Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Trafalgar Square review. I’ve also written reviews of the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree and Nelson’s Column. There are plenty more London landmarks nearby including Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden. A ten-minute walk down Whitehall will take you past Horse Guards and Downing Street, until you end up in Parliament Square for Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
Trafalgar Square was laid out between 1829 and 1841 to commemorate Admiral Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. The two fountains were added in 1845.
The square has undergone quite a transformation in recent years, because there used to be an extra road of heavy traffic in front of the National Gallery. That has now been paved over, and the billions of pigeons that used to flock to the square to sit on the tourists heads have been banned as a health hazard.
The four big plinths in the corners of the square depict George IV and Sir Henry Havelock. The third plinth is home to Sir Charles Napier – a military man from the mid 19th-century.
The fourth plinth was supposed to contain a statue of William IV until they ran out of money, forcing them to leave it empty. In 1999 a project was launched to find a suitable replacement, and its currently housing a series of modern art sculptures. There are persistent rumours that it will eventually be filled by a statue of Queen Elizabeth II.
Nelson’s Column dominates the centre of Trafalgar Square, standing 185-feet from top to bottom. The statue of on top measures 17-feet – slightly taller than three Lord Nelsons.
The four black pictures around the base depict the Admiral’s most famous naval battles, and are cast from the bronze of a captured cannon. The four battles are: Cape St. Vincent (1797), Copenhagen (1801), Trafalgar (1805), and the Battle of the Nile (1798).
The big bronze lions guarding the base of the column were designed by Edwin Landseer, and cast by Baron Carlo Marochetti in 1867.
Admiralty Arch is the large arched structure that screens The Mall from Trafalgar Square. Although it looks like a monument, it is actually an government office building with rooms inside, but there is talk of turning it into a 5-star hotel. It was commissioned by Edward VII to commemorate the death of his mother, Queen Victoria.
The National Gallery occupies the northern edge of the square, and contains the nation’s greatest collection of artworks by the likes of Botticelli, Cézanne, Constable, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Titian, Turner and Van Gogh.
The East Wing contains British painters like John Constable and JMW Turner, and houses famous works like The Hay Wain and The Fighting Téméraire.
The National Portrait Gallery uses paintings, sculptures and statues to depict famous Britons from the past and present.
The galleries contain all of our kings and queens including Elizabeth I, striding across a map of Britain, with storm clouds raging where the Spanish Armada sank into the sea. You’ll also find pictures of famous commoners like Sir Francis Drake and William Shakespeare.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields stands in the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square. Despite its tiny size and rather humble decorations, it has strong royal connections: it’s the parish church of Buckingham Palace.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I was going to do Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus today but I forgot to charge up my camera last night, and the damn thing died on me underneath Nelson’s Column. So you’ll have to settle for just Trafalgar Square instead. Maybe I’ll do those other ones next week.
When I used to come here as a kid the place was crawling with bazillions of pigeons, all hopping about and pecking at your head and hands for your burgers and buns. There even used to be an old guy selling little polystyrene tubs of bird seed in the corner, but they’ve all gone now. Ken Livingstone got rid of those when he was Mayor because they were a health hazard (apparently). Rats of the sky, is what he called them. And he done a very thorough job as well, because I don’t think I saw a single pigeon the whole time I was there today.
There was a bit of a sporty theme going on today because there was a load of kids playing football and doing press-ups. They were all very excited, for some reason. I don’t see what is so exciting about doing some excerise, but maybe that’s just my age. Some of the craziest kids were jumping on the concrete walls and balancing on metal barriers, posing on tippie-toes twenty feet in the sky.
I must admit they were very good, but I don’t expect many of them survived the day. Some of those walls were ten-feet high and they were running around on them like they were no higher than the pavement.
Trafalgar Square does have a few sights worth seeing. Nelson’s Column is the obvious one, and the National Gallery looks very impressive with its pillars out the front. St. Martin-in-the-Fields is famous for its classical music concerts at lunchtime, and its candlelit concerts in the evening. They’ve also got a brass-rubbing centre in the basement (I used to get dragged along there as a kid). It’s also a decent place for a coffee because they’ve got a little cafe in the crypt.
Admiralty Arch often gets overlooked because it’s tucked away in the corner, but you need to venture through it to find The Mall. The Mall is the big red road that leads directly to Buckingham Palace.
The four big plinths in each corner of the square are worth a look at. Three of them just have your normal boring soldiers and generals, but the fourth one houses a temporary art exhibit which has been changing every six months or so for the last ten years. At the moment it has a giant golden rocking horse on it. Don’t ask me what the meaning behind that is, because I haven’t got a clue – it’s just a big rocking horse. I’m sure the artist is trying to tell us something deep and meaningful, but who knows. It’s just a rocking horse!
Keep an eye out for the big statue of Charles I on horseback as well, directly in front of Nelson’s Column. That is supposed to mark the exact centre of London, and all road distances are measured from that point. You can also find the capital’s smallest police station in a pillar in the south-east corner… look for a little black door and a strange iron/glass globe on the roof.
> Craig’s review of Trafalgar Square – “Noise. Traffic noise. People noise. The sound of water falling on the fountains. Flags flapping against their metal poles and the rubber on the bus doors squealing shut, motorbikes and bikes and cycles and cars... three million kids and six million parents. All standing with their cameras and handbags, rooting around for tissues and maps. Trafalgar Square is a very bu… continued”
If you enjoy this then try: Covent Garden (you can walk it in 7 mins); Horse Guards (you can walk it in 6 mins); Leicester Square (you can walk it in 4 mins) and Parliament Square (walk it in 12 mins or catch a train from Charing Cross to Parliament Square).
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