Michael and I went to London for a few days in the beginning of February and I finally got around to doing my literary tour of London.
I’ve been to London quite a few times but every time I’ve gone prior to this trip, I’ve had something to do — WTM or Christmas with family, etc. This time, we got to take our time and take in the beauty of the city.
London is rife with literary history, so many writers have been born and bred there, from the birth of modern theatre, to the birth of serialization, Shakespeare to Dickens to Orwell and everywhere in between.
I want to give a disclaimer and say that this tour does not focus on every writer that spent time in London – that would take ages but don’t fret, I absolutely plan on doing a part two because there are so many locations where writers and fictional characters spent their time. Hell, even Harry Potter and Shakespeare deserve their own tours alone. Let me know in the comments if that’s something you’d like to see!
However, this tour is a great way to spend a day taking in the literary sites that won’t break the bank and that will fill your bookish heart with history and joy.
Before you go, Download Citymapper on your phone for exact train/bus locations and times.
Let’s get into it
Start off your Literary Tour of London with Breakfast and Books at the British Library
Take the tube to Kings cross and walk 5 minutes to the British Library, which is the second largest library in the world based solely on volume of books. The outside of the library doesn’t look particularly beautiful but the beauty lies on the inside. The library has rows and rows of books in glass cases that go up and up for what seems like forever. The cafe inside has delicious coffee and freshly made croissants. Grab some and sit on the impressive bronze benches shaped like books.
When we went, they were having a Harry Potter exhibit which made me tear up because I’m a mess and always cry when Harry Potter is involved. They always have some sort of exhibit going on, so check here before you go to see what’s on.
Register online for a reader’s pass here, so you can enter into the gorgeous rooms filled with books both new and old– they have first edition copies of English Lit that you can touch as well as old letters, etc. You can’t enter without a reading pass, which, unfortunately, we didn’t know beforehand.
In order to get a pass, all you have to do is register online and then, when you arrive, go to the second floor and show proof of ID and proof of address (it does not need to be a UK address, just another way to prove your identity). It’s free and you have unlimited access to every room –the rare book room especially is something I have to allocate an entire day for next time I’m in London. Should be noted that you must be 18 years or older to register.
Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross
This is an optional part of the tour, as usually it’s so crowded that it takes a long time to get to the picture area of the Platform. However, you’re already at Kings Cross so, if it’s still early enough, you might be lucky to skip the line. Again, I want to do an entire “Harry Potter Tour of London” — let’s leave my review for then.
Walk back to Kings Cross/St. Pancras (or leave it if you stopped at Platform 9 ¾ ) and take either the 45, 46, or the 17 bus to Guilford Street. Then walk 2 minutes to the museum. This should take about 20-25 minutes.
I absolutely loved this museum. It’s in a gorgeous townhouse nestled between other gorgeous townhouses and is Dickens’ last standing London home. You can’t miss it because the door is a vibrant Tiffany blue.
Let yourself in (though it feels as if you have to ring the bell…you don’t) and enter the gift shop, where you’ll pay the admission fee: 6 quid. They’ll give you a pamphlet and explain the easiest way to navigate the museum.
The museum puts on monthly exhibits and when we went, it was an exhibit about The Christmas Carol – which is Michael and I’s favorite.
The floor creaks and you can feel the weight of age as you walk through the rooms but it’s gorgeous (and probably haunted, we all know how much I love haunted). Narrations of Dickens’ stories and showcase replicas and actual furniture, trinkets, and books from Dickens’ personal library fill the rooms. The whole experience is so informative and thoughtful. You can see Dickens’ writing desk up close and personal, where he wrote the Pickwick Papers and Great Expectations–right there in the very room where you’ll be standing. It’s marvelous.
I love museums like this, filled with information and stories about the person who once lived there. Even if you’re not a big Dickens fan or you’ve never read him before, I would still suggest going here. Not only do you learn about Dickens and his life, but you also get a lesson about what life was like in 17th Century London.
