Neal's Yard - Adam Marikar/Unsplash
Hattie Lloyd 16/08/23
Itinerary Location: Covent Garden | Duration: 5 Hours
The sun’s out! Could there be anywhere lovelier to spend the day than Covent Garden?
Well, yes, actually. In summer the place gets packed out with tourists, day trippers, and inexplicable numbers of Yoda impersonators. Before you know it, your plans to frolic in one of Central London’s most picturesque quarters have been derailed into a sweaty, hangry game of human dodgeball.
But… if you do it right, you can swerve the teeming crowds and enjoy some of this glorious city at its finest, enjoying some OTT ice cream, window shopping along historic streets, and even a little open-air swimming (yes, really) along the way.
Here’s how to spend a sunny day in Covent Garden…
S Bell Photography
The early bird catches the worm, and the ‘worm’ in this case is ‘the highly-prized table for two outside The Barbary Next Door‘. Sibling to The Barbary (which is… somewhere nearby), this bijou annexe stands out by offering their Barbary Coast-inspired cooking for breakfast. Grab a babka bun with halva glaze, a spinach & feta boureka or a smoked ham hock pita, and perch under the shade of the awning – or take them for a stroll around Neal’s Yard.
It’s fair to say this colourful, secluded courtyard has probably rescinded its ‘hidden gem’ status by now, but at this hour of the day it’s still amazingly peaceful for Central London, and a lovely spot to pause while the sun catches on the old warehouse doors. It’s worth knowing that The Barbary Next Door’s closed on Sundays, but there are very strong alternatives in 26 Grains (which serves exclusively porridge, and is far more delicious than it sounds), and the inimitable St John for freshly baked pastries.
Head out onto Monmouth Street, and spend a little time exploring…
This sunburst cluster of streets owes its distinctive layout to some good ol’ fashioned cynical landlordery. Thomas Neal laid out the streets in the 1690s, capitalising on the rent laws that charged by street frontage, not internal square footage. Initially designed to attract the upper crust, the area soon descended into slum housing above third-hand stores and pigeon shops (sure), with a pub on every corner of the Seven Dials triangles (whose cellars were apparently interconnected with subterranean ‘escape’ tunnels).
Nowadays, it’s come full circle again, and the beautifully preserved historic streets are home to some highly browsable shops. Highlights include Choosing Keeping, a boutique stationery shop; Magma for quirky books; The Astrology Shop (for the window displays alone); the vintage shops along Short’s Gardens and Shelton Street; and, on the fringes, the FOPP music shop (which has a great vinyl section upstairs).
From here, mosey north up Shaftesbury Avenue until you reach:
Sitting at the top of the brutalist pocket that sits to the east of Seven Dials, Oasis does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s an open-air swimming pool that you’d never know was there (unless you lived in one of the postwar housing blocks that overlook it). Open year-round and heated to a temperature otherwise unattainable to London’s outdoor pools, it feels genuinely surreal to find yourself splashing around and sunbathing right in the centre of London. Take a dip, swim a couple of lengths, and remind yourself that building in appropriate recovery time is part of any aspiring Olympian’s training regime… by spending the next half hour in the sauna.
Having built up an appetite, you’ll want to swing a left as you leave to drop into:
A platter of oysters, a bottle of white on ice, and a seat up at the counter by the open window: Parson’s lends itself extremely well to a post-swim bite on a summer’s day. It’s a teeny tiny seafood bar from the same team behind the (almost) neighbouring 10 Cases, with charming tiled interiors and phenomenal chips. Treat yourself to a couple of battered cod cheeks with paprika mayonnaise; a bowl of mussels steamed open in cider; or, if you’re really starving, a whole John Dory to share, served with a buttery tomato sauce devised by seafood whizz Nathan Outlaw. But save room for dessert, because the final stop of the day is…
An essential pit-stop on any London ice cream crawl, Milk Train has filled its back-street ice cream parlour with on-theme luggage racks, rounded windows and cosy booths arranged like vintage train carriages… all of which is very cute, but none of which you’re likely to notice while grappling with a frozen confection that defies both the rules of physics and responsible choices. Milk Train specialises in candy floss ice cream; a cone of swirling ice cream or sorbet (like lavender & honey, rose & lychee, or chocolate & banana), usually showered with a small packet of biscuits as a garnish, and surrounded by a cloud of candy floss. It’s just what’s needed…
…to stop you running out of steam.
➊ Neal’s Yard | Short’s Gardens, WC2H 9DP
➋ Seven Dials | London, WC2H 9HD
➌ Oasis Sports Centre | 32 Endell Street, London, WC2H 9AG
➍ Parson’s | 39 Endell Street, London WC2H 9BA
➎ Milk Train | 12 Tavistock Street, London WC2E 7PH
Enjoyed this? Peruse a few more Nudge Itineraries
Start at Neal's Yard, Covent Garden, WC2H 9DP
View On Map
Got A Tip? Email [email protected]
Log In to add this to My Saved Articles
Not a member and want to find out more then click here
7 Day Free Trial
Member Log In
We rely on member reviews to help keep The Nudge honest, accurate & continually up to date with the very best of London - so thank you!