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The Convent Garden
Covent Garden (London)
Member Name: MykReeve
Covent Garden (London)
Date: 13/08/00, updated on 13/08/00 (344 review reads)
Advantages: Excellent shopping, the best of London's buskers
Disadvantages: Very very crowded, a lot of pickpockets
Covent Garden is one of those ill-defined London regions, located to the east of St Martin's Lane, to the north of the Strand, and to the south of Shaftesbury Avenue. The area is centred on the Piazza, home to the Covent Garden Market.
The covered central market in Covent Garden was built in the early nineteenth century, as a market for fruit and vegetable wholesalers. This contains two open spaces, and a central walkway, separated by rows of shops.
In the north of the two open spaces can be found market stalls selling clothes, arts and crafts, and some of the space is given over to street performers. In the south of the spaces, there is a sunken area with seating for bars, and it is here that some of the finest buskers in London can be found - generally they're students from the Royal College of Music, so they are of a very high standard. Often they perform opera, because of the proximity of the Royal Opera House.
The shops in the central colonnade are a varied bunch, but mainly ply their wares for tourists. This means that there's a few "traditional" English shops, such as Culpeper's the Herbalists, and a couple of shops selling souvenirs. However, there are a few high street designer stores, and a branch of Lush, the homemade cosmetics firm.
Most of the Covent Garden Market is now located in Jubilee Hall, to the South side of the square, and the stalls here sell predominantly clothing and jewellery, though there are still some craft stalls persevering.
In terms of bars in the central Covent Garden area, the main one is the Punch & Judy. Located at the west end of the colonnade, it (somewhat confusingly) consists of an area below ground level, and an area on a balcony looking out over the Piazza in front of St Paul's Church (not Cathedral!). It is here that the most talented street entertainers perform, and they seem to carry out increasingly dangerous stunts over time - many now involve ju
ggling chainsaws! Street performers have performed here since the seventeenth century, and were mentioned in Samuel Pepys's Diary.
Chez Gerard at the east end of the colonnade, offers a pleasant (and generally less crowded!) balcony area for its bar, and also has a superb, if somewhat expensive, restaurant.
If you're an Aussie in London, the Walkabout bar to the west of Covent Garden, on Henrietta Street, is generally full of Australians, and the Australia Shop near here can supply you with all the sweets from back home that you'll need.
To the east end of Covent Garden Piazza can be found the Theatre Museum, the London Transport Museum, and the Royal Opera House. I have never visited the Theatre Museum, and it has been a great many years since I've visited the London Transport Museum, so I don't really think I can comment on either of them. However, the Royal Opera House is well worth a look round, even if you're not going to hear an opera. If you're there before 3pm, the house is generally open, so you can go into the Vilar Floral Hall for a coffee, and see where all that National Lottery money went! Often at lunchtimes, they have free performances by choirs or groups of musicians, and these are generally of a very high standard.
To the north of Covent Garden Piazza is the horrific Rock Garden, which occasionally attracts some talented guitar-playing buskers to perform outside it, but more often seems to attract tone-deaf freaks who've apparently just picked up a guitar in the hope of making a few quid. Leading up from Covent Garden Piazza is James Street, which is almost always packed with tourists gawping in awe at someone who's painted themselves silver and stood motionless on a box. There's often some talented buskers playing oriental musical instruments here too, but it's mainly oddly-coloured freaks standing still for hours. Either way it seems to please the snap-happy tourists.
The Nag's Head pub on James Street is always insufferably crowded. Always. It would be a nice pub, if you could actually get to the bar, or sit down, or indeed, on some nights, get in!
The Covent Garden tube station is on the corner of James Street and Long Acre, and suffers from being one of the stations in London least able to cope with the number of people using it. Also, because the station's used so much, they can never close it to improve it, so it's stuck as it is. Essentially, this means that you have to use cramped and unpleasant lifts to get between Underground and ground level - and it is here that some of London's most skilled pickpockets work, so look out!
Heading North from Long Acre, along Neal Street, we enter one of the most fashionable shopping areas in London. Former warehouses lining the street have been turned into chic shops and art galleries. Neal's Yard, a little way up the street on the left, is a little quieter, and is full of designer shops and cafes.
Covent Garden is certainly a nice area of London, but can get incredibly crowded. Certainly, shopping there is best avoided at the weekends, but in the mornings, the area can be surprisingly pleasant. There's a lot of history here too, Bow Street Police Station is located opposite the Royal Opera House, the Lamb & Flag pub (running between Floral Street and Garrick Street) is one of London's oldest, and was frequented by John Dryden, Rules (London's oldest restaurant) is located on Maiden Lane, just south of Covent Garden Piazza. For shoppers, there is a lot on offer, and this is an ideal place to come for unusual gifts. Stanford's is a superb bookshop selling exclusively maps and travel guides, for example.
Oh, and in case you're wondering where the name comes from, in Medieval times, the area was a convent garden, which grew produce for Westminster Abbey.