12 Great Places to Read Around London

Tue, 12 November 2019

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that there’s no greater pleasure than getting lost in a good book. We’ve scoured cavernous libraries, stumbled upon inner-city oases and found the bookshop cafés serving up London’s best fiction and flat whites to bring you these capital reading nooks.

Grab a book – these are the capital’s best reading spots

Barbican, Moorgate

Like a beacon of creativity, the Barbican is renowned for its roster of events, exhibitions and performances. There are plenty of quiet corners perfect for reading here, but our favourite is the Conservatory, in which you can read surrounded by over 2,000 species of tropical plants.

London Review Bookshop, Bloomsbury

A stone’s throw from the British Museum (but sans tourists), this well-curated bookshop is a must for discerning bookworms. Shelves are stocked with around 20,000 titles ranging from classic literature to cutting-edge poetry – pick one up and head to the London Review Cake Shop, the 21st-century answer to London’s long-lost literary coffeehouses. The shop has a packed calendar of talks, debates and screenings too.

Libreria, Spitalfields

Get inspired in the snug alcoves of this off-beat bookshop near Brick Lane. The space, dreamed up by Spanish architects SelgasCano, is designed to help visitors uncover new tomes and explore new ideas with section names such as “enchantment for the disenchanted”. Don’t expect to take a shelfie, though – phones are forbidden here.

La Médiathèque, Institut Français, South Kensington

The UK’s largest French library, the Grade II-listed, art-deco style Institut Français is inviting and airy, making it a great spot for retreating from Kensington’s busy streets (though it’s best to bring your own book if you can’t read à la française). The children’s library is worth a nosey too – it features a mural by Quentin Blake.

St Dunstan-in-the-East, Billingsgate

Halfway between London Bridge and the Tower of London, this 12th-century church was largely destroyed in the Second World War. Today, foliage cocoons the ruins while a low-lying fountain tinkles in the middle of the nave, making St Dunstan-in-the-East an otherworldly, inner-city oasis in which to read (albeit not when raining).

  • St Dustan's Hill
    EC3R 5DD

Books for Cooks, Notting Hill

Like to devour your books in a more literal sense? Head to Notting Hill where, just off Portobello Road, more than 8,000 tasty titles have drawn gastronomes to Books for Cooks since 1983. Cookbooks are put to the test in the relaxed café at the back of the shop (a great spot for reading over lunch), while cookery classes take place in the demo kitchen upstairs.

Daunt Books, Marylebone

Decked out with stained glass and long oak galleries, this Edwardian flagship store has a book-loving army of loyal fans (recognisable by the Daunt Books totes slung across the shoulder). You won’t be surprised to read that the basement travel section is our go-to; it’s much quieter than the rest of the shop and has several secluded corners ideal for adventuring between the pages.

Scarfes Bar, Rosewood London, Holborn

Marrying the atmosphere of a drawing room and gentlemans’-club suave, Scarfes Bar is the kind of place where you can sink into a velvet armchair with a good title – a Portobello antiques dealer hand-selected 1,000 titles especially for the shelves here. Order a “poetic justice” cocktail (featuring tonic wine, small-batch cider, maple and hazelnut liqueur) and leaf through a few pages to a backdrop of live jazz.

The British Library, St Pancras

It would be remiss to overlook the world’s largest library (by number of items catalogued) when looking for London’s best places to read. Beyond The British Library’s 170 million items (including the Magna Carta, Beatles’ lyrics and Jane Austen’s manuscripts), the space benefits from hushed reading rooms, a vast open-air courtyard and several eateries – we love gobbling up our books in the Terrace Café.

Swans Bar, Maison Assouline, Piccadilly

Sure the Waterstones on Piccadilly has an estimated eight and a half miles of shelving, but what the nearby Maison Assouline lacks in size, it more than makes up for in style. The building – a former bank designed by Edwin Lutyens in 1922 – is part bookstore, part museum, part Parisian-style café, and is the ideal place to browse coffee table tomes with a glass of bubbles in hand.

South Bank

There are few things quite so whimsical as an afternoon spent meandering along the South Bank, dipping in and out of its many reading spots – pull out a book on a bench overlooking the Thames (there’s a great second-hand stall under Waterloo Bridge), find a nook in the Southbank Centre (we love its National Poetry Library), head to the Tate Modern’s balcony or grab a riverside table at the BFI’s Bar & Kitchen.

Bush Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush

Housed in the former Shepherd’s Bush Public Library, this West London theatre keeps the building’s history alive with shelves stacked with plays. Days here are best spent getting lost in a script against the thrum of The Library Bar (there are some great tipples on tap) or perched on the outdoor terrace. Check online for writing masterclasses, plays and artistic events.

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