London Drum

Covent Garden Market – See the Street Performers & Buskers in the Piazza

Where? Covent Garden · Web: coventgarden.london Time required? A typical visit is 45-60 mins (but more if you plan to stop and eat) Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 9, 13, 15, 23, 24, 139, 153, RV1 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Covent Garden Piccadilly Other nearby stations: Charing Cross, Embankment and Leicester Square Train fares

Craig’s review… Covent Garden used to be a big fruit and vegetable market. If you wanted some fish then you’d go to Billingsgate, if you wanted some meat you’d go to Smithfield and if you wanted a bag of carrots then you’d come here. This went on quite happily for three hundred years until the surrounding businesses grew tired of the early morning traffic clogging up the roads and forced it to move out. So that was the end of that. No more trampled cabbage on the floor. No more pallets of potatoes being carted around the side streets by old blokes in flat caps. Gone.

Flower stalls at Covent GardenPhoto: Craig Cross

It’s amazing how the atmosphere of a place can change so completely in such a short space of time. If you bought a piece of fruit forty years ago then they’d twirl it around in a brown paper bag and charge you 20p, but if you want one now then it will probably come wedged on the edge of a cocktail glass. Their five-a-day used to be four pints of cider and some tomato ketchup on their chips. Now it’s a fruit smoothie and packet of dried banana chips. Welcome to Covent Garden.

The Punch & Judy pub in Covent GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
The Punch & Judy pub in Covent Garden

Punch & Judy pub, buskers & street entertainers

Covent Garden is famous for its buskers and street entertainers. Samuel Pepys saw his first Punch & Judy show around here – hence the Punch & Judy pub – and there’s a good viewing spot on its balcony where you can watch the circus performers juggling balls and swallowing swords, doing flips and magic tricks on the forecourt by St. Paul’s (the church… not the cathedral).

St Paul’s Church in Covent GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden

If you arrive before 9 AM then all you’ll get is a row of drunks clutching crumpled-up cans of Diamond Light. They’ll be sitting on a cardboard carpet asking for money but it’s a tough crowd around here and people don’t want to hear their sob stories, they want to hear a song – this is Covent Garden, mate! If you want some money then people will expect a show.

Street entertainer performing outside St. Paul’s churchPhoto: Craig Cross
Street entertainer performing outside St. Paul’s church

The street entertainer today is trying to squeeze his entire body through the centre of a tennis racket. He’s managed to wedge his head through but got stuck on his ears, so he’s summoned up a volunteer and asked him to fold over his lobes (not an easy thing to do when he’s wobbling around on a unicycle). He’s also threatened him with a lawsuit if he falls off, ho ho. This guy is quite funny. A crowd of people enjoys his show for twenty minutes and then disappears as soon as the hat gets passed around.

Classical music performances inside the piazza

Another good place to sit is downstairs in the piazza. That’s where I recommend going (that’s where I go). Look for some tables and chairs outside the wine bar and restaurant. It’s also very handy if the sky turns dark and water starts emptying out of it like it has right now – everyone has suddenly become a runner and made a mad dash whilst protecting their hair with whatever they’ve got: a soggy wet newspaper or a supermarket plastic bag.

Downstairs in Covent Garden piazzaPhoto: Craig Cross
Downstairs in the piazza where the classical music buskers perform

It’s a bit more upmarket down here because it’s all opera singers and string quartets. While the barista is cleaning and steaming out his coffee machine they’re treating us to some Vivaldi on three violins and a cello. And they follow that up with a jaunty verse of Bizet’s Carmen, complete with flamenco skirt swishes and quick little claps above their heads.

You can never be totally sure when the classical music starts because they’re basically just buskers, but the best time to visit is after 10 AM because then you can be pretty sure that someone will be there.

Piazza shops, stalls and Apple Market

The Apple Market inside the piazzaPhoto: Craig Cross
The Apple Market inside the piazza

There are a couple of markets in and around the piazza. The Apple Market sells antiques on Monday and the rest of the week it’s all handmade gifts and trinkets… funny numbers for your front door, frosted bottles for your kitchen windowsill, coloured crystals to bring you good luck, moody black and white photos of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, etc., stuff like that.

Have a nose around the stalls if you want but remember that Covent Garden is a tourist trap so all the prices are double what they need to be. You can see people dawdling by the stalls wondering whether to buy something but then they look at the prices and quickly change their mind: forty quid. The reason that they can get away with charging so much is because most of the tourists haven’t worked out the exchange rate yet. They still think that forty quid is the same as forty dollars.

