A Guide to London for Book Lovers

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London Calling's indispensable guide to literary London

Every inch of London seems to have its own literary connection, whether it’s a famous resident author or a brilliant bookshop. So if you’re a book lover looking for literary fun in the city, you won’t be short of options! Step aboard a book barge, meet Peter Pan, see the Magna Carta or take a look around Shakespeare’s Globe…

Browse in London's Best Book Shops

With so many brilliant bookshops scattered around the city, the difficulty for any London bookworm is choosing which to visit. Some of the nicest examples include the classy London Review Bookshop, the cosy Nomad Books or the classic Hatchards; the oldest bookshop in the UK. London is also home to the UK’s longest surviving LGBT specialist bookshop Gay’s The Word as well as Persephone Books, which promotes ‘lost’ writing by female authors. Another firm favourite is Daunt Books' flagship shop in Marylebone where the books are grouped by country. Even a quick browse will take you on a voyage of discovery. If that gets you in the mood for an adventure, step aboard Word on the Water, a wonderful barge-bookshop moored near King’s Cross. Finally, browsing the outdoor stalls at the Southbank Centre Book Market is the perfect lazy afternoon activity for any London-based book lover. Here you will find an array of secondhand and antique books hiding from the wind and rain under Waterloo Bridge.

Young browser in South Bank book market © David Hawgood

Discover London's Literary Landmarks

It may surprise visitors that many of London’s fictional inhabitants have left their mark on the real city. At Baker Street you’ll discover a ‘recreation’ of the home of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, while Harry Potter fans will love the photo opportunities and gift shop that mark King’s Cross’ supposed Platform 9 ¾. If you’re looking for landmarks more firmly rooted in the real world, Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey and Highgate Cemetery are both worth a visit to find memorials to some of Britain’s biggest literary names, including Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, George Eliot and Christina Rossetti. For something slightly less morbid, you can find statues celebrating London’s most famous literary residents and characters all across the city. JM Barrie’s Peter Pan is brought to life as a bronze statue in Kensington Gardens while A Conversation With Oscar Wilde can be found on Adelaide Street near to Trafalgar Square. Unsurprisingly, Paddington Bear makes an appearance at Paddington Station, while there is a statue of poet John Betjeman in King’s Cross Station.

Platform 9 3/4 © Nelo Hotsuma

Learn More at a Library

London’s most famous library is undoubtedly the British Library, home to everything from the Magna Carta to Leonardo DaVinci’s notebook - and even pages of Beatles’ lyrics handwritten by John Lennon! The library often hosts small specialist exhibitions, or you can take a guided tour of the collections to enjoy a general introduction to this book-stuffed landmark. London is also home to a whole host of local public libraries as well as specialist centres such as the Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre or the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell. Recently saved from closure, the volunteer-run Feminist Library in Lambeth is home to a huge collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature and other feminist reading material.

The British Library © Jack1956

Visit a Literary Museum

London has been home to many literary greats throughout the years. Shakespeare, Dickens, Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Judith Kerr, Colin MacInnes, Douglas Adams, Zadie Smith… The list goes on! Some of the homes of the city’s past literary residents are now open to the public, and top of the list is Keats House, a museum and literary centre dedicated to the tragically short life of Romantic poet John Keats. The famous writer lived in the Hampstead house for a year and a half in 1818 before travelling to Italy where he died aged just 25. For lovers of Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities, a visit to the Charles Dickens Museum is in order. It was while living at this address near Russell Square that the author first became famous. The Victorian home has now been transformed into a fascinating museum where you can see Dickens’ study, handwritten drafts of his novels and the family’s furniture. Finally, visit the Globe Exhibition at Shakespeare’s Globe near London Bridge for an in-depth insight into the Bard’s life and the London of the time.

Keats House © Laura Nolte

Curl up with a Good Book!

Once you’ve exhausted yourself visiting museums, buying books and trying to reach Platform 9 ¾, the best way to recuperate is with a novel and a cup of tea. During the summer nothing is nicer than reading under the trees in a park - and with an estimated 3,000 parks in London, you won’t be short of choices! Gordon Square with its connections to the famous Bloomsbury Group or Kensington Gardens - where Peter Pan had an early adventure - are both particularly pertinent options. In the winter, why not head to The Book Club - an aptly named café where you can wile away an hour or two with your nose in a book?

What are your favourite literary places in London? Tell us in the comments section below…