This guest post was written by Violet Marston, a UK travel writer that holds a degree in English Literature and considers herself a scholar of Jane Austen.
A Literary Tour of London, England
If you caught the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games, you probably noticed that the British take their literature very seriously. From the works of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, to more modern works like Harry Potter, London is a hotbed of literary inspiration and literary landmarks.
And while there are plenty of must-see sites in London that any visitor shouldn’t miss – Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the London Eye – there are even more sites that might be off the beaten path, but are worth a visit for any bookworm. From historic homes where favorite books were written, to recognizable landmarks from your favorite works, it’s possible to build your entire trip to London around books and writers.
English Heritage Blue Plaques
The English Heritage society has made it easy for visitors to London to locate their favorite authors and landmarks, by affixing large blue plaques to sites of interest around the city. It’s not hard to spot these plaques, which indicate that someone of historical significance lived or worked in that building. Not all of the plaques are related to literature; in recent years, for example, blue plaques have been installed to honor athletes.
However, more than 100 of the plaques honor authors, and you could easily spend several days exploring the city and spotting plaques that honor T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and more.
Most of the plaques honor writers from the nineteenth century and Charles Dickens has more plaques than any other writer, but touring these is a great way to see exactly where those people you learned about in high school actually lived and worked.
Author Specific Tours
If you are interested in a particular author, work or time period, you’re in luck. Multiple companies in London offer tours devoted to a specific author or genre of work. For example, buy a ticket for the Wigs and Words Charles Dickens tour, and you’ll be treated to a guided tour of the places that appeared in the author’s works, as well as the places that he was known to frequent.
Is Dickens a little too historical for you? Then take a tour devoted to Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series of books. You’ll see where the imaginative writer grew up, as well as the places that feature prominently in his work. Tour operators offer guided jaunts through the lives and works of many prominent authors, so you are bound to find something that appeals to you.
Of course, any discussion of literary London would be incomplete without mentioning the great William Shakespeare. Even if you felt as tortured as King Lear reading Shakespeare in high school, seeing the world of the playwright come to life is a can’t miss experience.
Start by exploring the recreation of the original Globe Theatre (the original was destroyed by fire) and see a performance on one of the Bard’s works as it was intended to be performed. You can also purchase tickets for walking tours of Shakespeare’s world, visiting his London homes where he wrote some of his most well-known works, places he was known to frequent and other locations related to his work and life.
Plan a daytrip to Stratford-Upon-Avon, several hours from London, to see where Shakespeare was born and raised, and also attend the World Shakespeare Festival each summer.
Full Immersion Tours
While it’s possible to work a little literary flair into even a short visit to London, serious bibliophiles might want to build their entire trip around exploring London’s rich literary heritage. Many universities and travel providers offer focused trips to London; the price often includes airfare to London and hotels within London, meals, food and extras like lectures, side excursions and theater tickets. Tours might be based around one author – Shakespeare or Dickens for example – or a time period or movement.
No matter what the focus, though, you are guaranteed to leave the United Kingdom with a new understanding and appreciation for some of the greatest works of fiction ever written.
So whether you have a fascination with Mary Poppins or an appreciation for Peter Pan, or you just want to follow in the footsteps of James Bond or Sherlock Holmes, make some time for a literary excursion while you visit London. You just might learn something you didn’t already know about your favorite books and authors.
Photo credits: click on the image to find the source on Flickr. All images were under Creative Commons license at the time this post was published.