If you don’t live in London, travel to The Big Smoke and a hotel for the weekend costs almost as much as a family holiday abroad. On top of that, food and drink can cost a small fortune – I unwittingly ordered a £15.50 glass of HOUSE wine a couple of years ago and am still pretty angry about it. Yes, you read that right – FIFTEEN pounds and fifty of your English pence! That’s the equivalent of seven and a half bottles of Lambrini or ten and a quarter packets of Caramel Digestives. Nuff said.
So here’s ten bookish places and things to do to help you get the most of out your time in the capital that won’t break the bank. It would be great to hear from you if you have any other inspired suggestions!
1. Paddington Bear
I can’t go to Paddington station without popping over to give Paddington himself a little pat on the head. As soon as I spot him, I have to repress the urge to run and throw my arms around him and settle for a personalised quote from A Bear Called Paddington: ‘Why [insert name of travelling companion/your name if alone], I believe you were right after all. It is a bear!’
Everyone’s favourite Spectacled Bear from Darkest Peru stands on the Paddington station concourse to greet travellers and a selfie with the bronze statue is the best way to kick off a bookish weekend in London or lift your mood if the smog and crowded tubes start getting to you! If you’ve got a few quid spare, you could always leave him a jar of marmalade to be getting on with (this is exactly what people did as a tribute when Michael Bond – author and creator of Paddington Bear – passed away at the end of June 2017).
2. 221b Baker Street
As a fan of the super-sleuth, I have been wanting to visit Sherlock Holmes’ infamous London address for years and have FINALLY got my other half to agree to a visit when we go to YALC* this year.
It’s £15 to enter the museum and take a look around the Victorian interior, but I’m going to be happy with a photo outside the iconic front door and a trip to the adjoining shop for some novelty socks (“The game is afoot” – see what I did there?!). I wonder if Benedict Cumberbatch is for sale…
3. Bookshops on Charing Cross Road
‘When is a trip to a bookshop ever free?,’ I hear you cry. But once you’re over the initial grabbing frenzy and have remembered that you have to get everything home on the tube, you’ll be in the right place mentally to enjoy a perusal without reaching for your purse (too often!).
Get off the tube at Tottenham Court Road for the epic Foyles flagship store, then head onto Francis Edwards – specialists in antique books and Any Amount of Books where you can pick up literally any and every book second-hand.
If that hasn’t been quite enough for you, keep going past Leicester Square tube station to Cecil Court, home to no less than NINE independent book shops and the street believed to have inspired J K Rowling’s Diagon Alley. You’re welcome.
4. Harry Potter film tour
Who doesn’t love The Boy Who Lived, eh? Quite a few of the film locations are in Central London, some more obvious than others. I’ll never forget the embarrassment of accusing a taxi driver of taking me to the wrong station when we pulled up outside King’s Cross because it didn’t look like it does in Chamber of Secrets. Polite arguing ensued British-stylee until I looked it up on t’internet and discovered that St. Pancras was used for filming because they thought it looked grander (it does).
You can take part in an organised walking tour – Tour for Muggles has been recommended to me and it’s a (pretty decent) £14 for 2- 3 hours or there’s a free option here (that will inevitably include visits to sponsors’ shops and reminders that you can “thank” the guide in any way you like).
Or you can design your own. There’s a free downloadable tour available here and a quick web search will let you know if there’s anywhere that you want to go that isn’t covered (if it were me, I would pop by the Palace Theatre where the Cursed Child is playing because the snitch/nest on the front of the theatre is worth a photo).
5. Shakespeare’s Globe
Whether you are specifically a fan of Shakespeare or not, The Globe is a must see. Either take a tour or go and watch a play, but get inside there! Although it’s fairly impressive from the outside, it’s really all about the “interior” here and totally worth the time and money.
The exhibition and tour costs £16 and show prices vary from £5 to £45. Remember that if you are in the cheap seats, you will exposed to the elements and you won’t actually have a seat – standing for a couple of hours in the pouring rain to watch two star crossed lovers die is probably only for die hard fans.
6. The British Library
There are regularly interesting exhibitions and you can book yourself on a tour but really this is just about the pleasure of being surrounded by LOTS of books. Pretty sure I don’t need to sell a library visit to a book lover.
“A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life”
7. Happy hour, literary-style
Victory Mansion is a small bar/restaurant in Stoke Newington. That might sound really far away but it’s only about 40 minutes from Piccadilly on the tube and it’s totally worth the trip; the food is really good and very reasonably priced, it’s kind of Thai meets South America.
More to the point though, their entire cocktail menu is inspired by literature and features such gems as The Great Quacksby and Of Ice and Men. I will say no more, who needs a reason to have a cocktail anyway?
8. Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey
This is THE place to be commemorated if you’re a poet, playwright or writer and you’ll be surprised how long you want to stay. A lifesize Shakespeare looks on as he leans casually on a pile of books, Tennyson’s bust judges you as you enter and the place is awash with literary quotes. You’ll spot Jane Austen, Philip Larkin and C S Lewis among many, many others. Make sure you get an audio guide, you can either download the app or get one free when you arrive at the Abbey and you’ll hear some fascinating anecdotes about the Abbey and the people interred there.
Tickets cost £20, and obviously also includes entrance to the rest of the Abbey, so while you’re there you can pretend that you’re Kate Middleton on the way up the aisle to marry your prince or that you are shortly to be crowned Queen of England, whatever takes your fancy.
9. Peter Pan
The sight of the fairies and woodland creatures on this statue will bring all the magic of the story flooding back. It’s placed on the exact spot in Kensington Gardens that Peter landed when he flew out of his nursery in J M Barrie’s tale. Tip: make sure you take your smartphone with you and swipe the plaque nearby. And definitely answer your phone when it rings!
The rest of Kensington Gardens is beautiful and there are plenty of other point of interest; you could stroll down to Kensington Palace, visit the Diana memorial or simply sit and have a picnic on the grass. Highly recommended if you need a break from the crowds.
10. Alice underground
Okay, so this one isn’t free – or even cheap – but you only live once, right? And this looks and sounds A.MAZE.ING.
Back by popular demand after rave reviews in 2015, Les Enfants Terribles are staging an immersive theatre and experience based on Alice in Wonderland that is unique to each audience member at the Vaults Theatre in Waterloo . There’s live music, themed cakes, circus acts, and plenty of adventure.
“There is a place. Like no place on Earth. A land full of Wonder, Mystery and Danger”
I haven’t been to Alice Underground yet but have booked tickets and cannot wait. I’ll be sure to write a review after I’ve been in July but in the meantime a quick internet search will prove that nobody has anything bad to say about this show!
Standard tickets are £54 (I know, it better be worth it!) and there are also child-friendly showings if you’ve got little ones with you. You’ll have to hurry though, it’s only on until September 2017.
*Young Adult Literature Convention, part of the London Film and Comic Convention