From the shopping at Selfridges to the culture of The British Museum and the history underlining every step through the city, there are countless reasons to visit London. But the bookworm’s most compelling incentive is the rich thread of literary genius woven into the city’s very identity. Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Geoffrey Chaucer are just a few of the authors whose homes, favorite haunts, or most famous tales are spin on the city’s axis.
You can walk London Bridge and re-live the despair Pip felt when he learned Estella was to be married, or retrace Clarissa Dalloway’s steps to Hatchards Booksellers. To explore all the city’s tales would take lifetimes — that’s why we read books. But if you’re keen to take on a few of your favorite authors or stories in Bloomsbury, Wembley, and Whitechapel, here’s the definitive guide for what to see and where to stay.
Right in the thick of Central London, The Strand Palace is walking distance from Buckingham Palace and The National Gallery. A stone’s throw from the John Nash-designed Trafalgar Square, note The Fourth Plinth — originally intended to hold a statue of William IV, the plinth is now a platform for temporary, commission-based sculptures. The Square is now the site for many political demonstrations, and a young poet or playwright scribbling in the public square would not be out of place.
From the hotel, it’s just a short bus ride to The British Library. Originally part of the British Museum, the library plays host to over 150 million items. The only larger library in the world is the Library of Congress. The archival collection in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery is a treasure trove containing original copies of Beowulf, Jane Eyre, The Canterbury Tales, and Shakespeare’s first folio. It also houses the Magna Carta and a Gutenberg Bible.
A literature lover can’t visit London without spending an hour (or five) at Westminster Abbey, a spot walking distance from St. Ermin’s. While the uninitiated may wonder what a church has to do with literature, to stop shy of doing the research would be a grave mistake (pun intended). See, Westminster Abbey isn’t just a thousand year-old church or the site of every monarch’s crowning since William the Conqueror’s in 1066. It is the burial place of hundreds of famous figures, and plays host to memorials for many more.
In the Abbey’s aptly named Poets’ Corner, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Rudyard Kipling, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson all have their final resting places. There are memorial busts and plaques to Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, William Wordsworth, Oscar Wilde, and many more.
Fun fact: Geoffrey Chaucer is buried in the Abbey, but not because of his distinction as an author. Chaucer was, for a time, Clerk of the King’s Works at the Palace of Westminster. When he died in 1400, he was still in favor with the king, and so was buried in the Abbey, with a plain slab to mark his grave. It wasn’t until 1556 that Chaucer’s existing marble monument was erected, and his bones moved to the new location.
Grange St. Paul’s is a comfortable distance from the Tower of London — a must-see for history and historical-fiction lovers. Famed as a prison for royals throughout history, the Tower has housed Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Guy Fawkes, to name a few. A glass pillow marks the spot where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey were executed on Tower Green. If you time your visit right, you could attend a reading by the queen of Tudor historical fiction herself, Philippa Gregory.
A ten-minute stroll from Grange, Shakespeare’s Globe is a few hundred yards from the original Globe, and has been rebuilt based on the evidence (including sketches, literary references, and similar structures of the time) to provide the closest possible facsimile to the experience theatergoers in Shakespeare’s time would’ve had — down to the reed thatch roof that might leave you soggy on a rainy evening.
Before or after you take in a show at the Globe, stop off at the George Inn — a haunt of both Dickens and Shakespeare, and the only remaining “coaching” inn in London. With all its 16th-century charm, it’s easy to see how the spot earned itself a callout in Little Dorrit.
This sampling of literary London only skims the surface, but this itinerary will show you enough of the city’s charms to keep you hooked for life. As