London is a true dream for any bibliophile, it has been the home to some of the world’s most renowned writers and has been the subject and inspiration of endless authors, poets, and storytellers so it’s no surprise that it’s heaped in literary history. With that said, it also makes for the perfect place for a literary walking tour.
Considering that London is chock-full of places with literary spots – whether it be where an author lived, establishments or pubs they would frequent, or places in London that have ended up immortalised in their writing – a walking tour with every single one of these spots would most probably wear the soles of your shoes clean off and take a week to get through. So instead, we’ve come up with a walking tour that hits the best literary spots in London but is still doable within a day. It is a pretty extensive walking tour so feel free to tailor the tour for the time you have and the distance you’re willing or able to walk, or even throw in a cheeky bus ride in between some stops to give your legs a rest.
So without further ado, it’s time to get those steps in and discover the London of some of the world’s most beloved writers.
1. Highgate Cemetery
We’re starting the walking tour off with a bang in North London’s Highgate Cemetery, the resting place of approximately 170,000 people most notably including Karl Marx and George Eliot. The tomb of the German philosopher and co-author of The Communist Manifesto stands in the Eastern Cemetery and consists of a large bust of Marx on a marble pedestal inscribed with the final words of the manifesto, ‘workers of all lands unite’. Marx’s tomb is one of the most famous tombs in the cemetery but has also had a history of vandalism and attacks by those who don’t agree with his theories. It’s definitely a must-see in any London literary walking tour which is why it’s the starting point of our tour.
The grave of George Eliot, or rather Mary Ann Stevens, is also found in the Eastern Cemetery and is inscribed with lines from her poem ‘The Choir Invisible’. She is known as one of the most celebrated novelists of the Victorian period, with her work including Middlemarch, Adam Bede, and The Mill on the Floss. Other influential literary figures can be found in Highgate Cemetery including Herbert Spencer whose political theories are the direct opposite of Karl Marx’s and whose ashes are interestingly found almost directly opposite from Marx’s grave. The tombs of the wife, parents, brother, and sister of Charles Dickens also reside in the cemetery.
📍Swain’s Lane, N6 6PJ
2. Keats House
Making our way down from Highgate to the lovely Hampstead is the house of John Keats. This was the home of John Keats from 1818 to 1820 and was where he stayed until he left for Rome in the hope that the warmer weather would ease the pain of his tuberculosis. It was built around 1815 and was originally called Wentworth Place and was where Keats composed some of his most famous works including ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’, ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, and ‘Ode to a Nightmare’. In the house next door lived Fanny Brawne who was the fiancee and muse to Keats, although they were never able to marry because of Keats’ untimely death. Now the house is open as a museum and is well worth a visit inside as it has numerous well-preserved artefacts including the engagement ring given to Fanny Brawne and a copy of Keats’ death mask.
📍10 Keats Grove, NW3 2RR
3. The Sherlock Holmes Museum
A London literary walking tour simply would not be complete without a stop at our favourite detective’s house. Although the museum doesn’t technically stand on the actual 221b Baker Street address (a building society stands on it instead) we’re still happy to pretend the museum is where the fictional Sherlock Holmes once resided. The museum has been vamped up to look like a Victorian-era house, complete with gas lamps, authentic Victorian furniture and curiosities all fit for Arthur Conan-Doyles’ infamous detective. The museum lets you step back in time to a bygone era and see where Holmes and Watson’s began. It’s probably the most immersive stop on the walking tour and although it’s a bit of a long walk from Hampstead, it’s definitely worth the trip and can easily be reached on a cheeky bus or tube detour to Baker Street.
📍22lb Baker Street although technically 237-241 Baker Street, NW1 6XE.
4. Platform 9 3/4
In King’s Cross Station you’ll find a trolly embedded in the wall on the platform ready for you to start your journey to Hogwarts, or so we can hope. This stop is a non-negotiable for any Potterheads in London and even has a handy Harry Potter gift shop nearby for you to get your wand and stock up on any essentials before you head to Hogwarts.
📍Kings Cross Station, N1 9AP
5. The British Library
The British Library is any book lover’s absolute dream. It’s a mammoth of a building with hundreds and thousands of books for you to explore. Some highlights of the library include its first edition collections of the most well-known and oldest books, and original copies of letters and documents that you’ll have access to once you sign up for a reading pass. It’s a place on the tour that deserves a lot of time for you to explore all that it has to offer so it’s well worth a return visit for you to hunker down with the books.
