Trafalgar Square is located in the historic center of London, Westminster. In terms of its popularity with tourists and importance to the British themselves, it is comparable with Russia’s Red Square. Not the most beautiful, but certainly majestic and spacious Trafalgar Square is multifunctional: people relax here, get acquainted with the works of classical and modern art, watch sports competitions and film premieres, celebrate Christmas and New Year, organize meetings and protests.
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History of Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square was developed at the intersection of important streets in the capital: the southwest-facing Mall, south Whitehall, and northeast Strand in the 1920s and 1940s. The name of the largest square in the capital was given in memory of the brilliant victory of the British fleet over the coalition Napoleon’s fleet at the Spanish Cape Trafalgar in 1805. As a result, France abandoned plans to attack England, and the British naval forces were recognized as the strongest in the world for many decades.
In the Middle Ages, the site of the future square was farmland, then royal stables were built. The area was populated as London expanded, and by the 19th century it was fairly crowded. Money to build the square and a monument to Admiral Nelson, who had fallen at the Battle of Trafalgar, was collected by subscription. It was standard practice for Londoners: a century earlier, the nearby St. Martin’s Church had been built that way.
The main monument – Nelson’s Column – was erected in 1843, and a year later Trafalgar Square was opened to the public. Since then, it has been reconstructed several times: the pavement was completely changed, the fountains were rebuilt, and the driveway in front of the National Gallery was removed, expanding the pedestrian space. Repair work in the twentieth century became the occasion for paleozoological discoveries: scientists discovered the remains of a cave lion, a rhinoceros, and a giant hippopotamus.
Erection of Nelson’s Column in 1843 Trafalgar Square in the late 19th century Trafalgar Square in 1996 Panorama of Trafalgar Square
Architectural features of Trafalgar Square
The neoclassical Nelson’s Column at the southern end of the square ties the space into a coherent architectural detail. The structure rests on a powerful square pedestal depicting the admiral’s victories. The material for the pedestal’s reliefs was trophy French cannons, bronze leaves cast from victorious British arms. On the 46-meter Corinthian column hoisted a 5.5-meter statue of the admiral, aimed in the direction of Portsmouth. It was there, in the old sea dock, that Nelson’s battleship HMS Victory opened a unique historical museum. The four figures of lions lying in the corners of the base of the monument, which appeared here in the 60s of the XIX century, balance the composition and give it more stability. According to legend, the sculptor used a corpse of a lion from London Zoo as a model. There are fountains along the sides of the monument. According to the official version, put forward in the XIX century, they remove the heat from the overheated surface of the square, according to unofficial – they prevent political activists to gather too large crowds of people. The fountains have now been reconstructed and are backlit.
HMS Victory in Portsmouth Statue of the Lion Fountains in Trafalgar Square
Monuments in the corners of the square
The southwest corner of Trafalgar Square features a statue of General Charles Napier, who successfully fought in India and Pakistan. The pedestal in the southeast corner, near the entrance to the Underground, is occupied by the figure of Major General Henry Havelock, who suppressed the rebellion in India. At the northeast corner of the square is an equestrian statue of George IV. The fourth pedestal has long remained empty.
Major General Charles Napier Major General Henry Havlock Equestrian Statue of George IV
The mystery of the fourth pedestal
Londoners refused on principle to have historical figures in an unoccupied corner of the square. In their opinion, there is enough heroics in the modern world. As a result, every one or two years a sculpture on the pedestal is replaced by a new one, and nobody cares of the fact that it does not fit stylistically into the architectural landscape. Originally there was a bust of Alison Lapper expecting a child, the Venus de Milos of our time. The artist was born without hands, but thanks to her unique willpower and diligence she achieved professional success. Then there was a shriekingly bright model of a hotel made of colored glass on the pedestal. During the next project, for one hundred days, Londoners played the role of statues, freezing on the pedestal for one hour. They were successively replaced by a Plexiglas bottle with a model of Nelson’s ship with mottled sails, a bronze boy on a toy horse as a symbol of the heroism of growing up, a blue rooster as a sign of rebirth. Since 2015, the monument has been a cheerful skeleton of a horse with a dispel ribbon tied to its front leg, receiving a broadcast from the London Stock Exchange. On March 5, 2016, it was replaced by a bronze image of a human hand with a 10-meter-long thumb raised up.
