Covent Garden sits at the heart of the West End, a mix of museums, theatres, underground bars and old-school pubs. Looking for the best things to do in Covent Garden? Here’s where to start.
Covent Garden is one of London’s best-known areas – but it’s too easy to dismiss it as a jumble of theatres, high-end restaurants and not much else.
Londoners often have an aversion to anywhere deemed “too touristy” – which is ridiculous really, as it means missing out on some of the best spots in the city. I’ll put my hand up and say that I’ve been guilty of this in the past – big mistake.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Covent Garden.
Editor’s Note: London, like much of the rest of the world is currently subject to changing lockdown measures. I am still publishing guides to help you discover the best of my hometown but please follow current advice and guidelines and check ahead to ensure that venues are open. Stay safe and stay alert.
Top Things to do in Covent Garden
Covent Garden Market
Well, you can’t take a jaunt around Covent Garden’s attractions and not go to Covent Garden Market itself can you? No.
Sitting at the heart of Covent Garden, the market is one of London’s most recognisable attractions.
The beautiful market hall with its glass roof dates back to the 19th century, but the piazza itself actually dates back to the 17th century – making it the oldest planned square in London.
You could go shopping in Covent Garden, but to be honest, these days there’s not much you’ll find that isn’t on any well-heeled high street.
Skip the shopping and instead marvel at the architecture – that is if you can get through the throngs of people to see it.
Read More: 150+ Cool Ideas for Things to do in London
Is Somerset House truly in Covent Garden? Who knows – but it is only a short walk from the heart of Covent Garden and well deserving of a visit while you are in the area.
Somerset House is one of the few remaining palaces that used to line the Thames – a gorgeous, stately construction that was built in 1776 on top of an old Tudor palace.
These days, you will find open-air cinema screenings, concerts and events held in its stately piazza – quite fitting as Somerset House was always intended to be open for the public to enjoy.
The Courtauld Gallery (which is located in Somerset House) is currently closed for renovation but there’s still a range events to keep you entertained.
The colourful and higgledy piggledy buildings of Neal’s Yard is like stepping into an alternate vision of London – one filled with quaint alleys and small shops.
It offers a colourfully vibrant respite from the hustle and bustle of London, and features many shops and cafes devoted to health and wellness.
That’s no surprise – the area was developed in the mid-1970s by the founder of the Whole Food Warehouse, Nicholas Saunders. Saunders oversaw a total rejuvenation of the area, using it as a base for several of his ethical and eco-friendly businesses.
Be sure to check out the original Neal’s Yard Remedies (famous for its skin care and cosmetics).
Colourful buildings, indie shops and cafes – it’s no wonder that it’s become one of the most interesting places to go in Covent Garden.
Royal Opera House
Want to really push the boat out with an iconic London experience? Book yourself in for a night at the opera or the ballet in the Royal Opera House.
With buildings that date back to 1858, the Royal Opera House is the home of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera and has been entertaining the city’s hoi polloi ever since. Even the Royal Family (fittingly) attend shows quite regularly.
They have a regular calendar of events including (of course) ballet and opera, as well as other events including theatre shows and dances. Tickets tend to sell out quickly, so book ahead.
You never know who you might see – in fact, famed opera singer Luciano Pavarotti got his big break as an understudy at the Royal Opera House.
In addition to catching a show, be sure to head up to the terrace restaurant pre- or post-performance for a meal with a spectacular view.
Cecil Court has stood the test of time, remaining largely unchanged since the 17th century.
Dotted with booksellers, it’s like being transported into Dickens’ London – complete with some of London’s last gas lamps. It’s the perfect place to get lost imagining how London would have looked hundreds of years ago.
The atmosphere is enchanting, and it’s a great place to pick up an unusual souvenir of your time in Covent Garden.
St Paul’s Church
This 17th century church is known as “the actor’s church”, thanks to its long association with the theatre.
St Paul’s was built in 1631 and has been associated with the dramatic arts ever since – it even saw the first recorded performance of the puppet show ‘Punch and Judy’ way back in 1662.
Today, the church has its own in-house theatre company and regular events. Even if you can’t catch a performance, it’s still well worth popping in for a visit.
The church is open for visitors from 8:30am to
K2 Telephone Boxes
It’s a classic London shot right? The K2 (Kiosk Two) telephone boxes are British design classics.
First installed in the 1920s, you can still find many of the iconic red telephone boxes dotted around the city but Broad Court, just around the back of Covent Garden is one of my favourite spots.
There’s not one but FIVE boxes perched jauntily behind the beautiful “Young Dancer” statue by Enzo Plazzotta. The perfect ‘Gram shot if I ever saw it.
