Wednesday, June 20, 2012

7 things to do in Seven Dials Covent Garden - off the beaten track

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Covent Garden is one of the main tourist attractions in London, no doubt about that. Of late, there is a revival of Seven Dials, which lies between Covent Garden and Shaftesbury Avenue to the north. If you have been to Covent Garden during the weekends, you would be hardpressed to get some breathing space – the place is packed with visitors crossing over from continental Europe for the weekend.

Londoners, however, would avoid the area. Seven Dials is the new place to hang out in the area. Marked by a pillar with six sundials, Seven Dials is named after the seven streets that lead into the small circular junction. Because of the tight corners, the already light traffic is slowed to a crawl, which makes crossing the junction a breeze for pedestrians. If you are early, you might actually get a coveted spot at the pillar’s base itself. Having a good novel in your hands with the traffic going around you can be rather surreal.

For the rest of us, Seven Dials has no lack of interesting shops tucked along the streets leading into the junction. Here’re seven things to do at Seven Dials.


1. Get a boardgame at Orcs Nest
6 Earlham St, London WC2H 9RY
020 7379 4254

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Ever since Shaftesbury Avenue’s Forbidden Planet drastically reduces its boardgame section and replaces it with more comics, Orcs Nest is the place to go to for serious boardgamers. This small setup has the usual DIY Warhammer figurines on the ground floor and a small trove of boardgames on its first. With every single inch of the shelves filled, the shop seems to be bursting at its seams. A geek heaven, no doubt.

One thing to note, the shop looks perpetually closed. In fact, other than Sunday, it's open for business every day. Pushing through the heavy yellow metal gate needs some effort though.


2. Seek inspiration from The Dover Bookshop
18 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LG
020 7836 2111

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If you are looking for royalty or copyright free images, look no further than The Dover Bookshop. This niche bookstore stocks compilation of images categorized according to their genre. From Victorian sketches to cloth patterns, Dover Bookstore stocks them all. As the shop is rather niche, you would need to know exactly what you are looking for. Definitely not for the casual browser.


3. Enjoy the sunshine at Neal's Yard
Between Shorts Gardens and Monmouth Street

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You know the feeling of wonderment when you stumble upon a secret garden? That happens to me when I first walked into Neal’s Yard. In fact, I get that every single time I walk into it through the small alley along Shorts Gardens beside Neal’s Yard Dairy (two large barrels hang above it, you can’t miss them).

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Within the small compound lie a pizzeria, salad bar, deli, hair salon, cafĂ© and Neal’s Yard Remedy just to name a few. Pleasantly colourful, I can easily spend an entire afternoon sipping a cup of herbal tea. When the sun is out, it’s almost impossible to get a seat in the yard. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful place to take a breather from the crowds at the nearby Covent Garden.


4. Get your fortune read at Mysteries
9-11 Monmouth Street, London WC2H 9EQ
020 7240 3688

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Mysteries is everything you would expect from the palm or psychic reader’s tent in a circus and more. Runestones, gems, haemitite bracelets, oracle cards and talismans filled its counters. Some of its offerings are bordering on tacky though – I am certain that I’ve seen the small Buddha statues and scented candles in the shops at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market going for three packs for a quid. It seems that in the realm of minds’ mysteries, anything goes. To complete the picture, Mysteries offers tarot and psychic readings too.


5. Have tea at Sovk Medina
1A Neal's Yard, London WC2H 1DP
020 7240 1796

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With its purple tentage entrance, Sovk Medina seems like a makeshift shelter. Its tearoom, which opens up onto Shorts Garden looks rather inviting. Extending towards the back end into Neal's Yard, it’s much more than that. Boosting a bar and a full kitchen serving North African (Moroccan to be precise) cuisine, it is a departure from the usual pasta et al on the high streets. Did I mention that it’s air-conditioned as well?


6. Get a sugar rush at Candy Cakes
36 Monmouth Street, London WC2H 9HB
020 7497 8979

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Before Hummingbird Bakery opens up a branch in Soho, the only place to go for one of those fancy cupcakes is Candy Cakes along Monmouth Street. Sitting prettily at the corner right next to Kopapa, the cupcakes displayed on Candy Cakes’ shopfront look delightful, more like an ornament than a snack. The couple of tables in small alley by its side sheltered by a canopy adds icing to the cake.


7. Catch a breather at Thomas Neal
Between Shorts Garden and Shelton Street

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Thomas Neal, a triangular covered area between Shorts Garden (just opposite Neal’s Yard) and Shelton Street opens to the backyard of Superdry and Fat Face. Right smacked in the centre of it on the lower ground floor is Euphorium Bakery. Lit by natural light (thanks to glass ceiling), there’s this welcoming glow to the interior. Thomas Neal isn’t as crowded as Neal’s Yard so this would be for you if you would like to avoid the crowd. True, there might be less sunshine but at least you’re sheltered from London’s erratic weather. While you are at it, check out Artbox (for your Hello Kitty kit) and T-Shirt Store.


Something caught your fancy yet? If you're heading into London for the weekend, check out FlightHub for some cheap tickets.

...Click on the map below for all seven locations

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