In the 13th Century, Covent Garden was the kitchen garden for Westminster Abbey, then known as the Convent Garden. After the dissolution of the monasteries the land fell into private hands and in the 1630s its owner, the Earl of Bedford, commissioned Inigo Jones to transform it into fashionable houses. Inspired by his travels in Europe, Jones created a system of grand houses centred around a grand piazza and church.
A bustling fruit and vegetable market quickly sprung up in the finished piazza and by the 1700s the gentry, who had flocked to the new development, began to move to other areas to escape the chaos created by its roaring trade. Many notorious entertainment and drinking venues were established in Covent Garden during the next 150 years, which saw London's rich and famous descending on the area for licentious fun. Ringed with slums, the area gained a reputation for vice and deprivation, something demonstrated by several paintings in Hogarth's Gin Lane series.
The 1900s were to change the area's fate, and in 1974 the fruit and vegetable market was finally moved to a new site in Vauxhall. After extensive redevelopment Covent Garden re-opened as an entertainment hotspot in 1980, and today it is one of London's most popular districts.
Even though the area has been transformed with new shops and restaurants and many of the buildings, including the Grade I listed Royal Opera House, have undergone sympathetic renovations, the area is protected to ensure it retains its historic charm. You can see traces of previous centuries at every corner: check out the pineapples on top of every lamp post for a glimpse of its market past!
In an area of London known for its theatres, St Paul's Covent Garden is known as the Actors' Church. The parishioners mainly come from the acting community, boosting the entertainment culture in Covent Garden. Venture inside to see the memorial tablet for Charles Macklin, one of Covent Garden's most famous actors who allegedly lived to 107.
The London Transport Museum underwent a £22m refurbishment in 2007 and is a tribute to all that's loved about London's transport system. The museum is popular with Londoners and not just for anoraks. Explore the history of London's buses, trains, trams and Tube and the people who use them. Don't miss the interactive exhibits and your chance to see plans for the future of London's transport. The museum has a great new shop where you can buy reproductions of vintage tube posters, and myriad items featuring London's iconic transport designs.
Get closer to Covent Garden's history by indulging in a meal at the 200-year-old Rules, London's oldest restaurant. You can also sip a pint at the historic Lamb and Flag, which used to be the site of bare-knuckle fights that earned the pub its nickname: 'The Bucket of Blood'.
Find out more on the Covent Garden website.