For avid readers, seeing the settings of your favorite books live and in person or visiting the home of a beloved author is an incomparable delight. There are naturally as many book-themed vacations as there are books to indulge your affinity for the written word, but one destination in particular is a step above the rest.
Base yourself in London for a vacation chock full of literary delights. Beyond the city’s own plentiful points of interest, you’ll find countless opportunities for day trips that will satisfy even the most fervent bibliomaniac’s demand.
What better place to begin than with the Bard himself? No trip to England’s capital is complete without a tour of the legendary Globe Theatre. Though the Globe you see today is only a reconstruction of the original, opened in 1997, it’s still a remarkable place to learn about Shakespeare’s life and see one of his iconic plays. True drama fans will want to make a brief sojourn to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and perhaps catch another show at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
After Shakespeare, the great literary name most synonymous with London is perhaps Charles Dickens. You’re bound to find a walking tour or two highlighting the Victorian author’s favorite haunts, but if you’re not in the mood for a history lesson, head straight for Ye Olde Cheshire Pub or The George to down a pint amid late nineteenth century history. Want to keep the good times rolling? A pub crawl is an easy and fun way to tick off literary points of interest as England’s greatest minds spent much of their writing days on a barstool. Dickens and Virginia Woolf themselves lead the Maverick Theatre Company’s organized tour, though there’s not much time for drinking and you’ll have to retrace your steps afterward to pop inside one of the twelve tour highlights and follow Dylan Thomas’ footsteps.
Pay homage to another Victorian mainstay with a tour of Sherlock Holmes hotspots. Though the famous fictional detective’s address of 221b was originally no more than an invention on the part of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you can now take a stroll down the real Baker Street to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, which features authentic Victorian era décor and paraphernalia from the many stage and film adaptations of Doyle’s immensely popular series.
Whether you’re a hopeful romantic or a hopeless cynic, take a jaunt to Georgian Bath, just an hour and a half by train from London. Though Jane Austen had little love for her time in this capital of Regency era high society, the town features prominently in her novels and is now home to the Jane Austen Centre, a helpful introduction to the author of Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, and other beloved works, which have even gone on to inspire modern films like Clueless and Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Back in London, take the time to wander up to Highgate Cemetery and indulge your morbid side. Established in 1839, Highgate was the most desirable burial site around in the nineteenth century and on the graveyard’s east side, you’ll find George Eliot – of Middlemarch fame – and Karl Marx entombed within a few feet of one another.
There are countless other bookworm-worthy attractions scattered throughout the city, but you’ll find the highest concentration of literary locales in Old Kensington and Old Hampstead Village. Keats, D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells, Wilkie Collins, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Louis Stevenson, and many, many more have ties to these neighborhoods in old London town.
Spring visitors should keep an eye peeled for the Olympia Fair, a tremendous collection of antiquarian books assembled every May. If you’ve missed the festival, you’re hardly out of luck. London is also home to a variety of bookstores, both new and used, where you can add to your collection.