It’s hard to imagine Covent Garden, known for its many street entertainers, shops, market, and bustling atmosphere, as its early life as an orchard belonging to Westminster Abbey. When it was developed under architect Inigo Jones in 1630, It was the first planned square in London, giving rise to the many that exist in the city today, and was based on one in Livorno, Italy.
It was initially intended as a residential area for the wealthy, but by 1654 an open-air market selling fruit and vegetables opened. This grew over the years, as did the number of people visiting the square, and the area became filled with taverns and theatres, leading to much unsavoury behaviour. In a bid to turn the square around, the neo-classical building that you see in the centre of the square, now filled with shops and restaurants, was erected in 1830. It housed the market until 1974, and in 1980 its retail revival started to take place, turning it into the much-loved tourist hot spot that 44 million people visit every year.
Surrounded by historical theatres showing the best West End musicals in town, it’s no wonder Covent Garden has plenty to keep you entertained. You’ll most famously find the Royal Opera House in the square’s northeast corner. It was opened in 1732 and is home to opera and ballet performances from the world’s leading companies. For a more humble show, you only have to walk through the square to find many street entertainers vying to steal your attention for a few moments. From human statues to buskers to circus performers and more, these are among the highest calibre you’ll find in this talented city and undoubtedly worth throwing a few pennies in their hats.
On top of all this, Covent Garden is home to the London Transport Museum, a fascinating exploration of how the capital stays moving. The highly interactive exhibitions are perfect for adults and children.