Covent Garden Walking Tour (Self Guided), London

A shopping and entertainment hub on the eastern fringes of London's West End, Covent Garden is a district historically associated with the former fruit-and-vegetable market – currently a shopping spot popular with locals and tourists alike.

Once a slum area, today the north of the district is given over to independent shops centered on Neal's Yard and Seven Dials. Both places offer boutique shops, vintage and street style clothes, and a great number of pubs and restaurants that cater to shoppers and diners of all tastes.

The south of the district contains many historic buildings, theatres and entertainment venues, such as the London Transport Museum and London Coliseum.

In 1757, Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the US, arrived in London as agent for the then Pennsylvania Assembly. He settled in a terraced Georgian house on Craven Street, a short distance from the market. During the periods of 1757-1762 and 1764-1775, Franklin lived in the house for nearly sixteen years. Today his former residence is open to public as a museum.

To acquaint yourself with London's Covent Garden for a chance to see its top attractions and sample the variety of shopping and dining options, take this self-guided walking tour!
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Covent Garden Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Covent Garden Walking Tour
Guide Location: England » London (See other walking tours in London)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Covent Garden Market
  • London Transport Museum
  • Somerset House
  • Lincoln's Inn Fields
  • Neal's Yard
  • Seven Dials
  • Lamb and Flag
  • London Coliseum
  • Benjamin Franklin House
1
Covent Garden Market

1) Covent Garden Market (must see)

The original Covent Garden Market started out as a fruit and vegetable market in the 1650s. The location had traffic flow issues, so the fruit and vegetable market was moved to a new location in the 1970s.

After the move, the Covent Garden Market was re-organized and now it is London's premier tourist center with many attractions, theatres, pubs, restaurants, and boutique shops all centered around a central square.

The two main market areas are the Apple Market and the Jubilee Market, but the entire area is chockablock full of shopping and dining options. At each location, you'll find the usual high-end retail chains, but there's also a focus on independent and unique traders.

From Tuesdays to Sundays, independent sellers offer handcrafted goods. You'll find hand-painted t-shirts featuring London icons like double-decker buses and the Tower of London, which make the perfect souvenirs. You'll also find unique, handcrafted jewelry. On Mondays, you'll find one-of-a-kind collectibles, antiques, and works of art. Shoppers can even get custom-painted portraits of their pets.

If all that shopping makes you hungry, you've got plenty of dining options, too. You will find a mix of eateries from coffee shops to pizza places to fine dining in the Market. Keep an eye out for the spice shop, and don't miss the imported cheese selection. The streets in every direction are lined with restaurants and pubs of every description.

Why You Should Visit

Some locals scorn Covent Garden Market as a tourist trap, but it's still worth a visit. The market was historically a spot where all classes of Londoners mingled for a common purpose--shopping! Today, the original market's spirit lives on, and Londoners come together to shop the uniquely British location. It's busy and it's alive; it's authentic London at its best.

When you talk about Covent Garden, Londoners associate the name with the entire neighborhood. Included in the area are The Royal Opera House, the London Transport Museum, the London Film Museum, and many theatres.

Tips

Visit the market on Mondays for unique finds like classic cameras, antique tins, and collector's silverware.

The Garden is filled with tourists during the day, and during the evening, it is popular with theatre-goers heading to or from the Royal Opera House.

If you're touring London during the holiday season, Covent Garden is a real treat. Seemingly every building is decorated in decorations and twinkling lights.

Operation Hours: daily: 10am - 8pm
2
London Transport Museum

2) London Transport Museum

A museum dedicated to transportation might sound a bit boring, but consider what a long and varied history transport has had in London! From Tudor barges to the iconic double-decker bus, this museum is actually really fascinating. The museum is housed in an iconic brick and glass building that was initially a flower market.

Discover 19th-century transport from riverboats to the first omnibus. The museum has the world's oldest surviving underground railway steam locomotive from 1866.

Have you ever wondered how they created the world's first underground? The museum has a scale model of the device used to cut through London's clay, the Greathead Shield. The first trains to run through the new tubes were called "padded cells" windowless subway coaches. The museum hosts the first 1890 electric underground railway engine and an 1890 "padded cell" windowless coach.

There are a host of interactive exhibits and families will enjoy the ability to climb inside the railway cars and buses. Everyone will enjoy the subway simulator that gives you the chance to drive an underground train. All aboard!
3
Somerset House

3) Somerset House

This stunning neoclassical building is centered around an enormous courtyard. The courtyard features 55 fountains. Kids can play in the fountains in the summer or skate on the ice rink in the winter. Somerset House offers fascinating history, free tours, and a myriad of events. It's truly a public building.

