Covent Garden Leicester Square

Covent Garden, though the throbbing heart of tourist London, is as beautiful and pleasant as tourist areas can get. Located east of Soho, the area is dominated by the piazza, which draws thousands of tourists into its elegant arched belly with boutiques, stalls, open-air cafes and pubs, and street entertainers who mostly perform outside St Paul's Church. Most Londoners avoid the human traffic jam of the area, but you should see it at least once. If you can, try to walk through the piazza after 11pm: it's calmer and almost totally empty, save for a busker or two, and you can appreciate its old-world beauty and Inigo Jones's design without the crowds. Additionally, there is an excellent antiques market on Monday that's worth a wander.

To the north of the piazza is the Royal Opera House, ruthlessly yet brilliantly rebuilt in the late 1990s to make it one of the world's most superb singing venues. The wider area of Covent Garden is a honeypot for shoppers who revel in the High-Street outlets on Long Acre and independent boutiques along the little side streets. Neal St is no longer the grooviest strip, although the little roads cutting across it maintain its legendary style. Neal's Yard is a strange and charming little courtyard featuring overpriced vegetarian eateries. Floral St is where swanky designers such as Paul Smith have stores.

Covent Garden's history is quite different from its present-day character: it was a site of a convent (hence, 'covent') and its garden in the 13th centuiy, owned by Westminster Abbey, which became the property of John Russell, the first Earl of Bedford, in 1552. The area developed thanks to his descendants, who employed Inigo Jones to convert a vegetable field into a piazza in the 17th centuiy. He built the elegant Italian-style piazza, flanked by St Paul's Church to the west, and its tall terraced houses soon started to draw rich socialites who coveted the central living quarters. The bustling fruit and veg market - immortalised in My Fair Lady-dominated the piazza. London society, including writers such as Pepys, Fielding and Boswell, gathered here in the evenings looking for some action among the coffee houses, theatres, gambling dens and brothels. Lawlessness became commonplace, leading to the formation of a volunteer police force known as the Bow Street Runners (see Georgian London, p24). In 1897 Oscar Wilde was charged with gross indecency in the now-closed Bow St magistrate's court. A flower market designed by Charles Fowler was added at the spot where London's Transport Museum now stands.

During the 1970s, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the fruit and veg market amid the city traffic and the market was moved in 1974. Property developers loomed over the space and there was even talk of the market being demolished for a road, but thanks to the area's dedicated residential community who demonstrated and picketed for weeks, the piazza was saved and transformed into what you see today.

TRAFALGAR SQUARE MaPPP72-3 In many ways this is the centre of London, where many great rallies and marches take place, where the New Year is ushered in by tens of thousands of revellers, and where locals congregate for anything from com-

THE WEST END: COVENT GARDEN, LEICESTER SQUARE, HOLBORN & STRAND

INFORMATION

Australian High Commission 1 E4

British Council 2 A6

Canadian Embassy 3 A6

easyEverything 4 B6

South African High Commission..5 B6

SIGHTS (pp71-89)

Admiralty Arch 6 B6

Canada House (see 3)