Cultural Covent Garden Attractions
London Transport Museum
I absolutely love the London Transport Museum. Transport doesn’t sound like it would be that exciting, but the museum does a stellar job of whirling you through the history of London’s transport system, complete with little-known facts to boggle the mind.
It’s an interesting and interactive exhibit that’s great fun for visitors of all ages, including kids – and kids-at-heart. Although its subject may sound a bit unusual, it’s definitely one of the most interesting things to do in Covent Garden.
An adult ticket is £16 online (children under 18 are free) and the ticket gives you unlimited entry for an entire year. Book ahead.
Read More: Free Museums in London
London Film Museum
Opened in 2008, the London Film Museum is one of the newer Covent Garden attractions and is a great stop while exploring the area.
Inside the museum, you can see many costumes and accessories from famous and recognisable films. There’s also information about how films have been made over the years.
Since 2014, the museum has been home to a ‘temporary’ exhibition that features the vehicles from the James Bond films. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon, so there’s still time to catch the famous cars.
Tickets are £14.50 for an adult and £9.50 for children under 15 (under 5 are free).
Specialist travel bookshop Stanford’s is the place to go for when you want your head filled with new places and your wallet emptied. It’s been inspiring serious wanderlust for 160 years, and shows no signs of slowing down.
It’s just moved from its long-standing store in Long Acre to one just around the corner on Mercer Walk – you’ll still find the same huge collection of travel writing and guides to help you hit the road.
Theatre at the Theatre Royal
OK, so I’m a complete theatre luvvie. There’s nothing I like more than heading to a show where you’re transported to an alternate world for a few hours – drawn into a story that’s so different from your own.
It’s safe to say that Covent Garden isn’t short on a theatre or two – heading to a show is practically a must when it comes to things to do in Covent Garden at night. Even so, the Theatre Royal is special.
It has been welcoming theatregoers through its doors for over 350 years (although it’s moved several times in that period).
For two centuries after it opened, the theatre was considered the most significant in London, hosting many great shows and performances.
Today, it still has a great calendar of shows, including many musicals. It’s also said to be one of the most haunted places in London – with many stories revolving around the alleged ghost of an actor who was killed during a spat with a fellow performer over a wig.
Cutting Edge Drama at the Donmar Warehouse
I have a real soft spot for the Donmar Warehouse – the small theatre puts on some of London’s best theatrical productions under the talented eye of artistic director Josie Rourke (who incidentally directed the film Mary Queen of Scots with Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie).
The theatre is surprisingly intimate for such a powerhouse, with just 251 seats. This allows you to experience theatre as it should be – up close and personal, appreciating all the subtleties of the actors’ performances.
Here, British acting legends such as Sir Ian McKellen perform alongside obscure up-and-comers. You never know whether you may just be watching the next big rising star.
I recommend that you book well ahead, or try and nab some last minute tickets – however you get in, a trip to The Donmar is always a good call.
Things to do in Covent Garden at Night
Found yourself in Covent Garden after the sun goes down? No need to worry, there’s plenty to do in Covent Garden at night.
Dinner and Drinks at Rules
Rules is the oldest restaurant in London and still the go-to place when you want a traditional British dinner of the highest quality served with class and panache.
Not in the mood to eat or want to whet your whistle before you eat? Head to the fabulous Upstairs at Rules, which, quite frankly is pretty much the best cocktail bar in London.
Headed up by the gregarious Brian Silva, the cocktail bar is plush and comfortable – there’s even a gorgeous winter room complete with palms and a glass ceiling for cosy cocktail tete a tetes.
The classics (like a Martini or Bloody Mary) are a fitting choice, although leaving it up to the bartender to decide is yet another option.
Read More: Brilliant Bars in Covent Garden
Splash Out on a Meal at Clos Maggiore
It’s considered one of the most romantic restaurants in London, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Overgrown with pretty white flowers that wind their way up the walls and across the ceiling, Clos Maggiore is fairytale-like in the best way.
It’s a place you go to splurge (think a fancy pre-show meal before the theatre, or romantic soiree), and the menu reflects it with delicious French contemporary meals.
Many of the plates are designed to be shared, so there’s no chance your romantic date will be ruined by food envy.
While your credit card might get a bit of a workout, it is a great place to go for that special night out in Covent Garden.
Read More: Romantic Date Ideas for London
Steak and Cocktails at Hawksmoor
If you love steak or cocktails (or both, especially both), you’ll love Hawksmoor.
The restaurant chain started by restaurateurs Will Beckett and Huw Gott may have taken over London, but the Seven Dials one is one of the early incarnations and still one of the best.
