The ultimate Covent Garden neighbourhood guide


The ultimate Covent Garden neighbourhood guide

Let us walk you through London's liveliest, most theatrical neighbourhood

Amy Martin

BY Amy Martin12 June 2024

Your chances of being at a loose end in Covent Garden hover close to zero. The historic covered market and surrounding square are home to cult boutiques, craft stalls and cultural powerhouses; peel off the Piazza, and you’re in the thick of Theatreland.

The usual central London pitfalls apply – after swerving one mic’d up magician or trussed-up pedicab too many, you may feel flustered; but from Seven Dials to St Martin’s Lane you’ll find time-tested restaurants, in-crowd bars and some of the capital’s best boutique stays – we’ve narrowed them down for our insider guide to Covent Garden.

The best breakfasts in Covent Garden

Monmouth Coffee Company

Kickstart a high-step-count day with a caffeine hit at Covent Garden stalwart Monmouth Coffee Company, who create their own craft roasts from beans fairly traded with small growers. It’s a word bandied around a lot these days, but traditional Swedish bakery Bageriet really does radiate hygge, with fresh-baked pastries, pretty vintage china and often regulars ready to offer suggestions to newbies (cinnamon bun the size of your head for breakfast, a ribbon-tied bag of chocolate biscuits for later). In the AM, Neal’s Yard restaurant the Barbary Next Door opens a hole in the wall serving coffee and buns – the clementine and chocolate ones are the decadent house speciality. For something more substantial, head a door down to 26 Grains, where bowls of porridge are striped with sesame seeds and seasonal fruit, and sourdough toast comes topped with fried eggs and chilli butter – turn up early to beat the brunch queue.

Best things to actually do in Covent Garden

The Royal Opera House

In the sequin-spangled heart of the West End, you’re never more than a high-kick or two away from a hot ticket. If your tastes lean more ballet and bel canto, the Royal Opera House beckons. At St Paul’s Church (better known as the Actors’ Church), the plaques that dot the walls and pews read like a who’s who of showbiz royalty. Catch your breath in the fairy-lit garden by day, then come back in the evening to catch a candlelit concert or play by a local theatre company. For more history, it’s full steam ahead to the London Transport Museum, where there’s all manner of vehicles (some of which you can climb aboard), plus a cute café with tube-seat banquettes.

Lunch in Covent Garden

Seven Dials Market

For lunch on the go, graze your way through a globetrotting selection of street-food style eats in Seven Dials Market’s food hall. Clos Maggiore’s blossom-blanketed main dining room is the kind of influencer catnip that feels a little gimmicky, but opt for the set lunch menu and you’ll have an elegant mod-Med meal with a glass of fizz for a steal – snag a few pretty snaps while you’re at it. Or claim an equally grid-friendly gingham banquette at RedFarm, a cool New York import putting a playful US-diner twist on Chinese staples: bacon-and-egg-fried rice, dim sum shaped like Pac-Man ghosts and their signature pastrami egg-rolls.

The best shopping in Covent Garden

Apple Market

Big-name boutiques line Covent Garden’s Market Building. But for more unusual souvenirs, scope out the stalls in the central Apple Market – between corny printed t-shirts and eyebrow-raising crafts, there are treasures to be sniffed out, from vintage jewellery to original watercolours.

Neal’s Yard Remedies need little introduction to skincare buffs, but there’s something extra special about a trip to the original store, where you can sip chamomile tea, create your own custom blend of organic botanicals, and pop across the courtyard for an aromatherapy spa treatment. Stick around in Seven Dials to check out Cow Vintage for retro fashion scores from Seventies cords and cowboy boots to colour-pop graphic tees. Serious artists can pick up all manner of high-quality pens and paints at the London Graphic Centre – but even unserious artists will love the washi tapes and too-pretty-to-write-in notebooks, too. And stationery is elevated to an art form at Choosing Keeping, an independent shop just off Tower Court spotlighting luxury pieces from an international coterie of craftspeople. Prepare for the spirit of a 19th-century noblewoman to overcome you here, as purchases that once might have seemed frivolous – handcrafted paperweights and perfumed notecards, fountain pens and flower-infused French confectionery – become necessities.

If a first edition or a fortune-telling is on your wishlist, slip off St Martin’s Lane down Cecil Court, an esoteric alley home to antiquarian booksellers and fine-art dealers, an Alice in Wonderland specialist and a spiritual store where tarot readings are held behind a velvet curtain.

The best restaurants in Covent Garden

Cora Pearl

You’re firmly in institution territory at Rules, which has reigned over Maiden Lane since the 18th century and still serves elevated traditional British fare in rarefied surrounds – steak and kidney pies, seasonal game and nursery puddings will leave you feeling like a statesman of yore. Named for a Parisian courtesan and appropriately chic and intimate, Cora Pearl puts an haute spin on comfort-food classics, including dauphinoise-esque chips with their own cult following. Down by Trafalgar Square, dinner at pasta joint Bancone is a dimly lit affair soundtracked by Negroni-fuelled chatter and pan clatters from the open kitchen. For some pre-theatre drama, sit at the bar and chart the course of handspun spaghetti alla chitarra from sizzling skillet to skilfully tweezered garnish.

The best bars in Covent Garden

Library bar at The NoMad

Nightlife in Covent Garden runs from Crémant with the pre-theatre crowd at Le Garrick to way-past-your-bedtime margaritas at Joe Allen. While away a sparkling evening in Neal’s Yard at Casanova & Daughters, a cosy wine bar with an impressive collection of bottles from small growers and a supply of fine Sicilian goods. London’s oldest French wine bar Le Beaujolais ticks every box you’d want from a spot claiming such a title – rustic interiors, dyed in the wool oenophiles on either side of the bar, and a wine list that reads like a love letter to France’s terroir. In the NoMad’s clubby Library bar, the craft cocktail menu comes with a map of the shelves – a Penguin Classic pairs particularly well with the Sergeant Pepper, a zippy sipper of tequila, chilli, coriander and pineapple. Or up the BPM with a pint and a boogie at the Marquis, a family-run pub where rock and roll buffs can request their favourite records from manager Tommy’s vast collection.

Where to stay in Covent Garden

Henrietta Hotel

The best hotels in Covent Garden balance the area’s colourful history with contemporary bells and whistles. Take Henrietta Hotel, where a pair of Victorian townhouses a skip from the Piazza have been spruced up by Parisian tastemaker Dorothée Meilichzon. It’s run by the Experimental Group, so cocktails are assuredly good and noted chef Jackson Boxer is taking up residence in the kitchen.

With the Royal Opera House just across the street, it’s no mean feat to steal the show, but NoMad London does so, reinventing Bow Street Magistrates’ Court as a luxury hotel with a soaring restaurant atrium, sophisticated Roman and Williams interiors and a clutch of scene-y cocktail bars.

The Covent Garden Hotel is in late-night stumbling distance of Soho, but the elegant brasserie, fire-warmed library and rooms decked out in Kit Kemp’s mood-boosting patterns make a convincing argument for a cosy night in.

Or opt out of the hubbub entirely at One Aldwych, where the heart-of-the-action address is counteracted by rooms in soothing pastel palettes, a spa, a subterranean pool and a restaurant serving anything-but-cookie-cutter afternoon teas – hello, truffle toasties and salted-caramel scones.

Navigate more of London like a local with our neighbourhood guides to Kensington, Marylebone, Notting Hill and Soho.