This post will cover the most interesting things to see and do in and near Trafalgar Square, including free activities, dining options, and discounts for local attractions.
- What is Trafalgar Square?
- Things to See + Do
- Where to Eat
- Annual Events
- Things to Do Near Trafalgar Square
- Things to Do in London
WHAT IS TRAFALGAR SQUARE?
A tourist attraction and public space, Trafalgar Square can be thought of as London’s common room, and it's arguably London's most famous square.
The square commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, and the Square is now a site for celebrations, protests, political demonstrations, political rallies, events, and art.
In the summer months, there are occasional concerts and ballet, as well as West End Live performances.
The Site of Trafalgar Square has been a notable landmark since the 13th century and originally contained the King's Royal Mews - which are now located at Buckingham Palace.
The current version of the Square has been sitting in the heart of the City of Westminster since the 1840s when it was constructed to create an ‘Italian-style piazza’ in the centre of town.
It was originally designed by architect John Nash but another architect, Charles Barry, completed the Square when Nash died before he could finish his project.
It’s flanked on its north terrace by the National Gallery, the charming St Martin-in-the-Fields Church to the east, Admiralty Arch and the Mall to the southwest, Whitehall to the south, and the beautiful Canadian Embassy to the west.
Overlooking it all is the iconic statue of Lord Nelson on top of his column in the centre of the Square.
Trafalgar Square is oftentimes seen as the heart of London - it's considered London's central area and it’s from nearby that all distances to/from London are measured.
It's also where the end of World War II was celebrated, where London’s myriad parades finish with huge celebrations, and it’s host to cultural events throughout the year.
It’s a great place to take wonderful photos - from the famous Trafalgar Square lions to the beautiful fountains - and is a popular site for tourists to visit.
How to Get Here
Trafalgar Square is easy to find and is centrally located at the start of The Mall by the Charing Cross Underground Station.
Trafalgar Square should not be confused with the forecourt, or square, in front of Buckingham Palace.
Trafalgar Square is easily accessible by public transport as it sits right in the heart of town.
- Nearest Underground Stations: Charing Cross, Embankment, and Westminster
- Nearest Rail Station: Charing Cross Station
- Bus Routes: 6, 9, 11, 12, 15, 24, 29, 87, 88, 91, 139, 159, 176, 453
Be sure to read our post on navigating the London Underground.
The Square is also a stop on all London hop-on-hop-off bus routes.
Let Us Take You Here
Trafalgar Square is near the endpoint of our Royal London Walking Tour.
For those of you taking our Harry Potter Tour, there is a stop here to discuss the final film premiere which took place here.
There are a number of hotels near Trafalgar Square. Check out TripAdvisor’s list of the top-rated area hotels.
There are public toilets located in Trafalgar Square which can be accessed for a fee. There are disabled toilets which are free of charge.
TIP: You can use the cleaner, and FREE, toilets in The National Gallery at the top of the Square.
PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK
Getting food near Trafalgar Square is easy as there are so many places to choose from:
Quick Bites to Takeaway/Picnic
Casual Sit Downs
- The Rooftop at the Trafalgar St. James - you can eat here too.
The Square is also a short walk away from the foodie havens of Covent Garden and Chinatown.
However, make sure to avoid Leicester Square as it is full of ‘tourist traps!’
There are many delicious places to eat in London but a good rule of thumb is that if you can see Leicester Square from the restaurant, you are best to avoid it.
Many restaurants here target quantity over quality and there are a lot of chain restaurants about.
TOP THINGS TO DO AND SEE
This section lists a few museums, monuments, and other points of interest that are free to see in and around Trafalgar Square.
1) The National Gallery
The fourth most visited art museum in the world, The National Gallery, flanks the north side of Trafalgar Square.
Inside are works by masters such as Van Gough, Monet, Holbein, and Turner.
The gallery runs numerous talks for guests, as well as tours for groups of 4 people or fewer.
If you’re part of a larger group, get in touch with us, as we can help to arrange a private tour with one of our fabulous guides!
2) The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery contains beautiful works depicting great British figures from across the centuries as well as some universally recognised names and faces.