The Christmas Carol exhibit was so wonderful and I learned so much about a book I’ve loved since I was little. Did you know A Christmas Carol is a protest against child labor? I didn’t either. The exhibit is still on until February 25th, but, in case you miss it, you can check what’s on when you visit here.
(Don’t forget to stop in the gift shop– we got this amazing mug and it’s my favorite thing to drink coffee out of right now).
Have A Late Lunch and a Pint at Fitzroy Tavern
“The Fitzroy is like the Clapham Junction of the world, everyone goes in and comes out at some time or other.” – Augustus John
The Charles Dickens Museum has a lovely garden cafe that I’m sure is adorable in the summer when there’s sun. However, if you’ve had enough Dickens or it’s raining, take the 55 bus to Fitzroy Tavern.
A London staple since the 1920s, this pub was a frequent haunt for famous writers like George Orwell, Jacob Epstein, and Dylan Thomas, among others. The pub is filled with signed memorabilia from the writers and artists and celebrities who once frequented it. The website says the tavern is filled with a “few pints worth” of reading all over the walls. Make sure to walk down to the basement, where you can drink and eat where your literary idols once drank and ate in the “Writers and Artists Bar.”
The food is delicious, the beer is fresh and cold, the staff is kind and always ready to partake in some literary banter.
Spend the Afternoon Browsing Books On Charing Cross Road
After your stomach is full and you’re a bit starry eyed from a few pints, walk 6 minutes to Charing Cross Road. Spend the rest of the afternoon browsing independent bookshops that fill this street. There are 5 bookstores on the same road. Some are littered with rare books. Others, with used books. You can get anything from popular fiction to the classics for a pound. There is even a really cool comic book store, if that’s what you like.
Finish off your tour at the Pillars of Hercules Pub
After a long afternoon of browsing books, you can go head over to Pillars of Hercules once the sun goes down (take the Piccadilly line to Leicester Square). Or, you can walk 7 minutes straight from Charing Cross Road.
This is probably my new favorite pub in London. That’s saying a lot because it’s hard for me to not say every pub in London is my favorite. (I just love pub culture, I can’t help myself).
Pillars of Hercules has been around since the 1700s but became a staple in the 20th century. Dickens loved it so much that he mentions the pub in A Tale of Two Cities. The street neighboring this pub is called Manette St, named, of course, after Dr. Mannette from the story.
However, the pub’s most frequent visitor was most definitely George Orwell.
Orwell’s photos are adorned all over the wall. However, it’s also been a frequent haunt of other writers like: Francis Thompson, Martin Amis, and Julian Barnes.
This pub had the chillest environment of any pub I’ve ever been to. The atmosphere was filled with laughter. The whole place just gave off a good vibe. We drank a few pints here. Michael liked it so much, he even got a bit tipsy.
Literary tour of London or not, I will absolutely pull an Orwell and frequent this pub over and over.
End your Literary Tour of London with Dumplings (just because).
This has nothing to do with literature, but Pillars of Hercules is about a 5 minute walk from Chinatown. There’s nothing better than drunken dumplings after a day of books and a night of beer (and more books).
We went here.
George Orwell would definitely approve.
WB Harry Potter Studio Tour
This is something I will be writing an entire post about since it’s part of my Bucket List series. All I have to say right now is: if you’re a Potterhead, GO HERE.
Shakespeare Globe Theatre
I’d like to do an entire Shakespeare literary tour of London eventually. If this is something you’d like to see, let me know in the comments!
The Victoria Pub
I actually visited this pub on a different trip when I was in London for Christmas. It’s about a 5 min walk from Paddington Station. The pub was a haunt for aristocrats, artists, and writers of every kind. Charles Dickens wrote a few chapters of the Pickwick Papers by candlelight in the Library Room (allegedly). I would definitely suggest adding this as a stop to your literary tour of London if you can.
I found out dogs are allowed as well. The food is decent pub fare and you can never go wrong with a pint of Fuller’s London Pride.
Want to use AirBnb? Use this code for 20% off your first trip!