Anne Miller celebrates the capital’s many wonderful bookshops with a specially created tour of central London. You’re welcome.
London is full of brilliant bookshops of all shapes, sizes and specialisms but where to start? Here is a route to take you around central London via six of its best – with possible stop-offs for conveniently located sightseeing if you’re new in town.
Getting Started: Arrive at Goldsboro Books from 10am; the nearest tube stations are Leicester Square, Charing Cross or Embankment. Alternatively, travel to Waterloo and walk across one of the Golden Jubilee Bridges (alongside the Hungerford Bridge) for one of the best views in London.
1. Goldsboro Books
23-25 Cecil Court, WC2N 4EZ
Cecil Court is a pedestrianised street bursting with bookshops, dealers and collectors. Old-fashioned lanterns stand tall and it’s rumoured this is the street which inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. Peer among the piled-high shopfronts and you’ll find Goldsboro Books.
Its collection now fills so many shelves it’s recently expanded into the shop next door and knocked through the wall. Goldsboro specialises in signed first editions and boasts a mighty collection of antiquarian books (first editions currently on display include To Kill A Mockingbird, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and James and the Giant Peach), as well as a selection of modern, signed novels, with authors making special signing trips out to Goldsboro. It also hosts annual Crime in the Court and Fantasy in the Court events, hosts book launches and runs a Book of the Month Club. The shop hit the headlines as the only bookshop in the world to have signed copies of Robert Galbraith’s debut novel when his true identity was revealed.
Sightseeing: Trafalgar Square is just around the corner.
Next up: Foyles is a five to 10-minute walk away, heading straight up Charing Cross Road.
107 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0DT
Charing Cross Road is famed for its bookshops and Foyles is a longstanding institution. The business started in 1903 when William and Gilbert Foyle failed their civil service exams so took out an advert to sell on their old textbooks. Today, it’s still family-run, led by William’s grandson Christopher Foyle.
Foyles moved a few doors along in 2014 so this new address is a marvel of light and modern space with four miles’ worth of shelving. You’ll find the staircases lined with books, a signed section on the far right as you enter and a café on the fifth floor which is usually full of people tapping away at their novels. An auditorium on the top floor hosts a variety of authors and musicians and the events are usually free or reasonably priced.
Sightseeing: Leicester Square and Chinatown are nearby.
Next up: Take a stroll down Shaftesbury Avenue – passing some of London’s best-known West End theatres – to reach Piccadilly, then keep walking until you reach Hatchards. This will take 10-15 minutes.
187 Piccadilly, W1J 9LE
If Cecil Court is Diagon Alley, Hatchards is the Hogwarts Library. Dark bookshelves cover the walls while elegant tables which could double as the perfect writing desks are piled with recommended reads. Hatchards is the official bookseller to the Queen, Prince Phillip and Prince Charles and has been in the same premises since 1797. Oscar Wilde visited the day before The Importance of Being Earnest was published, and was such a regular there’s a table named after him. Hatchards, now part of the Waterstones family, has recently compiled a booklet of their 100 favourite novels from the last 200 years and are asking their customers to choose the winner. Voting closes at the end of September.
Sightseeing: Fortnum & Mason is next door.
Next up: Waterstones Piccadilly is a couple of minutes’ walk away, on your way back towards Piccadilly Circus tube station.
4. Waterstones Piccadilly
203-206 Piccadilly, W1J 9HD
Welcome to the biggest bookshop in Europe. There are six floors to explore, a Russian bookshop and more than 200,000 titles to choose from. You can also find a brilliant range of talks, usually taking place right among the bookshelves. With strategically placed seating and several spots to eat, once you’re there, you’ll be set to stay all night – as some lucky bookworms did when the shop hosted a sleepover last October.
Sightseeing: The iconic advertising screens at Piccadilly Circus are just outside the underground station.
Next up: To reach Persephone Books take the Piccadilly Line to Russell Square then a short walk via Guilford Street. Total travel time is around 25 minutes.
5. Persephone Books
59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1N 3NB
Persephone is both publishing house and bookshop. It takes ‘neglected’ out-of-print books and reissues them in its own smart grey covers with beautifully decorated end-papers and matching bookmarks. Almost all of their titles are written by women and, while you can pick up their books in other places, their dedicated shop in Bloomsbury is a haven like no other.
As the covers hold no clues to the contents the books come with short and intriguing descriptions such as, “One of the great WWI novels: Griselda and William emerge from their honeymoon cottage to find the horrors of occupied Belgium,” and “A beautifully written novel about a young girl’s passage to India in 1949. One of our bestsellers.” Its titles include adult novels by Noel Streatfeild, Richmal Crompton and Frances Hodgson Burnett. The shop is across the road from The People’s Supermarket, a local co-operative, and a short walk from The Folio Society’s bookshop.
Sightseeing: The British Museum is a 10-minute walk away.
Next up: Hop back on the tube for one stop to King’s Cross St Pancras then walk along King’s Boulevard to reach Granary Square. Total travel time is about 20 minutes.
6. Word On The Water
Granary Square, by King’s Cross
Word On The Water is London’s only bookshop on a canal boat. It used to travel around the city’s waterways but has recently found a permanent home at the newly revamped Granary Square. This treasure trove of second-hand books was recently named one of the best independent bookshops in the world by the Guardian. With paperbacks priced at two for £5, a collection of hardbacks and snug rooms to climb through, you can browse blissfully while feeling the boat gently bobbing about under your feet.
Sightseeing: The House of Illustration, founded by Sir Quentin Blake, is also in Granary Square. The Ladybird by Design exhibition runs until 27 September when it will be replaced with EH Shepard: An Illustrator’s War.
Note: This schedule is based on Saturday opening times, when Persephone and Word on the Water both open at noon. Please check opening times for other days.1292 Views
Anne is a QI Elf. She has two Blue Peter badges, reached the semi-finals of Only Connect and really likes puffins. @miller_anne