Princess Elizabeth lived in the original Somerset House from 1553 to 1558. The house was host to many important events over the years, but it fell into neglect and was demolished in 1775. Renowned architect William Chambers began work on the new Somerset House in 1775. The new Somerset House was first used to house various government offices.

It is now a working arts center that focuses on encouraging the next generation of artists.

Visitors can enjoy several different tours to experience this fascinating landmark building fully. The Old Palace Tour takes visitors through the history of the original house. The Historical Highlights Tour gives an excellent overview of the house's history from the Tudor period to the Georgian era and the House's use by scientific societies and the Royal Navy. A Studio Tour takes you behind the scenes into the working spaces of today's innovative artists.

Don't miss the Miles Stairs, which are a useable modern art piece finished in 2013. The Lightwells are a unique underground highlight that has been featured in many films. Also, check out the Deadhouse, which has memorials set into walls and is another memorable part of the House.

Somerset House also hosts major events like London Fashion Week. There's a constant rotation of art exhibitions, along with outdoor concerts and an outdoor cinema.
4
Lincoln's Inn Fields

4) Lincoln's Inn Fields

Lincoln's Inn Fields is the largest public space in London. Historically, it was the scene of public executions that were carried out in the 1500s and 1600s. Today, it is surrounded by barristers' offices and homes and is often used for morning walks and outdoor lunch breaks. You'll find plenty of green space for a picnic. Walk the perimeter to admire the many historical homes. As you walk, pay special attention to the many memorials.

Sir John Soane, a famous architect, resided here. His house is now a museum dedicated to his life and work.

There is an ornate 1880 drinking fountain dedicated to Philip Twells, Member of Parliament and Barrister at Law of Lincolns Inn. Another sculpture and seat are dedicated to Margaret MacDonald, wife of the first Labour Prime Minister.

The monolithic memorial is dedicated to the 2nd Viscount Hambleden, William Frederick Danvers Smith. He founded the WH Smith & Son booksellers firm.

Finally, you'll find a bust of John Hunter, a teacher and surgeon who is regarded as the father of modern surgery.
5
Neal's Yard

5) Neal's Yard

Just off Covent Garden, tucked away between Shorts Gardens and Monmouth Street, lies the lovely Neal's Yard. Well hidden from the eyes, this small alley is quite easy to miss. It opens into a courtyard filled with cute little cafes, charming coffee shops and restaurants surrounded with trees and shrubs growing in pots.

The place is named after the 17th century developer, Thomas Neale. Today quirky and colorful, it is hard to believe that not so long ago, this one of London’s prettiest corners was just a waste area filled with bins and, quite possibly, rats too.

Luckily, in 1976, alternative activist Nicholas Saunders used his entrepreneurial skills to convert this nook into a buzzing spot that it is today. He started off buying a derelict warehouse for the nearby Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market. From this success, grew various other enterprises in the nearby buildings, such as Neal's Yard Coffee House, Neal's Yard Bakery and the Neal's Yard Apothecary.

Nowadays, the little enclave contains several health-food cafes and retailers where you can get everything, from pizza to pedicures; each business is committed to sustainable and ethical commercial practices.

Whenever you feel like taking a perfect Instagram shot, or it's a sunny day and you look for a perfect retreat to sit outdoors with a drink, Neal's Yard is the place.
6
Seven Dials

6) Seven Dials

Lying between Covent Garden and Soho is the small cobbled-street area known as Seven Dials. It’s a great place for shopping without having to pay high London prices, and is also a small slice of the history of the capital.

The area is made up of seven streets and yards, which were once a part of the St Giles Rookery – a slum area frequented by the poor, criminals and prostitutes. However, when Thomas Neale laid out the designs in 1690, and gave his name to a street and a yard, he had visions of turning the area into an upper-middle class part of the city.

His original drawings centred on the central part of the area, a square where six streets would converge, and here he set up a pillar bearing six sundials. Shortly before the completion of the work, a seventh street was added, but although the name Seven Dials caught on, a 7th sundial was never added to the pillar.

In 1773 the Town Council removed the column, supposedly for repairs, but in truth to try to disperse the “unsavoury elements” that used the central place as a meeting point. This didn’t noticeably reduce the crime rate, but it gave the locals something to talk about.

