You are here:

Inspiring writing about London - books to read when you visit London

London has always inspired writers, with a legacy of literature across the world that captures the essence of the city. If you're considering a trip to London, enjoying some of this amazing content will make your stay even better. Read on to find out more.

London has always inspired writers. So much of the world's most famous literature has come from those who have travelled to, or lived in London. 

And if you’re planning a trip to London, enjoying some of this London literature while you’re visiting will make your trip richer. There’s something enchanting about the act of reading about London while exploring it yourself, and for many, there’s no better way to emerge yourself in the magic of the city.

So in this article, we highlight and celebrate some of our favourite literature that London has inspired, and can hopefully inspire your trip, too. 

10 Books about London to read when you’re in London

There’s something about having your nose in a book about London while simultaneously  sitting in one of its cafes. Reading about where you’re visiting, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, is a magical way to help you feel closer to the city.

Here are our favourite books about London to read when you’re in London.

1. Bleak House - Charles Dickens

Dickens is world famous for his words about London, and it’s for this reason that his name is synonymous with the UK’s capital city, even today.

Among many of his London-based novels, it’s Bleak House that’s considered to be his true masterpiece when it comes to best capturing London in the nineteenth century. Written between 1852 and 1853, it uses the city of London as the focal backdrop of a story that expertly follows a great number of characters, plots and subplots. 

The colourful portrayal of nineteenth century London is one that can really inspire any visitor to see the charm and chaos of the city, even when reading it in the modern day.

2. Brick Lane - Monica Ali 

This 2003 novel by Monica Ali tells the story of Nazneen, a teenage immigrant from Bangladesh who arrives in London and is married to a man old enough to be her father. The book follows her as she starts her London life locked away in a small flat, forced to sew and make clothes, until she one day meets someone who shows her that not everything has to be as it is. 

The book is written against the backdrop of high rise flats, markets, and the busy streets of London’s poorer neighbourhoods. It’s a colourful and insightful read that explores the culture clashes that London contains.

3. Mother London - Michael Moorcock

Written by Michael Moorcock, Mother London explores the lives of three hospital outpatients who each hear voices claiming to be of London's past. The book follows the outpatients as they explore the city of London in their own present day, while also exploring the historical tales of London that the voices relay to them. 

The novel carefully and enchantedly examines what it’s like to live in one the world’s most sprawling and dynamic capital cities, both in the past, and the present day.

Old London Illustration
Walk along the same streets as Charles Dickens

Affordable Accommodation

Find affordable and convenient bed and breakfast, self-catered and group accommodation in central London at Stay Central

Stay Central Affordable Zone 1 Accommodation

4. Dr Johnson's London: Everyday Life in London in the Mid 18th century  - Liza Picard

If you’re someone who wants to understand how the places you’re visiting came to be how they are today, this book is perfect for your trip to London. 

The non-fiction book explores the rapid growth and development that London saw in the nineteenth century. It explores how over only a few decades the city grew from a small town into the sprawling metropolis that it was at the end of the century.

Packed full of fascinating facts, this book is a must read for any traveller who wants to truly understand how their surroundings came to be. 

5. A Journal of the Plague Year - Daniel Defoe 

In many ways, this novel couldn’t feel more appropriate after the year we’ve all experienced in 2020. Written by Daniel Defoe and published in 1722, this story tells a fictional tale about London in 1665when the bubonic plague was ravaging the city.

It reads more like a memoir rather than imaginative fiction - something that could feel quite immersive and harrowing for people visiting London during and just after the pandemic. 

The novel also does an incredible job of bringing seventeenth-century London to life, really detailing how the city looked and moved in that time. For those enjoying the modern version of the city, this novel will provide a striking and captivating contrast.

6. The Lonely Londoners - Samuel Selvon 

This is a slightly more harrowing tale that follows the lives of the Windrush generation in the late 1940s and 1950s. 

The novel offers a fascinating and compelling picture of the struggles and setbacks faced by the Windrush generation when they arrived in the UK, specifically London. It offers a somewhat humbling point of view of what London was like for many people who came to the city to start new lives - often with many difficulties, challenges and cultural differences . 

For anyone who wants to understand arriving in London from a different perspective, this novel explores the stories of the Windrush generation in both a humbling and touching way.

7. Literary London - Eliose Millar and Sam Joridson

Written by Eliose Millar and Sam Joridson, this work is for every die-hard fan of literature wanting to know more about the role London has played in the literary world.

The book celebrates the streets and buildings steeped in literary history, following the footsteps and stories of famous writers who have been inspired by the city, such as William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Julian McClaren Ross, Dylan Thomas and Spencer Eliot.

It moves sharply between time and genre, outlining surprising facts about famous works of art that will amuse and baffle you, while you enjoy the same streets and places that many famous writers explored themselves.

London river scene with boat
Enjoy exploring London's waterside

B&B Accommodation

Find affordable, well-located bed and breakfast accommodation in central London at Stay Central

Find out more about our Zone 1 B&B accommodation

8. Untamed London - Herb Lester

If you’re looking for a less heavy read, but still want to immerse yourself in the uniqueness and wildness of London, Untamed London is a great read for your trip. 

Perfect for nature lovers, this colourful, playful guide charts the untouched corners of London including ancient woodland, meadows, marshes and rivers. It also shines a light on the places where nature and wild plants have won the battle against humanity, leading you to parts of London where you’re far less likely to encounter a selfie stick.

From the ancient forests of north London to the abandoned sewage works of the East, this guide is perfect for travellers who want to find, and learn about, the wild side of London.

9. In Search of London - H. V Morgans

In Search Of London is a remarkable account of London from H. V Morgans point of view. After travelling to London in the early 1950s, he shares his colourful and timeless stories of the time he spent in London just after the war, resulting in some of the most celebrated travel writing about the city. 

He explores everything from the City and the Temple, Covent Garden, Soho, and all the "submerged villages beneath the flood of bricks and mortar," and does a remarkable job at uncovering various layers of post-war London.

10. Londoners - Craig Taylor

They say a city is defined by its people, and London is no exception. Home to nearly nine million people, London is awash with characters with hugely different backgrounds and stories. And this is the book that really explores those stories.

“Londoners” investigates the lives of the real people living in London, exploring their stories, recalling their memories, and expressing their dreams. 

The book explores endless, varied characters, from black cab drivers to soldiers at Buckingham Palace. 

The book was published just ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games, serving as a personal introduction to Londoners for the influx of visitors coming to enjoy their city.

Central London Accommodation with Stay Central

If you’re planning on visiting London, Stay Central offers a range of different accommodation options for your trip. With our accommodation options based in Bloomsbury, the literary heart of London, there couldn’t be a better place for a book fan to stay. 

Our affordable accommodation is nestled in the heart of the city, meaning you’ll be able get around London on foot, as well as having easy access to public transport to explore further afield. 

Our accommodation also includes well-equipped and spacious self-catered apartments in beautiful Georgian buildings perfect for groups, as well as bed and breakfast options, including single and double rooms and flats. We are strictly following all of the government's guidelines around COVID-19 safety and have introduced frequent and thorough deep cleaning processes throughout all of our accommodation.

If you’d like to find out about our accommodation options, visit Stay Central now.

You don't need to sign up to Disqus to comment

By using the Disqus commenting system, you provide your consent for processing comments using Disqus and agree to the terms and conditions as well as the Disqus privacy policy.