A tourist attraction and public space, Trafalgar Square can be thought of like London’s common room. Named for the Battle of Trafalgar the Square is now a site for celebrations, protests, events, and art, the Square has been sitting in the heart of Westminster since the 1800’s. And it’s a free attraction. Hours: The Square is open to the public 24 hours a day – but may be closed when setting up and taking down various events. Trafalgar Square is a stop on our guided Westminster Tour, our London in a Day Tour as well as our GPS-enabled anytime audio tour.
How to Get To Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is located in the heart of London in between Covent Garden and Buckingham Palace. Please use this Google map for directions to Trafalgar Square. This is the easiest way to get Tube, walking, bike or driving directions from anywhere.
The closest Underground station is Charing Cross Station, however, you can also reach Trafalgar Square easily from the Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square or from Embankment Underground stations. The nearest railway station is Charing Cross Station. Every taxi driver will know how to get to Trafalgar Square.
Other Things to Do Near Trafalgar Square
- Buckingham Palace
- Changing of the Guard
- Big Ben
- Houses of Parliament
- 10 Downing Street
- Westminster Abbey
- The Churchill War Rooms
- The Horse Guards
- St. James’s Palace
Tip: We included all of these stops and Traflagar Square on our free Westminster Tour.
History and Use
For centuries, beginning the reign of Edward I, this area of Westminster held the King’s Mews. In the 18th century the Mews were divided up and in 1826 the Commissioners of H.M. Woods, Forests and Land Revenues instructed noted architect John Nash to create plans for a large public space to hold the Royal Academy on the land that was now disused. When Nash fell out of favour, William Wilkins was called in to design the National Gallery and to continue work on the Square. When he died in 1839, Sir Charles Barry took over – aiming to build a square to help improve the attractiveness of the National Gallery, which was not publicly popular. The ultimate cost of Trafalgar Square’s creation was £11,000.
Trafalgar Square was opened to the public on the first of May in 1844 – although the fountains were not yet running and the asphalt paving was still soft in places! The Square became immediately popular and turned into a social and political focus for visitors and Londoners alike. It also rapidly became seen as an iconic piece of London, and a meeting place for visitors from all over the world. The importance of Trafalgar Square is highlighted by the fact that the Nazi SS developed plans to demolish Trafalgar Square and remove Nelson’s Column to Berlin should they invade England.
Throughout its’ history, the Square has been used to celebrate (then end of WWII), protest (student protests recently and the Suffragettes in the early 1900’s), and party (numerous parades and festivals). Large screens are constructed in the Square which show performances of ballet, opera, sporting events, and have been used for the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 film premiere. London’s Christmas tree – a yearly gift from Norway – is displayed in the Square and the lights are ceremonially turned on in a festivity held every year.
A redevelopment in the early 2000’s included the addition of a café and disabled access between the National Gallery and the Square. In 2009 the fountains in the square were installed with an LED lighting system, capable of projecting a multitude of colours onto the fountains.
Trafalgar Square is made up of a large central area with roadways flanking three sides, and the National Gallery on the north. Originally, the square was in the centre of a one-way traffic system but was pedestrianized in 2003. Nelson’s Column has pride of place in the centre of the square, surrounded by sculptures, fountains and plinths in the four corners. The Square is surrounded on three dies by traffic, as well as the Canada House, South Africa House and St Martin-in-the-Fields Church.
Dominating Trafalgar Square is Nelson’s Column. A monument to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, the Column was constructed between 1840 and 1843 from Dartmoor granite at a cost of £47,000. The column is 170ft (52m) tall and is surrounded by four lion statues, added in 1867, and is topped with a statue of Nelson himself. The base of the column is decorated with bronze elements, cast from cannon salvaged from the wreck of a naval ship. Charles Barry, the final architect of the Square, was unhappy with the addition of Nelson’s Column to his work. He told Parliament, “It would in my opinion be desirable that the area should be wholly free from all insulated objects of art.”
The Square is home to numerous monuments, commemorating the following:
- Lord Jellicoe
- Lord Beatty
- Lord Admiral Cunningham
- King Charles I
- King James II
- George Washington
- The four plinths in the four corners of the Square display as follows:
- Eastern Plinth – King George IV
- South West Plinth – Sir Charles James Napier
- South East Plinth – Sir Henry Havelock
North West Plinth – Known as “The Fourth Plinth” A continually rotating display of art is displayed here. The art is a mix of modern and classical and is managed by the Fourth Plinth Commission.
Home to a large group of feral pigeons, it was once a popular activity to feed the birds in the Square and visitors could purchase feed from vendors stationed there. However, the dung of the flock of pigeons (estimated to have been up to 35,000!) began to disfigure the stonework of the Square, and the sale of bird feed was stopped in 2001.
Today it is actually illegal to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. TO reduce their numbers, trained birds of prey are brought into the Square to scare the pigeons out of the Square. The numbers of pigeons here are greatly reduced and when asked, Mayor Boris Johnson responded that rather than 35,000 pigeons, today there are only “6” left…