Covent Garden Piazza 7 C4

Gilbert Collection 8 E5

Gray's Inn 9 F1

Griffin (Former Temple Bar Site)..10 F3

Hunterian Museum 11 E3

Inner Temple 12 G4

Leicester Square 13 A5

Lincoln's Inn 14 F2

London Transport Museum 15 C4

National Gallery 16 B6

National Portrait Gallery 17 B5

Nelson's Column 18 B6

Photographers' Gallery 19 B4

Prince Henry's Room 20 F3

Royal Courts of Justice 21 F3

Royal Opera House 22 C4

St Clement Danes 23 E4

St Giles-in-the-Fields 24 A3

St Martin-in-the-Fields 25 B5

St Paul's Church 26 C4

Sir John Soane's Museum 27 D2

Somerset House 28 D5

Stanley Gibbons 29 C5

Staple Inn 30 F2

Strand 31 C5

Trafalgar Square 32 B6

Twinings 33 F4

Aram 34 D4

BBC World Service Shop 35 E4

Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop 36 C4

Blackwell's 37 A3

Covent Garden Market 38 C4

Duffer of St George 39 B3

Forbidden Planet Megastore 40 B3

Gosh! 41 B2

James Smith & Sons 42 B2

Karen Millen 43 C4

Koh Samui 44 B4

Konditor & Cook 45 F1

London Review Bookshop 46 B1

Magma 47 A4

Molton Brown 48 D4

Murder One 49 A4

Neal's Yard Dairy 50 B3

Oasis 51 C4

Office 52 B3

Paul Smith 53 C4

Poste Mistress 54 B4

Rough Trade 55 B3

Space NK 56 B3

Stanford's 57 B4

Urban Outfitters 58 B3

Warehouse 59 B4

EATING (U (pp235-75)

Asadal 60 D2

Assa 61 A3

Canela 62 B3

Christopher's 63 D4

Food for Thought 64 B3

Great Queen Street 65 C3

J Sheekey 66 B5

Joe Allen 68 D4

Matsuri 69 E2

Mela 70 B3

Monmouth Coffee Company 71 B3

Porters 72 C5

Portrait (see 17)

Rock & Sole Plaice 73 B3

Rules 74 C5

Sarastro 75 D3

Scoop 76 B3

Shanghai Blues 77 C2

Simpson's-in-the-Strand 78 D5

Wahaca 79 B5

DRINKING BB (pp277-96)

AKA 80 B2

Cross Keys 81 C3

Freud 82 B3

Gordon's Wine Bar 83 C6

Lamb & Flag 84 B4

Polski Bar 85 D2

Princess Louise 86 C2

Salisbury 87 B5

Seven Stars 88 E3

12 Bar Club 89 A3

Chuckle Club 90 E3

St Martin-in-the-Fields (see 25)

ARTS Q (pp311-21)

Adelphi 91 C5

Albery 92 B4

Aldwych 93 D4

Cambridge 94 B3

Coliseum (see 97)

Donmar Warehouse 95 B3

Duke of York's Theatre 96 B5

English National Opera 97 B5

Fortune 98 D4

Garrick 99 B5

Lyceum 100 D4

New Ambassadors 101 B4

New London 102 C3

Peacock Theatre 103 D3

Poetry Café 104 C3

Royal Ballet (see 22)

Royal Opera House (see 22)

St Martin's 105 B4

Savoy Theatre 106 C5

Shaftesbury 107 B2

Strand 108 D4

Theatre Royal Drury Lane 109 D4

Tkts Booth 110 A5

Whitehall Theatre 111 B6

Wyndham's 112 B4

SPORTS & ACTIVITIES (pp323-29)

Oasis 113 B3

Sanctuary 114 C4

GAY & LESBIAN (pp331-37)

Heaven 115 C6

Ku Bar 116 A4

Citadines Apart'Hotel 117 D2

Covent Garden Hotel 118 B3

Fielding Hotel 119 C3

Haymarket 120 A6

Kingsway Hall 121 D2

LSE High Holborn Residence...122 B3

One Aldwych 123 D4

St Martin's Lane 124 B5

Savoy 125 D5

Seven Dials Hotel 126 B3

Trafalgar 127 A6

Travel Lodge Covent Garden.. 128 C2 Waldorf

Hilton 129 D4

munal open-air cinema to various political protests. The great square was neglected over many years, ringed with gnarling traffic and given over to flocks of pigeons that would dive-bomb anyone with a morsel of food on their person. But things have changed.

