Trafalgar Square—the living, breathing, and beating heart of London’s West End—plays an integral part in local life as a site of celebrations, protests, performances, parades, and public gatherings. Overlooked by grand, stately buildings such as the National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, this vast square is dotted with iconic fountains and statuary. Most famous among them is the 144-foot (44-meter) Nelson’s Column, which commemorates a British naval victory over France and Spain, and is guarded by four oversized bronze lions.
Trafalgar Square is one of the best places to take the pulse of life in England’s capital city. While many tourists come here independently, a guide can help enlighten visitors as to the significance of the square’s many monuments and sights as well as draw attention to the splendid surrounding architecture. Trafalgar Square is commonly included on sightseeing tours of the West End and Central London, along with nearby Westminster, where you’ll find Big Ben and the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament. You may also encounter Trafalgar Square during guided walking tours, bus tours, and bike tours.
Things to Know Before You Go
You’ll find public restrooms at the west end of the square; a small charge applies.
Check ahead to see if an event is scheduled. Preparation for big events may result in limited access.
The National Gallery offers free Wi-Fi.
How to Get There
The nearest station to Trafalgar Square is Charing Cross, which is served by the Bakerloo and Northern Underground lines as well as by regular rail. Embankment (Bakerloo, Circle, District, and Northern lines), Piccadilly Circus (Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines), and Leicester Square (Northern and Piccadilly lines) stations are all fewer than 10 minutes’ walk away.
When to Get There
Trafalgar Square is at its liveliest in summer. Lunchtime is particularly good for people-watching as office workers decamp from their desks to eat on the steps in front of the National Gallery. In the run-up to the festive period, a giant Christmas tree—a gift from Norway to the people of Britain—is erected in the center of the square, and carolers belt out festive songs to raise money for charity.
The Fourth Plinth
Built in 1841, Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth was originally meant to host a statue of King William IV, but because of a lack of funds, it stood empty for more than a century. Until recently, that is, when the mayor of London decided to put the plinth to good use: as a showcase for contemporary artwork. In 2017 the plinth held David Shrigley’s Really Good, a 22-foot (7-meter) bronze thumbs-up.