Top Ten Libraries in London
Being a sprawling metropolis and one of the most literary cities in the world, it’s no secret that London has some amazing libraries. Too many, in fact, that we’ve struggled to narrow down the top ten. Whether you have a spare hour to chill, have some studying to do or just fancy marvelling at some beautiful British architecture, these are our picks for the best libraries in London.
The British Library
Functions as a museum as well as a library, the British Library has a constant revolving door of exhibitions throughout the year covering all subjects, from language itself to different genres of literature to history. It’s more than impressive enough as a library, too, holding the largest collection of catalogued items in the world. To back it all up, the building is an absolute beauty, too.
The London Library
Anyone can become a member of this collection, which has over a million books. Less overwhelming than the British Library and with classic oak-panelled bookcases and leather armchairs, this is the perfect place for studying or casual reading, and writing! The library also offers free evening tours if you fancy a look around.
Bethnal Green Library
Looking like an old manor house, Bethnall Green’s library is full of charm. Stocked full of children’s and adults’ books, this is where to go to find a new classic, re-discover a childhood favourite, or just get out from the hubbub of East London.
Canada Water Library
Sleek and modern, Canada Water just beats Bethnal Green for prize of ‘Best Library in East London’. What’s more, Canada Water Library is not just a place for books; its culture space hosts live music gigs and theatre performances, and the library even holds writing groups to help you hone your creative talent.
Bishopsgate Institute Library
Bishopsgate Institute specialises in the history of London, with special focus on the radical, feminist, and LGBTQ histories. This makes Bishopsgate great for research, but also just for a visit – its glass dome is beautiful and, with free entry available to everyone, this is the ideal place to come if you find yourself in Central London with a spare hour and nothing much to do.
Maughan Library, King’s College Strand Campus
This one’s so beautiful that it’s been used as a location for a number of films – think The DaVinci Code and Johnny English. As a University Library, this one isn’t easy to visit, but if you’re studying at any London University you should be able to access Maughan’s services and interiors with your student card – you’ll have to check in advance though! For those who aren’t a London student dying to see the famous interior, you can always pop in during one of King’s College’s open days.
UCL Main Library
Like Maughan, this is a University Library, meaning it’s not open to the public. If you want to use the library and you’re not a student, you can sign up for external membership or, if you just want to peek around, wait for one of UCL’s open days. However you manage, this one’s definitely worth a visit; with all the amazing artwork dotted around, especially the statue of St Michael overcoming Satan, this almost feels more like a museum than a library at times.
Vaughan Library, Harrow School
Designed in the Victorian Gothic style, Vaughan Library is one of the most beautiful buildings in the Harrow School Campus, a private school in North West London once home to literary giants like Lord Byron and Anthony Trollope, Vaughan Library is perfect for some writing inspiration. Harrow School has four public visiting days a year, but you can book a private visit at any time to see the interiors of Vaughan – but outside is just as beautiful, and the campus is inspiring in itself.
Photo credit: ‘The Vaughan Library, Harrow School’ by Robert Cutts on Flickr (no changes made) (view license)
The National Poetry Library
Not for everyone, but the National Poetry Library has two copies of every poetry book published in the UK, so is the perfect place to study poetry, discover new verse or just have some down time on a busy day. It’s free to visit and, located in the Southbank Centre next to the London Eye, is the perfect location for a detour when you’re already out and about.
We’ll admit we’re choosing this one less for the library itself but the building it’s situated in. The Barbican Centre near Moorgate is Europe’s largest performing arts centre, hosting art exhibitions, beautiful cafes and a library split over multiple floors. You’ll need to work or live in the city centre to take out books, but members of the public are welcome to use the music zone, study space or simply browse the books. Go for the free exhibitions on the Ground Floor, and stay for some exploring.
Photo credit: ‘Barbican Centre Architectural Tour’ by Andy Roberts on Flickr (view license)
This post has been written by Matteo Everett