Whether you're hoping to shop 'til you drop in one of London's most famous shopping areas, or even just wanting to take a pleasant stroll in the heart of London's West End, Covent Garden has it all.

During the summer months the area is packed full of tourists and locals carrying big bags of shopping items, and snapping photos of the nearby tourist attractions. But it's during the winter when Covent Garden truly comes to life, with Christmas decorations lining the streets, and brightly-lit displays glistening in all the shop windows.

Walking around the area you can almost feel as if you're walking around London during the 18th century. It was during this time when Covent Garden really experienced its heyday, (although it has been an important location since as far back as 1500s, when the land now known as “The Covent Garden” was acquired by Henry VIII).

Covent Garden first became a desirable place to live among London residents during the 1600s, especially after the famous Inigo Jones started building homes for wealthy London residents in the area. Jones was also responsible for building Covent Garden's Italianate arcaded square, which was the first of its kind of London. In 1654, a fruit and vegetable market was established at the southern section of the square (which was the largest of its kind in England at that time), as well as various theatres, taverns and even brothels.

In 1830, a neo-classical building was designed to cover up the markets, and eventually other buildings like the Floral Hall, Charter Market and the Jubilee Market were added to the area. However, during the 1800s the markets were relocated to the New Covent Garden Market, and the area now known as Covent Garden was transformed into the popular tourist district that is seen today.

Covent Garden, Apple Market sign. By Roman Hobler Covent Garden, market christmas. By Garry Knight
Covent Garden, Piazza. By Anders Hanson Covent Garden, restaurant. By Ewan Munro Covent Garden, street performer. By Anthony Kelly

Covent Garden Highlights

The epicentre of Covent Garden is its market piazza, which is almost always flooded with tourists, locals and even street performers throughout the year. As a matter of fact, the street performers have become so synonymous with Covent Garden, it's not uncommon to see up to 200 visitors watching these performances at a time.

A visit to Covent Garden's Jubilee Hall Market is also a must, as here you can find everything from antiques to food products, or even arts, crafts and souvenirs. Not only that, walking by the many stores in and around Covent Garden, you will see a ton of big-name brands, especially in the cosmetic and beauty departments (like the Dior Beauty Boutique, Chanel and Clinique). There's also a handful of international bars in the area, which draw London's expat community into the area (especially on the weekends and over the holidays).

Neal's Yard (the small alley between Shorts Gardens and Monmouth Street) provides some fantastic photo-taking opportunities, with its 17th century-styled courtyard, not to mention several healthy food cafes and shops as well.

But out of all the attractions in Covent Garden, none would be as famous as the Royal Opera House, which was built in 1809 close to the north piazza. Performances are held here throughout the year which range from ballet and opera, and visitors can see the building's many historical artifacts by visiting the Amphitheatre Gallery.

Special Tips

  • Try to visit Covent Garden at least one time during the day, and then again at night to see Covent Garden in all its glory during the nighttime hours.
  • When watching a street performance, be respectful and pay the performers for their entertainment. If not, be prepared to dish out a few coins anyways as the performers can be a little pushy for money.
  • Because Covent Garden is quite touristy, always keep an eye on your belongings as the area is prone to pick-pocketers.