London’s Covent Garden Neighborhood a Bustling Stage of Family-Friendly Entertainment

Our London Holiday, March 31-through-April 9, 2013:
1. British Airways LAX-LHR
2. The Waldorf Hilton, London
3. Covent Garden Neighborhood (TODAY’S POST)
4. London Transport Museum
5. Day Out in London – Traditional Landmarks
6. Princess Diana Playground, Kensington Park, and Green Park/ Buckingham Palace
7. Harry Potter Connections
8. Brookwood Cemetery and The Lion King at The Lyceum Theatre
9. Day Trip: Isle of Wight and Portsmouth, UK
10. Day Out: Greenwich, UK
11. Tower of London
12. London’s Shopping Meccas: Hamleys Toys and Harrods

When we booked our stay at The Waldorf Hilton, we did it mostly based on the reviews we’d read about its accommodations and high level of service, both of which exceeded our expectations. We also chose it for its centralized location in the heart of one of London’s most lively neighborhoods: Covent Garden.

The Lion King is into its 14th year at the Lyceum Theatre in London's Covent Garden neighborhood. Stay tuned for our review soon!

The Lion King is into the 14th year of its continuous run at the Lyceum Theatre in London’s Covent Garden neighborhood. Stay tuned for our review soon!

Covent Garden is the heart and soul of London’s theatre district; most if not all of the major stage and theatre venues call this neighborhood home. If there’s a play or musical you want to see, chances are it’s playing in London and in or very close to here. In fact we saw two shows during our eight-night stay. We’d have seen more (T did awesome and loved live theatre), but alas, quality theatre costs a pretty pound! More on our overall theatre experiences later, so stay tuned.

Didn't budget for a formal theatre outing during your London holiday? Catching a street performance in Covent Garden is a fun, free way to get your drama fix while in London (tips encouraged, of course).

Catching a street performance in Covent Garden is a fun, free way to get your drama fix while in London (tips encouraged, of course).

T with his favorite of the street performers we saw while in London's Covent Garden.

T with his favorite of the street performers we saw while in London’s Covent Garden.

Also, Covent Garden is home to many other types of performances, namely street theatre. Live performances run day and night in the Piazza and along the wide pedestrian avenues of Covent Garden, and we got sucked into watching more than once. There was anything from the “coin-op robot on a soapbox” to full-on illusion displays. These shows were extremely family-friendly, and the performers and shows we saw were great with and for kids. Performers also – for the most part – are city-permitted to be where they are, so there’s less to worry about as far as shady behavior goes (but always be aware of your surroundings, of course – the crowds can get quite large!).

Primrose Bakery in Covent Garden.

Primrose Bakery in Covent Garden.

The case at Primrose Bakery in London's Covent Garden.

The case at Primrose Bakery in London’s Covent Garden. T showed me exactly which one he wanted, of course!

Our first round of minis from Primrose Bakery. I love the idea of packing minis to-go in lidded mini paper cups!

Our first round of minis from Primrose Bakery. I love the idea of packing minis to-go in lidded mini paper cups!

Earl Gray cupcakes from Primrose Bakery in Covent Garden.

Earl Gray cupcakes from Primrose Bakery in Covent Garden.

My second-round of sweets from Primrose Bakery in Covent Garden. Coffee from The Waldorf Hilton executive lounge.

My second-round of sweets from Primrose Bakery in Covent Garden. Coffee from The Waldorf Hilton executive lounge.

Covent Garden is also home to some great restaurants and cafes. One that was right near our hotel was Primrose Bakery, which specializes in cupcakes. As those RMT’ers know who’ve been reading along with me for a bit, I adore a good cupcake, and Primrose’s didn’t disappoint. They offer full-size and minis daily and rotate flavors. I went for the minis, mostly because it was all I could eat by the end of a day pubbing and grubbing, and I wanted to be able to try more than just one flavor (of course!).

Sunday Roast from Covent Garden Grill.

