Trafalgar Square – All You Need to Know

Trafalgar Square with St. Martin

What is it?

This 12,000 sq m public square in the City of Westminster, central London, is a must-see destination for any visitors to London. It is home to the 169-foot Nelson’s Column, guarded by four majestic bronze-cast lion statues, and lots of pigeons.

The square, which also features two glorious water fountains, is famous for hosting public gatherings and demonstrations over the centuries.

What can I do there?

Many tourists head to Trafalgar Square to see Nelson’s Column, such is its status as a London icon. It was built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The square makes for a glorious place for a lunchtime picnic or a refuel snack, but we’d advise against sharing your food with the pigeons.

River Thames

Feeding the feral pigeons that filled the square used to be a popular pastime, with the flock reaching as many as 32,000 at its peak. However, the pigeon population was reduced after they were found to be a health hazard, with their droppings damaging stonework and Nelson’s Column. Repair costs topped £140,000. There are now bylaws in place that ban the feeding of birds on the pedestrianised North Terrace and other pavements in the area.

Trafalgar Square has four plinths, three of which are topped with commemorative statues and sculptures. However, the fourth plinth has been kept vacant since 1999 to provide a temporary platform for contemporary art. Recent sculptures have included a blue, 4.7-metre tall cockerel, a skeletal riderless horse and a giant thumb.

In recent years, there have been proposals for permanent statutes of Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher and Keith Park. However, some people believe the plinth is reserved for a statue of Queen Elizabeth II to be erected after her death, which would explain the plinth’s prolonged vacancy.

You can also visit the world’s smallest police station here. This one-man police phone box was installed in 1926 so that officers could keep an eye on Trafalgar Square. It had a direct line to Scotland Yard so they could call other officers to the area if they suspected that a demonstration was going to materialise. Today, it is used as a broom cupboard for Westminster Council cleaners. You’ll find it in the South-East corner of the square.

How did it get its name?

The name ‘Trafalgar Square’ was chosen to remember the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars with France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar, Spain.

However, it didn’t get that name until it opened in 1844. Before then, the site of Trafalgar Square was used for the Royal Mews, containing the monarch’s stables and carriage house, until it was moved to Buckingham Palace by George IV.

What else is there?

Placed on the Northern perimeter of Trafalgar Square is The National Gallery. This renowned museum is home to one of the greatest collections of paintings in the world including Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers. It is among the most visited art museums in the world after the Musée du Louvre, the British Museum, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Just behind the National Gallery is the National Portrait Gallery, which contains paintings and photographs of the most famous and aristocratic people in British history.

To the South of Trafalgar Square in Charing Cross, there’s the equestrian statue of Charles I – also known as the Charles Statue.

Convent Garden

You’re also less than half a mile’s walk from Covent Garden, with its unique blend of street entertainment, independent traders and high-end brands. Similarly, Piccadilly Gardens and Leicester Square are less than ten minutes away on foot.

Where is it?

Just a few hundreds metres west of the top bend of the River Thames, between Westminster Bridge and Waterloo Bridge. It sits at the opposite end of The Mall from Buckingham Palace, close to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.

For guests at the Park Grand London Paddington, take the Bakerloo Line from Paddington Station and alight at Charing Cross. Although the journey is around three miles, it should take around 20 minutes on the Tube.

How do I get there?

Taking the Tube may be your best option. The closest Underground stations is Charing Cross Underground Station on the Bakerloo and Northern Lines, but those on the Piccadilly Line could alight at Leicester Square Station, while those on the Circle and District Lines can jump off at Embankment and walk up Northumberland Avenue.

Alternatively, those on the bus can take the following routes to stop C at Trafalgar Square: 24. 29, 176, N5, N20, N29, N41 and N279.