Cultural sites around Trafalgar Square
When planning a visit to Trafalgar Square, tourists try to see the sights nearby – the National Gallery, St. Martin’s Church in the Fields, the Arch of the Admiralty.
London National Gallery
The north side of Trafalgar Square overlooks the neoclassical facade of the National Gallery, one of the most important art collections on the planet, opened to the public in 1824. The collection contains works by 13th- and late 19th-century European artists bought back by the state or donated to the city by their owners. Until recently, there was enough space in the giant building for all the exhibits, but now the collection has grown so much that some of the paintings have to be kept in the storerooms. Among the masterpieces of the permanent exhibition are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, one of Leonardo’s Madonnas in the Grotto, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, and Raphael’s Madonna with Carnations. Admission to the museum is free and open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with opening hours extended to 9 p.m. on Fridays. The gallery is closed at Christmas and New Year.
St. Martin’s Church in the Fields
Across the street from the northeast corner of Trafalgar Square is the Church of St. Martin in the Fields. The original medieval church was really in the fields outside the city limits, between Westminster and London, hence the name. The crumbling old building was replaced in the 1920s by a new one, built to a neoclassical design by architect James Gibbs. The building externally corresponds to the canons of an ancient temple, but it is crowned with a sharp bell tower, the spire of which rises to 59 m from the floor level. The narrow facade is emphasized by six Corinthian columns, rows of pilasters run along the perimeter of the building. The internal space is increased by light arched ceilings with moldings and gilding, colonnades and luxurious paintings by Italian painters. Contemporaries criticized Gibbs’ ideas, but soon reconciled, and copies of the church appeared in many cities in English-speaking America.
Today church services are attended by members of the government and the royal family. Every Sunday from 9 to 10 a.m., the church’s 12 bells merge in a festive chime, and regular concerts of organ and chamber music are held inside.
Behind the square, just south of Nelson’s Column, are an equestrian statue of Prince Albert and a monument to Charles I. From here, the powerful Admiralty Arch, built in the early twentieth century in honor of Queen Victoria, leads to the Mall. Originally, members of the War Ministries actually met here, but as of 2013, the Treasury decided to get rid of the cost of maintaining the giant structure. The arch was leased for centuries to a Spanish businessman to set up a fashionable hotel and private club.
Trafalgar Square at Christmas
The country’s main Christmas tree is installed precisely in Trafalgar Square. Since 1947, the giant tree has been brought in from Norway in gratitude for its help during World War II. In November, the 20-meter tree is solemnly cut down in the forestry near Oslo in the presence of the British ambassador, the mayor of the Norwegian capital and the Lord Mayor of Westminster and brought by sea to London. The tree is installed in Trafalgar Square, and on the first Thursday of December the Christmas lights are solemnly lit – 500 white bulbs, as it is customary in Norway. The ceremony is accompanied by a choir of a thousand participants. The installation is not without its accidents: then a mentally unstable citizen tries to cut the trunk with a chainsaw and the tree has to be hastily reconstructed, or political activists chain themselves to the tree in protest. Despite the minor mishaps, the Christmas tree is a joy for Londoners and tourists until January 6, and then it will be used for recycling.
Trafalgar Square on Christmas Eve
Other holidays in Trafalgar Square
Although Christmas is the capital’s major holiday, New Year’s Eve crowds gather in the square so large that, since 2014, authorities have begun selling tickets for admission to avoid the crush. On October 21, the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, the square hosts a parade in honor of Nelson with orchestral numbers, recitation and a moment of silence at 11 a.m. During sporting events on the scale of the FIFA World Cup, giant screens are erected here. They are also used for important film premieres, such as the first showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In 2007, Trafalgar Square went green for two days when the turf was covered with grass to show the importance of urban green spaces, before going back to its traditional color, gray.
