This post is part of my London Neighbourhood Guides series. Fancy visiting another area of London? Check out my other guides here, which all include information regarding the sights, history, charm, food and drinks of the area you’re curious about.
I have just moved away from central London and my heart is torn. Living centrally had so many perks. From short commutes to access to every shop known to man, our neighbourhood of Regent’s Park served us well. However, one of the neighbourhoods I’m going to miss the most is the lovely Bloomsbury. Tucked between King’s Cross and Soho, Bloomsbury is a different world.
In my lifelong attempt to specifically define neighbourhoods of London, I’m making the decision that Bloomsbury is east of Bloomsbury Street, west of Grays Inn Road, south of Euston Road, and north of New Oxford St. The neighbourhood of Fitzrovia, to the west, has influenced Bloomsbury to some extent.
What do I think of when I think of Bloomsbury? I think academia, literature, green spaces. Historically, Bloomsbury is associated with the arts, education, and medicine. In terms of education, Bloomsbury is home to the University of London’s (UCL) main campus. As the third largest university in the United Kingdom, the area is heavily influenced by the student population present there.
With regard to the arts, Bloomsbury was home to the aptly named Bloomsbury Group, a group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists. The best known members included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey. The group was part of the avant-garde and famous for revolting against traditional Victorian values.
Of course dedication to literature is evident by UCL’s presence as well as the many accompanying bookstores spread out all over the neighbourhood. One of the weirdest, most unique bookstores is Treadwell’s, located on Store Street. It is an atmospheric bookshop stocking literature on magic and spiritualism, plus tarot readings and other events.
Speaking of bookshops, is anyone a fan of the British sitcom Black Books? Well, Bernard Black’s bookshop is here!
The British Museum
At the heart of Bloomsbury is the British Museum. As one of the most visited museums in the world, the British Museum boasts an impressive collection of 8 million works. It barely needs an introduction.
My favourite part of the museum is the Ancient Egyptian collection. The Museum houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Egyptian antiquities (with over 100,000 pieces) outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. There are objects from every time period and area of Egypt and Sudan, giving visitors a comprehensive history of that area of the world. From mummies to statues to the Rosetta Stone which unlocked Egyptian civilisation to the world, this collection cannot be missed.
The British Museum also hosts a range of fantastic exhibitions. Last year Victor and I went to ‘Hokusai: Beyond The Great Wave.’ It was absolutely wonderful and definitely one of my favourite exhibitions in London full stop.
BEST FOR: Ancient Egyptian antiquities, Ancient Greek antiquities, history lovers
HIGHLIGHTS: The Rosetta Stone, Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs, Parthenon sculptures, Lewis Chessmen, Hoa Hakananai’a (Easter Island Statue), Egyptian mummies
WHERE: Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG
COST: Free for permanent exhibitions
HOURS: Daily 10am – 5:30pm (until 8:30pm on Fridays); Closed 1 January, Good Friday, and 24-26 December TUBE STATIONS: Tottenham Court Road, Holborn
A slightly more unique museum, the Wellcome Collection is a museum and library focusing on medical artefacts and exhibitions exploring “ideas about the connections between medicine, life and art”. Unlike many specialty museums, this one is free to the public. The museum, or rather collection of curiosities, is part of the Wellcome Trust (right next door) which was founded by Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome. He may seem random to you, but he co-founded Burroughs Wellcome & Co, a pharmaceutical company. This is why the collection has a medical edge to it.
I attended a great exhibition called ‘Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond’, which was primarily concerned with the rise and fall of the mental asylum. It was extremely interesting and timely for this day and age.
Today asylums have largely been consigned to history, widely regarded as outmoded, inhumane and haunted places. Meanwhile mental illness is more prevalent than ever, and our culture teems with therapeutic possibilities – yet for many there are no satisfactory options. Against this background, Bedlam: the asylum and beyond interrogates the original ideal that the asylum represented – a place of refuge, sanctuary and care – and asks whether and how it could be reclaimed.
The best feature, however, is the library. The Reading Room bursts with imagination and wonder. They have several areas for reading, but also for interacting with different parts of the library. One area is dedicated to sending free postcards via its own postbox!
