Trafalgar Square in London is one of the most famous meeting points in the capital city. What is there to do in Trafalgar Square? Learn more about the best things to see on Trafalgar Square!
Trafalgar Square is one of the best-known areas in London. The location has been of importance to the city since the 13th century. The symbolism and meaning of the Square have changed over time but it’s been always one of the main landmarks in London. It now stands a beacon of democracy and protest. If there is a rally or demonstration held in London, it will usually start or end at Trafalgar Square.
Even if you have nothing that you need to shout about, Trafalgar Square is a place worth visiting. It really is one of the best places to visit in London!
Ready to explore one of the best squares in London?
In fact, Trafalgar Square is one of the most famous squares in Europe so you have to see it even if you are only one day in London.
Trafalgar Square London:
Where is Trafalgar Square?
Trafalgar Square is in the very middle of London. In fact, the entrance of the Charing Cross tube station in the corner of Trafalgar Square is the official centre of London. The Square sits between the main shopping district and the west end of the city.
The nearest tube station is Charing Cross. However, it is no more than a 10-minute walk to other tube stops such as Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Embankment.
Trafalgar Square red dye
Is the water in London’s Trafalgar Square fountains always red?
In July 2020 red dye was released into the fountains by two representatives of Animal Rebellion. Some say it was criminal damage, others that it was needed as part of the protest against animal farming.
Whichever is your opinion, we think that from a photography point of view it was a great opportunity to take some unique pictures of Trafalgar Square in London with its red-water fountains.
Trafalgar Square tube station
There is no longer a Trafalgar Square Tube Station. There was a tube stop named Trafalgar Square. The stop merged into Charing Cross tube station in 1979. This was part of the Jubilee Line expansion.
Charing Cross Tube station has two exits which empty into Trafalgar Square. Theses link to the Bakerloo and Northern lines.
Trafalgar Square history
Trafalgar Square began life as the stables of Whitehall Palace. Known as the Great Mews Stables, they served the palace until 1812 when John Nash was tasked with developing the area. He envisioned the creation of a cultural space for the public to enjoy. The square was named in 1830 a full two years before work began on the National Gallery.
In 1838 plans were put forward to build a memorial statue of Nelson as well as a pair of fountains. By 1843 the column was erected, and two years later the fountains were built. The original fountains were created to try and prevent large crowds from gathering in the square. They were replaced early in the 20th century. The original fountains still exist, but you’ll have to travel the Ottawa and Regin in Canada to see them.
The famous lions were added in 1867. However, the Lions you see today are not the lions that were initially planned. A set of four lions were created in stone, by Thomas Milne. However, they were rejected just before installation. These stone lions now stand in the village of Saltaire, Bradford. It was thought that bronze lions would be more impressive. So, the planners commissioned the Landseer lions, named after the artist that created them.
Trafalgar Square today
Trafalgar Square underwent a major renovation in 2003. The whole process took 18 months to complete, but it transformed the space. The traffic that used to pass through parts of the square was diverted. They turned the whole space into a pedestrian area. Construction created a new staircase. So, the National Gallery is now joined to the square.
During the work, the builders added lifts for disabled access along with public toilets and a cafe. The work significantly expanded Trafalgar Square.
Best time to visit Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square has events going on throughout the year. There are cultural celebrations, demonstrations and rallies. So a visit at any time of year is likely to be enjoyable. Visiting during the 24 days when the Christmas decorations and tree are up is delightful. Otherwise aim for spring and summer to increase the chance of brighter weather.
Trafalgar Square is more than just a monument to a war hero. It has become a part of the fabric of London, and England as well. It has grown and changed over the years and continues to evolve. If you do visit the city of London, you really should take time to visit this spot to take it all in.
Best time of the day to visit Trafalgar Square in London
If you don’t face crowds like on the picture above, then without a doubt, Sunday at 6am on a summer day is the best time of the day to visit Trafalgar Square.
You will have the whole square to yourself! OK, there will be a few other weirdos, who couldn’t sleep or are as crazy as you to get up very early.
The reward? Truly spectacular pictures without crowds of tourists.
What’s on Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is more than just an open square at the heart of London. This wide-open space is not only a gathering place, but it is also a space that celebrates British history. There is a lot to see and take in.
Trafalgar Square art
One of the first things you will notice while visiting Trafalgar Square is that it is a very popular place amongst artists.
There are many beautiful paintings on concrete pavement. You can see them all and as always. a small change is very appreciated.
Trafalgar Square statue
Nelson’s column is a massive monument. It is only really when you stand at the base of it that you can understand quite how big it really is. The monument is more than just a celebration of a victory; it is a celebration of Britain. This is represented by the fact that the column is made entirely from granite mined in Devon and Craigleith.
The statue of Lord Nelson is also made from granite. It stands atop a bronze platform. The bronze used for this platform was made from the old guns of Woolwich Arsenal Foundry.
Conservation work has repaired the statue over the years. The effects of the British weather and the pigeons that used to live in the square have taken their toll. The monument now undergoes regular maintenance every two years to help preserve it for years to come. The conservationists make repairs using stone that came from the original quarry in Craigleith. The quarry closed more than 60 years ago, so the stone is precious and stored with care.
Permanent Statues and Busts
Around the Square, three other plinths hold statues. These are of George the IV, General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henery Havelock. As well as the statues, there are three busts.
Along the north side of the Square, you can find Lord Jellicoe, Lord Beatty and First Sea Lord Admiral Cunningham. There have been other statues in the Square over the years, but these are the ones that remain. All of them are considered war heroes which is how they earnt their place here.
The Fourth Plinth
There is a fourth plinth in the Square which does not carry the statue of a war hero. The fourth plinth is used to exhibit works of art. A committee regularly changes the artwork. The fourth plinth is a popular feature of the Square.
