Literary retreats: why not visit one of London’s greatest libraries?


Visiting a library may not be many people’s first choice of venue while on a break in London, but for those who love reading, cinema, television, history, medicine, science and neo-Gothic architecture, the UK capital’s very best make for fascinating, thought-provoking attractions, indeed…

British Library

British Library

(96 Euston Road NW1 2DB)

Easily one of the largest non-lending libraries in the world, the UK’s official library contains an enormous and significant collection of books, journals, periodicals and sound recordings. Its catalogue isn’t just world-class, but a highly important record of the British nation itself in written form, including the likes of the original, handwritten version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the author-penned lyrics of one or two Beatles songs and portions of both Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook and the medieval tome that’s the Magna Carta (fabulous reading material to work up an appetite for dinner at the Brewery restaurant!). Plus, mention too should go to the building itself; far from imposing, it’s a modernist delight, a Grade I-listed brickwork construction that’s full of air and space and comprising five public floors and 11 reading rooms.


BFI Reuben Library

(Belvedere Road SE1 8XT)

It may not be open on Sundays or Mondays, sure; but this five-day-week space that specialises in cinema, television and general moving-image material is an absolute haven for cineastes and TV enthusiasts, for sure. And it’s far from just about the written word here either, as taped audio material is high on the agenda too, while in the BFI Mediatheque (housed in the same awesome building that also comprises specialist cinemas and a fabulous restaurant and bar) you can check out the vast BFI National Archives, which are bursting with filmed footage on every topic imaginable from throughout the past century. Given its location, it’s also just a short Tube ride away from a City-based boutique hotel London such as The Montcalm Chiswell Street.

Maughan Library

Maughan Library

(King’s College WC2A 1LR)

Surely one of the most beautiful buildings to contain a library you’ll find anywhere in the world (and, indeed, one of the most beautiful in London itself), this neo-Gothic masterpiece features a dodecagonal (that means it has 12 sides!) Reading Room with three storeys, all topped by a glass dome. Unsurprisingly, King’s College, to which it belongs, receives countless requests by filmmakers for its use as a movie location – it did feature in the Hollywood adaptation of The Da Vinci Code. Unfortunately, though, you’ll have to know somebody who attends/ works at the university to get inside because it’s members-only. Boo!


Wellcome Library

(183 Euston Road NW1 2BE)

Finally, what literary-minded individual could pass up a visit to this treasure trove of a library? Housed within the Wellcome Collection’s building in the King’s Cross area of the city, its home is renowned as an eclectic resource on the history of medical science and progress and that, well, off-kilter quality is pleasingly all present and correct in the newly refurbished library too. Not least its Reading Room, which is something of a quirky combination of library/ meeting space/ contemporary art gallery. Full of artworks, medical artefacts and sculptures then (as well as lots of books), it’s a fascinating bright, open space that’s all about opening people’s eyes – and minds – to the wonders of medicine and science.