London is a city teeming with literary history, which means that it’s also teeming with books. From the old to the new to the watery, these are a few of my favorite bookish places to explore in London.
Friends know that I call the British Library my BFF. It is probably one of my favorite museums, period — just off the main tourist road enough to feel like your own, but still with plenty to spend your time on.
The permanent exhibition (Treasures of the British Library) is a free mini-museum stuffed with amazing artifacts. They have one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, Handel’s Messiah (actually written in Handel’s handwriting), Jane Austen’s writing desk, Beowulf, and loads of illuminated manuscripts from around the world.
Their special exhibitions are also not to be missed, so definitely check their website before you go to see what’s on. The larger exhibitions (which span several rooms) tend to cost an entrance fee, but the smaller ones are normally free (located across the hall from Treasures of the British Library).
And don’t miss the shop! You could easily spend many hours (and many quid) in the little bookshop alone. It is a wonderful, dangerous place.
Foyle’s flagship shop is located on Charing Cross Road, about ten minutes from the British Museum. It has four stories (plus a coffee shop) absolutely brimming with books. Whole floors are almost exclusively devoted to genres like history, young adult and children’s, etc. The ground floor has a lot of bookish gifts and knick-knacks for your book-lover friends (or, let’s be honest, for yourself).
Once you go here, you will never be able to appreciate Barnes and Noble again. There are whole shelves devoted to Victorian England. How many books about that era were at Barnes and Noble on my recent visit? Zilch. America.
The Independent Bookshop Walk
As you exit Foyle’s, cross the road and head left. You will soon find yourself passing independent bookshops just about every block. Don’t miss the side street called Cecil Ct., which is lined on both sides by antique and used bookshops, as well as printers and record stores. It’s a quaint, quiet break from the bustle of the main road, and well worth the detour.
Should you want to see more eccentric bookstores, here is a handy map of all independent shops in London.