re-good souvenirs to genuine antiques. Open daily, Mondays are dedicated to the antiques trade whilst Saturdays and Sundays are given over to London’s artists and craftspeople. The rest of the week you can expect an assortment of stalls.

Towards the neighborhood’s northern reaches lies Seven Dials, incorporating Neal’s Yard. This area’s stores can come as something of a shock to those used to the grand stone facades of much of London. That’s because their mishmash of brickwork and colorful exteriors are an indication of their independent ownership and style.

Delve into the museums

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On the east side of the piazza you’ll find the flower market turned London Transport Museum. Packed with old buses, trams (streetcars) and trains, as well as era-defining imagery and early versions of the London Underground map, this child-friendly celebration of transportation isn’t just for nerds.

One of the newest things to do in Covent Garden is visit the London Film Museum, first opened in 2008. Dedicated to the movie industry, its collection includes a variety of costumes and props you’ll recognize from the big screen, with the James Bond franchise one of dozens of movies represented.

But for the lowdown on London’s top cameo appearances, you’ll want to join a Brit Movie Tour. With 10 different tours to pick from, now’s the chance you’ve been waiting for to enter the world of movies such as Harry Potter or James Bond and television hits including Downton Abbey and Killing Eve.

Straddling the southwest corner of the neighborhood is Trafalgar Square. Constructed to commemorate the victory over Napoleon in 1805, Nelson’s Column was erected by public subscription in the 1860s. It stands in pride of place outside of the National Gallery and connected National Portrait Gallery.

Together they form one of the world’s most important art collections. Paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci and Johannes Vermeer are joined by the many greats of British painting, from John Constable to J M W Turner.

Enjoy a night at the theater

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Back in the heart of Covent Garden, the Royal Opera House began life in the 1730s as one of just two spaces in London permitted by the king to put on plays.

Several rebirths later, it was chosen by Germano-British composer – and favorite of George III – George Frideric Handel as the auditorium to debut many of his works and has also been the home of the Royal Ballet since 1946. To take a peek inside when there’s no performance scheduled opt for a guided tour instead.

Another big name in the neighborhood linked to the arts is the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane – the oldest theater in London to be in continuous use as a playhouse. It has a history that dates back to 1663 and includes performances by Nell Gwyn – the actress mistress of Charles II – and comedy troupe Monty Python.

The latest big name in comedy might well be discovered on the cobblestones of the piazza, since its street performers have to audition in front of Covent Garden’s management before being given a location and time slot in which to hit the heady heights of stardom or flop into oblivion.

Admire Covent Garden’s architecture

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Not to be confused with the nearby cathedral, St Paul’s Church is literally unmissable since it stands immediately opposite the Apple Market. Also known as the actors’ church because of its close association with the neighborhood’s theaters – it hosts its very own acting company. Originally designed by Inigo Jones alongside the piazza, its small churchyard provides a much-needed area of greenery too.

In an area so rich in architecture it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees – or the sculpture for the stone – but somewhere you’re not going to want to miss Somerset House. Its central courtyard has been widely-adopted by the public, with fountains and movie screenings in the summer and an ice rink during the Christmas period.

Inside, the main exhibition space to look out for belongs to the Courtauld Institute. Spanning several centuries of European art, its bright galleries contain works by Botticelli and Bruegel.

Uncover Covent Garden with Go City

If you’ve been wondering about the things to do in Covent Garden London, here’s you answer.

Still home to market stalls as it has been for centuries, there’s also historic performance spaces like the Royal Opera House and museums including those dedicated to art, transportation and the movie industry.

That’s a lot to add to your London itinerary! Travel with Go City for substantial savings on admission to many of the top attractions. It not only covers Covent Garden but the entire British capital from Hampton Court Palace in the west to the Tower of London in the east to ensure you don’t face any nasty credit card bills when your return home!

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