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Pie’s London: Covent Garden

January 16, 2012

I received a request from one of my readers who will soon be paying a visit to Londinium. What do you think of such places as Covent Garden, Soho and Piccadilly, asked Jacki Dilley? And can you tell us about it? Well, I don’t spend a lot of time in Central London these days, mostly because I’m skint. Still, I wanted to give a flavour of those areas and realised as I walked around taking photos with my crappy little camera, there were quite a few shops, streets and pubs I have visited and loved. So I give you a snapshot of the first area I covered: Covent Garden.

Covent Garden station

The station is small and at peak times can become very congested. There are only two ways to leave the station: by lift, or by stairs in an emergency. If you’re claustrophobic, your fitness level had better be good, because there are 193 steps to the top. If you choose to meet your friends at this station, be sure your phones are fully charged and contain a sat nav. You’ll need it to find each other in the crowd.

Once you leave the station you could go to Neal Street, which seems to contain mostly shoe shops, or the Piazza where you can be entertained by jugglers, musicians and human statues. You can go the Apple Store and worship at the altar of Jobs, or find a souvenir shop and spend your money on London themed tat.

Covent Garden Souvenir

Alternatively, you could leave all that behind and try this: take a little trip down quiet and genteel Floral Street, where designer stores like Paul Smith and Nicole Fahri live. There’s also The Sanctuary, which is a spa and The Tintin shop for all things Tintin related, if you like that kind of thing.

Floral Street

If you keep walking down Floral Street towards Leicester Square, you’ll find this little alleyway to your left called Lazenby Court.

Lazenby Court Covent Garden

alleyway to the Lamb and Flag pub

Walk through until you’re out in the open, where you’ll find a pub called the Lamb and Flag to your right.

The Lamb and Flag pub Covent Garden

It’s a small and very old pub (16-1700s). I can’t tell you about the food as I only went for a drink late one night with a friend, but the service was friendly, the atmosphere was relaxed, there’s a fireplace at the rear, and on the night we went, we were lucky enough to be entertained by a mouse. If you decide to go back through the alleyway, once you leave the pub, you’ll see this sign.

Lamb and Flag plaque Covent Garden

Find your way to the Seven Dials, a prosperous neighbourhood between the West End theatre district and the shopping area near Neal Street, where seven streets converge and you can go on a discovery to any of the ‘dials’ that shoot off from the centre.

Seven Dials Covent Garden

One of the ‘dials’ is Earlham Street, which has one of my favourite shops. If you like interesting and quirky art and design books, this is the place to go. Dover Books specialises in books full of copyright-free images, which you can use for any project, without fear of being sued. I like the Magma art book shop a few doors down, but sometimes it’s so cool, hip and fly it hurts. Dover is an unassuming, old-fashioned bookshop – a browser’s paradise.

Dover Bookshop Covent Garden

Dover bookshop books Covent Garden

Proceed to the corner of Earlham Street and Shaftsbury Avenue and you’ll find Fopp. It’s a music store where you can browse for CDs, DVDs, vinyl LPs, books and T-shirts. Although it’s now owned by HMV, it still has the feel of its independent origins. The range is good, the prices are keen and the staff, rocking the appearance of a goth or emo looking for a gig, are great.

Fopp record shop Covent Garden

Finally, I take you to The Harp in Chandos Place. It’s even smaller than the Lamb and Flag and on the night I went, it was so crowded, I was lucky to find my friends! I loved it. The atmosphere was crackling, the patrons were lively and the bar staff were efficient and friendly. I don’t think I had ever been served so quickly in what was a jam-packed pub. There are old portraits everywhere and there’s a display of beer mats hanging over the bar. Upstairs was only slightly less crowded.

The Harp pub Covent Garden

The Harp pub entrance Covent Garden

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: my Covent Garden. Next stop: Soho.

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17 comments

  1. ooo thank you for reminding me of how wonderful Covent Garden is. I used to hand out there as a ‘kid’ and its been a while since I have really enjoyed it. I used to love watching the street performers and hanging out by the little market stalls.

    Most of your pointers are great – esp the one about the station and having your phone handy. (The signal can be pretty rubbish by the station too) I would avoid The Sanctuary – staff are rude.

