Introduction to Walking in the West End, London
People think the West End is the central part of London and it’s very common to walk in and around London, not just in the West End. The West End is where all the tourists hang out and where most of the famous landmarks are situated. It’s partly true that the West End is in the central, but it’s not located in the middle of London. You’ll enjoy the West End area because there are so many things to see and do without spending any money, unless, eating and buying souvenirs of course.
Summary of your Walk
Start in Covent Garden and head over to Covent Garden Piazza. Make your way into Neal’s Yard (hidden gem). Go back to Covent Garden square, head to Leicester Square, Chinatown, Shaftesbury Avenue Piccadilly Circus, Piccadilly, St. James’ Piccadilly, Royal Academy of Arts, Ritz, Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Mall, St. James’ Park, Trafalgar Square.
Getting to Covent Garden
To get to Covent Garden, you can take the bus or the tube.
The buses will be crowded, long but cheaper, whereas the tube will be shorter, more expensive as well as crowded. Depending on where you are, take the numbers 13, 15, 23, 139 and 153 which all stop at Trafalgar Square and Aldwych (both a short walk from the Market Building). The No. 24 stops at Leicester Square and Covent Garden is signposted from there.
You can take the dark blue Piccadilly line and stop at Covent Garden by tube and you can get to Covent Garden in 40 minutes from Heathrow on the Piccadilly Line.
Congestion Charge for car users
Avoid taxis and cars because you’ll be charged a Congestion Charge. Congestion Charge can go up to £15 but it can change, check the TFL website for more detail. Parking can be limited, expensive, and crowded. If you must take the car, the charge can be paid online, in selected shops and petrol stations, by post, by SMS from your mobile phone or by phone on +44 (0)20 7649 9122.
There are so many things you can do in Covent Garden;
Walk in Covent Garden, West End
As you arrive in Covent Garden, you’ll notice a large square. In that large square, there’ll be street entertainers and usually a large crowd watching. The street entertainers can be cheesy, but children love them. Along with street entertainers, you will also see various live statues. Toss a coin and they’ll move.
Walk towards the Covent Garden Piazza and you will see various luxurious beauty and designer fashion stores ranging from Mulberry, Tom Ford, Lulu Guinness as well as luxurious independent fashion and beauty stores. Other stores to look out for include the Apple Store (always crowded with people browsing and buying), and many vintage and quirky toy stores such as Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Store, The Tin Tin Shop, Moomin Shop and many more.
There are also many bars, cafes, restaurants, and pubs to choose from ranging from £10 – £15 a meal. The three food outlets include The White Lion pub situated next to Covent Garden for fish and chips and Sunday Roast. The Crusting Pipe, a wine bar and restaurant is also great for Afternoon Tea. Then there’s Sushisamba, a popular chic restaurant for high end dining among the Brits.
Pubs, restaurants, and bars in and around London can be crowded, even smaller outlets which look intimate. However, many of the stores around here still keep its 19th Century Victorian style architecture.
Attractions in Covent Garden include The London Transport Museum, a museum of the history of London’s transportation going back to the 17th Century. There are many activities for children of all ages, and they can jump on board some of the buses. Spend 1 hour here if you wish. Entry tickets for adults are £18 on the door and £16.50 online. Children under the ages of 17 years old are free of charge.
Other attractions include The Royal Opera House, St. Paul’s Church, a hidden gem opened in the 17th Century, the crowded Apple Market and Jubilee Market.
Apple Market has several stalls selling hand made products. Situated in the 19th Century Covent Garden Piazza, the Apple Market sells handmade products from shiny silverware, fashion accessories, house ornaments, and many more. Prices range from £10 upwards.
Jubilee Market is another market behind Apple Market. This market usually sells British souvenirs, London sweaters and t-shirts and many more. It’s larger and more crowded than the Apple Market. There’s usually no space to walk past and you may have to walk in a slow pace.
All around Covent Garden, you’ll see many blue coloured plant carts as part of the Covent Garden décor and it’s worth taking several photos in front. Spend at least 40 minutes to an hour at the London Transport Museum and 1 hour in Covent Garden.
Walk in Leicester Square, West End
After Covent Garden, head over to Leicester Square. Like Covent Garden, Leicester Square is another place to socialise and eat. As most know, Leicester Square is the home of film premiers. Leicester Square can be as busy as Covent Garden, but space is larger, and not so crowded.
The first thing you’ll notice is the Hippodrome Casino if you’re coming from Leicester Square Station. If you’re the gambling kind, the Hippodrome Casino is a great place to hang out. Like Covent Garden, you’ll also see street performers around here and if you plan to watch a theatre show, there are many booths around Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.
The big TKTS ticket booth usually sell 50% off tickets for shows on that day up to a week in advanced. However, still shop around for better deals. Make sure you buy your tickets on the day. The queues are usually long in these ticket booths, but the prices are worth it.