Sunday Roast from Covent Garden Grill.

T goes monocle at Covent Garden Grill.

T goes monocle at Covent Garden Grill.

To qualify for the 2-for-1 offers from DayGuidesOutUK, you must have a valid National Railcard photo ID (you must have the photo to-size with you at time of purchase, see website for photo measurements and guidelines) along with a current, non-expired National Rail ticket. If you fail to print vouchers online before your travels, these London 2-for-1 booklets are available at any National Rail counter and contain the same current offers as their website.

To qualify for the 2-for-1 offers from DaysOutGuideUK, you must have a current, non-expired Travelcard from National Rail (MUST have the National Rail symbol with the red arrows). Day tickets work, but we had a 7-day ticket and used that. To get a 7-day Travelcard from National Rail, you must get their Photocard (see National Rail website for photo guidelines and dimensions, hence the non-smiling photo; bring photo with you at time of purchase). If you fail to print vouchers online before your travels, these London 2-for-1 booklets are available at any National Rail counter and contain the same current offers as their website.

Another restaurant we dined at a couple of times was the Covent Garden Grill. We went here one night because of having a 2-for-1 offer via the Days Out Guide/National Rail discount program. (Side Note: I encourage anyone traveling to London to read this write-up on the 2-for-1 voucher program before traveling and print off a few of the offers that look remotely interesting; they paid off HUGE for us. In fact, we recouped the price of our two, week-long National Rail Travelcards by using these vouchers during our travels.) Anyway back to the eats and drinks… we enjoyed our first experience at Covent Garden Grill so much, we returned again for dinner another night during our stay. We hardly ever do a repeat restaurant visit when traveling, but we do so when it’s warranted, whether we have a coupon or not (the second time while I thought we didn’t have a coupon, we did… C kept our previous receipt that gave 20 percent off a future bill if we returned within the same month, which we obviously did).

Other family- and kid-friendly dining options in Covent Garden.

Other family- and kid-friendly dining options in Covent Garden that we found were (starting top and going clockwise): Loch Fyne (more Scottish than English pub food with fresh catch options and very affordable prix fixe offerings nightly); Orso (Italian, had a lovely and authentic meal here, was very quiet during the weeknight we were there as we missed the early theatre folk); and Cote Brasserie (French, we had a wonderful pre-theatre lunch here of steak frites, and T had a croque-monsieur and fresh strawberry ice cream).

T enjoys the kid-friendly part of our experience at Covent Garden Grill.

T enjoys the kid-friendly part of our experience at Covent Garden Grill.

Funny story though… some of the online reviews listed this place as both kid-friendly and romantic. We could not help but wonder how these two qualities go together, but after visiting, I can see that maybe it’s kid-friendly during the earlier evening hours (like when we went) but more romantic as it gets later into the evening (they did turn down the lighting right before we left one night, for example). Either way, Covent Garden Grill was welcoming with our family and offered a great alternative to “pub food” when we needed it.

T and I at the White Lion Pub in Covent Garden.

T and I at the White Lion Pub in Covent Garden.

The three of us enjoying a quick-stop at The White Lion Pub in Covent Garden.

The three of us enjoying a quick-stop at The White Lion Pub in Covent Garden.

I loved that we found a ukelele-playing bartender in Covent Garden!

I loved that we found a ukulele-playing bartender in Covent Garden!

Ah, White Lion, we were sad you kicked us out, but we completely understand. It's the law.

Ah, White Lion, we were sad you kicked us out, but we completely understand. It’s the law. Note: Their sister restaurant upstairs is open to kids, but we didn’t learn that until afterward.