    Other nice free places to hang out and see London are nearby – Leicester Sq, Trafalgar Sq and of course Soho…

    One of my fave place though is the South Bank all the way from London Eye to Gabrials Wharf and beyond… 🙂

    Always lots to see and do – usually something free going on in the South Bank Centre/National Theatre

    Looking forward to more of your Londinium adventures.


    • I’ve never been to the Sanctuary, so I haven’t experienced the rude staff as you have. I had heard only good things. I suppose you pays your money and take your chances with that one.

      I didn’t talk about Leicester Square or Trafalgar Square in detail because it’s all within the proximity of Covent Garden and I expect people will wander over that way anyhow. The Strand has some interesting bits as well and if you keep walking and cross a bridge (either at the Aldwych end of the Strand for Waterloo bridge, or the Trafalgar Square end of the Strand for Hungerford bridge at the Embankment), eventually you find yourself in the South Bank.

      As you mentioned it, I may write about the South Bank in the Spring or Summer. Although it’s great at any time, I think it really comes into its own at that time of year.


  2. Sobbing, dabbing tears of longing but thank you Pie . . .


    • You’re most welcome, Patti! I’ll see if I can write something in the not too distant future, which will make you dab away tears of laughter. Get the hanky ready, though. My Soho post will be coming soon.


  3. […] Pie’s London: Covent Garden (pienbiscuits.wordpress.com) […]


  4. Thanks so much, Pie. I love Dover Books and the one in the window on the Day of the Dead looks wonderful.

    We’ll definitely check out the Lamb and Flag (the husband is a Dickens fan) and the Harp. Yahoo!


    • P.S. For readers who may not know, the Day of the Dead is a festival in Mexico around the time of Halloween in the U.S. It’s far more colorful and interesting, though. People put out lots of little skeleton figurines portraying people going about daily activities. They bring food to the graves of their loved ones, light candles and party all night.


      • Jacki. I’m really happy I found the things you want to look at, or visit. As you didn’t say what kind of things you were looking for, I thought I should take a punt and just put in what I like. I’m surprised you know about Dover Books. Is there one in America?

        By the way, it’s a shame you won’t be here at the end of this month, because that’s when the Chinese New Year will be celebrated and Chinatown will be absolutely buzzing. They’ve been putting up decorations on Shaftsbury Avenue, Gerrard Street, Wardour Street and surrounding areas this week.


        • I’m glad you’re writing about your favorite places — that’s exactly what I’d hoped to hear about. I have a great tour book, but there’s nothing like hearing about special places from people who live in the area.

          Dover Books in the U.S. is located in New York. I’ve gotten so many wonderful arts and crafts books from them!


  5. Is there any pub that Dickens didn’t frequent? It’s surprising he was ever sober enough to put quill to paper.


    • They were all drunken sots, back in the early days of Londinium. The ale probably fuelled Dickens’ genius. Probably.

      Have you started a new blog, sir? Does this mean To55er is no more? Shall I put this new one on my blog list instead?


      • I’m afraid To55er is no more. I have a book coming out soon and all my spare time got taken up writing for the book, rather than the blog. In the end I thought it better to start a new blog, more in keeping with the book. There’s only a couple of posts so far, but do please take a look.


        • I’ve already had a look. I’ve subscribed to your new blog. The best of luck with your book (ad)venture.


  6. One of my favourite parts of London – nice tour!


    • Thanks!

      If you can steer yourself away from the more twee stuff, Covent Garden can be great fun. I hope you’ll enjoy my Soho post, which should be coming soon.


  7. You missed the Apple Store!!! I kid.. Been Convent Garden a few times myself missed all of this wonderfulness. By that I mean the pubs you mention!

    For info if anyone is disabled or old if you drive there there are a few disabled parking spaces in Floral Street, enabling everyone to start the “Pie Tour” from the same point.


    • I really should’ve given a more fulsome description of the Apple Store – how careless of me!

      I hope you get a chance to try those pubs. There are probably many more really good ones around, but I haven’t visited them yet. Thanks for the info regarding disabled parking. I’ve been doing this mini travelogue from the point of view of a public transport user and also because parking’s a nightmare in London generally, but in Westminster in particular.



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