A Bookworm's Guide to the Best Libraries in London

By Soren Rivero

Home to some of the most well-known names in the literary world such as Virginia Woolf and Beatrix Potter, London is a must-visit destination for the book-lover in all of us. Within this cozy city, you’ll find the most picturesque places that have often been the setting of many famous novels throughout time.

National Poetry Library

First opened in 1953 by none other than award-winning writers T.S. Eliot and Herbert Read, the National Poetry Library is home to thousands of poetry collections from across the U.K. You’ll find it quietly resting on the fifth floor of the Royal Festival Hall deep in London’s Southbank Center. Admission is free which makes it a great contender for the best free things to do in London. It’s best that you’ll visit late in the afternoon when the library is bathed in an irresistible hue of yellow sunlight, during which you might hear a poet reading their work out loud!

The British Library

The British Library is a must-see destination in London for those who want to immerse themselves in a sea of knowledge, or simply contemplate the meaning of life while sipping on your favorite coffee beverage. You can quite literally spend your whole day here exploring over 100 million items from all over the world. Writers, students, and researchers alike gather here to mingle with each other or to focus on their latest piece of work. So don’t be shy to make a new friend (just be sure to read the room; i.e. be respectful)! The British Library also hosts numerous public events throughout the year. Admission and membership are both free.

The Maughan Library

If you want to visit a library in London that feels like it came straight out of the 18th century, you’ll definitely want to visit the Maughan Library at King’s College London. Characterized by late gothic architecture, featuring stained glass windows and mosaic floors, this is one of the more aesthetically-pleasing libraries in London. It spans across four floors and mezzanines, with each corner filled to the brim with over 100,000 books.

Getting into the Maughan Library feels quite prestigious, too. General admission is only granted to students and staff at the college, though outsiders can request a visit by making an appointment. The mesmerizing atmosphere surely makes booking an appointment worth it though! You never know what interesting material you’ll find here… some even say it was the site of Dumbledore’s office in the Harry Potter series (though that was debunked, the mysteriousness still survives).

Wiener Holocaust Library

Educating oneself about world events throughout history is extremely important. Not only for becoming aware of the issues faced in the past, but also to prevent them happening in the future. Certain libraries and museums have opened up across the globe for this exact purpose, and the Winer Holocaust Library is one of them.

The Wiener Holocaust Library was opened in the early 20th century and is dedicated to studying the Holocaust, being home to hundreds of archives and articles regarding the events. Interestingly, it was first built in Amsterdam then moved to London around 1938. The library also doubles down as an informative museum in London as it hosts live exhibitions that educate people about the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and contemporary humanitarian issues. Wiener Holocaust Library is extremely reliant on volunteers and charities, so please take advantage of the hard work and dedication that people have put into this if you plan to visit and want some cheap things to do in London!

The London Library

You obviously can’t look for the best libraries in London without visiting the library named after the city itself! The London Library was built in 1841 and rests within St. James’s Square in London. You’ll find anything from history books to fiction novels scattered throughout the almost-labyrinthine style shelves hidden in this independent library. A membership is required if you want full-access. However, evening tours are available by appointment. So go ahead and make this one of your unique experiences in London while on your trip!

Guildhall Library

The Guildhall Library is dedicated to the research and development of London’s history. Containing over 150,000 archives starting from as early as the 15th century, you’ll surely find something interesting contained within this public library. If not, you can at least enjoy the archaic atmosphere both inside and outside the library halls.

Events are also held that teach visitors about the history of London. So if you want to refresh your memory or even learn about some history, be sure to visit this unique library in London.

Canada Water Library

Gazing across a pond in Surrey Quays Rd in London, the Canada Water Library is more of a community center with an added theater. A few events are held every so often which help people find jobs and locate specialized communities for whatever subject or genre they are interested in. Kids’ coding classes are also available, making it great for people of all ages. You might even be introduced to the library’s unique tradition of a ‘mystery book bag’ which welcomes you to a new genre of reading you might not be familiar with!

What makes this library all the better is its commitment to sustainability. The library uses solar panels, green roofs, responsible lighting, ethically-sourced timber, and ground-source heat pumps. It’s also free to enter!

We don’t mean to leave you on a cliffhanger, but these are just a few answers to your question of 'where to find the best libraries in London?'. Dozens more exist! But for now, feel free to visit some (or all) of these when you travel to London!


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