Bookish Beacons: London’s Attractions for the Literary Leaning

Home – at different times in their lives – to some of the world’s greatest literary heavyweights (Shakespeare, Dickens, Woolfe, Byron and many more), London’s teeming with bookish resonance for those who like nothing more than to curl up in front of a fire with a terrific tome. In which case then, here are some reasons why it’s a wise idea to head outdoors this autumn and discover the UK capital’s literary attractions…

panoramic scenic view on London's southern part

The George Inn

(77 Borough High Street SE1 1NH)

Let’s start at the beginning? So legendary – and old – is it, this pub can lay claim to being London’s earliest extant, serious literary landmark. Why? Because not only did the greatest of all Victorian writers Charles Dickens frequent it (so much is so it’s even mentioned in one of his novels, Little Dorrit), but an incarnation of it was a favourite watering hole of possibly the greatest of *all* writers, the Bard himself, William Shakespeare; way back in the 16th Century, that is (situated near the fabulous Tudor-era theatre that’s the Shakespeare Globe, as it is). The current building that goes by the ‘The George Inn’ name is merely 300-years-old, but it’s possessed of interlocking oak beams in the ceilings of both its floors, grand fireplaces and traditional latticed windows. It’s a charming place to stop off for a tipple too, with all its charismatic little nooks and crannies. No wonder it inspired the greats of the literary firmament!

The British Library

(96 Euston Road NW1 2DB)

The largest library on the face of the planet, it’s brimming with rare collections, utterly serene reading rooms and a perfect, irresistible piazza – and it’s very centrally located, so easily to get to should you be staying at a city suites hotel London, like London Suites by Montcalm. Its true highlights, though, are the King’s Library (an awesome, piercing glass tower in the centre of the building, which comprises 65,000 volumes, manuscripts, maps and pamphlets from King George III’s 18th and 19th Century collections) and the Sir John Ritblat Gallery (which displays historical documents and sacred scrolls, including early versions of  Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Virginia Woole’s Mrs Dalloway).

Charles Dickens Museum

(48 Doughty Street WC1N 2LX)

A real place of pilgrimage for lovers of all things Dickensian, this museum is located in the house where the great writer lived between 1837 and 1839. As such then, it’s ‘preserved’ just as it would have appeared in Dickens’ day, stocked full, as it is, with furniture and fixtures that illuminate the real life – and some of the inspirations for the incredible imagination – of surely the greatest Victorian novelist. For instance, there’s his writing desk, the custom-made lectern he used while on reading tours, a dining table set for a dinner party with literary luminaries and a library whose walls are lined with tomes by Dickens’ own favourite authors.

Charing Cross Road bookshops

(WC2H)

Arguably London’s chief calling card for bibliophiles, the bookshops that line this artery of the West End is a literary retail destination par excellence. At Number 72, Quinto and Francis Edwards boasts a cornucopia of rare and antique books, as well as pulpy offerings below stairs, while at Number 56, Any Amount of Books is so crammed full of the things they almost feel like they’re spilling out of the walls. Meanwhile, there’s the kind-hearted monster that’s Foyles’ (Numbers 113–119), which stocks a fine selection of new and second-hand efforts across its full five floors.

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