London Drum

Visit Trafalgar Square and see the statues, fountains, Nelson’s Column & fourth plinth artwork

Where? Trafalgar Square Time required? A typical visit is 15-20 mins Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 87, 88, 91, 139, 159, 176, 453 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Charing Cross Bakerloo Northern Other nearby stations: Covent Garden, Embankment, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus Train fares

Craig’s review… I must have stared into these fountains a million times but I’ve never once thought to chuck a coin in the water and make a wish – I’m going to give it a go this morning. Presumably the bigger the fountain the bigger the wish, so imagine what I can achieve with 10p. If all of those protestors who came here complaining about the Poll Tax just clubbed together and chucked in a few thousand pounds then they could have wished for whatever they wanted.

Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar SquarePhoto: Craig Cross
Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square
The National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields churchPhoto: Craig Cross
The National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields church

For hundreds of years this patch of land stood at the northern end of Whitehall Palace and the king used it as his mews (where he kept all his horses, hawks and carriages). In the early 1820s George IV moved the Royal Mews to Buckingham Palace and within twenty years it was totally transformed. They built Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, Nelson’s Column, all the plinths, the fountains, practically the whole lot was put in place by 1845.

And that’s when the protesters moved in.

Political protests and demonstrations

Almost from the very start the public saw it as a great place to congregate and demonstrate and it’s been like that ever since. Nowadays whenever they want to rage against the government they erect some scaffolding by the stairs and stand there shaking homemade placards and banners shouting Save the planet! Stop the war! Ban the bomb! It’s all Margaret Thatcher’s fault!

As I’m writing this today, for example, I’m surrounded by a few thousand Extinction Rebellion protestors. Chalk pictures are going down on the pavement saying we’ve got a week to save the rainforests while people are weaving rainbow-coloured wheelbarrows around the crowd with fluorescent yellow flags and overflowing piles of cardboard signs for people to grab.

Environmental protesters in Trafalgar SquarePhoto: Craig Cross
Environmental protesters in Trafalgar Square
Extinction Rebellion protest in Trafalgar SquarePhoto: Craig Cross
Extinction Rebellion protest in Trafalgar Square

Everybody seems to be carrying a rolled-up sleeping bag and armfuls of bent tent poles and it’s like a military staging point… one guy’s shouting out slogans whilst the police are drowning out the drums with sirens and helicopters turning circles in the sky.

Back in the 19th-century they didn’t have all of these disco lights and sub-woofer speakers so they made their case with boots and bricks through the windows and the authorities had the bright idea of building those two huge fountains – that’s partly why they’re there, not to make wishes in, but to reduce the amount of space available for the crowd to congregate.

London’s smallest police station

London’s smallest police stationPhoto: Craig Cross
London’s smallest police station in Trafalgar Square

After a while the police decided that they needed a more permanent presence so they hollowed out one of the big lamppost plinths on the southeast corner and installed a wooden chair and telephone (and probably a kettle as well), rigged up a big white light on top so they could call for aid when things got out of hand, and you can still see this tiny little police box today (it’s got a black door at the front) – except now it’s a broom cupboard for the council cleaners.

Trafalgar Square pigeons

If you were around in the 1980s then you can probably remember when Trafalgar Square was full of pigeons. And I don’t mean just a few pigeons, I mean all of the pigeons – every pigeon in London used to live here and it was one of the city’s big attractions. They even had a caravan in the corner selling polystyrene cups of bird seed.

This is how it used to work: first of all we’d scatter some seeds around our feet (or on top of our head, if we were feeling extremely brave) and then we’d do a big grin for our parents as the pigeons started flocking over. At this point it was still a bit of fun and we’d be laughing as we sprinkled some more seed on the palm of our hand. Then the fear would set in as more and more pigeons came flapping and scrapping and barging the other birds off our arms trying to snatch up all the food.

We’d be standing completely still with our arm bones locked into position like the branches of a tree, hoping not to annoy them, but at this point we’d no longer be smiling inside. We might still have a fixed rictus grin on our face but trust me, that was just for our dad’s camera. On the inside we were freaking out. By the time they’d flown away our arms would be shredded and hanging with flapping bits of skin.

When the Mayor of London came along in 2001 he decided to wage a health and safety war against the pigeons and promptly banned that caravan in the corner. He even brought in a huge industrial vacuum cleaner to suck the seed off the street and hired a Harris hawk to patrol the skies like a fighter jet. (If you come early enough on a weekday morning then you can still see it doing loops around the rooftops as it gets exercised by a falconer.)

Charles I statue in the centre of London

The Charles I statue in the centre of LondonPhoto: Craig Cross
The Charles I statue in the centre of London

If you go and stand by that big statue of Charles I on the south-side of the square then you’ll be standing in the very centre of London because that’s where they measure all the distances from.

You have to be a bit of a military historian to recognise the other statues – nobody’s heard of General Sir Charles James Napier and Major General Sir Henry Havelock nowadays.

Statue of King George IV on horsebackPhoto: Craig Cross
Statue of King George IV on horseback

The northeast corner has one of George IV that was originally destined for the top of Marble Arch until they shifted it from the front of Buckingham Palace to the tail end of Oxford Street, so he ended up here instead.

The fourth plinth artwork commission

The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar SquarePhoto: Craig Cross
The Fourth Plinth artwork commission in Trafalgar Square

That empty plinth in the northwest corner is supposedly being reserved for an equestrian statue of Queen Elizabeth II, but until that day comes they’ve decided to subject us to a series of contemporary artworks which have been changing every 12-18 months for the last ten years.

At the time of writing it’s a melting ice cream cone with robot flies buzzing around the top, but in the past they’ve had everything from a giant thumbs-up to someone dressed up as Where’s Wally?

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

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Covent Garden (you can walk it in 7 mins); Leicester Square (you can walk it in 4 mins) and Piccadilly Circus (you can walk it in 6 mins). Trafalgar Square is home to Nelson’s Column, the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I’ve also written a review of the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree ceremony

London Squire bookThe owns 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

ChrisF Trafalgar Square is a wonderful vista. Standing on the step outside the National Gallery, looking towards Nelson's Column and down Whitehall towards Big Ben, is one of the best views in the whole of London.

patricia Are there still pigeons in the square? I have a memory of my parents taking me here as a child and standing inside a flock of pigeons that must have been thousands big. I still have a photo of it somewhere

Craig Hi Patricia. I remember that as well. There used to be someone selling bird seed and you'd stand there with it sprinkled on your hands. But those big flocks are all gone now. They still have pigeons of course, but not like in the old days.

carrie How far is it to Leicester Square to walk

Craig Hi Carrie. It's not far at all, just two minutes round the corner

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