Trafalgar Square is one of our favourite places in London. It’s one of the places we always end up gravitating to. It’s centrally located, vibrant and alive with street performers, a great place to people watch and enjoy your lunch, and it’s an interesting place, too, which we’ll shed more light on in this post.
Having worked on both sides of Whitehall, I (Joel) have spent a lot of time at Trafalgar Square. It’s been my lunchtime stomping ground and a place I could never get bored of.
Trafalgar Square, London
If you don’t know what it is, Trafalgar Square is a historic public square located in the very heart of central London. Named after the famous Battle of Trafalgar, this iconic landmark holds quite a bit of historical and cultural significance. From the towering Nelson’s Column to the fountains and sculptures, Trafalgar Square has its very own unique character.
So, read on to find out why you should visit Trafalgar Square and what we love about it.
And if you haven’t seen it already, we have a post about the best walks in London, one of which will take you right through Trafalgar Square.
A Brief History of Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square was opened to the public on the 1st of May 1844. It wasn’t originally built to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar or Nelson but ended up acquiring the name, believe it or not. It was to be a public space. The king at the time, King William IV, then decided that the “…new square at Charing-cross shall be designated after this great naval victory, which has hitherto been passed over in the choice of names for public places.”
Architect John Nash envisioned the square as a great meeting place, and its construction began in 1829. Since then, Trafalgar Square has witnessed countless historical events, political rallies, and cultural celebrations, becoming an integral part of London’s identity.
7 Reasons to Visit Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square boasts distinctive architectural elements that contribute to its iconic status. The square covers an expansive area and is home to some interesting features to look out for, including the ones below.
1 | Nelson’s Column
At the heart of Trafalgar Square stands Nelson’s Column, a towering monument dedicated to Admiral Lord Nelson, one of Britain’s greatest naval folk. If you didn’t know, The Battle of Trafalgar was won by the British, who beat a combined French and Spanish fleet in 1805. Nelson wasn’t so fortunate, though. He died on board HMS Victory after being hit by a musket bullet.
Nelson’s Column is made of Dartmoor granite, weighs about 2,500 tonnes, stands 51.6 m tall, and the statue of Nelson is 5.5 m tall, which is interesting given he was renowned for being short! You’d never see him if it was an accurate representation, though, would you? Ha!
2 | The Lion Statues
Guarding the base of Nelson’s Column are four majestic and absolutely massive lion statues sculpted by Sir Edwin Landseer. These bronze sculptures were designed to represent the heroism of Admiral Lord Nelson – strong and fearless… you get the picture.
They weren’t revealed until 1867; it took some ten years to sculpt and weigh an impressive 7 tons each! Interestingly, these lions weren’t the first ones designed for Trafalgar Square. Another series was created but rejected. They got a second home, though and now live in Saltaire, Bradford.
And one last crazy fact about them – the lions were cast in bronze that was salvaged from the French and Spanish ships from the Battle of Trafalgar! Mad, eh?
3 | The National Gallery
You can see some of the world’s most famous paintings right here in the National Gallery, and all for free! Can you believe that? I also learned something about two really famous paintings there, but more about that in a minute.
Adjacent to Trafalgar Square is the world-renowned National Gallery, a haven for art enthusiasts. Founded in 1824, this magnificent gallery houses an extensive collection of paintings from the 13th to the 19th century. You can marvel at masterpieces by renowned artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet.
You can even feast your eyes on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Monet’s The Water-Lilly Pond. And that is what I learnt – I thought there were only one each of these super famous paintings. No, there are more! Seven Sunflowers were painted and thee of The Water-Lilly Pond. Who knew?!
Plus, The National Gallery building is magnificent. So even if you don’t appreciate the art, you might appreciate the building.
4 | The Fourth Plinth
You might not have heard about Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, but if you’ve ever seen photographs of the square, you’ve probably seen it. And this is another for the artists in you.
The Fourth Plinth is now an iconic feature of Trafalgar Square. Originally designed to hold a statue, the plinth remained empty for over a century due to lack of funds. In 1999, the Fourth Plinth Commission was established, transforming the space into an ever-changing platform for contemporary art.
Since then, the Fourth Plinth has become renowned for its temporary art installations. It has hosted some cool stuff, including my favourite – the giant cherry with cream, fly and drone. Sadly, it’s no longer on there because it added something unusual to the traditional architecture in the square.
5 | London’s Smallest Police Station
What is essentially a lamppost has become famous for what is supposedly London’s smallest police station. However, that’s not strictly true. It was a police observation post that wasn’t in the original plans for the square. It was decided the police needed a presence in the square as it became a meeting place for protests, and this is the result.
It was there as a lamppost which was hollowed out, and a door installed, as you can see from its sister lamppost in the corner on the other side of Nelson’s Column, which lacks both features. If you look inside the police post, you’ll find it’s now full of…crap. Ha. Tripods and cement were in there the last time I looked.
6 | Inclusive Traffic Lights
If you are a good pedestrian and cross when the green man shows, you’ll see a load of alternative icons on the green pedestrian crossing lights surrounding Trafalgar Square. They were installed in 2016 to show TfL’s support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT+) diversity in London. They have remained ever since and added another quirk to the square. They were inspired by a similar set of traffic signals produced in Vienna in 2015.
According to a news story at the time, there were almost 50 installed around the square, which seems hard to imagine. But then again, we haven’t counted all the pedestrian traffic lights surrounding the square!
7 | Standard Imperial Measures
Last but not least are the relics of a bygone era. Finding these can be a little tricky, but the position of the most prominent one is on the map below. However, if you’re looking at the National Gallery columns from the bottom of the steps, find the seat furthest on your right, and you will find them behind the bin and the seat.
These measures were installed in 1876 by the Board of Trade after the previous ones were destroyed in 1834 when Parliament burned down, and they are there because back in Victorian times before modern measures came along, people came to check their rulers to ensure the correct lengths of things like cloth, were right.
How to Get to Trafalgar Square Location, Map & Info
Trafalgar Square is straightforward to get to, given it’s centrally located.
Immediately below is the link to Google Maps and the map beneath that to see its location to the rest of London.
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Is Trafalgar Square worth visiting?
Yes, it is! Trafalgar Square in London is one of the city’s best squares. It’s vibrant, interesting, a great place to have your lunch, centrally located and surrounded by loads of other great London attractions.
Is entry to Trafalgar Square free?
Trafalgar Square is a public space, and entry is free for all visitors unless there is an organised event on, in which case you may have to pay.
Are there any events held in Trafalgar Square?
Yes, Trafalgar Square hosts various events throughout the year, including cultural festivals, art exhibitions, and live performances. It’s always worth checking the schedule for any upcoming events during your visit.
What are the best times to visit Trafalgar Square?
The best time to visit Trafalgar Square is over lunch, during the summer, on a dry day. Ha! The square is at its most vibrant, with street performers and people, which makes it a great place to enjoy your lunch and do a bit of people-watching, as we love!
Trafalgar Square, London
- Trafalgar Square, London
- A Brief History of Trafalgar Square
- 7 Reasons to Visit Trafalgar Square
- How to Get to Trafalgar Square Location, Map & Info
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