Oh, and since I’m on the topic of funny stories, we’d heard about how kids are welcome in London’s pubs with parents up until a certain hour of day (the times varied anywhere from 1900-to-2100, or 7-to-9 p.m. depending on the day of the week, food service, etc.). We’d gotten used to asking whether T was welcome or not regardless because we didn’t want to be somewhere, get comfy, and then get kicked out. Well, after about day five, we sort-of stopped asking because we’d been welcomed pretty much everywhere and anywhere around town. Whoops. Please note, RMT’ers: While the White Lion in Covent Garden is an awesome little stop-in along the area’s main thoroughfare, complete with bar keeps who play ukulele, they do not allow little ones (they do, however, allow them in their sister restaurant upstairs).

The covered market in the Covent Garden Piazza calls to foodies and fashionistas alike.

Covent Garden’s markets and stalls call to foodies and fashionistas alike.

Happy boys settling into our hood-away-from-home, Covent Garden.

Happy boys settling into our ‘hood-away-from-home, Covent Garden.

Note the number of shopping bags along Covent Garden's main thoroughfare.

Note the number people with shopping bags along Covent Garden’s main thoroughfare. It’s just one way to pass the time in this cute and chic neighborhood of London.

01 piazza walk

One of the covered walks along the Covent Garden Piazza.

One of the covered walks along the Covent Garden Piazza.

Shopping is also a main event in Covent Garden. The area boasts markets with fresh food, produce, and delicacies, and it’s equally flanked with stalls full of artisan crafts and clothing. Higher-end boutiques and smaller stores also line storefronts along the Piazza and surrounding streets.

I will tell you more about the sound chip inside of Build-a-Bear box number 12 later, RMT'ers.

I will tell you more about the sound chip inside of Build-a-Bear box number 12 later, RMT’ers.

Cute local flavor on display at the Covent Garden Build-a-Bear.

Cute local flavor on display at the Covent Garden Build-a-Bear.

Of course, there’s the standard commercial offerings (i.e., chains), which caught T’s eye right away. Try as we might to stay out of those stores, T had other ideas. Oh well… I’ll chalk it up to his wanting something familiar along our travels. While we “bearly” ventured inside, we did give in once or twice. That’s what holiday is about, right?

Some commuters and vacationers choose rent-a-bikes to get around London. Many parklets like this one in Covent Garden house a set of rental bikes that allow folks to pick up in one location and drop off in another.

Some commuters and vacationers choose rent-a-bikes to get around London. Many parklets, like this one in Covent Garden, house a set of rental bikes that allow folks to pick up in one location and drop off in another. This is just one of several efforts that Transport for London is part of to help reduce congestion and traffic in the center of town.

Covent Garden's Underground map.

Covent Garden’s Underground map.

If you are thinking of an upcoming family holiday to London, then consider the Covent Garden neighborhood as your home base, especially if you are a theatre, food, and/or shopping fan. And if Covent Garden doesn’t have what you need, it’s one or two short Underground stops from anywhere else you’d need or want to go (I’ll explain more about this in a future post). Also, as I mentioned before, it’s a direct Underground stop from London Heath Row (LHR) if arriving into town there. Many bus lines also connect Covent Garden to London’s main attractions directly or via easy transfer; in fact, we used the bus almost more than we did the Underground, and we only had to get in a cab once.

Typical winding street in the Covent Garden neighborhood of London.

Typical winding street in the Covent Garden neighborhood of London.

We visited London just after Easter, which meant we caught a few leftover celebrations, such as "The Big Egg Hunt." This was an art-installation-turned-auction with the proceeds going toward Action for Children Network, a local charity benefiting the welfare and protection of child abuse victims.

We visited London just after Easter, which meant we caught a few leftover celebrations, such as “The Big Egg Hunt.” This was an art-installation-turned-auction with the proceeds going toward Action for Children Network, a local charity benefiting the welfare and protection of child abuse victims.

T on the streets of Covent Garden during a much quieter Sunday morning.

T on the streets of Covent Garden during a fairly quiet Sunday morning.

Convenient, classy, cute, chic, cultured, and chock full of kid- and family-friendly fun: That’s Covent Garden.

RMT’ers, if you’ve been to London, what’s your favorite neighborhood and why?

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