Hang around in the Square. You’ll be surrounded by giant oak trees, a tall Shakespeare Memorial Statue and small fountains surrounding the statue. Children usually play in summer when the fountains shoot up.
Check the Indigo Hotel and Restaurant on the 9th Floor for a view of the London Eye and Canary Wharf. London is very industrial so don’t expect a spectacular view. It’s probably better to go up there at night.
As for places to eat, there are many restaurants, bars, and pubs. These include the busy The Moon Under Water Pub for fish and chips. You may have to get there between breakfast and lunch as at times, seating is limited. In the evening, it’s nearly impossible to find a seat and can be overcrowded. Try Chiquito’s Mexican Restaurant with a balcony overlooking the square, KFC, McDonald’s and several bars and pubs in Empire Casino. Odeon Cinema offers the latest Hollywood movies if you feel like watching a film that day.
Since Leicester Square is the home of film premiers, they’ve installed several Hollywood character statues commemorating the best Hollywood films, films that have been successful internationally. Find characters from Singing in the Rain, Paddington Bear, Mr. Bean and Bugs Bunny.
Check out the terribly busy 3 floor M&M’s store as well as the flagship Lego Store. M&Ms can be terribly busy as any other big stores. Spend 1 hour here.
Head over to Chinatown next to Leicester Square. Although Chinatown isn’t as big as many Chinatowns from around the world, there are many Asian restaurants and supermarkets to choose from. Admire the many red Chinese lanterns strewn above the street and the colourful Chinatown Gate. Chinatown can be remarkably busy day and night. Spend 1 hour here for lunch or dinner before a theatre show. Otherwise, relax here for as long as you please after dinner.
Shaftesbury Avenue, West End
After exploring Chinatown, head over to Shaftesbury Avenue, the theatre district in the West End. The street here always has sparkling billboards at the top of the theatre. It gets bright and colourful at night as the lights reflect on the vehicles. Choose from watching Harry Potter the Cursed Child, Les Misérables, Thriller, Michael Jackson tribute, and many small international theatres.
Piccadilly Circus, West End
Once you’ve explored Shaftesbury Avenue, head over to Piccadilly Circus.
Piccadilly Circus is nothing more than just a giant billboard, a memorial, and a place to hang out. The only reason why it’s so popular is because of its location, the West End. People usually spend time thereafter they’ve had a hard time shopping in Regent Street, which is linked to Piccadilly Circus. Other than that, people go there before and after a theatre show, a place to have takeaway lunches, and watch and listen to noisy buskers singing by the Shaftesbury Memorial. It’s the many streets linking to Piccadilly Circus that should be given special attention to.
The street of Piccadilly
Head west towards Piccadilly (street). Along this street, like Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, it can also be busy. If you’re a sportswear lover, check out Lillywhites sportswear store. If you’re a book lover, check out Hatchard’s bookstore and the flagship Waterstones bookstore selling more than 20,000 books.
Hatchard’s black wooden store front still has the 19th Century architecture with two Union Jack flags above to shop. A gigantic crest stuck to the wall can be seen at the top of the shop. This means the shop is an official supplier of goods and services to the Queen. “By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen Booksellers”. Although it’s the one place the Queen buys her products, it’s just an ordinary shop for people to browse and buy. However, admire the dark British 19th Century architecture
Nestled behind the small, intimate Piccadilly Market, opposite the Royal Academy of Arts, is St. James’ Piccadilly Anglican Church dating back to the 17th Century. It’s not a major attraction and there’s not a lot of people visiting, but it’s a good place to get away from city life. Designed by Christopher Wren, before the dark wooden medieval staircase, look up to a high ceiling and you will see several paintings of priests and pastors since the 17th Century. Admire the gothic window and original brickwork at the top of the stairs. As you head into the altar, look up to the white arched ceiling adorned with intricate gold décor. This church is a great place to get away from the busy city life. Spend around 30 minutes here.
If you have time, visit The Royal Academy of Arts free of charge, situated opposite St. James’ Church.
The Royal Academy of Arts consists of exhibitions, education and debate between modern artists and architects since the 18th Century.
Walk further up, you will see Fortnum and Masons, a luxurious, traditional British confectionary store ranging from British tea, chocolates, biscuits and many more. Fortnum and Masons has a colourful store front ranging from a giant tea pot pouring tea into a giant teacup. As you enter the 19th Century building, you’ll feel the intimate darkness of the store. As you step inside the store, you’ll feel the traditional 19th Century upper-class Britain, classy, intimate and luxurious at the same time.
You can also book an afternoon tea here.
