London’s rich literary heritage steps out of the history books. Many of literature’s greatest scribes have left their mark on this city, from Shakespeare and Chaucer to George Orwell and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The capital is brimming with fascinating stories, cool bookshops and rare first editions. So let’s take a tour of literary places and things to do in London for book lovers.
London’s independent bookshops
Let’s start with a rummage through new and second-hand books. London’s oldest bookshop, established in 1797, is the prestigious Hatchards, next to Fortnum and Mason, which has three Royal Warrants and can order any book in print.
Over on Marchmont Street, Gays The Word bookshop has been a key part of London’s LGBTQ+ community since it opened in 1979. It has an unrivalled collection of gay and lesbian literature, expert staff and plenty of community events.
Another bookshop not to miss is Word on the Water. Step aboard this floating book barge moored on Regent’s Canal near Granary Square to browse new and used books curated to arouse curiosity at every turn. Take your time to search for a literary treasure or two in London’s independent bookstores.
London’s literary pubs
Literary greats, think Chaucer, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, regularly enjoyed a pint or two at Southwark’s The George Inn, London’s last galleried coaching inn. In Elizabethan days, its courtyard served as a theatre, and Dickens had such a close affinity to the pub, it features in his novel Little Dorrit.
The Newman Arms in Fitzrovia dates to 1730 and regular customers included Dylan Thomas and George Orwell. This cosy tavern inspired Orwell’s Proles pub in his dystopian classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nearby, writer Anthony Burgess was sat in the Duke of York with his wife in 1943 when the Pirelli gang invaded, smashing pints and threatening customers. This violence apparently inspired Alex's Droogs in his modern classic A Clockwork Orange. Today, it’s a much safer pub for a pint.
London’s literary museums
It would be impossible not to include the British Library here. The world’s second largest library has 150 million items dating back 4,000 years. Visit the Treasures Gallery to see London’s greatest literary jewels, including the Magna Carta, The Canterbury Tales, Beatles lyrics and the death warrant of Mary Queen of Scots.
The Charles Dickens Museum is at his former home on 48 Doughty Street, where he wrote The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. It’s a great glimpse into the great author’s life. You could then don your deerstalker hat and sleuth around 221b Baker Street. Here, the Sherlock Holmes Museum displays antique artefacts in the rooms of these famous fictional detectives. Don’t miss the creepy waxworks on the Baker Street museum’s top floor!
After exploring literary London, settle down with a good book in our handsome heritage hotels in the heart of the capital. The Clermont, Victoria and The Clermont, Charing Cross bring you cosy nooks, comfy armchairs and elegant surroundings to enjoy your favourite read.