London for the Bookish

I’m a book person. Are you?

If you’re not sure, check your reaction to this picture

Did you think:

A: “That place needs a good clear out”


B: “If I won the Lottery, I would have a room just like that”

If your answer was B, then you are a book person. Welcome, come sit next to me. We’re going to get along just fine.

I would argue that London is an unusually bookish place. Just ride the Tube and you’ll see carriages full of people reading novels. My friends outside London tell me that no-one reads any more. Really? Come to London, we’re all at it. At any given moment there is a literary festival or a book group meeting or a ‘meet the author’ talk. London reads. It’s one of my favourite things about this city.

Since you’re a book person too, you’ll like these places.

West End Lane Books is a brilliant small independent bookshop. The stock is curated by people who truly know and love books. I always get Christmas and birthday presents for my “impossible to buy for” Dad here. Recently I bought him “Russian Roulette” by Giles Milton, which he devoured in one sitting. (Yes, he’s a book person too.) Their Twitter feed @WELBooks is highly entertaining.

British Library and Bookshop is a regular pilgrimage spot. It is possible to get a Reader Pass, but don’t expect to get into a Reading Room on a day trip. You need to apply in advance, and explain why your research requires content from the British Library.  They can reject your application, or steer you gently towards a more suitable library.  (Gently, mark you.  They are gentle, bookish types.  These are our people.)  It’s still worth a visit for the galleries and for the bookshop where you can buy gifts for your bookish friends and family.

If you want a proper library, my favourite is Swiss Cottage. The architecture creates light and a sense of space which belies the enormous selection of books crammed into this building. The upstairs cafe is much cheaper than the downstairs branch of Del Aziz and also has a selection of secondhand books to swap for free. There are comfy chairs all overy the library as well as desks upstairs for more serious work. The children’s library has activities and books for children of every age. When my son was a baby I took him to ‘Rhyme Time’ there to listen to songs for babies. Now he’s eight he likes to sprawl on the comfy foam steps area of the children’s library to read. He also loves checking books in and out himself on the computerised system.

The best of the bigger bookshops has to be the new Foyles on Charing Cross Road. I spent hours wandering round all the second-hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road with my Dad when I was a kid. They’ve all gone now and however much I love my kindle I can’t help feeling sad about it. The world changes and moves on. Anyway, the new Foyles goes some way to healing the wound with the largest range of books under one roof of any bookshop in the UK. I like to read in French sometimes (“pretentious, moi?”) and their foreign language section is to die for.

I have to mention Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street. It is such a beautiful shop with its wood paneling and graceful arched windows. We always go there immediately after booking a trip; they have an exhaustive selection of travel guides.

I also have an emotional attachment to the bookstalls on the Southbank too. Yes, I know, I’ve already mentioned them. But for me the perfect London weekend day will always be a browse in Tate Modern, then a walk along the river, another browse amongst the books, then drinking a hot chocolate in the BFI cafe while we’re all immersed in reading our new purchases. Bliss, London style.


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