Information for tourists
Buses on nearly 20 routes stop right at the east end of Trafalgar Square. At the southeast corner is the entrance to the Charing Cross subway station of the Bakerloo and Northern lines.
Feeding the birds
Trafalgar Square has a seemingly curious ban on pigeon feeding. The district council, however, was not amused when they had to allocate 140,000 pounds from the budget to clean Nelson’s Column of droppings. In 2000, traders in stalls on the square were forbidden to sell bird food to tourists, and then began to write fines for feeding pigeons with food they brought with them. There were still those who fought the bans, so the authorities increased the fine to £500.
Where to eat
The tourist infrastructure in Trafalgar Square is cleverly designed. During daytime hours there are water and bakery kiosks around the corners, though at crazy prices. Dozens of cafes and restaurants are open within walking distance. Right in the London National Gallery, National Café with a European menu is open from 8-9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and until 6 p.m. on Sundays. The National Dining Rooms, with its English cuisine, is also in great demand here. Usually seats in this dining room-restaurant are booked in advance. The original café is open in the crypt of St. Martin’s Church. There are no more burials here; jazz concerts take place under the dingy vaults of the dungeon.
This is the end of the English offerings: other venues offer national cuisines from around the world. In the Strand, there’s PizzaExpress, Prezzo and Little Frankie’s in Italy, Tortilla in Mexico, and Thai Square on Coxper Street. Drinks and light bites are available at The Admiralty pub, Vista Bar, and Caffè Nero coffee shop.
Shopping in Trafalgar Square
There’s a gift store in the National Gallery. It sells stuffed toys, puzzles, t-shirts and books for kids, and luxury art publications. Paintings you like from the permanent exhibit can be printed in any format. On the Strand side is the Waterstones bookstore, Whitehall is the Tesco department store.
Interesting facts about Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is a famous tourist attraction and public space in London, which can be safely imagined as its main living room.
Various celebrations, protests, concerts and performances are held here. Since the 1800s the square has been in the center of Westminster and is completely free to visit. It is open to the public 24 hours a day, but may be closed in preparation and organization of various events.
How to get to the square in central London
If you travel by subway, the nearest stations are Charing Cross (two minutes walk), Promenade (seven minutes) or Leicester Square (six minutes).
If you’re traveling by train, Charing Cross Station is just a two-minute walk away.
If you prefer the bus, you can take the following routes to your destination: 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 53, 87, 88, 91, 139, 159, 176 и 453.
History of the largest square
For centuries, beginning in the reign of Edward I, this area of Westminster was occupied by the royal stables. In the eighteenth century, they were divided. In 1826, the famous architect John Nash was commissioned to design a large public space in the then unused area. When Nash fell into disfavor, William Wilkins was called in to erect the National Gallery and continue the project.
After his death in 1839, the post passed to Sir Charles Barry. He set out to design an area to enhance the attractiveness of the not-so-popular National Gallery. The final cost of the costly project at the time was £11,000.
Trafalgar Square was opened to the public on May 1, 1844, although the fountains had not yet been started and the asphalt walkway was soft. It immediately became popular and became a social and political center for visitors from different countries and Londoners.
The importance of the square is underscored by the fact that the Nazi SS devised a plan to demolish it and move Nelson’s Column to Berlin in case of an invasion of England.
Throughout its history, the place has been used for celebrations (the end of World War II), protests (student and suffragette marches in the early 1900s) and parties (numerous parades and festivals). There are large screens present that show ballet performances, opera arias, and sporting events. They were also used during the premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. The Christmas tree in London, an annual gift from Norway, is displayed just inside Trafalgar Square. Its lights are solemnly turned on each year before Christmas.
In the early 2000s, the area underwent a small renovation. As a result, several cozy cafes and places for the disabled appeared between the National Gallery and the square. In 2009, fountains with an LED lighting system capable of projecting many colors were installed here.
