We visited Covent Garden Market on a Thursday evening and again on a Monday. The market was bustling with activity when we arrived. The street performers were a hodge-podge that ranged from talented classical musicians to guys dressed up in costumes that want a pound in exchange for a photo. The history of street performances at the market dates back to the mid Seventeenth Century. We stopped and listened to classical music, which was well worth a donation before heading out to explore the rest of the market.
The market is a strange combination for those inclined to shop. There are formal shops that carry name brand items toward the more expensive end of the shopping spectrum juxtaposed by a flea-market type environment in adjacent buildings. We browsed through the offerings in the flea market as well as the nicer shops. It was still early in our trip and we didn’t purchase anything that we would then have to lug around for a week.
If you are looking for a meal, there are many options available nearby. On our Thursday visit, the Piazza area at the end of the market was filled with street vendors filling the air with the aroma of sizzling meats. The options were varied and included everything from Salad to Balkan food. We had a large lunch and were not quite ready for dinner, but figured we would stop back on our Monday visit to try the Balkan food (Bosnian Cevape). However, the vendors were not there on Monday. Although we were slightly disappointed, we settled into one of the sixty pubs located at the market.
An option we did not try:
Aside from street vendors, shopping and pubs, there are a couple of interesting attractions close by. The London Transport Museum is located in one corner of the Piazza. The museum is open Monday-Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 10:00-18:00 (Last admission 17:15). On Friday 11:00-18:00 (Last admission 17:15). Admission is a rather steep L15, which is more than twenty dollars (admission is good for a full year, which is great for locals, but is equivalent to a single admission for most tourists). This puts the museum in the same league as the London Eye and more expensive than admission to Stonehenge. I was disappointed at the steep admission prices, when so many great museums in London are free. We did not pay for this museum.
The Royal Opera House is also located at Covent Garden Market across from the London Transport Museum. While we did not attend an event at the Opera House, I mention the location because it is the only place where you can find a free restroom nearby. However, there was a concert in progress during our visit, meaning that the restrooms were closed to the public. This left us with the paid toilets, which are located beneath St. Paul’s Church at the other end of the market. Some of the restaurants on nearby streets also have restaurants (like the pub we ended up visiting on our Monday stop), but most of the shops at the Market itself do not have public restrooms.
St. Paul’s Church. Also known as the Actor’s Church, should not be confused with St. Paul’s Cathedral. This church is located at one end of the market. The church is known as the Actor’s church due to its long affiliation with the arts. The church was built by Inigo Jones in 1633. There are public pay toilets located on either side of the church portico on the Piazza side, down a flight of stairs. The church overlooks the Piazza and has a pleasant garden that offers some respite that contrasts with the nearby bustle of the market. The church has an active congregation with regularly scheduled services and also serves as a small theater that can seat up to 254 people.
Covent Garden Market is walking distance to/from Trafalgar Square. So there are a host of other sites to see nearby. It is merely another ten minute (or so) walk to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The National Gallery is also located near Trafalgar square. If you are interested in doing cheap shopping, Chinatown is also a five minute walk from Covent Garden Market. With plenty of sights, smells, sounds and good places to eat, Covent Garden Market is a definite must-see. You can do it on the cheap with the flea market shops and street vendors, or you can max out your plastic in the art galleries and name brand shops. Either way, you are certain to be entertained by the street performers. Don’t forget to bring some change in case you need to use the public facilities located at St. Paul’s Church. That may be your only option.
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