Segar and Snuff Parlour in Covent GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
The Segar & Snuff Parlour, selling pipes and cigars

The most famous shops are Benjamin Pollock’s and a little place selling pipes and lighters (it has an 8-foot tall Scottish bagpiper standing out the front – you cant miss it). Some of their tobacco paraphernalia is so ornate it almost makes you want to start smoking.

Jubilee Market stalls

Jubilee Market is more of a traditional street market with stalls separated by flapping plastic sheets and fold-down tables overflowing with tubs of stuff that you might find boxed-up in your granddad’s shed – one couple are selling a collection of old tankards and Toby Jugs. Another one has a table full of candlesticks, pewter trays and plates.

Jubilee street market at Covent GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
Jubilee street market at Covent Garden

There are lots of boxes to root through with old guineas, shillings and pence, old army medals and arm patches, pocket watches, pottery dogs, collectible comics in their original plastic wrappings, vinyl records in their original paper sleeves, old stamps stuck to the corners of envelopes – it’s a bit of a pick‘n’mix and some of it might be worth a few bob if you know what you’re looking for.

Worth a visit? Value for money? n/aGood for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Chinatown (you can walk it in 7 mins); Leicester Square (you can walk it in 7 mins); Piccadilly Circus (walk it in 12 mins or travel from Covent Garden to Piccadilly Circus by underground); Trafalgar Square (you can walk it in 7 mins) and West End (you can walk it 10 mins)

London Squire bookThe owns londondrum.com and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon. This review was updated on

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Your comments and questions

Jez When do the street performers usually appear? What is the best time to view them?

Craig It could literally be any time, but it's usually when there's a big enough crowd to earn them some money - so lunchtime and early afternoon is best. I wouldn't look before 10 AM. They will either be on the forecourt in front of St Paul's church, or downstairs in the piazza by the cafe tables.

Tina What time do street performers finish on a Saturday night and is it safe for children at night

Craig They are basically buskers, so there's no schedule. It's a very busy area and there are lots of pubs around. I've never seen any trouble there myself, but it's a very busy nightlife area, packed with tourists and drinkers. As long as you keep hold of them then I'm sure you'll be fine (it would be very easy to lose them in the crowd)

Anne I'm coming down to London for a few days and would love to see the opera singers in Covent Garden. We will be there all day Friday and most of Saturday, what is the best time to catch them?

Craig Hi Anne. You can usually count on them being there after 10 AM, and then all through lunchtime and the afternoon. But there are no guarantees because they're just buskers.

David Hi, I visited Covent Garden but didn't see any performers. OK the weather wasn't great, do they simply not bother when there's a threat of rain. Or is there a schedule showing dates, times and things? I want to get photos of a performer in a nice setting (St Paul's Church is good)... Is there anywhere else, on a damp February?

Craig Hi David. If it's raining you can usually still find some undercover in the piazza. There's a bit downstairs where all the restaurant tables are. The other good place to find street performers is on the Southbank, on the stretch of river between the Royal Festival Hall and London Eye. There are sometimes a few in Leicester Square as well, near the Swiss clock, but they might just be caricaturists. You can look in front of the Eros fountain in Piccadilly Circus as well, but they're usually just dancers. They're the only regular ones I can think of. Covent Garden is still your best bet, though

David Thank you Craig I'm a keen amateur photographer often looking for things to shoot to fit a certain theme, so I'm often looking for things around London, this is a useful site, I may try picking your brains in future. Thanks again David.

Sarah My son and I will visit London city for 2 days. Is visiting Covent garden worthy to visit if we have only 2 days?

Craig Hi Sarah. There's not really anything to see there, unless you want to browse around the shops and stalls. It's nice and lively and busy, but I would only go there if you're already in the area and fancy something to eat at lunchtime because they've got some nice little cafes inside and around the central piazza.

Perry Hi, I'm wondering is Covent Garden actually worth visiting? If you have limited time what is there to actually do apart from looking in the shops. My partner wants to visit but I don't see the point

Craig Hi Perry. I'd only really recommend it to people if they want to stop for a coffee or have their lunch. You've got to eat somewhere, and that's as good a place as any. It's nice and lively, and I do like sitting downstairs to listen to the classical music buskers. But apart from that, you're right, it's just a load of shops and stalls.

Fey Is the Tintin shop still there?

Craig Hi Fey. It's still there, but not quite by the piazza itself. It's in Floral Street, which is the next road up.

Dee Is everything closed on a bank holiday like 2 January '23?

Craig Hi Dee. Some of the smaller shops in central London might be closed and the larger shops might have Sunday opening hours, but the attractions will be open.

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