Few other cities can compete with London when it comes to its bookish reputation. From William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens to Virginia Woolf and Zadie Smith, a huge number of luminaries past and present have called the Big Smoke home. Follow in their footsteps, and soak up London’s creative and inspiring ambiance, on your next trip to the city. For writers, readers, and bibliophiles, these five stops are the perfect place to begin your literary London tour.
Experience London’s Romantic side with a visit to Hampstead’s lovely Keats House. Home to the talented poet from 1880-1820, the building comes with a good deal of literary lore: Keats supposedly wrote many of his most enduring works here (legend goes that “Ode to a Nightingale” was scrawled underneath a plum tree in the back garden). See if the muse moves you during your tour of the landmark, when you can see Keats’s original manuscripts and artefacts, attend live poetry performances and events, and even try composing an ode of your very own.
Few London neighbourhoods are as alive with the spirit of literature as Bloomsbury. After all, the district gave its name to the Bloomsbury Group, an early 20th-century collective of innovative writers and intellectuals that included the likes of Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, and John Maynard Keynes. As you wander Bloomsbury’s streets à la Mrs. Dalloway, keep an eye out for the plentiful blue plaques that hint at its rich history. For a further dose of literary lore, a visit to The Fitzroy Tavern, where Dylan Thomas and George Orwell once supped their pints, is another must.
The Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre that currently stands on London’s South Bank is a fitting recreation of the Elizabethan version, down to the thatched roof. And yet, an amusing piece of trivia: this restored version has now stood longer than the original, short-lived theatre ever did (it was built in 1599 and destroyed by fire in 1613). Visit during the summer months to see the Bard’s timeless works live on — you’ll be risking the weather, but a £5 groundling ticket makes this one of London’s most affordable (and memorable) cultural experiences.
Charles Dickens Museum
Charles Dickens was as peripatetic as he was prolific. Though he had over two dozen residences in London alone, the site of the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street is the only one that can still be visited by the public. And what a splendid house it is: the Georgian residence is still decked out in its 19th-century trappings, so visiting can feel a bit like stepping back in time. For an especially immersive experience, the museum’s Dickens After Dark event series will see you explore by candlelight.
The British Library
London’s literary legacy isn’t just a thing of the past, however — it lives on into the present, and nowhere is that more visible than the sprawling British Library. Housed in a mammoth building on Euston Road, the Library has the second largest collection in the world (hardly a surprise, then, that they needed ample space). Beyond the bookshelves, the British Library also hosts temporary art exhibitions and a permanent collection of priceless books and objects (including the Magna Carta, a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, and handwritten lyrics by the Beatles). It also offers a full calendar of author readings, panel discussions, and other events designed to inspire you to literary flights of fancy.
Image Credits: Keats House © Keats House, City of London Corporation. Bloomsbury © Luke Abrahams/iStock. The Globe Theatre © TonyBaggett/iStock. Charles Dickens Museum © Charles Dickens Museum. The British Library © Kalulu/iStock.