The 5 landmarks of Trafalgar Square
- Nelson’s Column is the most famous monument. It was built in 1842 in memory of the famous British military hero, Admiral Nelson. His final resting place is in nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral.
- The bronze sculptures of lions at the foot of Nelson’s column are a challenge to young and old. You have to climb up a bit to get to them. This place is very popular with photographers.
- The National Gallery is the largest building and is especially striking with its tall columns on the front side. There are only a few steps leading up to the plaza. Admission to the National Gallery (London’s famous art museum) is free.
- St. Martin’s Church “in the fields” is known as a venue for classical concerts. Several times a week at 1 p.m. they are held here for free, and in the evening you have to pay an admission fee. You can visit the church an unlimited number of times at certain times. Most visitors love the Cafe in the Crypt, where you can enjoy freshly prepared food at reasonable prices.
- The two fountains with surrounding pools offer great opportunities to watch the hustle and bustle of the city. On hot days, which do happen, it’s common for overheated tourists to put their swollen feet in the water, though it’s forbidden.
Trafalgar Square consists of the National Gallery and a large central area with driveways on three sides. It was originally a one-way center, but became pedestrianized in 2003. And what should stand in the middle of Trafalgar Square but the majestic Nelson Column, surrounded by sculptures, fountains and plinths from the four corners?
Many people already know what Trafalgar Square is famous for. On it stands a column, a monument in honor of Admiral Horatio Nelson, which was erected between 1840 and 1843 in Dartmouth granite at a cost of £47,000. The column, 170 feet (52 m) high, is surrounded by four sculptures of lions, added in 1867, and topped with a statue of Nelson himself. The base of the column is decorated with bronze elements cast from the cannon of a salvaged naval ship. Charles Barry, mentioned earlier, was dissatisfied with the addition of Nelson’s column to his design. He suggested to Parliament, “In my opinion, it is desirable that the area should be completely free of all independent art objects.”
Pigeons in the Square
What else is Trafalgar Square famous for? Pigeons, of course! Visitors could once buy food from vendors on the spot and feed the birds at their pleasure. However, the droppings of a huge flock of pigeons (estimated at up to 35,000!) began to spoil the stonework, so the sale of bird food was discontinued in 2001.
Today, it is forbidden to feed pigeons in Trafalgar Square. To reduce their numbers, specially trained birds of prey are used, and so far they are doing a pretty good job.
Within walking distance of Trafalgar Square you can easily go shopping in Covent Garden, eat in Chinatown, walk down Whitehall Street to get a good look at Westminster Palace and Big Ben, or stroll through the mall to Buckingham Palace.
Trafalgar Square has some interesting facts. About 5 million tourists come here every year. Not for nothing this attraction is one of the 10 most visited in London. It can simultaneously accommodate up to 19,999 people.
- Do not feed the pigeons as it is strictly forbidden.
- If you plan to visit Buckingham Palace, follow The Strand/The Mall directly from Trafalgar Square for about 18 minutes.
- If you want to see St. James’s Palace, walk down Cockspur Street and then follow Pall Mall for about 11 minutes.
- A simple (and beautiful) eight-minute walk along Cockspur Street and then Haymarket will get you to Piccadilly Square.
- There are public restrooms on the west side, as well as at the base of the central staircase, but they are only available 12 hours a day.
- If you want to eat near Trafalgar Square, The Cafe on the Square is at the bottom of the central staircase. It is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00. The nearby St. Martin’s Church “that’s in the Fields” has a cafe in the crypt where the popular “Jazz Nights” are held every Wednesday.
- Every October 21, the Naval Cadet Corps holds its annual parade to commemorate the anniversary of Admiral Nelson and the British victory at Trafalgar. In turn, every November 11, the Royal British Legion holds a “Silence in the Square” action in memory of those killed in world wars.
- Events such as St. Patrick’s Day, the “World Pride Parade,” and many others are celebrated here in grand style. Be sure to find out if there will be any events on the day you visit.
Official name: 1830. Territory occupied: approx. 12 000 м². Which city is the location of Trafalgar Square: London.