A book lover's guide to London

Let LUXOS lead you on a 48-hour literary tour through London.


London Editor

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life," is one of thousands of quotes with which to open a tour through the world capital of literature. London, after all, having borne, drawn and inspired the world's leading wordsmiths for a thousand years - from Chaucer to Shakespeare, Dickens to Orwell and Pepys to Woolf.

Beginning my journey of erudite discovery at the 18th century home in which the first English dictionary was scribed, I find it fitting to open with Dr Johnson's quote. The writer could often be found around the corner at his local, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. With its sultry alcoves and dark woods, it's easy to picture the pub in its heyday, playing host to writers such as Dickens, Voltaire and Twain.

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Crossing the Millennium Bridge, I'm on my way to London's South Bank, arguably its artistic hub, and setting of the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe, where audience-goers can watch A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth and The Tempest this spring and summer.

Heading west beside the water, the bibliophiles in their berets and brown tweeds scuttle about the second hand bookstalls peppering the promenade. "Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie, Open unto the fields, and to the sky;" are lines from Wordsworth's 'Composed upon Westminster Bridge', the gateway I'm heading across towards London's most important literary monument: Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. Entombed here lie Chaucer, Tennyson, Dickens, Kipling, Browning and Hardy, alongside memorials to Wordsworth, Austen, the Brontes, Coleridge and Lewis Carroll, joined by CS Lewis this year to mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

Mayfair, a brisk walk away, has been the stomping ground for bright young things since Becky Sharpe frequented Gaunt Square (modelled on Berkeley Square) in Vanity Fair and Lord Henry enjoyed the locale in The Picture of Dorian Gray. The blue plaques dotting the buildings commemorate the many novelists who've called this privileged enclave home - from Ian Fleming to Percy Byshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Graham Greene and Aldous Huxley to Henry James.

I indulge, as Agatha Christie used frequently to do, in an early afternoon tea in the English Tea Room. It was here, amid the original wood panelling, fireplaces, idle chatter, tinkling piano, succulent finger sandwiches and freshly baked cakes and scones immaculately presented on silver stands, that the mistress of the whodunnit conceived of and modelled Bertram's Hotel. Rudyard Kipling was also a visitor, as were Mark Twain and Edith Wharton.

Soho and its licentious milieu is as evocative today as ever - wandering the labyrinthine streets where, beneath the glare of fashionable bars and Michelin starred restaurants weave denizens of vice and the capital's most colourful characters, it's evident to see why the area has inspired so many novelists. Karl Marx wrote much of Das Kapital in 'an old hovel - two evil, frightful rooms' beneath which Quo Vadis, one of the capital's chicest restaurants, now stands. Meanwhile, if you can find a member to take you, the Grouch Club is THE destination for literary and artistic types.

It was at my dinner destination that two of literature's leading men were given life. I'm at Roux at The Landau, the spellbinding dining room that in-the-know restaurant-goers choose for sensational haute cuisine and service. It was here that, one summer's evening in 1889, Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde met with the publisher of Lipincott's Magazine and were commissioned, respectively, to pen The Sign of Four (the second outing for Sherlock Holmes) and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I awake the next morning and head for Highgate and its famous cemetery where, hidden among the hundreds of tombs and winding paths lined with creeping vegetation and intricate statues lie the graves of Karl Marx, George Elliot and the Rossettis - Christina's tomb famously dug up by husband Dante Gabriel seven years after her death in order to retrieve a book of poetry he'd buried alongside her.

Hampstead Heath is a charmed walk away - its elevation, 440 feet above the city, has long attracted those of a sensitive disposition - from John Keats to DH Lawrence, Charles Dickens, George Orwell and Agatha Christie - to take up residence in the area. I head north to the Spaniard's Inn, a delightfully olde worlde 16th century pub where Keats wrote 'Ode to a Nightingale', Dick Turpin was said to have been born and Dickens' Pickwick Papers was set, for a traditional roast in the country garden.

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Finally I head to Bloomsbury, arguably London's literary heartland, home to the eponymous Bloomsbury Group and its famous circle - Virginia Woolf, EM Forster et al. There's a talk at The Bloomsbury Institute given by a Booker Prize winning writer and his publisher that evening - the bespectacled audience filling the exquisite Georgian drawing room a textbook sample of London's thriving book club and literary salon scene.

En route to my final destination it would be criminal not to stop by King's Cross Station's Platform 9 and 3/4, the gold plaque a must-see for Harry Potter fans, and have a glance inside The British Library, proudly stocking every book ever published, from The Magna Carta to the Codex Sinaiticus.

"Please, sir, can I have some more?" is not a phrase I'll need to utter at 48 Doughty Street. By special arrangement I've commissioned a private evening tour of the Charles Dickens Museum with its venerable Director Dr Florian Shweizer, holder of a PhD in London's greatest chronicler. Downstairs in the dining room it's all "Food, glorious food" as Victorian recipes recreated from Mrs Dickens' only published book, "What Shall We Have For Dinner?" are served by candlelight especially for myself and guests.

In 1661 John Evelyn wrote of a cityscape that wraps "her stately head in clouds of smoke and sulphur, so full of stink and darkness". Like the pea soupers that so inspired the writers of old, much of London's past has been physically erased - bombed, burned or bulldozed - and yet immortalised through the capital's astonishingly proud literary legacy.


Dr Johnson's House: 17 Gough Square, London EC4A 3DE, Tel. +44 (0)20 7353 3745, www.drjohnsonshouse.org

Poet's Corner: Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yard, London, SW1P 3PA, Tel. +44 (0)20 7222 5152 www.westminster-abbey.org

The British Library: 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB, Tel. +44 (0)20 7323 8299, www.bl.uk

The English Tea Room, Brown’s Hotel London: Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4BP, Tel. +44 (0)20 7493 6020. Read more about Brown's Hotel

Roux at The Landau, The Langham: 1C Portland Place, Regent Street, London, W1B 1JA, Tel. +44 (0)20 7636 1000, london.langhamhotels.co.uk

Spaniard's Inn: Spaniards Road, London, NW3 7JJ, Tel. +44 (0)20 8731 8406, www.thespaniardshampstead.co.uk

The Charles Dickens Museum: 48 Doughty Street, London, WC1N 2LX, Tel. +44 (0)20 7405 2127, www.dickensmuseum.com