Things to See and Do in Trafalgar Square

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?

A tourist attraction and public space, Trafalgar Square can be thought of like London’s common room. Named for the Battle of Trafalgar, the Square is now a site for celebrations, protests, events, and art. 

The Site of Trafalgar Square has been a notable landmark since the 13th century and originally contained the Kings Mews.

 

What is Trafalgar Square

 

The current version of the Square has been sitting in the heart of the City of Westminster since the 1800’s when it was constructed to create an ‘Italian-style piazza’ in the centre of town.

It’s flanked on its north side by the National Gallery, the charming St. Martin’s in the Fields 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 figure of Lord Admiral Nelson on top of his column in the centre of the Square. 

 

Admiral Horatio Nelson, Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London

 

Trafalgar Square is oftentimes seen as the heart of London – it’s from nearby that all distances to/from London are measured from.

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.


How to Get There

Trafalgar Square is easy to find and is centrally located at the start of The Mall by the Charing Cross Underground Station. 

 

How to get to Trafalgar Square

 

Transport Links

Trafalgar Square is easily accessed 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
  • 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.

Tour Buses

The Square is also a stop on all London hop-on-hop-off bus routes like The Original Tour, The Big Bus Tour, and Golden Tours.

Let Us Take Your 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.


Hotels

There are a number of hotels near Trafalgar Square. Check out TripAdvisor’s list of the top-rated area hotels.


Public Toilets

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.

 


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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

Pubs

Cocktails

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.

 


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TOP 10 THINGS TO SEE AND DO

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.

 

National Gallery in Trafalgar Square

 

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 Jellycoe 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!

 
Trafalgar Square, London 2 - Jun 2009
 

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.

 

Street Art near Trafalgar Square, London

 

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 (2019), the work on the plinth is The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist by Michael Rakowitz – a recreation of a sculpture of a lamassu that was destroyed by ISIS in 2015.

In 2020, this will be replaced by The End by Heather Phillipson – a dollop of whipped cream with an assortment of toppings include a drone that will film passers-by and display them on an attached screen.


8) See Nelson’s Column

Admiral Nelson trafalgar squareDominating 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 and 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 lion figures that were added later, in the 1860s.

These lions used to be a popular place to take photos but since 2011 guests have no longer been allowed to climb them!


9) King Charles I Statue

Just outside Trafalgar Square, in the traffic island inside the traffic roundabout, sits a statue of King Charles I on horseback.

 

King Charles 1 Statue Trafalgar Square

 

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!)

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.


Bonus) 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.

 


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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!


January

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, and martial arts displays, fireworks, dragons, and delicious Chinese street food.

March

St. Patrick’s Day 

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.

April

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.

Vaisakhi Festival 

A celebrate of Sikhand 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.

May

Eid Festival 

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.

June

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.

July

London Pride 

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.

September

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.

October

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.

November

Silence in the Square 

The Royal British Legion holds two minutes of silence here for Armistice Day on 11:00 am on the 11th day of the 11th month each year.

Diwali 

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.

December

London’s Christmas Tree 

Each year, as a thank you 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.

 


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NEARBY ATTRACTIONS

Trafalgar Square’s location means it’s within walking distance from a number of other London attractions!


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 body 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


Westminster Abbey

There has been a church located on this site since at least the 600’s.

 

Westminster Abbey Tickets

 

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

Horseguard’s Parade is the ceremonial parade ground used by the Household Cavalry. A site for events like the Trooping the Colour the 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 are 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! 


Covent Garden

The former site of a fruit-and-vegetable market, Covent Garden today holds a modern market as well as boutique shops, restaurants, and bars.

 


This photo of Punch & Judy in Covent Garden is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The courtyard is a popular site for street performers and holds a Christmas tree in December. Covent Garden is known for great nightlife, cobbled streets, high-street shops, and great restaurants.


Leicester Square

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.


Piccadilly Circus

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.

 


This photo of Piccadilly Circus is courtesy of TripAdvisor

 

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!


Chinatown

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 finding 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).

 

Canadian Embassy Building near Trafalgar Square

 

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.

 


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About the author

An American simply by accident of birth, Margaret moved to London over 15 years ago and hasn’t looked back since! With a keen interest in History – and a BA degree to match – Margaret prides herself on her knowledge of the amazing city she calls home and she's been guiding here now for nearly a decade. Social history is her real expertise, with sound understanding of the day-to-day lives of Londoners over the past centuries.

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