Covent Garden Piazza

Covent Garden Piazza

The West End

London’s wholesale fruit-and-vegetable market until 1974 is now mostly the preserve of visitors, who flock here to shop among the quaint Italian-style arcades, eat and drink in the myriad cafes and restaurants, browse through eclectic market stalls in the Apple Market, toss coins at street performers on the West Piazza and traipse through the fun London Transport Museum.

The open square in front of St Paul's Church (nicknamed the Actors' Church) has long been a place of performance: even Samuel Pepys' diary from 1662 mentions an Italian puppet play with a character named Punch. The best views of the action today are from the upper terrace of the Punch & Judy pub.

An old painted noticeboard with rules and charges for vendors can still be found lurking in one of the alleys on the northern side, and black-and-white photos of Covent Garden's days as a food traders' market line the walls of the narrow passages.

The kitsch is hauled out for the quirky Rent Ceremony, in which the chairman and trustees strut around the piazza, accompanied by a town crier and live band, to pay Covent Garden's landlord the yearly rent of five red apples and five posies of flowers. It usually takes place in June.

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