Neal’s Yard is one of those gorgeous hidden gems in London that you need to see. Walk through the narrow entrance to emerge into a world of colourful buildings, indie eateries and alternative remedies…
Neal’s Yard is tucked away in a corner of Covent Garden – a not so secret gem full of brightly-coloured buildings and alternative shops that stands in stark contrast to its surrounds.
I love London – I grew up here and have spent many of my adult years living here, but sometimes the centre can feel a bit, well, generic. The same shops, big brands, grey buildings… but nothing could be less true in Neal’s Yard.
Even on a dull grey day (and let’s face it, London has many of those) you can’t help but be cheered by the sight of Neal’s Yard’s neon green, yellow, orange and blue-daubed buildings – there are even a few murals thrown in for good measure.
Walking through one of the two narrow passageways by which you access the yard for the first time, you’re not entirely sure what to expect. Is it really as cool as they say? Surely the colours have been doctored for the ‘Gram (when did we become so cynical)?
Nope. This is the real deal – as you will see for yourself once you emerge from the passage.
History of Neal’s Yard
Visit today and you find vegan cafes instead of chic coffee shops, handmade trinkets instead of designer furniture and, of course, the famous Neal’s Yard Remedies.
All the businesses here emphasise the importance of environmentally-friendly and sustainable practices – which explains why it’s not the normal jumble of familiar branded shops.
Yet in the not too distant past, Neals Yard was just another run down courtyard of buildings on the road to demolition.
It was saved by the founder of Neal’s Yard, Nicholas Saunders – a figurehead of London’s alternative scene who championed a different kind of London.
As an activist, Saunders wrote books teaching people how to enjoy London without lots of money – advocating for living in communities and emphasising spirituality. In other words, he sounds like a complete dude.
For just £7,000, he was able to purchase premises in the yard that were previously used as the Covent Garden Fruit and Vegetable Market. An incredible price – in exchange for a derelict building infested with rats. Shudder.
Well actually, Saunders wanted to live there, but he was refused permission from the council. So a whole food store was the next sensible option, clearly.
Technically, he was also told he couldn’t open a whole foods store, although Saunders spoke to a solicitor who told him that he could legally go right ahead and try to gain local support. After which, the council would have no choice but to allow it.
After three months of renovation, the shop finally opened in November 1976, and did a roaring trade.
It proved so successful that he expanded it to a chain of eco-friendly businesses trading under the Neal’s Yard name: Neal’s Yard Coffee House, Neal’s Yard Bakery, and what we now know as Neal’s Yard Remedies.
And voila – Neal’s Yard was reborn. Not too bad an achievement for a man who rejected rampant capitalism in favour of a different way of life.
Must-Visit Spots in Neal’s Yard London
Neal’s Yard Remedies
This is Neal’s Yard’s most famous name – an ethical beauty and skincare brand that first opened its doors here more than 30 years ago and has remained ever since.
You can choose one of their own products – easily identified by its blue glassware – or stock up on dried herbs to bring home.
Want to go one step further? Book yourself in for wellbeing treatment at the therapy centre next door. It might not be the most luxurious spa in Covent Garden, but it is a nice escape from the crowds and the bustle.
Jacob the Angel
Jacob the Angel serves up some of the best breakfasts in Covent Garden (and pretty tasty coffee too) – so I’d absolutely recommend popping in for a bite to eat before you start the day.
Their lunchtime sandwiches are pretty delicious too. Forget the bog standard egg mayo – they serve up much more tempting options like mushroom, satay and kimchi or labneh and cucumber.
26 Grains is another brilliant spot for breakfast in Neal’s Yard.
You think you know porridge – until you go and try a few of 26 Grains’ creations – is it too much to describe them as mind-blowing? Okay – stomach satisfying then.
St John’s Bakery
The original St John’s in Farringdon is one of my favourite restaurants (if you haven’t come across Fergus Henderson’s imaginative dishes, get yourself there pronto) – but their bakery in Neal’s Yard is a totally different affair.
First up, the doughnuts are one of those must-try London dishes that you simply have to get your hands on. Once you’ve finished with those, try a few other treats in-store and pick up a fresh loaf to bring home.
Homeslice serves up some of the best pizza in London. Perhaps that’s why it’s popping up in so many locations across the city as, let’s face it, Londoners bloody love a good pizza.
The menu is simple – pizza, wine and beer (with some frizzante on tap if you’re feeling fancy).
Chow down on a slice of their wood-fired bits of heaven or club together and get one of the impressive 20” whole pizzas.
Compagnie Des Vins Surnaturels
With over 400 expertly selected wines to choose from, you’re bound to find something to suit your tastes here. And the talented sommeliers are always on hand to help you decide where to start.
The charcuterie boards and small plates go down a treat too – cheesy lobster rolls and a delicate selection of meats and cheeses that pair perfectly with the wines.
Casanova & Daughters
Enjoy a foodie feast in Sicilian-inspired Casanova & Daughters’ pretty outdoor terrace – this is a traditional Italian wine bar with a charming feel.
A carefully curated selection of reds, whites, and champagnes accompany small antipasti dishes. Opt for the Sicillian platter, which includes olives, tuna bresaola, sun-dried tomatoes, and ciabatta, and you won’t go wrong.
Drawing inspiration from the Barbary coast, The Barbary’s restaurant menu is a culmination of Mediterranean, African, and Middle Eastern flavours and ingredients.
While the dishes are modern, The Barbary uses the simplistic method of fire to cook the food, with coals hand-lit each morning. Expect intense flavour combinations with the likes of black salmon dukkah and pata negra neck fan favourites on the menu.
Hair by Fairy
With its iconic facade and magical sign, Hair by Fairy is the top spot in Neal’s Yard for a good old pamper session. And the inside is just as cool, with exposed brick and lavish art adorning the walls.
Get your hair cut, relax with a massage, or get your nails done before popping over to one of the other spots in Neal’s Yard for a coffee – or a midday wine.
Tips for Visiting Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden
- Neal’s Yard is nicest in the mornings as it does tend to get busy later in the day. There are some lovely breakfast spots in the yard, so I’d suggest popping in early, having a wander and than having breakfast in one of them before the wannabe Instagram models descend.
- The entrances to the yard are a little tucked away – but Google Maps is totally your friend here.
Where is Neal’s Yard? Map
Neal’s Yard is tucked between Shorts Gardens and Monmouth Street in Covent Garden.
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