Photo by Wikipedia Commons
Samuel Johnson declared way back in the eighteenth-century that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
You may have read or heard that quotation before. However, as it comes from the author of A Dictionary of the English Language, it’s a particularly fitting introduction for a list of some of the most famous literary landmarks in London. Open-air theaters, lively pubs popular with authors, grand houses with famous former residents – and these seven only scratch the surface. So for all the bookworms out there, this one’s for you!
Charles Dickens may have only lived at 48 Doughty Street for two-and-a-half years, but he quill-penned no fewer than three novels during that time. Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers, and Nicholas Nickleby were all written here, as were countless other short stories, articles and essays. His terraced house, nestled between Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell, is now a museum dedicated to his life and works.
The venerable British Library is a celebration of books, learning and pretty much anything that’s written down. The building might not look like much from the outside, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts. You need to have a pass (and reason) to get into its atmospheric reading rooms, but there’s also the fantastic, free, permanent ‘Treasures of the British Library’ exhibition. DaVinci’s notebook, Jane Austen’s draft texts, an original copy of the Magna Carta: this is the natural habitat of the bookworm.
The magnificent, reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe is built just 200m away from the location of the original, 16th-century Globe Theater, where many of The Bard’s plays were first performed. The guided tour is great, but there’s nothing like seeing an actual performance. Book your tickets well in advance of your visit, and get a standing spot if you’re feeling up to it; it might be less comfortable, but it’s definitely more authentic!
You’ll never guess what: the Bloomsbury Group, an artistic-cultural collective that counted the likes of Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster as members, took its name from Bloomsbury, the area in which its members all lived. You’ll see a number of blue plaques on Gordon Square that attest to the great writers and artists that once lived here, while Mary Shelley used to live just around the corner on Marchmont Street (admittedly a hundred years earlier).
John Keats’s simple, unassuming house in Hampstead is something of a hidden gem and well worth a poke around. The celebrated poet, who died from tuberculosis aged just 25, moved into the house in 1818 before traveling to Italy 17 months later where he eventually passed away. Keats is believed to have written ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and ‘Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art’ while living in the house, which also puts on a number of poetry-related events throughout the year.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum
Whether you’re an amateur sleuth or a card-carrying member of the Benedict Cumberbatch Fan Club, no trip to London is complete without a walk down Baker Street and a photo of number 221b specifically. You can pay to go on a tour of the home of Holmes and see his recreated Victorian study, or just pop into the shop and pick up a deer stalker or other related Sherlock paraphernalia.
Pillars of Hercules
You can’t go to London – or the United Kingdom, for that matter – and not enjoy an hour or two and pint or three in a good old British boozer. To do so and get your literary fix at the same time, consider the Pillars of Hercules in Soho, near the West End. Contemporary authors including Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan are known to have quenched their thirst in this historic pub, which was also featured in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Bottoms up!