There are so many London literary sites that a book lover could spend a lifetime in London and never finish all the books related to the city or visit all the sites! And if you’re visiting, with even less time than a lifetime, it’s hard to know how to prioritize! Here are my top suggestions for bookish London locations not to be missed.
I’ve also supplied links so you can purchase the books and get reading (or listening!) to these great London classics!
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1. Paddington Bear Statue
The statue of Paddington Bear, inspired by the Paddington Bear stories by Michael Bond, can be found
on train platform one at Paddington Station. (Edit: As of Oct. 2022, Paddington has returned to Platform One after construction of the Elizabeth Line, however the statue will be moved to a more permanent location later.) This is where the hapless bear was fictionally found and taken in by the Brown family. He was sitting on his suitcase with a tag around his neck reading, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” If you fly into Heathrow Airport and take the Paddington Express into London, this should be your first literary destination.
2. Peter Pan Statue
Author J. M. Barrie had this statue, inspired by his character Peter Pan, placed in Kensington Garden in the middle of the night so that children would think it appeared as if by magic the next morning. Rather than the second star to the right and straight on ’till morning, take a stroll through the garden along the water to find this lost boy of Never Never Land.
3. Bloomsbury Neighborhood
The Bloomsbury Neighborhood is not only famous for its namesake, the headquarters of Bloomsbury Publishing, but historically was home to many great writers who have been memorialized with round blue plaques on the fronts of several of the buildings. Take yourself on a self-guided walking tour through the neighborhood and you’ll find the former home of Virginia Wolfe, the site of where author J. M. Barrie’s home once stood, and Charles Dickens’ London home, as well as several others.
4. Sherlock Holmes Museum
Although the famous consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his assistant, Dr. John Watson, are characters created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and only fictionally lived at 221B Baker Street in London, that is exactly where you’ll find the Sherlock Holmes house museum today. 221B Baker Street is a three story historic boarding house turned museum with rooms decorated to look like as though the occupants of Doyle’s stories, Sherlock, Watson and their housekeeper Ms. Hudson have just stepped out. You’ll be able to take a seat in Sherlock’s study and try on his famous hat, but be wary of the third floor. Upstairs you’ll find wax figurines of some of the classic villains from the Sherlock mysteries.
5. Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
London’s Globe Theater is actually a replica of Shakespeare’s original theater, which succumbed to fire, but it has been rebuilt with similar techniques to the original and his plays are still performed daily. You can visit the theater as an audience member or just for a guided tour between productions.
6. Kenwood Estate
The Kenwood Estate in Hampstead Heath was home to Dido Elizabeth Belle, she was daughter to a slave mother and a naval officer father who had her raised at Kenwood by his uncle. She was raised as a free heiress. A painting of Belle and her female second cousin who the family also raised can be seen inside Kenwood, which is now an art museum. The house also contains a beautiful library room. Visit the museum and then take the biography of Belle, written by Paula Byrne out to the grounds to read. Though you may be distracted by the beautiful skyline view of London which can be seen from the estate.
7. Charles Dickens Museum
Walking through Charles Dickens’ first London home, you’ll learn about the struggles he faced in his personal life, his desire to be the center of attention, and you’ll be able to step before the mirror in his sitting room that he used to perfect his character acting before public readings. The museum uses sounds and smells to tingle many of your senses and totally immerse you in the historical home life of this famous London author.
At the back of the London townhouse you’ll find a tea room with a patio where you may just want to take your scone and afternoon tea snd sit with a book all afternoon after touring the house. Even if you don’t tour the house, you can still enjoy the tea room- and there’s wifi!
8. The George Inn
Besides being London’s only surviving galleried coaching inn, The George was a frequent stop of author Charles Dickens. He even mentioned the inn in his novel Little Dorrit. If you’re hungry after all your touring, The George serves up good English pub food and the courtyard is often full of Brits enjoying a cold pint.
The flagship Waterstones at Piccadilly is London’s largest bookstore and possibly the biggest bookstore in Europe. It has SIX floors of books and if you’re not careful, you may find yourself here with your entire day gone! Small seating areas throughout the shop with books lying innocently on coffee tables will suck you in. There’s also a restaurant on the top floor and a cafe on the bottom floor.
10. British Library
Even if you can’t check out books at the British Library and don’t have something to study for, you should still visit this Library. The permanent exhibit room has fascinating old and rare books from the archives on display and the rotating exhibit is always interesting as well. And you definitely won’t leave empty handed if you visit the library’s gift shop.
