Covent Garden lies in the heart of London theatreland, and continues to be a supreme shopaholic heaven and foody delight, as a recent visit proved.

The place hasn't changed much since its fruit and vegetable market days. My first time there was to visit a small English publisher, whose offices lay at the top of long, creaking flights of winding steps, lurking at the back of towering piles of stacked wooden crates belonging to Dan Woolley, fruit merchant. It was a delightfully Dickensian introduction to Covent Garden, just before the market traders moved away from the area, leaving room for today's effervescent mixture of shops, cafes and bars to get going in earnest.

I fell in love with Covent Garden and for several years had offices opposite the ultra-smart Garrick Club, though have to add that the sight of the odd well-known media personality stumbling down the entrance steps after a long, alcoholic lunch was a not uncommon sight!

Today in Covent Garden, you're still likely to bump into famous faces, or, as I found this time round, street performers continuing a tradition of public entertainment dating back hundreds of years.

It was here in 1662 that the diarist Samuel Pepys noted the first Punch and Judy show in the country. Music and other performances are licensed all year round, except for Christmas Day. Of course, you can book a trad performance from places like London Theatre Bookings, though I'll leave you to judge whether the people in my pic are fact or fake - tourists or performance artists... your call!

As for shops, well, most tastes are catered for - even computer users get a look in, if they care to visit the splendid Apple Store, carved out of an elegant Georgian building. If you simply want to relax over a drink, you can't do much better than the Crusting Pipe (below) a wine bar that's been in the historic Market Hall since 1980.


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