See London’s famous landmarks with this tour of Trafalgar Square, taking in the art galleries, Nelson’s column and some unusual and interesting sights. London’s famous square was named after Admiral Lord Nelson’s illustrious victory over Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It has acted as the city’s magnet for visitors and, until recently, pigeons. It hosts a number of festivals, public displays and demonstrations, including regular events such as New Year’s celebrations and Christmas ceremonies.
Situated in the heart of London, Trafalgar Square was first cleared as part of a grand improvement scheme by John Nash started in 1826 but was designed after his death by Sir Charles Barry in 1840. Further redevelopment was completed in 2003 to include disabled access in various parts of the square.
Towering above the crowds is Nelson’s Column, topped with a one-armed statue of Lord Nelson, erected in 1843, forming the main focus of the Square. Britain’s famous hero is guarded by Sir Edwin Landseer’s lions dating from 1867, while the surrounding fountains were added by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1939.
Whither the Pigeons?
Since 2005 it has been illegal to feed pigeons in Trafalgar square. This act and further measures, such as the use of trained birds of prey, were designed to suppress the number of pigeons flocking here. The increasing size of the flock was deemed to be harmful to the monuments and constituted a health risk. With fewer pigeons now, more events can be staged within the square.
South Aspect of the Square
Starting at the southern edge of Trafalgar square, adjoining Whitehall, is a statue of Charles I dating from the time of his reign (1625-49). The statue stands on the site of the original Charing Cross, which marked the last resting place of the body of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I (1239-1307), on the journey from Nottingham to her burial at Westminster Abbey in 1290.
The Strand stretches eastward from Trafalgar Square, past a Victorian replica of the Charing Cross outside the station of the same name.
A Lively Crypt
James Gibbs’s St Martin-in-the-Fields church, built in 1722, commands the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square. Apart from its beauty, it is one of London’s liveliest churches, with a crypt that plays host to a cafe, art gallery, bookshop, brass rubbing and even concerts.
The impressive National Gallery dominates the entire north terrace of Trafalgar Square. Built by William Wilkins from 1832-38, the gallery houses the cream of European painting, with magnificent halls that are easy to navigate and to relax in while enjoying the art. The gallery’s interiors were designed by E.M Barry, son of Sir Charles Barry.
Hiding behind this majestic pile is the smaller but no less important National Portrait Gallery, where you will find a fascinating record of what the great figures in British history and the arts really looked like.
The Fourth Plinth
In the shadow of the National Gallery, and in striking contrast to its old world contents, sits the Fourth Plinth in the north-west corner of the square. Since 1998 it has been inhabited by many surprising, innovative and controversial creations, including Yinka Shonibare’s scaled down version of Nelson’s HMS Victory in a bottle and members of the public volunteering to pose for one hour periods.
Back Down South
Walking south along the west side of Trafalgar Square you will pass Sir Robert Smirke’s Canada House, dating from 1824-7 and later developed. Further southwards, you will be back at the starting point by King Charles I’s statue. From here you can relax by the fountains, enjoy a meal at a nearby restaurant or venture down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament.