London has a storied history and relationship with literature. It’s been the source of inspiration for many an artist, writer, and poet, and has been the setting for countless classic stories. As such, there are plenty of places for bibliophiles to explore – whether that’s retracing the steps of iconic fictional protagonists, or the writers themselves. So, to truly explore this city’s literary past (and present) here are 18 London literary spots that every bookworm needs to visit.
1. Daunt Books
Kicking things off with a chain of bookshops? How original – but hear us out. Daunt Books may have a number of stores scattered all over London, but they’ve still retained a hefty dose of charm. Whether you’re enjoying the intimacy and personality of their smaller shops, or soaking in the grandeur of the long oak galleries in the original Marylebone location, Daunt Books’ stores just ooze literary sophistication. They may have technically started as a travel specialist bookshop, but they’re now much more general. Books are arranged by country whatever their nature, be they fiction or non-fiction, biography, history, guide or novel, and the reading (and browsing) experience at Daunts is truly special.
2. Cavendish Square
Cavendish Square features as the home of Dr Lanyon, Jekyll’s former best friend in the classic novel, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Lanyon’s death in the Robert Louis Stevenson novel (spoiler alert) is brought on by experiencing the monstrous Hyde taking the serum that transforms him back into the friend he knows as Jekyll. While we don’t advise enacting much (if any) of the novel at the setting, there’s still a marvellous thrill in connecting the real world and the fictional.
3. Shakespeare’s Globe
Ever heard of a little-known playwright that went by the name of William Shakespeare? You might be familiar with some of his works: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (among many others). He’s kind of a big deal in the theatrical and literary worlds. And his legend lives on at The Globe Theatre, where visitors can experience more than just a performance – although those are also not to be missed! You can also take guided tours, and explore the stunning theatre’s 400 years of history in their exhibition space.
4. Bloomsbury Square and Gardens
Every book lover should visit the Bloomsbury Garden Squares, where the legendary Bloomsbury Group (which included the likes of Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster) once roamed. With ten garden squares scattered around the area, you’ll find some (like Russell Square) that are open to the public, whilst others (Bedford Square) are private spaces. The area is full of blue plaques marking the homes of Lytton Strachey (51 Gordon Square), John Maynard Keynes (46 Gordon Square), and Virginia Woolf (50 Gordon Square). Tavistock Square Gardens even features a bust of Woolf, as it was where she wrote To The Lighthouse.
It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of BookBar here at Secret London. It’s the perfect place to combine two of our loves: reading and booze. Our videographer Phoebe even dubbed it her favourite bookshop in all of London. It’s easy to see why. It has ultra-cosy vibes, a fantastic selection of books (and a recommendation board of what to read next), great coffee, and generous pours of wine. What more could you ask for?
6. Baker Street
This one’s for Sherlock fans, obviously. Funnily enough, 221b Baker Street didn’t actually exist when the stories were published. However, the street was later extended and the old Abbey National Bank ended up at the famous address. The bank even had to employ a secretary just to answer letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes! Now, the Sherlock Holmes Museum has the address and receives the mail, despite technically being placed between 237 and 241 Baker Street… Whether chronologically accurate or not, this is a must-see for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.
7. Cecil Court
Yes, more bookshops – but who’s complaining?! Cecil Court is a stunning little hidden alley, absolutely chock-a-block full of delightful stores crammed full of literary wares. Boasting some twenty-odd secondhand bookshops and antiquarian booksellers, a day spent here must surely be accompanied by a suitcase for all the books you’ll end up buying!
8. Any Amount of Books
Speaking of places where you’ll leave with an absolute haul of books – Any Amount of Books, in Charing Cross, is sure to have you ponying up the cash for a sizable collection of books. It’s arguably the best second-hand bookshop in London. With books ranging from £1 to a few thousand quid, the variety on offer is overwhelming. Across two floors, and five rooms of books, they’ve got an astounding selection of rare books, first editions, bargain picks, modern literature, art, poetry, academic writing, and leather-bound sets littering. We give you our word, you won’t be disappointed.
