Lying on the eastern side of the West End, Covent Garden is a popular destination for tourists and includes the former fruit and vegetable Market, the Opera House, and the area around Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard.
There are no official boundaries to Covent Garden but a map I picked up at the market shows it covering an area from Charing Cross Rd in the west to Kingsway in the east, and from The Strand/Aldwych in the south to Shaftesbury Avenue/High Holborn in the north.
Running straight through the middle from St. Martin’s Lane to Drury Lane is Long Acre which separates the Market and Opera House to the south from the Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard area to the north.
Shelton St which runs parallel with Long Acre south of the Seven Dials is the boundary line between Westminster and Camden.
Originally open fields and then at the centre of Anglo Saxon Lundenwic, the area became the garden of Westminster Abbey and co(n)vent by the beginning of the 13th century.
Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries led to the estate being handed to the Earls of Bedford and a change in the layout to include a fashionable square with a small fruit and vegetable market.
By the 18th century the area had become unfashionable with a more undesirable element frequenting the taverns and brothels that had sprung up, but by 1830 things started to improve again with the market being covered over and then expanding.
Eventually, the market became a victim of its own success as it outgrew its location and in 1974 was transferred to the south bank of the Thames at Nine Elms.
The area around the old market was earmarked for redevelopment but campaigners successfully fought to stop it: The main market building was even granted protected status and in 1980 was opened up as a shopping centre.
Since then Covent Garden has been attracting people who come to enjoy its theatres, opera, restaurants – and especially its street life.
The West End is all about shopping and entertainment, and Covent Garden has it all, so don’t expect to come here for a quiet time – it has over sixty pubs for example, and not all of them somewhere to bring your Aunt Maude.
Not all of Covent Garden is boisterous – for example the area around Neal’s Yard, which has a more ‘alternative’ character to it – but if your idea of entertainment is to eat, drink, and be merry, then Covent Garden should be high on your list of places to come in London.