Covent Garden might have a bit of reputation for being a crowded tourist trap. And it is, but there’s much more to see beyond the ropey street performers and people trying to shove flyers into your hand. The area is full of excellent places to eat, drink, shop and has plenty of culture. So, join us in avoiding anyone painted head-to-toe in silver or pretending to be a statue: here’s our guide to things to do in Covent Garden.
Wander around Covent Garden Market
Kick things off with the most obvious destination, the famous Covent Garden Market. It’s actually an arcade of connected, covered market halls with cafés and shops inside as well. It’s a beautiful old building that houses three main halls. The Apple Market used to be a bustling fruit and veg market, but these days you’ll find crafts, art and handmade jewellery. The East Colonnade market is open every day from 10 am, where you’ll find stalls selling homewares, artwork, and jewellery. And the Jubilee market specialises in antiques and collectibles on Mondays, with a general market Tuesdays-Fridays and an arts and crafts market at weekends.
Discover secret gardens (St Paul’s Church & The Phoenix)
If you’re wandering around thinking everything looks a bit concrete and un-garden like, you’re right. But, not if you know where to look. Covent Garden is home to two hidden gems where you can retreat to for a bit of respite from the crowds. One is tucked behind St Paul’s Church, right opposite Covent Garden Markets. Crowds often gather around its steps to watch street performers, but what they might not realise is that there is a lovely garden at the back of the church. Known as ‘The Actors Church’ because of a long association with the theatre community, St Pauls’ Church garden is a small oasis of calm in a busy part of London. Visit during spring or summer and unwind with a sandwich and a book.
Another secret(ish) garden with a theatrical connection is The Phoenix Garden. Tucked off Charing Cross Road, it’s the only remaining Covent Garden Community Garden (of an original seven) and you’ll find it behind the Phoenix Theatre. It’s easy to wander past it and have no idea it’s there at all, but it’s well worth a visit, especially when the spring flowers are in bloom. The garden is also home to an abundance of wildlife including dragonflies and the only frogs in the West End.
Grab food at Seven Dials Market
Londoners and visitors love a street food market, especially one that’s open all year round. Seven Dials Market is run by seasoned food market veterans KERB, and is a large food hall where diners eat at large communal tables. With a mix of London favourites like Monty’s Deli, Nanban and Club Mexicana among the foodie line-up – it’s a great option for hanging out with friends, as there should be something for all dietary needs.
Explore the pretty courtyard at Neal’s Yard
Neal’s Yard is one of Covent Garden’s prettiest, and most insta-worthy streets. It’s tucked down a tiny side street, and once there you’ll be greeted by a colour courtyard with colourful façades. Before the mid 1970s, Neal’s Yard was dank and derelict, home to bins and rodents. But, thanks to a chap called Nicholas Saunders, the small courtyard is now a vibrant enclave, home to independent businesses and specialist shops like Neal’s Yard Remedies and Neal’s Yard Cheese. Apart from stocking up on skincare items and quality cheeses, it’s a nice place to stop off for an afternoon cuppa, a glass of wine or bread and cheese at cosy spots like Casanova & Daughter or Compagnie Des Vins Surnaturels.
Peruse vintage shops
Covent Garden isn’t just home to chain stores and fast fashion, it’s also a pretty decent place to go secondhand clothes shopping. The area is home to several vintage clothes shops, and is an area great for thrifting. One of the biggest is Pick N Weight, the vintage kilo store. As the name suggests, you can buy pre-loved clothes by the kilo, and items are colour tagged to indicate price points from around £30.00 per kilo, or even as little at around £15.00 during sales. Other vintage shops in the area include Pop Boutique, Rokit, Goldsmith Vintage and Past Trash.
Eat like a literary legend at Rules
Covent Garden could fill up a food guide of its own, and no we’re not talking about the myriad chain restaurants. It’s an excellent area to find a decent fixed price/pre-theatre dinner menu. But if you want to indulge in a decadent meal and be transported back in time, book a table at Rules. It’s the oldest restaurant in London, established by Thomas Rule in 1798 and has been serving up hearty fayre ever since. By which we mean, it’s a meat (especially game) heavy menu, so not one for veggies and vegans. But prices are comparable to nearby J-Sheekey (around £25.00-35 for a main) which despite its seafood focus does have vegan options. Visit Rules for a taste of old London, sit in a velvet booth and imagine the stories contained within its decadently-decorated walls. The likes of Charles Dickens, H G Wells, and John Le Carré are among the famous diners at Rules, as well as a whole host of actors — it even pops up in the James Bond film Spectre.
See a play at the Donmar Warehouse
Covent Garden is nestled in the heart of theatreland, so there’s no shortage of places to see great shows and plays. But, with just 251 seats – the Donmar Warehouse is one of smaller venues and a great place to see new writing, as well as classic productions such as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, One Night in Miami and Saint Joan . Tickets usually range between £20.00–£60.00, and you can grab £10.00 standing tickets once all seats have been sold. The theatre also releases tickets for productions for productions every day at 10am across different price bands, which are available online or in person from the box office.