For those travelling with kids, take note that the Gallery has special activities for children and kids can enter all exhibitions without charge!
3) See the Imperial Measures
This is one for those who like to find little-known gems!
In the 19th century, the Board of Trade installed markers here in Trafalgar Square to preserve the standard imperial unit measures.
The plaques depict inches, feet, and yards as well as lesser-known measures like perches and chains.
Thousands of visitors walk over these measures every day without noticing - you can find them yourself in the Northeastern part of the Square where the stairs lead up to the National Gallery.
4) Britain's Smallest Police Station
Surreptitiously tucked away in the Southeastern corner of Trafalgar Square sits what used to be Britain’s smallest police station.
It’s easy to miss, given that it is located in an old hollowed-out lamp post.
This outpost was placed here in the 1920s to allow law enforcement a place to come and monitor goings-on in the Square.
But, it was also stated that it was big enough to contain two prisoners at a time should the need arise!
Today the “station” is used as storage for Westminster Council!
5) Make a Wish in an Iconic Fountain
Two fountains sit on either side of Trafalgar Square and commemorate Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty.
Originally, fountains were placed here in 1845 as a way to take up space in the Square to make it less desirous as a place for demonstrations and riots!
In the 1930s, it was decided to add memorials to the fountains which included the elaborate sculptures of mermaids, mermen, tritons, and dolphins that are still here today.
6) Watch Street Performers and Artists
The area between Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery was paved and pedestrianised in 2003.
Today this space has been taken by artists, musicians, and street performers.
It is nearly guaranteed that at any time of day, a walk along this area will take you in front of one type of street performance or another.
Artists do beautiful chalk work, musicians play acoustic guitars, magicians perform tricks, and ‘living statues’ come to life!
It’s always worth a wander past just to see what you may stumble across.
7) Art on the Fourth Plinth
Every 6 months, atop a plinth originally intended to hold a statue of King William IV, a new and highly anticipated piece of sculpture is unveiled to the public.
At the time of writing (2022), the work on the plinth is The End by Heather Phillipson - a dollop of whipped cream with an assortment of toppings including a drone that will film passers-by and display them on an attached screen.
8) See Nelson's Column
Dominating the square is Nelson’s Column, a 169ft 3in (51.59m) granite column with the figure of Admiral Lord Nelson on the top that was completed in 1843.
Nelson was viewed as the hero who led Britain to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, and tragically died in the process it was decided by members of Parliament that a monument to him should be erected in the square.
The base of the column is decorated with four bronze relief panels commemorating British naval victories as well as Nelson’s death.
It’s surrounded by four iconic bronze lions that were added later, in the 1860s.
9) King Charles I Statue
Just outside Trafalgar Square, on the traffic island inside the traffic roundabout, sits a statue of King Charles I on horseback.
His statue is looking down the long road ahead - Whitehall - which used to be the location of one of his royal palaces, and which eventually became the location of his execution.
The statue itself was created before the king died and was given to a metalsmith to be destroyed after Charles’ execution.
Instead, the smith buried the statue and it was bought back by the executed king’s son, Charles II who placed it in its’ current location.
10) Get Theater and Attractions Discounts
If you love a bargain as we do, take note that there are numerous discounts to be had near Trafalgar Square:
For cheap theatre tickets check out the TKTS booth just behind Trafalgar Square in Leicester Square. (also consider joining our Theatreland Tour to get even more information on nabbing yourself some seats!)
11) See the Iconic Bronze Lions
At the bottom of Nelson's column, you will find bronze statues depicting four lions, crafted by Sir Edwin Landseer.
These were added to Nelson's Column in 1867 and represent the national lion symbol of England.
Legend states if Big Ben were to chime 14 times, the statues would come to life...
These lions used to be a popular place to take photos but since 2011 guests have no longer been allowed to climb them!
Attractions Included With the London Pass and Other Discount Passes
Check out our post to find out which discount pass is the best for you.
- Westminster Abbey
- Churchill War Rooms
- Household Cavalry Museum
- Banqueting House
- London Transport Museum
- Benjamin Franklin House
The Rooftop at The Trafalgar St. James Hotel
It's a bit pricey to eat or drink here, but that's Central London. You could also stay here. The hotel is well-reviewed.