The grand square has Mayor Ken Livingstone to thank for its new lease of life and, primarily, hygiene: one of the first things Livingstone did when he became mayor was take aim at the pesky pigeons and ban people from feeding them. Once he had dispersed the pooping 'flying rats' (as they are affectionately known in London), he embarked on a bold and imaginative scheme to transform it into the kind of space John Nash had intended when he designed it in the early 19th century. Traffic was banished from the northern flank in front of the National Gallery, and a new pedestrian plaza built. The front of the National Gallery itself has been dolled up, with a new façade and entrance hall, and Ken has taken pains to organise cultural events to showcase the city's multicultural-

ism, with celebrations for Russian, Jewish and Chinese New Year, concerts of African music, or concerts celebrating Ken's friendship with Venezuela's left-wing president Hugo Chavez.

In 2005 Livingston, together with Wendy Woods (widow of the anti-apartheid journalist Donald Woods) and film director Lord Attenborough, applied to erect a 2.7m-tall statue of Nelson Mandela on the square's north terrace. The application was rejected by Westminster Council who suggested the statue be placed outside South Africa house. This, in turn, was rejected by the Mayor and Lord Attenborough, who claimed that the location would not allow the statue to be viewed properly. The debate continues.

The pedestrianisation has made it easier to appreciate not only the square but also the splendid buildings around it: the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the newly renovated church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. The ceremonial Pall Mall runs southwest from the top of the square. To the southwest stands Admiralty Arch (p85), with the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace beyond it. To the west is Canada House (1827), designed by Robert Smirke. The 52m-high Nelson's Column (upon which the admiral surveys his fleet of ships to the southwest) has stood in the centre of the square since 1843 and commemorates the admiral's victory over Napoleon off Cape Trafalgar in Spain in 1805. It was cleaned in 2006 and the admiral now shines with more confidence than ever.

NATIONAL GALLERY MaPPP72-3

%7747 2885; www.nationalgallery.org.uk; Trafalgar Sq WC2; admission free to permanent exhibits, prices vary for temporary exhibitions; h 10am-6pm Thu-Tue, to 9pm Wed; t Charing Cross;w

With more than 2000 Western European paintings on display, the National Gallery is one of the largest galleries in the world. But it's the quality of the works, and not the quantity, that impresses most. Almost five million people visit each year, keen to see seminal paintings from every important epoch in the history of art, including works by Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Velazquez, Van Gogh and Renoir, just to name a few. Although it can get ridiculously busy in here, the galleries are spacious, sometimes even sedate, and it's never so bad that you can't appreciate the works. That said, weekday mornings and Wednesday evenings (after 6pm) are the best times to visit, as the crowds are small. If you have the time to make multiple visits, focus on one section at a time to fully appreciate the astonishing collection.

The size and layout can be confusing, so make sure you pick up a free gallery plan at the entrance. To see the art in chronological order, start with the Sainsbury Wing on the gallery's western side, which houses paintings from 1260 to 1510. In these 16 rooms you can explore the Renaissance through paintings by Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael and Titian, among others. This is where you'll also find the Micro gallery, a dozen computer terminals on which you can explore the pictorial database, find the location of your favourite works or create your own personalised tour.

The High Renaissance (1510-1600) is covered in the West Wing, where Michelangelo, Titian, Correggio, El Greco and Bronzino

THE FOURTH PLINTH

Three of the four plinths located at Trafalgar Sq's corners are occupied by notables, including King George IV on horseback, and military men General Charles Napier and Sir Henry Havelock. One, originally intended for a statue of William IV, has largely remained vacant for the past 150 years. The Royal Society of Arts conceived of the unimaginatively titled Fourth Plinth Project (www.fourthplinth.co.uk) in 1999, deciding to use the empty space for works by contemporary artists. The stunning Ecce Homo by Mark Wallinger (1999) was the first one, a life-size statue of Jesus which appeared tiny in contrast to the enormous plinth, commenting on the human illusions of grandeur; it was followed by Bill Woodrow's Regardless of History (2000) and Rachel Whiteread's Monument (2001), a resin copy of the plinth, turned upside down.