Head down the stairs into a world of hushed conversations, delicious cocktails and hearty meals. Although food is the centrepiece, it’s the ambience that has locals returning again and again.
Plus, there’s often the chance to spot a celeb or two – I saw Mick Hucknall on my last trip, which I was just the teeniest bit excited about – rest of my table… not so much.
Party at the Covent Garden Cocktail Club
Much less salubrious, the Covent Garden Cocktail Club isn’t going to win any mixology awards but it is the place to go for reasonable cocktails, loud music and a spot of dancing on the table.
Yes, you heard me right – dancing on the table.
Go for their rather ridiculous happy hour, stay for the pumping tunes – it’s always a reliable spot for a cheeky night out without the fuss.
PS – you have to sign up for (free) membership before you head down. Check in advance on the website for details.
Looking for an alternative destination for cocktails in Covent Garden? Check out my review of Blame Gloria.
Unusual Things to See in Covent Garden
Check Out London’s Last Gas Lamps
Did you know that London still has some fully functional gas lamps? Particularly in the Covent Garden area?
There’s certainly a kind of romantic appeal with these antique gas-lit lamps, that look like the pages of a history book come to life. Even though London is such a cosmopolitan city, there’s certainly no shortage of throwbacks to the London of old – including the humble gas lamp.
The lamps are spread out throughout the area – you’ll spot them by the slight flicker and ornate lamp posts. They are especially numerous around St Paul’s Church, so be sure to keep an eye out.
See the Patent Sewer Ventilating Lamp
For an even more unusual thing to do in Covent Garden, swing by the Patent Sewer Ventilating Lamp if you have the time – it’s one of London’s quirkier sights.
The lamp used to be operated by the gases given off by London’s noxious sewers. In Victorian England, there was a real fear that the methane gases in the sewers under the streets would eventually explode. To fix the problem, holes were drilled to allow the gases to escape.
The problem was….they smelled totally awful. So a bright young inventor came up with the idea of creating a lamp that would burn off the gases and illuminate the street.
Unfortunately the idea never really caught on. Nonetheless, you can still find the original just behind the Savoy Theatre on Carting Lane. These days, it’s just powered by standard gas though…
Find the Seven Ears of Covent Garden
Soho has its noses, Covent Garden has its ears.
Keep your eyes open for the seven ears stuck to various buildings around Covent Garden.
Let me explain. A few years ago, the artist Tim Fishlock made casts of his own ears which he then used to make prosthetics to stick up around Covent Garden. They’re certainly one of the more unusual icons in the area.
He’s never explained exactly why he thought to give the walls literal ears… but hunting them out is one of those weird but fun things to do in Covent Garden.
I went on a mini adventure a few days ago to see if I could find all seven – I’ll give you a hint and say that there are two on Floral Street (one by 9-10).
How many can you find?
The Vintage Showroom
The higgledy-piggledy building of The Vintage Showroom is one of Covent Garden’s classic sights.
Step inside and a world of vintage menswear awaits.The premises are part-shop, part-museum, and you really never know what you’ll find amongst the Aladdin’s Cave of treasures.
The emphasis is on menswear (and especially works, sports and military outfits), and each piece is hand selected by co-owners Douglas Gunn and Roy Luckett.
Ranging from the unusual to the completely avant-garde, it’s definitely the place to pick up some unusual additions for your wardrobe.
Alice Through the Looking Glass
It’s a book that’s captured hearts and minds for generations. Whether you’re a Carroll obsessive or just a casual Alice in Wonderland fan, you’re sure to love this gorgeous shop in Covent Garden.
Since 2012, this shop has been selling anything and everything related to the much-loved children’s classic. From quirky souvenirs to ultra-rare limited edition prints, it’s heaven for any Alice fan.
Even if you don’t come away with a quirky souvenir of your time in Covent Garden, it’s still wonderful to let your imagination wander and go “down the rabbit hole” in the colourful and eclectic store.
Practical Tips for Visiting Covent Garden
- As with most of London, public transport is definitely the way to get to Covent Garden. The area’s not that big, so everything is in easy walking distance.
- The atmosphere in Covent Gardens changes from day to night. If you can, time your visit (or return later) so that you can experience both sides of the area.
- Skip the heels – those Victorian-esque cobbled streets can prove fatal to your favourite pair. Walking shoes are the way to go.
- There are lots of great themed walking tours around Covent Gardens if you’d prefer not to do it alone.
- Planning your trip to London? Check out my area by area guide of where to stay in the big smoke and first-timer’s London itinerary.
Places to Go in Covent Garden: Map
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