However, if you can afford the splurge, you should consider enjoying the view at this rooftop bar and restaurant on the Square.
In addition to the views of Trafalgar Square, you can also see much of central London, including the London Eye and the Palace of Westminster, and Big Ben.
ANNUAL EVENTS IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE
Trafalgar Square’s location makes it a great place to meet, grab photos, or just relax a bit and watch London go by.
Throughout the year there are also huge events that take place here. Find out what’s on when you’re in town...
NOTE: All of these events are totally FREE!
Chinese New Year
Every year London plays host to huge Chinese New Year celebrations, with free events taking place in Trafalgar Square.
Expect singing, dancing, martial arts displays, fireworks, dragons, and delicious Chinese street food.
On St. Patrick’s Day, a family-friendly parade travels through London and finishes with a celebration on Trafalgar Square.
Irish singers and dancers perform, Irish food is served up, and family-friendly arts and crafts stalls are set up for those travelling with little ones.
St. George’s Day
A day to celebrate England’s patron saint, St. George’s Day is a party in Trafalgar Square thrown each year by the Mayor of London.
The Square gets decked out in the red and white colours of St. George, craft stalls and traditional foot carts pop up, and non-stop entertainment takes place on the main stage.
A celebration of Sikh and Punjabi culture and heritage marking the birth of the Khalsa.
Expect traditional vegetarian foods, turban tying lessons, live music, dancing, and an opportunity to try playing new sports.
Eid marks the end of Ramadan and here in Trafalgar Square, there will be music, prayer, celebration, and lots and lots of food to break the month of fasting.
West End Live
This is one of Trafalgar Square’s most popular events. Each June, West End Live sees performances of West End shows put on stage here for free.
Huge lineups throughout the weekend mean visitors have a chance to see iconic performances, classic pieces, and legendary musical numbers carried out by London’s best theatre stars without having to pay a single pound.
London’s LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations take place throughout the city during the first week of June.
The highlight of Pride is the huge parade that snakes through the centre of town before finishing here near Trafalgar Square.
The Square will host speeches and performances from celebrities from all across the world.
Japan Matsuri Festival
An annual celebration of Japanese culture. Guests can expect, martial arts displays, Edo-period magic tricks, Japanese delicacies, and even a karaoke contest.
Africa on the Square
A yearly celebration of the various cultures and traditions across Africa. Music, dance, food, and even a talent show take place on the main stage here in Trafalgar Square.
The Festival of Lights is celebrated each year in Trafalgar Square in an event that is attended by thousands of visitors.
Expect music, guest speakers, food, and your chance to try traditional dancing.
London’s Christmas Tree
Each year, as a token of gratitude for assistance during the second world war, Norway gifts London a beautiful Norwegian Spruce Christmas Tree.
Visitors can come to see the lighting of thousands of bulbs and take part in singing Christmas carols and drinking delicious mulled wines.
Carols and Chanukah
A giant menorah to celebrate Chanukah is placed in Trafalgar Square on the first day of the festival.
Guests can come to watch the lighting as well as take part in traditional singing and dancing.
THINGS TO DO NEAR TRAFALGAR SQUARE
The location of this landmark is within walking distance from a number of other London attractions.
This section will cover some of the best things to see and do near Trafalgar Square.
The Banqueting House
The Banqueting House is the only surviving part of the 16th-century Palace of Whitehall.
This is where Henry VIII would have held court and where King Charles I was executed. Visitors can enjoy the stunning ceiling painted by Rubens.
Palace of Westminster, Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben
The Houses of Parliament (including the House of Commons and the House of Lords) are the legislating bodies of the United Kingdom and are located inside the Palace of Westminster.
Rebuilt after a fire in 1834, the current Palace contains the iconic structure of the Queen Elizabeth II Tower - more popularly known as Big Ben!
TIP: Check out our post to find out how to visit for free.
There has been a church located on this site since at least the 600s.