The Mayor's office has since taken over the Fourth Plinth Project, continuing with the contemporary-art theme, with Marc Quinn's Alison LapperPregnant (2005), a statue of the Thalidomide-affected artist (Alison Lapper) when expecting a child, being replaced by Tomas Schütte's Model for a Hotel2007(2007).

hold court, while Rubens, Rembrandt and Caravaggio can be found in the North Wing (1600-1700). The most crowded part of the gallery - and for good reason - is likely to be the East Wing (1700-1900) and particularly the many works of the impressionists and postimpressionists, including Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Monet, Degas and Renoir. Although it hardly stands out in such exalted company, the impressive display featuring 18th-century British landscape artists Gainsborough, Constable and Turner is also well worth checking out.

The gallery's collection cuts off at 1900 and therefore to see 20th-century art you need to head to Tate Modern (pi29) and, for British art, Tate Britain (p103).

Temporary exhibitions - for which you normally have to pay, and often book in advance - go on show in the basement of the Sainsbury Wing and are often outstanding.

The highlights listed in the boxed text (right) include many of the most important works, but if you want to immerse yourself in this pool of riches rather than just skim across the surface, borrow a themed or comprehensive audioguide (£4 donation recommended) from the Central Hall. Free one-hour introductory guided tours leave from the information desk in the Sainsbury Wing daily at 11,30am and 2.30pm, with an extra tour at 6.30pm on Wednesday. There are also special trails and activity sheets for children.

The new National Dining Rooms (9£>7747 2525; www.thenationaldiningrooms.co.uk; hi 10am-5pm Sun-Tue, to 8.30pm Wed), in the Sainbury Wing, is a wonderful recent addition to the gallery. Run by Oliver Peyton (the man behind Inn the Park in St James's Park; see p245), this is an excellent, well-lit space, with quality British food in the restaurant, and pastries and cakes in the bakery.

NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

%7306 0055; www.npg.org.uk; St Martin's PI WC2; admission free, prices vary for temporary exhibitions; h 10am-6pm, to 9pm Thu & Fri; t Charing Cross or Leicester Sq; w

Excellent for putting faces to names over the last five centuries of British history, the gallery houses a primary collection of some 10,000 works, which are regularly rotated, among them the museum's first acquisition, the famous Chandos portrait of Shake

NATIONAL GALLERY HIGHLIGHTS

Pentecost- Giotto

Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the

Baptist- Leonardo da Vinci

Arnoifini Wedding- Van Eyck

Venus and Mars-Botticelli

The Ansidei Madonna- Raphael

The Madonna of the Pinks - Raphael

Le Chapeau de Paiiie - Rubens

Charles 1- Van Dyck

Bacchus and Ariadne - Titian

The Entombment-Michelangelo

Rokeby Venus- Velasquez

The Supper at Emmaus - Caravaggio

Bathers- Cezanne

Sunflowers- Van Gogh

The Water Lily Pond-Monet

Miss La La- Degas

The Hay-Wain - Constable

The Fighting Temeraire - Turner

speare. Despite the recent discovery that the Royal Shakespeare Company's Flower portrait of the Bard was a 19th-century forgery, the National Portrait Gallery still believes this one to have been painted during Shakespeare's lifetime.

To follow the paintings chronologically you should take the huge escalator to the top floor and work your way down. The 1st floor is dedicated to the Royal family, but the most fun is seeing one of the two portraits of the Queen made by Andy Warhol. The ground floor is most interesting with portraits of contemporary figures using a variety of media, including sculpture and photography. Among the most popular of these is Sam Taylor-Wood's David, a video-portrait of David Beckham asleep after football training, which attracted a lot of women to suddenly take interest in this part of the gallery. There's an annual Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition, featuring some of the best contemporary photographers.

Audioguides (a £3 donation is suggested) highlight some 200 portraits and allow you to hear the voices of some of the people portrayed. The Portrait Cafe and bookshop are in the basement and the Portrait restaurant (p240) is on the top floor, offering some superb views towards Westminster.

(Continued on page 85)

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