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An Insider’s Guide to Literary London

Almost every pocket of central London can claim a literary connection, either as home to one of the world’s most celebrated writers or as a muse to their work. Here’s how to spend a weekend exploring the city’s rich literary history.

The Bloomsbury Hotel London

Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel

FRIDAY

12:30 p.m.
Tour the garden squares of Bloomsbury

Head to Gordon Square, where you can almost sense the ghostly presence of Virginia Woolf and her fellow members of bohemian Bloomsbury. A row of the square’s white stucco Victorian houses (numbers 46–51) were home to Woolf, her artist sister Vanessa Bell and the biographer Lytton Strachey as well as assorted Bloomsbury groupies. Don’t miss the bronze bust memorial of Virginia Woolf in neighbouring Tavistock Square, where she later moved with her husband, Leonard Woolf, and ran Hogarth Press. (Her Tavistock home was bombed during the World War II Blitz.) While you can picnic in the square’s lush central garden, it’s best to head to the Bloomsbury Hotel, where the Dalloway Terrace features a menu of seared scallops and crab and crayfish ravioli.

Bloomsbury Hotel, 16-22 Great Russell St., doylecollection.com

Charles Dickens Museum London

Photo: Siobhan Doran Photography

3:00 p.m.
Make a house call at the Charles Dickens Museum

A 10-minute stroll from Russell Square, this Georgian townhouse was where Dickens lived at the start of his career and wrote Oliver Twist. The museum offers its own elegiac note in the bedroom where Dickens’ beloved sister-in-law Mary Hogarth died at the age of 17. Mostly, though, the memorabilia-crammed landmark evokes the sense of a well-lived life. The dining room alone, punctuated by a big fireplace, looks like a stage set for A Christmas Carol.

48 Doughty St., dickensmuseum.com

Hotel Cafe Royal London

6:00 p.m.
Enjoy dinner at the Hotel Café Royal

Head through Soho to Regent Street to this hotel, where Oscar Wilde and company once hung out. The property’s Ten Room restaurant, dotted with statement bouquets of flowers and brown leather chairs, serves updated British classics, including Dover sole. If you really want to relax, settle into the Green Bar for absinthe, Wilde’s favourite libation. The writer once downed so much of the liqueur on a Café Royal romp that he hallucinated a field of poppies. Nowadays the bar serves a weaker cocktail, which dilutes the absinthe base with lemonade and mint. 

Hotel Café Royal, 68 Regent St., hotelcaferoyal.com

SATURDAY

10:00 a.m.
Shop Piccadilly Street

Grab pork pies and Scotch eggs from the Fresh Food Hall at Fortnum & Mason for a picnic in nearby Hyde Park, and don’t leave without stocking up on Sweet Theatre’s line of chocolate bars named after Shakespeare heroines. (The orange and dark chocolate Lady Macbeth bar makes for a particularly toothsome literary nosh.) Then, head half a block east to browse Hatchards bookshop, a literary hub founded in 1797.

Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, fortnumandmason.com
Hatchards Bookshop, 187 Piccadilly, hatchards.co.uk

National Portrait Gallery London

Photo: Andrew Putler

1:00 p.m.
Stroll through the National Portrait Gallery

An easy walk south of Piccadilly, this venerable gallery presents the collective face of Britain’s literary past. Don’t miss the portrait of Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, painted by their brother, Branwell.

St. Martin’s Pl., npg.org.uk

Brown's Hotel Tea Room London

Photo: Rocco Forte Hotels

4:00 p.m.
Take afternoon tea at Brown’s Hotel

This hotel in Mayfair was founded in 1837 by its namesake James Brown (a former valet of Lord Byron) as a genteel inn, and its literary pedigree doesn’t stop there. Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book here – the hotel’s grand Kipling Suite features baroque jungle-inspired wallpaper – and Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Agatha Christie and Stephen King have all been regular clients. The classic afternoon tea is served in the hotel’s wood-panelled English Tea Room, which some claim is the inspiration for Christie’s At Bertram’s Hotel. It features a posh rendition of finger sandwiches (smoked salmon and pickled fennel), scones, pastries (peach and lemon macaron) and 17 varieties of tea.

Albemarle St., roccofortehotels.com

Dukes Hotel London

7:00 p.m.
Settle into some West End theatre and a 007-inspired nightcap

Brown’s tea should sustain you through a night at one of the West End’s theatres, which offer the best example of British literature; recent productions have included everything from The Importance of Being Earnest to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Grab a post-performance snack and drink back in Mayfair at the bar at Dukes Hotel, which was Ian Fleming’s truest muse. The writer allegedly coined James Bond’s most famous catch phrase – “shaken, not stirred” – from his regular perch at the bar.

35 St. James’s Pl., dukeshotel.com

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre London

Photo: John Wildgoose

SUNDAY

1:00 p.m.
Book a matinee at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

There isn’t a better place in London to experience a tangible whiff of literary history than this reconstruction of the circa 1599 Globe Theatre where Shakespeare worked. The open-air amphitheatre frames the stage where the playwright’s classics are performed. (When it rains, you’ll get wet, just like the original theatre crowd.) Arrive early for a morning tour of the property, including the neighbouring Jacobean-style Sam Wanamaker indoor playhouse.

Bankside, shakespearesglobe.com

4:00 p.m.
Dine on English classics at the George Inn

Famous as London’s only still-standing galleried coaching inn, this South Bank pub near the Globe dates back to 1676, although a bar stood on the spot as early as 1542. It’s entirely possible that Shakespeare found inspiration at the bottom of a pint here. On summer days, the pub’s courtyard is the best place to sample the house ale and resolutely old-school signature dishes like crispy fish ’n’ chips.

77 Borough High St., george-southwark.co.uk