Walk further up and you’ll notice The Ritz Hotel. As many know, the famous Ritz Hotel serve first class fine dining in the heart of London. To be honest, people will just walk through the archway of the hotel, nothing more. You wouldn’t be able to see people eating by the window either as it’s curtained up to make it as private as possible.
Next to The Ritz Hotel is The Green Park, one of eight royal parks of London. The Green Park is not as beautiful as the other eight royal parks, but take some time to enjoy nature, the 19th Century buildings around it, the flowers, the many large oak and ash trees as well as the memorials. People hardly pay attention to the memorials here, but children often like to play by them.
The Green Park, one of 8 royal parks of London and Buckingham Palace
Beyond the Green Park, you will notice a large black iron gate known as The Canada Gate. If you go past the gate, you’ll end in Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace is self-explanatory, no need for introduction.
People like to take photos in front of the palace and hang around by the Victoria Memorial statue in front. If you want to see the Changing of the Guards, you will have to come here first thing in the morning. Get there by 10 am for the 11 am ceremony. It does get busy and if you go anywhere else, you’ll miss your spot. The best view is the left-hand side of the iron gate, if you’re coming from Victoria Station.
Although the view of the Changing of the Guards is quite far away, it’s a ceremony not to be missed. Otherwise, people tend to take photos of the guards standing in front of the palace. It’s quite far away but it’s worth it in the end. The Changing of the Guards can be taken for granted for the Brits, but it’s a British iconic ceremony for tourists not to miss, especially if it’s your first time.
St. James’ Park, one of the 8 royal parks of London
Next, take some time enjoying the second royal parks of London, St James’ Park. Unlike the Green Park, St. James’ Park has more activity for everyone. If you want to make the most of St. James’ Park, walk down the small steps towards t. James’ Lake. You’ll see many ducks, swans, and birds as well as wild greenery sprouting out of the water.
While you’re walking on the path, you will notice several plaques which says, “Princess Diana Memorial Walk”. This means, the path is a memory to Princess Diana of Wales. Turn right, you’ll notice several bushes opposite a white-water fountain, not usually used and several wildlife. Between the bushes, you’ll see a great view of great 18th Century buildings with a view of the London Eye and the lake. Go back to the path where you came from and walk up, you’ll notice beautiful flowers on your left. Take photos of those if you wish.
As you walk up, you’ll notice a blue bridge over St. James’ Lake. Take some time to take photos of the view of Buckingham Palace and the London Eye. This blue bridge is a great area to procrastinate and enjoy nature. Next to the blue bridge, you’ll come across people crowding a large tree. Here, you’ll see several green parakeets who are tamed enough to sit on your hand if you give them some food.
Walk further up, you will see a path going up to Duck Island. Here, you will see white pelicans sitting on the rock. They are quite far away and it’s hard to take a good picture but at 2:30pm, it will be feeding time and you’ll be able to get up close and personal with them.
Horse Guard Parade
As you go round the park, you’ll see Horse Guard Parade. Here, you’ll be able to see Horse Guard Cavalry (Changing of the Guards) at 11 am. There is a lot of waiting around though, otherwise, there’s nothing more to see here except a wide-open space leading to Trafalgar Square to the left or Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the Southbank area to the right. Further up, you will see Churchill War Museum (paid museum) and the children’s playground area.
Go through Horse Guard Parade archway, you will see two horse guards standing. Get up close and personal with the horses. You can pet them gently, but be careful, they are not to be messed with.
Turn left, you will end up in Trafalgar Square and the free National Gallery. Have lunch or dinner there while enjoying the Trafalgar Square fountains and the Nelson Column. There is a Tesco Supermarket if you wish to get take away. A sandwich, a packet of crisps and a bottle of drinks will cost you no more than £5, if you’re on a budget.
Go further up, you will end up in Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and The Lyceum Theatre for The Lion King.
This is where your walk ends but if you have time, take time to go to the Southbank area where you’ll see Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral, the view of the River Thames, The Globe Shakespeare Museum, The London Eye, London Dungeon, Sea Life, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Gallery consisting of a contemporary art ranging from photography, 3D and 2D art, free of charge as well as Borough Market.
Alternatively, in the evening, head over to Leicester Square linking to Soho for a wild nightlife.
The walk is suitable for everyone and if you notice, most of the attractions are free of charge like the museums, the social hangouts, and the parks. People like to walk here from A to B, that’s the beauty of our culture, so if you want to be a part of the British culture, enjoy long walks wherever you are.
Although travelling internationally is not safe at the moment, please stay at home if you can. A fellow blogger Amina Smamri has a lifestyle blog here. She has many ideas about enjoying your time at home. My other passion, other than travalling, are reading books and fashion. Read her two articles on Jill Mansell’s book review here and taking care of your nails while at home here. Since you’re already spending time at home, why not take care of your nails while at home.
Till next time. Take care!!!