The only things flowing in and out as continuously in London as the guests at the Montcalm at The Brewery London City are the River Thames and bookworms. Spending even a day in London as a lover of literature is a whirlwind of emotion because there is just so much to do, see, read and explore. Here are some of London’s top book-y spots!
Despite being in the heart of Bloomsbury, Dalloway Terrace isn’t your everyday West End restaurant. Named after Virginia Woolf’s best-loved character, Mrs Dalloway, this little spot is perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is as quintessentially British as it gets. A little piece of the florally decorated countryside in Central London – what more could you need, other than a copy of Mrs Dalloway and their delicious gin and tonics?
The Poetry Café
The Poetry Café by Covent Garden is an amalgamation of all things literary. It is both a simple, vegetarian space (with ample vegan beer and wine options!) and it is dedicated to literature, poetry and writing. It hosts regular open mic sessions and poetry readings, runs poetry and publishing competitions, and is a great spot for like-minded book lovers to meet.
Word on the Water
Word on the Water is a bookshop that, as its name suggests, is actually on the water: Regent’s Canal, specifically. In Kings Cross’ Granary Square you’ll find this floating store, a book barge dedicated to jazz and literature. Anyone who’s read Nina George’s “The Little Paris Bookshop” will feel like they’ve stepped into the novel when you enter the barge, brimful of books, characters and fellow bookworms.
The name “Booksellers Row” is what Cecil Court in Covent Garden has been dubbed because it is a street filled almost exclusively with independent bookshops. In a world where chain and department stores often rule the roost, it’s so refreshing to walk down this little avenue of bookshops and feel like books are getting the recognition they deserve.
Some stores to look out for: Quinto Books is a great secondhand bookshop, but also a very specialized seller of antiquarian, collectable hardbacks and rare books. Similarly, if rare books are what you’re after, Henry Pordes will sort you out. Bryars & Bryars is there for map collectors and appreciators, while almost all stores sell some variation of first and secondhand editions of old and new titles alike.
The House of Illustration
A stone’s throw away from Word on the Water is The House of Illustration. While there are exhibitions throughout the year of various illustrators and writers in residence, the permanent fixture is what you’ll want to write home about. It’s the Quentin Blake exhibit, where lovers of Roald Dahl’s stories can return to their youth with the illustrations that lifted James and his giant peach along with George and his marvellous medicine from the confines of a page and turned it into a whole new world. Exhibitions here will remind you the power books can have on art and illustration.
The London Library
Booklovers in London, rest assured that if the weather’s too foul to sit under a tree in Hyde Park to do some holiday reading, the London Library is a worthy contender. Established in 1841 on the initiative of Thomas Carlyle, this building shows the centuries’ dedication to books and the preservation of history in literature. If you reserve your reading hours for the comfort of your bed in the Montcalm Hotel London, then why not do the London Library’s evening tour? It’s free and fascinating – you’ll be led around the library by experts who know all the architecture, shelves and manuscripts worth seeing. Make sure you’re prepared to walk as it is, after all, one of the world’s largest lending libraries.
Keats House in Hampstead will melt the hearts of those partial to the Romantic poetry of British poet, John Keats. Though a small museum, it isn’t lacking at all in character and charm. Walking through the house is a really all-consuming experience, as you realize that this icon of literature lived a reasonably normal life. You can meander from room to room and corridors by yourself, taking your time, or you can go between 1.30 and 3pm when volunteers run guided tours that take 30 minutes. Those less familiar with Keats may prefer the guidance, whereas die-hard fans might prefer to just take in every detail possible.
Saved for last is Harry Potter because the London-based experiences relating to this world-famous magical book series could take up a book in themselves. Potterheads should be warned that London hotels packages don’t include lodging in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio will reignite your desire to become a witch or wizard, no matter how old you are. An easy trip to do on public transport, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Watford is well-worth any book-lover’s time. You’ll be transported into a world of spells, potions and goblins. Be sure to head to the gift shop at the end to get your house-coloured scarves, stationery and a big chocolate frog for the train home.
If you accidentally finish your vomit flavoured jelly beans before you get home, don’t worry. Head to Kings Cross station, platform 9 and ¾. Don’t run at the wall unless you’re looking for a concussion, though. The Harry Potter Shop there is filled with everything you might have missed while at the Warner Bros. Studios, as well as an opportunity to take a picture with your trolley and owl on the platform. Staff members will even hold your scarf out of the picture for you so that your photo is 100% Instagrammable.
If you’re still thirsty for magic, get yourself online and book tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Then get yourself to Leicester Square. The show is in two parts, so if you’re in London for a little while you could book them on separate days. Otherwise, you can book both parts on the weekend for the same day. This play by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany has been widely received and is the perfect way to tie your mandatory West End show experience in with your passion for books.