London has always been at the nerve centre of change and has epitomised social aspiration and progress. So it’s no surprise that our city has popped up in countless works of fiction and inspired our favourite authors through the ages, from William Blake to Monica Ali. The city is a bibliophile’s dream.
Read on to find out where to discover London’s most unique and quirky bookshops, its literary destinations (including our very own Charing Cross Hotel) and our pick of the best events this year.
London in fiction
Read any of the greatest novels, plays and poems and the characters are bound to at least reference London at some point.
Jane Austen’s characters would beg their mothers to let them visit the capital for the London Season to attend dances and meet new suitors. Samuel Pepys chronicled London life during its most turbulent years in his diaries (he lived through both the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666 for starters).
And of course London has spawned the Bloomsbury set: the group of talented and influential writers, intellectuals, artists and philosophers like Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster who lived and worked in the plush Bloomsbury area of London.
London’s best bookshops
We would advise you to block out large chunks of your stay just for browsing London’s many bookshops. Here are some of the gems we have had the pleasure of visiting:
- Blackwell’s at Charing Cross Road is a treasure trove of rare and specialist academic and non-fiction tomes with attentive staff to help you pick out exactly what you’re looking for.
- Not far away is Foyles, one of London’s best-loved bookshops. Take your time thumbing the pages of their books over five stories before settling down in book heaven with a coffee at the café.
- If you love literature and take pleasure in eating good food, head to Books for Cooks, which combines the two. They literally cook the books here: the staff test all the recipes in the shop’s cookbooks in the kitchen and hold regular cookery classes to inspire you.
- Lutyens Rubinstein has been called ‘bibliophile heaven’ by Londonist writer Rachel Holdsworth and Tatler magazine proclaims that it’s the best place to look for a husband, as well as a novel. It stocks many limited editions, so keep your eyes peeled.
- Get a slice of London history at Hatchards in Piccadilly, London’s oldest bookshop.
- Waterstones at Piccadilly wins hands down when it comes to sheer size: it is Europe’s largest bookshop. Look out for book signings and talks by major authors here too.
Must-see literary haunts
- The Globe Theatre
No trip to London would be complete without paying respect to the great bard by taking in a play at the Globe Theatre, which showcased Shakespeare’s plays back in 1599 when he was dominating London’s literary scene.
- The Reading Room
The Reading Room at the British Museum has been used by bookworms like Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell and Virginia Woolf. Take in the stunning dome ceiling and settle down to a good read here to follow in their footsteps.
- The British Library
One of the world’s greatest public libraries, you can take a peek at the original manuscript scroll for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road or the historically important Magna Carta.
- The Charles Dickens Museum
Pay homage to Charles Dickens at the Georgian townhouse where he wrote classics like Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities.
- The Anchor on the South Bank
Samuel Pepys’ diaries contained it all: political, social and economic history and a first-hand account of a man’s attempts at climbing London’s social ladder. Have a pint at the pub where he is thought to have watched London burn in the Great Fire of London and pay your respects to him at his final resting place, St Olave’s.
- Sherlock Holmes’ London
Arthur Conan Doyle made London’s streets, alleys and pubs the backdrop for his novels featuring his canny detective Sherlock Holmes.
Go on a pilgrimage to Baker Street, stop off at the Sherlock Holmes museum to see Mr Holmes’ study brought to life and round your day off at The Sherlock Holmes pub with Cumberland sausages (Dr Watson’s favourite).
Did you know: • The Charing Cross Hotel featured in The Adventure of Bruce-Partington Plans by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes lured Hugo Oberstein (a secret agent and suspected murderer) to the hotel’s smoking lounge…
London’s literary events
- The London Book Fair, 15th-17th April
The London Book Fair is the event to go to if you’re serious about getting your work published, or are interested in finding out how technology is affecting the publishing industry. Or even if you just want to network with key industry players.
- Literary masterclasses
The Royal Society of Literature holds regular masterclasses if you’re a budding writer. From Ruth Randall’s crime writing tips to insights from Sunday Times fiction reviewer Peter Kemp, you’ll be hearing from the sharpest minds.
- The London Literature Festival, 20th May- 4th June
This event sees the announcement of the winners of two major writing prizes: the 2013 Man International Booker Prize Readings and the Women’s Prize for Fiction Readings.
Who is your favourite London author? We’d love to hear about any literary London experiences you’ve enjoyed.