Covent Garden is such fun. The old covered market area is really beautiful, a place to see talented buskers, amazing magicians, great bands and cool performance artists doing their brilliant thing for the public. There's fantastic shopping, with lots of independent shops selling gorgeous things. There are places to eat, and some really good pubs, and you could easily spend the entire day there enjoying the vibe.
Covent Garden began life in the 7th century as a Saxon settlement called Lundenwick, which supported an ancient port. It was on the bank of the Thames in the days when the riverbank was The Strand, hard to believe these days. People have lived and worked there ever since. It has been home to the aristocracy, the heart of theatrical life in London and eventually the world's biggest produce market. Now it's an international tourist attraction and the location of the Royal Opera House.
If you'd like to put Covent Garden at the heart of your visit to London, why not stay nearby? It's incredibly central, within easy walking distance of the centre of town and all the pleasures London has to offer. We have a couple of cosy, great value easyHotels close by. For cheap hotels near Covent Garden try the easyHotel Victoria or our newly refurbished Old Street hotel.
History and trivia on Covent Garden
- Until 1974 Covent Garden was still an enormous market selling fruit, veg and flowers
- Couvent is French for convent. Covent Garden actually means Convent Garden, and it was indeed a convent garden as early as the 1500s, a vegetable garden owned by the monks of Westminster Abbey
- in 1536, King Henry 8th took the land during his dissolution of the monasteries
- Covent Garden's famous square is the first piazza to be built in the city
- Lucky Covent Garden avoided the worst of the Plague in 1665 and also swerved the Great Fire of London a year later
- The first two theatres to arrive in the district were the First Theatre Royal on Drury Lane, and the Royal Opera on Bow Street
- The end of the 1700s saw Covent Garden go downhill as the rich left in search of cleaner air and more space. It was populated by coffee houses, book shops, gambling houses, drinking dens and brothels
- The movie mogul Alfred Hitchcock's dad, William Hitchcock, was a greengrocer at Covent Garden market
- Covent Garden piazza was designed by Royal Architect Inigo Jones
- In 1961 the Covent Garden Market Bill was passed, and by 1974 the entire market had moved over the river to Nine Elms
- This is the backdrop for the musical My Fair Lady
- Samuel Pepys first mentioned Punch and Judy shows in the UK, writing about a puppet show he saw here in 1662
- Covent Garden attracts more than 44 million visitors every year
- Covent Garden was once one of the city's worst and biggest slums
- The pretty 18th-century Covent Garden pub, The Lamb & Flag, was once called The Bucket of Blood. Great name, very cool pub!
- Because much of Covent Garden is still lit by gas lamps, it is often used to film period dramas
- Seven Dials, like the Seven Dials in Brighton, is a seven-pronged road layout
Essential information about Covent Garden London
What to see
First, Covent Garden opening times. Covent Garden Piazza itself is always open. The shops are usually open from around 10am to 8pm Monday to Saturday and 11am to 6pm on Sundays. The Apple Market opens for business between 10am and 6pm and the East Colonnade Market from half ten to seven pm. Neal Street, Seven Dials, and St Martin's Courtyard are all great little destinations for cool shops, good pubs and places to eat.
Nearby restaurants and museums
Museums near Covent Garden include the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden Piazza itself, the London Film Museum 'Bond in Motion' at 45 Wellington Street and the Library and Museum of Freemasonry on the first floor at 60 Great Queen Street. Sir John Soane's museum isn't far away, at 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, a bizarre collection of curiosities, and the British Museum itself is on Great Russell Street. Finally, the Courtauld Gallery art collection is at Somerset House on The Strand.
There are some excellent places to eat near Covent Garden, including The Jones Family Kitchen at 7-8 Eccleston Yards, a good steak house, plus the Victory Mansion at 18 Stoke Newington High Street, great for tacos. Hawksmoor Seven Dials at 11 Langley Street serves epic steaks as well, and the Sticks 'n' Sushi Covent Garden serves superb sushi at 11 Henrietta Street. Flat Iron at 17-18 Henrietta Street is another local steak house, nice and casual. For seafood head for The Oystermen Seafood Bar and Kitchen at 32 Henrietta Street. Or try Rules on Maiden Lane, London's oldest restaurant, opened in 1798 by Thomas Rule as an oyster bar
The history of the markets
Covent Garden London markets have a long and interesting history. They date back to 1654 when a low-key open-air fruit and vegetable market slowly grew to the south side of the original square. Pubs and theatres, coffee houses and whore houses followed, and the area soon fell into disrepute. By the 1700s it was a popular red-light district and an Act of Parliament was created to control things.
In 1830 a neo-classical masterpiece of a building was erected, designed by Charles Fowler to cover and control the market, which continued to grow. The Floral Hall, Charter Market, and Jubilee Market were added and by the late 1960s the traffic became so bad something had to be done. 1974 saw the entire market relocated to the New Covent Garden Market, about three miles away at Nine Elms. The central building re-opened as a shopping centre in 1980 and the place has remained much the same ever since.
Getting to Covent Garden
Walking – It's faster to walk from Leicester Square to Covent Garden than get the tube. It's a really short walk, an interesting walk too.
Underground – Covent Garden tube station is your nearest, on the Piccadilly line between Leicester Square and Holborn tube stations. Covent Garden underground station only has lifts up so it can be slow at busy times, but you can also get off at Leicester Square, on the Piccadilly and Northern Lines, or Holborn on the Central Line, just a ten-minute walk away. The Embankment station, on the Circle, District, Bakerloo and Northern Lines, is also a ten-minute walk away.
Bus - Catch the RV1 to Covent Garden or the 9, 13, 15, 23, 139 and 153 to Trafalgar Square and Aldwych, both only a short walk away. Or get the 24 to nearby Leicester Square.
Train – Charing Cross is your nearest mainline railway station, followed by Waterloo Station a scenic 20-minute walk away.
River – Catch a boat to Embankment, the nearest river boat jetty to Covent Garden.
Bicycle – You'll find bicycle racks at Southampton Street, Bow Street, Russell Street & Wellington Street.