Situated in the heart of London’s West End between Soho and Covent Garden, Seven Dials was originally laid out in the early 1690s by Thomas Neale as a seven-road junction around a central monument topped with six sundial faces. At the time, the monument was regarded as one of London’s ‘great public ornaments’, and Neale aimed to establish Seven Dials as one of the most fashionable addresses in London. Despite Neale’s best laid plans, however, the area failed to establish itself, and it deteriorated rapidly becoming notorious for squalor and crime. It was not until the latter part of the 20th Century that Seven Dials began to be restored. In 1974, it was declared a Conservation Area due to its unique street layout and historical buildings, and in 1989, the sundial pillar was resurrected and grandly unveiled by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Today, Seven Dials is a thriving community, and home to around 200 business including unique independent shops, theatres, restaurants, and pubs.
Hidden down an alley behind Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard is a unique and colorful shopping area lined with ‘slow food’ and ‘raw-centric’ cafes and unique independent shops. Hot pink, bright purple, and neon green painted storefronts include Slam City Skates for the skateboard enthusiast, the Hair by Fairy beauty salon, and the popular Neal’s Yard Remedies filled with organic beauty products, homeopathic medicines, and its own in-house therapy rooms. Neal’s Yard owes its name to Thomas Neale, who received a piece of land in 1690 from King William III, however, the area did not become a destination until the mid 1970s when entrepreneur Nicholas Saunders put Neal’s Yard on the map when he opened his Whole Food Warehouse in 1976. Saunders gradually bought up other buildings in the alley and helped to finance a co-operative bakery, dairy, flour mill, apothecary and cafe. He planted trees in tubs, filled window boxes with flowers and imported white doves that fluttered overhead. Today, Neal’s Yard has become a popular gathering place filled with office workers, tourists and regulars who gather in its colorful courtyard.
Underground: Leicester Square and Covent Garden