Eventually, as often happens, the “unsavoury elements” lost interest in the place and moved on to more prosperous areas, where the pickings were easier, and gradually the Seven Dials became a popular meeting place for students.

Pubs and shops were either renovated or opened around the pillar, which was replaced by a copy of the original in 1988. Today the area attracts millions of tourists every year, with Monmouth Street’s shops selling luxury goods, Earlham Street that sells fine vintage and street-style clothes; Short’s Garden where you will find Neale’s Yard Dairy, with its 50 varieties of cheeses, and Neale’s Yard itself with its Herbal Remedy shop and several great pubs, restaurants with music provided by street musicians.
7
Lamb and Flag

7) Lamb and Flag

The Lamb and Flag is a Georgian pub with a fascinating history. A plaque commemorates an attack on poet John Dryden, who was assaulted in the alley in 1679 by King Charles's men.

The building became a pub in 1772 and has been named the Lamb and Flag since 1833. The name itself is a traditional British pub name. The Lamb is the Lamb of God, pictured carrying a banner or flag with a cross.

The pub was once nicknamed the "Bucket of Blood" since it was the scene of constant bare-knuckle fights. This pub was a favorite of author Charles Dickens. Today, you should find a quieter and less violent scene.

The interior is just what you'd hope for from a traditional London pub: warm wood, antique brass fixtures, and lots of old photos. You can still enjoy an outstanding meal, great company, and, of course, a pint or two. It's a busy place; in nice weather, you'll often see people drinking their beer in the street outside.

Opening Hours: Monday - Saturday: 11:00 - 23:00; Sunday: 12:00 - 22:30.
8
London Coliseum

8) London Coliseum

Designed by Frank Matchum for Oswald Stoll, the famous impresario, the London Coliseum was intended to be, and still is the best and largest “People’s Palace” for entertainment. You will find it on St Martin’s Lane, and whether you decide to take in a show, or go on the guided tour, you shouldn’t miss visiting this magnificent opera house.

The vast auditorium with seats for over 2300 people was built on four floors: Stalls, Dress Circle, Grand Tier and Balcony. There is no Pit, which was unheard of in that time. In late Victorian times, the Pit was an area of Stalls set away from the main Stalls, where the lower classes were crowded together. Oswald Stoll wanted none of that – his theatre was intended to be a family theatre.

It opened in 1904 and quickly became the most popular variety theatre and music hall in the capital, partly because the seats weren’t very expensive. During World War II it was used as a canteen for the Air Raid Patrol and Winston Churchill gave a speech from the stage. After 1945 it was mainly used for American musicals. In 1961 it became a Cinerama Theatre.

In 1968 it reverted to its original use and is now the home of the English National Opera Company. It has the widest proscenium arch in London, being 55ft wide and 34ft high. There is a lift for the disabled and a lovely roof garden.

Here’s a small anecdote: At the beginning of the 20th century, the Theatre Managers Association didn’t allow dramas to be performed in music halls. Oswald Stoll fought against this and eventually the TMA relaxed its rules – a little. Dramas could be staged, but should be no longer than 30 minutes and have no more than 6 speaking characters. The first drama for music hall was written by W.S. Gilbert, the dramatist, best known for his Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas. It was a one-act play called “The Hooligan” and was performed at the Coliseum for the first time in 1911.
9
Benjamin Franklin House

9) Benjamin Franklin House

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, resided in London for 17 years. His London house is the only residence of his that still survives today. The house is an unremarkable Georgian five-story terraced house, but it's full of remarkable history.

Franklin arrived as a colonial diplomat and represented colonial interests before the crown. In 1775, he returned to America and was elected to the Second Continental Congress. He is the only American to have signed all four documents that founded the new country.

Benjamin Franklin's leather wallet is on display at the house, along with other artifacts like a letter written to Franklin's sister. But the curators did not want to include any non-original items in the museum, so the rooms are notably bare.

You can choose to take a historical experience tour or an architectural tour. The historical experience tour features a costumed historical character and uses audio and projected video to take visitors back in time.

The architectural tour includes the Georgian features of the house. You'll also learn interesting facts and details about the anatomy school that operated here, which left behind skulls below the house! The tour also talks about Franklin's time in the house and the conservation project that saved the building to transform it into a beautiful museum.

The Scholarship Center on the top floor features the many subjects that interested Franklin.

Operation hours: Wednesday - Monday: 10:30 am - 5 pm.

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