London for Book Nerds
Note from Lana | Lifestyle Queen Bee: Ever since I was a kid, I have loved to read. Being transported to different times, worlds and countries without ever leaving home is such a great escape from reality. But what if you get an opportunity to visit a place that many of your favourite novels are based out of? Today’s post from regular guest blogger, Christine Hill, is talking about all the hotspots fellow book lovers must visit if and when they are in London.
One of the reasons I love London is because London is a town that loves books as much as I do. For book nerds, London is a wonderland of beautiful bookstores, historic locations, and tributes to the authors that have created the fantasy worlds we’ve loved and shared. Here are a few of my favorite destinations and activities in London, and I highly recommend them for my fellow readers:
[ Bookstores ]
In the States, bookstores are dropping like flies. While a few stalwart Barnes & Noble bookstores survive through their huge gift shop inventory, independent bookstores tucked into city corners are anomalies. Not the case in London. You’ll find bookstores of every kind here, from multi-story stores with the newest releases to ancient walk-in closets full of first editions and rare antique books. As a special bonus for book-lovers shopping in England, you’ll find British copies of your favorites, which you might love for either the original British spelling, the different (and so often more tasteful) covers, or the more convenient shapes and sizes.
Here are a few of my favorite bookstores and book-shopping destinations in London:
- Persephone Books
This is something of a specialty store, which makes it a truly unique destination. Persephone Books is entirely dedicated to bringing to light previously undiscovered or underappreciated works by (primarily) 20th-century female authors. These curated books are collections of memoirs, fiction, short stories, and even cooking books. Persephone books are set apart by the graceful, intelligent writing, and the beautifully designed book jackets with matching bookmarks. Browse through the store to find a beautiful new copy of a favorite, or discover something entirely new
- Daunt Books in Marylebone
Daunt Books was built on the original site of a 100-year old antiquarian bookstore. What sets Daunt Books apart to the casual observer is the beautiful main gallery, a feast to the eyes of any booklover. However, when you take a closer look, you’ll notice that Daunt Books are organized by country rather than genre, which makes browsing it a special kind of journey
- Hatchards and Waterstones at Piccadilly Circus
Hatchard’s is the oldest bookstore in London, and it’s been at its original location in Piccadilly for over two hundred years! If you’re looking for volume, history, and a little bit of modern gloss on your bookstore, I highly recommend checking out both Hatchard’s near Piccadilly Circus and Waterstone’s just down the street
- Charing Cross Road
Any book lover has to take some time to browse through the old bookshops of Charing Cross Road, home of historic Foyles, along with some of the coolest secondhand and antique bookshops that you’ll find anywhere in the world
[ Monuments and Tourist Destinations ]
So, beyond the fact that London loves its bookshops, and it’s a great place to explore the settings and background of some of your favorite novels, London is also wonderful at recognizing and celebrating its authors. Monuments dedicated to notable authors abound, and the tourist trade knows plenty well how to cater to its literarily inclined clientele. As a bonus, most of the recommended activities below are free, so your wallet can take a bit of a break from expensive London. You can read for more tips to keep the costs down here.
Here are some must-see spots for shopping, browsing, and photographing:
- Baker Street
This is a no-brainer, even for casual Sherlock fans. Baker Street is right there on the tube map, beckoning you to explore the home of our favorite fictional detective. Check out the Sherlock statue right outside of the station exit, head down Baker Street to see some great shops and a Sherlock-themed museum, and then grab a bite at Speedy’s (which has nothing to do with the books, but will be fun for fans of the BBS television show)
- Peter Pan in Hyde Park
Remember when Robin Williams wakes up in the snow after his Neverland adventures in Hook? He looks up and sees a beautiful bronze statue dedicated to the boy who never grew up. That statue can be visited in Hyde park right by the waterside. It makes a beautiful photograph and gives you a great opportunity to explore the expansive Hyde Park
- Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross
Although the architectural wonder is actually St. Pancras station next door, Potterheads everywhere gravitate to King’s Cross Station. Not to take a train somewhere, (if only the Hogwarts Express was at the station!) but to check out the tribute to J.K. Rowling’s modern classic. A cart laden with trunk and owl sits halfway through the entrance to the secret platform, making for perfect pictures. Fans of Harry Potter should also check out the nearby store. You might even consider a Harry Potter walking tour while in London, which will take you through sites of inspiration and sets from the films
- British Library
The contents of the expansive and famous Reading Room in the British Museum was transferred to the relatively newly-established British Library. It houses the largest collection of books in the English language, and it’s a current, working library. Check out the Treasures to see amazing original manuscripts, and current exhibits which bring out items of interest from the library’s archive. The British Library also has a great gift shop, and really fun benches and artwork.
- Charles Dickens Museum
Doughty Street is where Dickens wrote some of his most famous works, and first gained notoriety for his masterful storytelling. Step into Dickens’ time as you walk through his home and look over original handwritten manuscripts. You can learn more about the context and inspiration for novels like Pickwick Papers, Oliver, and A Tale of Two Cities
- The Globe
Love Shakespeare’s plays? Well, even if you don’t, you can’t miss the Globe. Seeing these classic works performed live will bring you a whole new appreciation. 5 Pound tickets will get you standing room in a world-class performance, and you’ll get closer to the actual experience of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan era in a historical reproduction of the theater that started it all. I’ve seen a lot of shows here, and not a single one fell short of amazing
- Poet’s Corner in Westminister Abbey
You know how people used to take pilgrimages to various holy sites and cathedrals to see the remains and gain the blessing of a patron saint? Well, this is the closest I’ve ever felt to that while visiting ancient cathedrals and churches in Europe. Literary nerds can visit their own personal saints in the Poet’s corner of Westminister Abbey, full of tributes to the likes of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Spenser, and Dickens.
[ Recommended Reading ]
I love getting a feel for a place before I go there, so if this is your first time to London, and you’re also new to British literature, here are some books to really get you in the mood and make the sites even more exciting:
- Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
- Bleak House by Charles Dickens
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
- Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
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What is your favourite travel destination as a book lover?