The Best of Bloomsbury – London’s Creative District
By Matthew Wears
London has a ton of historic neighbourhoods with a creative flare, but none have such an important cultural value as the iconic Bloomsbury, a district that for over one hundred years has been graced by some of the most forward-thinking artists and visionary writers the city has ever produced. Located right in the centre of the city, pinned between Kings Cross Station and the exciting Soho area, exploring the timeless Victorian streets of Bloomsbury is one of the best things to do in London for anyone who wants an insight into London’s impressive creative past, with an absolute abundance of museums and galleries that celebrate the prolific creative output just waiting to be discovered! Some of the most important London attractions happen to call Bloomsbury their home, whilst other lesser known gems are hidden down unsuspecting side streets, giving the area a mysterious charm that rewards anyone who dares to take a walk off the beaten track. I’ll be featuring a mix of both of these in my ultimate Bloomsbury area guide, where you can also expect to find some of the very best spots to eat and drink, as well as discovering a handful of the totally unique things to do in Bloomsbury that I just know you’re going to love! Let’s jump right in.
Go book shopping
Probably one of the most beloved things to do in Bloomsbury is to spend a day immersing yourself in some of the amazing bookshops such as Skoob Books, a legendary institution that is an absolute treasure trove of second-hand literature, or Judd books, which specialises more in top notch travel writing, perfect for anyone wanting a one-off travel guide! However, it’s the quaint and quirky Persephone that’s the star of the show, a shop that affectionately reprints books from female-only authors that have either been neglected or are no longer in print. After buying your book, why not grab a hot drink at one of the famous Bloomsbury coffee shops such as the local favourite; Bloomsbury Coffee House, a perfectly Instagrammable cafe that’s just perfect to spend a cosy afternoon with alongside a book.
Have a drink in a famous literary pub
Everyone loves a good historical English pub, and Bloomsbury has them in spades. Some of Great Britain’s most celebrated writers would compose many of their best works in dark, dingy watering holes that have since become almost as famous as the writers who frequented them. The Fitzroy Tavern is perhaps the most famous and easily one of the best pubs Bloomsbury has to offer, being a firm favourite of the world-famous author and social critic, George Orwell, as well as other notable essayist, politicians and writers, debatably even being the origin of the district name; Fitzrovia. The Lamb is another hugely important venue that is worth checking out, it was the place to go for a handful of British writers, including Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and again George Orwell, who seems as though he spent most of his life in a pub somewhere! There are countless literary pubs in London to explore if that’s your vibe.
Visit the Royal British Library
Perhaps not the most usual of tourist attractions, but the Royal British Library is no ordinary library, it is in fact the largest collection of written works of anywhere on the planet! It’s a simply stunning collection of books, manuscripts and historical documents, many of which date back thousands of years, where the centrepiece is the stunning King's Library Tower, a six-storey tall structure made of bronze and glass which houses one of the most important collections of 18th century works in the world. As well as all of this, the library runs an extensive event program featuring talks and exhibitions, so make sure to visit the website to stay up to date. I always think this is one of the most underrated things to do in London, not only is it incredible, but it’s completely free and just next to St. Pancras Station, so I’d say it’s definitely worth a visit!
Step onto the set of Harry Potter
Living in a world full of magic and mystery would be awesome, right? Well, unfortunately it’s not possible so we have to put up with the next best thing, visiting a movie set! Kings Cross Station is of course the location for the fictitious Platform 9¾, a part of the station which now houses the amazing Harry Potter Shop, which isn’t only a must visit for any Potterhead, but it’s one of the finest things to do in Bloomsbury full stop. When you enter, you’re going to be in a magical world surrounded by chocolate frogs, Hogwarts themed clothing and even replica props such as wands and broomsticks, all of which are available to buy, so if you’re a big fan make sure you bring a lot of money because you’re more than likely going to have your eye on everything. Just make sure you get there early because there will definitely be queues at peak times!
Step Back in Time in the Charles Dickens Museum
There’s a crazy number of great museums in Bloomsbury, it’s second only to Kensington in terms of quantity, but there’s nowhere in the city that celebrates a British icon of such importance as the Charles Dickens Museum. It’s set within the famous writer’s former home, a stunning Victorian house where he wrote some of his most famous works, including Oliver Twist and Barnaby Rudge. It’s great to gain insight into one of Great Britain’s most celebrated authors, and they also have an events schedule which is filled with specialised tours, talks and reading groups that are perfect if you’re searching for that extra bit of information. I think it’s so important to find things to do in London that give you an idea of the creative minds that have called the city its home, so a visit to the Charles Dickens Museum needs to be on your itinerary.
Discover the British Museum
Any Bloomsbury area guide will point you in the direction of the British Museum, an institution that over the years has become one of the most popular things to do in London for just so many reasons. First and foremost, it contains one of the most outstanding collections of historical and cultural items of any museum in the world, the scale of the content is quite astonishing. Beyond the museums own collection, it also showcases other prominent works of world history and art through an impressive exhibition program, which in 2019 alone will feature a varied array of exhibits including the history of food, manga and even Rembrandt. As well as all of this, the building is also one of the great architectural marvels in the entire city, after all, it has THAT incredible space that you just can’t help but take a photo of. You’ll know it when you see it.
Visit the Foundling Museum
The Foundling Museum is a gallery and museum space set up inside Britain’s first ever home for children who risked being abandoned almost three-hundred years ago, but now contains a wide variety of artworks and historical items within several highly interesting exhibition spaces. You can walk into authentically decorated rooms where the children once lived, as well as discovering what their day to day life way like, all the while gaining a very detailed insight into not only their struggles and hardships, but also the fascinating story of how England’s first children’s charity became its first public art gallery. It’s a total one-off institution and a real gem amongst the museums of Bloomsbury, I’ve even go so far as to say it’s one of the most unique things to do in London full stop, so for this reason alone I’d really recommend checking it out.
Eat your way around Bloomsbury Farmers Market
We all know that there’s an endless amount of really great restaurants in Bloomsbury, but did you know that there’s also some world-class street food to be found as well? The Bloomsbury Farmers Market is an absolute treasure trove of locally sourced, quality food, where a sustainable ethos is a fundamental part of what makes it so special. There’s a huge range of delicious takeaway options such as pizza, hog-roast and rice dishes as well as top quality selection of cheeses, fruits and vegetables for you to take home and enjoy. It’s a bit different from the usual things to do in Bloomsbury, but well worth a visit if you’re in the area and in need of some tasty food! It takes place in Torrington Square right in the centre of Bloomsbury every Thursday morning until 2pm.
Shop the Brunswick Centre
The Bloomsbury London neighbourhood isn’t as famous for shopping as some of the other city districts, say the elegant Marylebone for example, but that’s not to say it’s totally without its treasures. At the heart of it all stands the Brunswick Centre, a grade two listed building of incredible design that looks like it’s came straight from a science fiction film, but I’ll be honest, it’s probably not to everyone’s tastes! It’s got a great selection of chain shops and restaurants, many of which have outdoor seating which makes for a great option if you want somewhere a little bit different to sit and enjoy a cocktail on those warm summer evenings. The Brunswick Centre even has its own cinema called the Curzon Bloomsbury, where a visit is one of the top things to do in London if you’re a film buff because of their huge range of foreign language and independent films!