11. Platform 9 3/4
This is a must for all Harry Potter lovers. While there may not actually be a platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station in London, there is a shop at the station with that name. If you have enough time to wait in line, you can get your photo taken with a cart sticking out of the brick wall, or you can just head right into the shop. Leave yourself plenty of time for this stop because the shop is crowded and the checkout lines are almost as long as the line for the photograph!
12. House of MinaLima
The house of MinaLima is a slightly lesser known must-see for Harry Potter fans. Ok, it’s only book related in that it’s related to the films inspired by the books, BUT as the exhibit space of the graphic designers for the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films you can see the original spell book cover! From Harry’s letter to the Daily Profit newspaper images that appear in the films, you’ll see the original prints of the graphic art here.
13. Dr. Samuel Johnson’s House
Dr. Samuel Johnson was the author of the widely used Dictionary of the English Language. He standardized much of the English language that we still use today.
14. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Just around the corner from Dr. Johnson’s house, the Ye Old Cheshire Cheese pub was once the meeting place of authors and several of them even put the pub in their literary works. Charles Dickens spent many evenings at the pub and alludes to it in his A Tale of Two Cities. P. G. Wodehouse was also a regular and mentions the pub in his books. Even Agatha Christie staged a scene in one of her Poirot mysteries at this pub. These are only a few of the many writers who have dined at the Cheshire Cheese, and according to the pub’s entry in Wikipedia, we even know what some of the writers ate thanks to the Betty Crocker cookbook!
15. Mr. Fogg’s
Mr. Fogg’s is a collection of bars around London inspired by none other than Mr. Fogg from Around the World in 80 Days. According to the website, the establishments will transport you back to the Victorian era and you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into the book.
16. Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey
Poets’ Corner is the section within Westminster Abbey where you’ll find headstones and memorial plaques for several of Britain’s most famous writers. Interestingly, not everyone with a plaque is actually buried at Westminster. For example, although commemorated here, Jane Austen’s final resting place is actually at Winchester Cathedral. Make sure to look all around you because you’ll find plaques and stones on the walls and beneath your feet.
I suggest getting the audio guide for your tour of Westminster Abbey, and be prepared for crowds. Also, unfortunately photography is not allowed inside, so put away your camera and just enjoy your tour.
17. Harry Potter Experience WB Studio Tour
Ok, this one is a bit outside the city, BUT they call it the Studio Tour London, so I’m adding it to this list. To get there, hop on the train and then take a shuttle to the studio from the station. The best way to visit is to reserve studio tickets for a morning time, take the train and then you’ll have all day to wander through the experience at your own pace. There are bus tours from London that will pick you up in the city and drive you there, but your time will be limited to the length of the bus tour.
At your designated ticket time you’ll start your tour in Hogwarts’ Great Hall where you’ll see clothing and props. From there you’ll proceed into a huge room with props and recreated rooms from all the Harry Potter films. You can also get in line for green screen photos of yourself on a broom or in the flying Ford Anglia. When you’re finished with this room you’ll find yourself on Platform 9 3/4 where you can tour the train engine used in the films. Walk down the train corridor and peek into compartments which are decorated for each year of Harry’s journeys on the train to Hogwarts. After this you’ll probably be ready for a butter beer so it’s a good thing the cafe and back lot are next. Although you can’t go in, you’ll see the Night Bus, the front of #4 Private Drive and a couple other sets. Finally you’ll end your day with the models, electronics, and special affects used to create the movie magic. Since my visit, the Forbidden Forest has been added to the displays as well. This experience is a must for Harry Potter fans, just as long as you’re prepared to ruin the movie magic!
Map of Locations & Getting Around
- The cheapest way to get around is to get a reloadable Oyster Card (subway card) when you arrive and use the subway.
- Using the Citymapper App, you’ll be able to navigate the subway, buses, trains, and walking around the city like a pro. When you type in your desired destination the app will show you the quickest means to get there, the approximate cost, current delays, the train platform, and even the subway car you should sit in. When walking there’s a nice blue dot on the map that will take you just where you need to go.
- To get to the sites a little farther from the center of town you’ll want to take the train, but again this is super easy with your app.
- As for iPhone service- swap out your iPhone sim card when you arrive in Britain with a British sim card for the duration of your stay. Kiosks with sim cards can be found at the major train stations.
Have you been to any of these London sites? Do you want to go? Have I missed any? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
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