This tradition started in 1993. The fourth plinth had stood empty for a long time as funds had dried up to complete the intended statue.
Trafalgar Square lions
The four lions are possible one of the features that has contributed to the popularity of Trafalgar Square. The huge lions sit at the base of Nelson’s column. Favourite tourist activity is to climb atop to lions to have a picture taken.
The lions represent the bravery of Nelson’s actions during the war. They are also there to protect Nelson. The addition of the lions was very controversial at the time. The selection of Landseer was peculiar. Before these lions, he had never made a sculpture at all. He was, in fact, a painter. As with many public works, the project dragged on, and the costs rose. Hopefully, most people, now agree that it was worth the effort, time, and money.
National Gallery Trafalgar Square
The National Gallery is now linked directly to Trafalgar Square by the new North Terrace. The Gallery is an ideal spot to take in some British culture. The Gallery is open practically every day of the year from 10 am to 6 pm (9 pm on Fridays). The Gallery has a wide selection of classical art on display, with painting from as early as the 13th century.
There are special events throughout the year and rotating collections from the resident artists. If you want, you can even take a course to improve your artistic skills here too. It is a gallery that is well worth visiting.
Trafalgar Square fountain
The current fountains in Trafalgar Square were added towards the end of the 1930s. The pump system and lighting are much newer. Fitted in 2013 in time for the Olympics the fountains have an LED lighting display.
The pump can send a jet of water up to 24m (80 feet) in the air. The fountains run most days. What’s more, there are special light shows to mark special events.
Trafalgar Square police station
Trafalgar Square is home to a landmark known as London’s smallest police station. The police box is just about large enough for a single policeman. There was a direct telephone line to Scotland Yard in case of emergency. The box was installed in 1926. The police used it to keep an eye on demonstrators in the Square.
To make this tiny police station, a lamppost was hollowed out! No longer in use by the police, the smallest police station in London is now a storage location.
Wall of Imperial Measures
In 1876, the wall of Imperial Measures was set into the North Terrace wall. This allows you to see how archaic forms of measurement compare to feet and inches. Included are things like Perches and Chains.
They moved the wall during the redevelopment of the Square. It is now beside the cafe.
Interesting facts about Trafalgar Square
As you can imagine, there are a lot of exciting facts about Trafalgar Square. Tourists have many questions about the place and the statues inside. Here are the answers to some of the most asked questions.
How tall is Nelson’s column?
Nelsons’ column is 44m (144 feet) to the base of the statue and a total of 52m (170 feet) to the top of Nelson’s Head. As big as Nelson’s column is, it was actually planned to be even taller.
The first plan was for a column over 66m (216 feet) high. The height was reduced following widespread public objections.
When does the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree go up?
Oslo presents the Christmas tree for Trafalgar Square every year. The tradition started as thanks for the support given to Norway during World War II. The tree goes up twelve days before Christmas.
It then comes down twelve days after Christmas. While the tree is up, there are lots of Christmas events that take place in the Square.
What are the lions in Trafalgar Square made of?
The Landseer Lions surrounding Nelson’s column are cast in bronze. Each of these beautiful beasts weighs in at a whopping seven tons. The lions, while similar each have different manes and faces. Landseer modelled the lions after a deceased lion from the London Zoo.
Landseer took so long to create his models that the lion had begun to decay before he finished. This is the reason why the paws look a little wrong.
How big are the lions in Trafalgar Square?
The Landseer Lions are huge. They measure up at 6m (20 feet) long and 6.7m (22 feet high). If you don’t mind clambering up the columns, you are welcome to climb onto the lions for a photo opportunity.
Things to do near Trafalgar Square:
Since Trafalgar Square is located in the heart of the city, there are plenty of attractions to see and explore. Here are a few to put on your list.
National Portrait Gallery
A short walk from the Square is the National Portrait Gallery. As the name suggests, the Gallery has an impressive collection of portraits for viewing. With over 200,000 portraits of famous Brits, there are plenty of fascinating pictures to explore.
Represented are numerous people of note, including prime ministers, scientists, royalty and scholars.
If you have an eye for architecture, then you must visit Somerset House. The gorgeous building is neo-classical in style. It plays host to countless events every year. The building alone is a worldwide attraction.
This unique royal and political heritage building can be seen directly from the square. It is dating back to the 1900s – you can’t miss it as you have to walk under the arch on your way to Buckingham Palace.
If you fancy staying near this building, The Trafalgar St. James Hotel will be a great choice. OK, only if you can afford it 😉
Horse Guards Parade
The Household Cavalry Museum at Horseguards Parade is a must for anyone with interest in military history. Inside you can find a celebration of the pageantry and challenges experienced by members of Her Majesty’s most famous regiment.
As well as the museum you can watch as horses are worked in the 18th Century stables.
The London Eye offers you views over the city, which are unparalleled. On a clear day, you can see up to 40m. The whole trip around the colossal wheel takes 30 minutes. If you have the time, it is an experience you won’t soon forget.
St James’s Park
The oldest Royal park is only a short distance away from Trafalgar Square. St James’s Park is open from 5 am until midnight every day. The dedicated bird reserve found inside the park is home to the famous pelicans and ducks.
This is the location that events like Trooping The Colour take place every year.
Is it worth visiting Trafalgar Square?
Without a doubt, this square is one of the main attractions in London and one of the most famous British landmarks. It is worth visiting this place and spend there a few hours even if you are in London for one day.
So, is Trafalgar Square on your UK bucket list?
Trafalgar Square – what to see next?
- Covent Garden
- Neal’s Yard
- Leicester Square
- Soho London
- Chinatown London
- Piccadilly Circus
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