BEST FOR: Medicinal curiosities
HIGHLIGHTS: The Reading Room
WHERE: 183 Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London NW1 2BE
HOURS: Open Tuesday — Saturday 10am – 6pm (until 10pm on Thursdays); Sunday 11am — 6pm; Closed Mondays TUBE STATIONS: Euston, Euston Square, Warren Street, King’s Cross
Charles Dickens Museum
There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.
— Charles Dickens
When my Dad visited me in London a couple years ago, we decided to go on a father-daughter outing to the Charles Dickens Museum. Yes, another museum in Bloomsbury! Dickens is both me and my dad’s favourite writer. He is in our minds, without a doubt, the best English writer of all time. So obviously, we were super excited to check out the museum.
Dickens had many homes in his life, but the only one that has survived is the one on Doughty Street in Bloomsbury. After he married Catherine Thomson Hogarth, the couple moved into this home. While living here, Dickens went on to write The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby. This is also where Dickens and his wife started a family. The best part of the museum is Dickens’ writing desk — I mean, can you believe it? This is where so many great works of English literature were written. I always dream of having an old-fashioned writing desk to brainstorm and draft ideas.
BEST FOR: Fans of Dickens
HIGHLIGHTS: Dickens’ writing desk
WHERE: 48 Doughty St, London WC1N 2LX
COST: Adult £9.50; Concessions (Students and Seniors) £7.50; Child 6-16 years £4.50; Children under 6 years, free
HOURS: Open Tuesday — Sunday 10am — 5pm (Last admission 4pm); Closed Mondays (except December); Note: Once a month the museum is open until 8pm with last admission at 7pm, check here
TUBE STATIONS: Russell Square, Chancery Lane
The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Another interesting specialty museum is the Petrie Museum. The museum contains over 80,000 objects and ranks among some of the world’s leading collections of Egyptian and Sudanese material.
BEST FOR: Ancient Egyptian treasures
HIGHLIGHTS: The collection contains some significant ‘firsts’: linen; a fragment from the first kinglist or calendar; the earliest example of metal from Egypt, the first worked iron beads; the earliest example of glazing; the earliest ‘cylinder seal’ in Egypt; the oldest wills on papyrus paper; the oldest gynaecological papyrus; the only veterinary papyrus from ancient Egypt.
WHERE: Malet Pl, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 6BT
HOURS: Open Tuesday — Saturday 1pm — 5pm; Closed Sundays and Mondays
TUBE STATIONS: Euston Square, Russell Square, Warren Street
Walking around the area you’ll immediately notice how many green parks and squares there are. Bloomsbury must be one of the greenest neighbourhoods in central London.
The largest green area is Russell Square. It was built by the infamous James Burton. James Burton was probably the most significant builder of Georgian London, responsible for large areas of Bloomsbury. He’s also famous for helping John Nash with Regent’s Park. Besides being a beautiful park, it is also a cultural icon. Virginia Woolf set many scenes of her novel Night and Day (1919) in Russell Square.
Food & Drink
Some of my favourite cafes are in Bloomsbury! For some reason this neighbourhood just has really good coffee — perhaps it is because of all the coffee-dependent students in the area. A student favourite is Bloomsbury Coffee House. They bake every single day, so you can guarantee you’ll have the opportunity to pick up some fresh and delicious treats.
It’s a student favourite because it is also a great work space. The front room is more like a cafe whereas the back room has plenty of work-like tables and outlets. Their wifi is quick and their service is great throughout the day.
My personal favourite cafe is Store Street Espresso. They actually have three locations, but this one is the original. I really like the light interior and tall ceilings. You will find me typing away on my Macbook at the large table in the back with a flat white and some little treat!
As you can tell by the cafes suggested, Bloomsbury is a cafe type of place. However, some cafes offer brunch, like Half Cup. This darling cafe has the most beautiful wall murals inside.
But Half Cup doesn’t just have a pretty face. It also offers delicious, wholesome food! Keep in mind Half Cup does not take reservations, so be sure to take into consideration the line up when making plans.