📍96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB
6. Gordon Square
Now entering Bloomsbury which is definitely a literary hotspot in London, and hence why it’s got a few entries on our walking tour, this area was a favourite among many writers and was a bustling hub for intellectuals. So much so that they even produced a group called the Bloomsbury Group in the 20th century made up of writers, intellectuals, artists, and philosophers including Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey. All around Bloomsbury, you’ll find endless plaques signposting places where the Bloomsbury Group lived, worked, and met, with Gordon Square being the best place to find this as it’s where several members of the Bloomsbury Group lived, including Virginia Woold.
7. Senate House
Just a very short walk away from Gordon Square is Senate House which is the administrative centre of the University of London and a library which occupies the fourth to 18th floors of the building. It has a place on our walking tour as it was George Orwell’s inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in one of literature’s greatest dystopian novels, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
📍Malet Street, WC1E 7HU
8. The Charles Dickens Museum
Once Charles Dickens‘ from 1837 to 1839 and now a museum which remains just as he’s left it. It was whilst Dickens lived in this home with his wife and eldest son that he wrote The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, and most famous of all, Oliver Twist. The house became open to the public in 1925 and looks like a typical middle-class Victorian home decorated with items that belonged to Dickens.
📍48-49 Doughty Street, WC1N 2LX
9. Fitzroy Tavern
A popular watering hole among artists and intellectuals from the 1920’s to 1950’s was the Fitzroy Tavern, a perfect place for a mid-walking-tour drink. George Orwell and Dylan Thomas frequented the tavern, so if it’s good enough for them then it’s certainly good enough for us. The pub still has all the charms of its heyday and even has a photograph of Dylan Thomas drinking in the pub up on its walls.
📍16 Charlotte Street, W1T 2LY
10. The Old Curiosity Shop
The Old Curiosity Shop is another Charles Dickens stop on the tour and is said to have been the inspiration for Dickens’ novel of the same name. The building dates back to the sixteenth century, specifically 1567, in an area known as Clare Market and is made using timber from old ships, remaining intact even through the bombing during World War Two. The shop looks as if it’s been taken right out of a storybook and has kept its charming old-timey look, selling antiques and high-end shoes.
📍13-14 Portsmouth Street, WC2A 2ES
11. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Another historic watering hole on the list is Fleet Street’s Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. The pub was rebuilt in 1666 after the Great Fire of London but there has been a pub at this location since 1538 so it’s been around for a long old time – the creaking of the floorboards can tell you as much. The likes of Oliver Goldfield, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, P.G. Wodehouse, and Samuel Johnson are all said to have been regulars of this humble pub. Oh if only walls could talk. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has also been featured in several fictional works including Agatha Christie’s The Million Dollar Bond Robbery, and although not fictional but certainly quite random, in the Betty Crocker cookbook.
📍145 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BP
12. The Cockpit
With another pub on the list, we may be in danger of turning this walking tour into a pub crawl (which wouldn’t be a bad idea) but we promise The Cockpit is here for good reason. As you can probably tell by now London is certainly not short of its historic pubs, and this quaint little boozer in Blackfriars is one of them. The Cockpit stands on the site of a house once bought by Shakespeare for the eye-watering sum of £140, *cries in 21st century London renting crisis*.
📍7 St Andrew’s Hill, EC4V 5BY
13. Shakespeare’s Globe
Although it’s not the actual thing, Shakespeare’s Globe is a pretty excellent realistic reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre best associated with The Bard. The original theatre was built in 1599 but demolished in 1644 and is pretty much true-to-history as you can get, apart from its capacity of 1,400 spectators compared to the original theatre’s 3,000 which is due to modern safety requirements. Plays are on from May through to October with tours available all year round so we definitely recommend a visit during summer for your best chance to get a taste of Shakespeare’s plays in action in the space he intended it – sort of.
📍21 New Globe Walk, SE1 9DT
14. The George Inn
The final stop on this hefty walking tour is The George Inn, London’s last remaining galleried inn, for a well-deserved rest and a well-deserved drink. It’s been known to be a popular haunt of two of England’s most legendary writers; Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. There are definite records of Charles Dickens drinking at The George and even mentions it by name in the Little Dorrit. Shakespeare also mentioned the pub in one of his plays, living in Southwark it’s not hard to imagine that he enjoyed many a local beer in this pub. Even Geoffrey Chaucer has ties with The George Inn, as it was just outside where he began his pilgrimage to Canterbury with his journey being canonised in The Canterbury Tales which is regarded as the birth of English literature.
📍75 Borough High Street, SE1 1NH