9. The British Library
We couldn’t possibly not include this – right? The British Library is the second largest library in the world (only behind the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.). There you can peer at original manuscripts with handwritten annotations, including the works of English novelist, Jane Austen. It also holds the famous Magna Carta and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. You could spend hours — days even — trawling through the public portion of the collection alone!
10. Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey
Poet’s Corner is so-called due to the huge number of poets, writers and playwrights who are buried and commemorated there. Geoffrey Chaucer was the first way back in 1400. He was later joined by the likes of Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, and Thomas Hardy (although his heart is buried with his first wife in Stinsford). There are also memorials of dozens of other writers and poets, from Lewis Carroll and D.H. Lawrence to Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare.
11. Fitzroy Tavern
In his time, George Orwell enjoyed a tipple or two at the Fitzroy Tavern, along with many other artists and intellectuals. Fun fact: the pub actually gave the surrounding neighbourhood its name, Fitzrovia. Today, it’s a Sam Smith pub – so the beer choice is a bit sub-standard for London drinkers – but a recent renovation has brought back some of its original Victorian splendour, so it’s a stunner inside!
12. Primrose Hill
Before her untimely death, Sylvia Plath fell madly and deeply in love with London, and she claimed it inspired a lot of her writing. She spent a bit of time living in Primrose Hill and spoke very fondly of it, saying that it filled her with “such joy”. You’ll find a blue plaque outside the house she used to live in on Chalcot Square and, Plath lover or not, you must climb Primrose Hill — there’s a spectacular view of London when you reach the top!
13. Persephone Books
This beautiful bookshop and publisher reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by (mostly) mid-twentieth century (mostly women) writers. The initial idea of Nicola Beauman, who founded this bookshop, was “to publish a handful of ‘lost’ or out-of-print books every year, most of them interwar novels by women, and to sell them by post”. It has since taken off, becoming one of London’s most treasured and unique bookstores. Persephone Books counts just 147 titles under their label, including novels, short stories, diaries, memoirs and cookery books available. They also have a striking visual identity for their re-published works, with each book wrapped in “an elegant grey jacket and a patterned endpaper, along with a matching bookmark.”
14. Southwark Cathedral
Many literary figures have passed through the halls of Southwark Cathedral. In fact, some are even buried there today. John Gower’s tomb, for example, is one of the few remaining medieval monuments still to be found at Southwark Cathedral. Meanwhile, Charles Dickens drew inspiration from his time living in Southwark for some of his novels and stories. He even attended meetings and bellringing practice at St Saviour’s (as it was known back then). But easily the most famous resident of the parish was William Shakespeare – whose brother is in fact buried at Southwark Cathedral. Every year, Southwark Cathedral celebrates the writer’s birthday, and visitors flock from around the world to see the Shakespeare memorial and stained-glass window.
15. Charles Dickens Museum
You’ll find the museum behind the doors of Dickens’ old home on Doughty Street, albeit where he stayed for only a couple of years. Nonetheless, it’s where he wrote Oliver Twist and became enormously famous, so it’s an inarguably significant building. Step back in time and retrace the exact same steps as the man who inspired Scrooges everywhere. Trust us, you should go with Great Expectations…
16. The George Inn
Now, how about a pint at a pub that was frequented by both Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare in their respective lifetimes? The George Inn pub is famed for its literary visitors. It’s now owned by the National Trust in order to preserve the wonder and nostalgia (and it’s even given a cheeky mention in Dickens’ Little Dorrit). It’s also one of the oldest pubs in London, and the last remaining galleried inn in London, to boot.
17. Keats House
Explore the life and times of romantic poet, John Keats, at his own house. He lived here during his most productive years and supposedly wrote “Ode to a Nightingale” under a pretty plum tree in the garden. There’s always something going on at the museum, including poetry readings and the opportunity to write your own poems.
18. Victoria Station
We wouldn’t often recommend a leisurely trip to a train station, but Victoria Station is the place where baby Jack was found in a handbag in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. We also can’t really recommend any re-enactments of this piece of literature. That’s probably rather dangerous for the child.
So, there you have it, 18 literary locations in London that will be sure to delight all book lovers.