With literary names such as Shakespeare, Dickens, Kipling and Chaucer still echoing through the historical streets of London, its no surprise that the city is one of the best in the world for bookwormish adventures. Whether hoping to indulge your secret love of libraries, looking for a cosy nook to curl into with a book, hunting for a leather-bound treasure or keen to meet like-minded worms at literary events, London has countless of bookish treats to entertain your days.
This guide lists some of the many historical, motivating and captivating bookish adventures in London.
British Library and St Pancras
The British Library: The British Library in St Pancras is probably the most obvious choice for those seeking the library scene in London and is a real monument to book culture. As the largest building in the United Kingdom built in the twentieth century, The British Library receives copies of everything published in the United Kingdom and Ireland, meaning it receives about three million new titles each year.
Visitors can access collections and exhibitions for free as well, meaning you can soak in those glorious shelves upon shelves of books until your heart’s content. The British Library is open every day and offers both free and paid tours. Find it at 96 Euston Road, near the iconic King’s Cross St Pancras Station.
The London Library
Looking at the glowing orbs, ceiling-to-floor shelves and elegant columns in the London Library, I see my ideal space for researching and reading where I’m sure my mere presence would be enough to absorb academic genius. The London Library was founded all the way back in 1841, surviving a direct blast from a German bomb in 1944 to remain in all it’s bookish glory today.
The library has enjoyed the likes of Winston Churchill as an honorary Vice President and T.S. Elliot as a president, and is home to more than a million books in over fifty languages. Although quite exclusive, with a members fee of hundreds of pounds every year, visitors can access the library with a much cheaper daily or weekly member’s pass or take a free tour in the evenings. Find it at 14 St Jamess Square.
Southbank Centre Book Market: As if wandering along the picturesque pavement of Southbank was not delightful enough, the Southbank Centre Book Market, under the Waterloo Bridge, brightens the experience with tables stacked heavy with second hand books for sale. This is a great place to hunt a bargain, look for something obscure or pick up that bestseller for a fraction of its original price. The market operates daily from morning to evening.
Charing Cross Road: Known as a happy hub for second-hand and antique book dealers, Charing Cross Road is a great place to start your bookshop adventures. You will find little shops packed ceiling to floor, some with basements, selling antique, rare and niche books. There are also more mainstream stores in the area, as well as cafes and bars to retire in once you’ve found your printed gem.
Museum Bookshops London
Some of the most stimulating and beautiful books I’ve ever read have been from museum bookshops, and with London’s stellar suite of free museums, I found museum bookshop shopping to a very lovely way to spend a day. Tate Modern, Tate Britain and The Victoria and Albert are three of my favourite museum bookshops, but you could find plenty of gems in almost all other museums.
The Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey: While not the most likely venue for bookworm adventures, London’s iconic Westminster Abbey pays tribute to the many great literary figures who have documented and shaped the course of the country.
On the far side of the Abbey, past many ornate royal tombs, you will find a corner of solemnly engraved marble slabs and wall mounts naming the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, John Milton and Charles Dickens, among many others. The nearby pews are a wonderful place to sit with a pen and paper and take advantage of the inspirational space.
Admission to the Abbey is paid and comes with an audio guide, which includes information about Poet’s Corner. Check the Abbey website to check the opening times for your chosen visiting day.
The Erotic Book Club: While less holy than an abbey literary adventure, London’s increasingly popular Erotic Book Club is also about recognising the value in printed pages. Meeting at 8pm on the last Thursday of each month, The Erotic Book Club lauds the literary portrayal of the pervert and pleasurable in a range of literary genres. The group also organises literary field trips for attendees, making it a fun way to interact with books and people who love books.
Meetings are held at Bökship, 210 / Unit 3 Cambridge Heath Road and more details about the book of the month, events and contributions can be found at the group’s website by the same name.
The Book Club: Despite your intelligent assumption about The Book Club’s core function, you may be surprised to find The Book Club has very little to do with actual books and a lot more to do with quirky, creative and kinda nerdy evening events.
Tucked into an Old Street alley, The Book Club is a youthful and vibrant cafe-bar that hosts all sorts of interesting activities, such as interactive poetry parties. It is also a great space to have a lazy brunch while devouring your latest read. Find it at 100-106 Leonard Street using Shoreditch High Street as the nearest tube station.
For more ideas about where to grab a coffee and tuck into your favourite book, check out Londontown Traveller’s list of 10 top London cafes.
London Writer’s Cafe
If you love to play with words as much as you love to consume them, perhaps an hour or two with the London Writer’s Cafe is a suitable addition to your London bookworm itinerary. Meeting a few time a week to share work and provide constructive feedback, this group of London creatives can be found through their website, where you can register your interest and learn more about meetings.