The current version was begun by King Edward the Confessor and has since seen numerous coronations (including Queen Elizabeth II’s), royal weddings (Including William and Kate’s), and state funerals( Including that of the late Princess Diana).
Check out our guide for tickets, discounts, and free visits.
Horseguard’s Parade is the ceremonial parade ground used by the Household Cavalry.
A site for events like the Trooping the Colour parade now holds the daily Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard.
For those wanting to know more, the Household Cavalry Museum is located here as well.
St. James's Palace
St. James’s Palace is the official site of the Court of Queen Elizabeth II, St. James’s Palace was built for King Henry VIII in the 1500s and now is used for ceremonial events pertaining to the Royal Family.
The Changing of the Guard begins here in the courtyard before heading down The Mall toward Buckingham Palace.
TIP: Learn more about St. James’s Palace with us on our Westminster or All-in-One Tours!
Churchill War Rooms
The Churchill War Rooms are the underground bunkers where Winston Churchill led the British troops during the Second World War located underneath the Treasury in Whitehall.
Today, the space is open to the public as a fascinating museum documenting not just Churchill’s leadership during the war but also the rest of his fascinating life.
If you’re interested in learning more about World War Two, come along with us on our World War Two Tour!
London Transport Museum
This unique museum takes guests on a journey through London’s transport past.
With real examples of original tube trains, buses, and carriages as well as futuristic designs for the future, this museum gives guests a real look at the gigantic travel network that has kept the city running for centuries.
Benjamin Franklin House
The Benjamin Franklin House is the world’s only surviving home of Benjamin Franklin.
The house here dates from 1730 and was Franklin’s home and office for sixteen years.
Visitors can take a fascinating tour that combines historic interpretation, acting, and audio/visual displays!
The former site of a fruit-and-vegetable market, Covent Garden today holds a modern market as well as boutique shops, restaurants, and bars.
The courtyard is a popular site for street performers and holds a Christmas tree in December.
Covent Garden is known for its great nightlife, cobbled streets, high-street shops, and great restaurants.
In the very centre of the West End sits Leicester Square. Formerly a country-side estate today the Square is known for its affiliation with theatre.
World premieres of international films are held here (think James Bond and Harry Potter!), off-West-End plays and gigs are held in the nearby cobbled streets, and London’s discount theatre ticket market is based here at the TKTS Booth.
Also filled with street performers and artists, Leicester Square is a vibrant locale in the middle of town, with restaurants, bars, clubs, and casinos that are open 24 hours.
Likely the most iconic traffic junction in the world, Piccadilly Circus is in the heart of the West End and achieved international fame when the huge advertisement signs here became the first in the world to be illuminated.
There are numerous notable sites nearby like Regent’s Street, Leicester Square, Piccadilly and St. James, the M&M Store, and Shaftesbury Avenue.
Consider exploring with us on our Soho, Piccadilly, and Chinatown Tour or Rock n’ Roll Tour!
Billed as ‘China in the Heart of London’, Chinatown is a small enclave of Chinese restaurants, shops, grocery stores, bakeries, and other Chinese-run businesses.
A great place to eat delicious food and also a great place for late-night revelry, Chinatown will keep you entertained, have you eating authentic flavours, and find treasures in interesting shops.
See an Embassy and a High Commission
Trafalgar Square is flanked by two of London’s largest and most beautiful embassies - those of South Africa to the East and Canada to the West.
(Note that embassies for countries that are part of the Commonwealth are referred to instead as High Commissions).
South Africa House has stood here since the 1930s and was home to Prime Minister Jan Smuts during World War II.
Today it is a focal point of South African culture in the U.K. Nelson Mandela stood on the balcony here during his 1996 visit to London and again in 2001 to mark the seventh anniversary of Freedom Day when apartheid was officially abolished.
TIP: There is a wonderful statue of Nelson Mandela just down Whitehall in Parliament Square!
Canada House, as we see it today, was officially opened by King George V in 1925. The interior features furniture, carpets, and maple and birch flooring all imported from Canada.
Parts of the current Canada House used to hold the offices of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company - otherwise known as the White Star Line - which operated famous liners like the ill-fated RMS Titanic.