Overview: This guide takes you on a walking tour through what was and remains one of the intellectual hearts of London. Along the way you will... more »
This guide takes you on a walking tour through what was and remains one of the intellectual hearts of London. Along the way you will... more » pass houses that belonged to Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes, see the Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles, and be able to sample the best coffee and cheeses in the city. The beginning of the trip focuses more on the history of the area, architecture and artifacts, while the second half enters more lively areas focusing on food and shopping.
This guide works well with the Trafalgar Square, Art Museums and Fun Food Shops guide. less «
There are many tube stops accessible to this area, making a taxi unnecessary. Your starting point largely depends on where you are... more » coming from and returning to. The closest stations are listed in the guide.
There are also plenty of bathrooms, good cafes and restaurants along the way so one need not worry about bringing food along. less «
The houses of Gordon Square, many retaining their facades from the 1800s, are currently used by the many surrounding universities including Birkbeck College, the London School of Economics, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the University of London.
The famous economist John Maynard Keynes lived with his wife at No. 46... More Gordon Square; it's easily identified by a blue plaque by the front wall. Keynes remains one of the most influential economists to date with his arguments that the government and public sector institutions often should engage directly with local and world markets.
Interestingly, No. 46 also was the former home of author Virginia Woolf, though her residency there is not recognized on the building. Her residency there saw 46 become a frequent meeting place for the Bloomsbury Group. These writers, painters and intellectuals were quite jokingly said to have, "lived on squares, talked in circles and loved in triangles."
Paintings and sculptures of the Bloomsbury Group are on constant display at the National Portrait Gallery.Less
There is a nice cafe in the center of the square where you can get a cup of tea and watch students going to and from class at the nearby University of London.
The northeast corner of Russell Square hosts a green cabman shelter. These shelters were originally commissioned in 1875 by the Earl of Shaftesbury. It was illegal for the horse and... More carriage drivers of that era to leave their cabs to get out of London's constant cold rain and fog. Some stories say that this led many to drink hard alcohol on the job to keep warm, which naturally made driving their cabs somewhat problematic. In response to this, the earl and others began erecting the shelters to serve as meeting points where cabbies could get a warm meal or cup of tea. The shelters still serve food and tea today and tend to be among the cheaper places to get a cup of tea in the city (40p at last check).
Cabman Shelter Hours
It is worth taking a walk through the Senate House building on your way toward the British Museum.
Designed by Charles Holden in 1931 as part of the expansion for the University of London, it is considered one of the great surviving Art Deco buildings left in London. George Orwell used the imposing structure as the inspiration for the Ministry of... More Truth in his book "1984."
A noted lack of damage to the building and surrounding area from aerial bombardment during World War II has led to speculation that the Nazis planned to use the building as their English headquarters when they conquered the country. However, no records confirming these rumors have been discovered.Less
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, or LSHTM as it is known by its alumni, was founded in 1899 on a barge in the river Thames to treat the many diseases plaguing sailors returning from the colonies. Moving to its current location in 1921, the post-graduate school remains one of the leading institutions in global public health.
... More There is a cafeteria and student bar in the basement, which you can access if you sign in at the front desk. You can also ask to use the bathrooms if needed.
Be sure to look up to the metalwork on the balconies of the second level to see finely worked sculptures of parasites and vector-carrying insects.Less
Bedford Square is considered one of the best preserved areas of Georgian architecture (late 1700s) in all of London. While the central park is technically private--keys are held only by the owners surrounding the square--if you ask nicely in one of the buildings you can usually be let in.
The buildings surrounding the square are primarily used... More by the surrounding British universities as well as outposts from U.S. institutions such as New York University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The scientist Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) lived at No. 11 Bedford Square. He is noted for discovering hydrogen and creating experiments to measure the density of the earth.Less
The oldest such school in the United Kingdom, the Architectural Association School of Architecture (established 1847) moved to 36 Bedford Square in 1917.
Keep your eye out for installation pieces by current students in the square and check out the revolving exhibits works inside.
Though it is not advertised, one of the better (and cheaper)... More restaurants around is in the basement of the AA, where you can eat fresh salads and the like among students and rotating exhibitions. There is also a cafe serving teas, coffees and beers on the second level that opens to a nice outside porch.
36 Bedford Square
Open weekdays around lunchtime
Call or look online for specific times
The British Museum houses some of the greatest archeological treasures not only in England, but in the world. It began as the private collection of Sir Hans Sloane, who is also famous for introducing what we now know as chocolate milk and hot chocolate to Europe.
To avoid crowds at the front, enter off of Montague Place. The rear entrance is... More easily visible and marked on either side by two stone lions.
One can easily spend a day or more exploring all that the British Museum has to offer, and it is highly suggested that you consider returning another day or pausing your trip here and returning to this guide at a later point.
But don't forgo the opportunity to visit altogether. The museum is free, so even if you only have time for a short look, stop in to see these don't-miss exhibits:
The Room of the Living and Dying
As you walk up the stairs you will enter this room, which displays ceremonial costumes from across the globe. Two centrally placed cases run the entire length of the room displaying chronologically the vaccinations, vitamin pills and drugs an average British man and woman are prescribed over the course of their life.
The Grand Court
The central round structure was originally an academic library that now is mainly used for special exhibitions (check the website for a current list of what is on show). The Court Cafe can be a good stop to grab a snack and write some postcards to family and friends.
The Rosetta Stone
Off the west side of the Grand Court (listed as No. 4 on museum maps) is a room holding the famous Rosetta Stone that aided in the deciphering of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The Elgin Marbles
If you keep heading the same direction deeper into the museum you will reach the Elgin Marbles that once adorned the Greek Parthenon. These beautiful sculptures remain at the center of a controversy surrounding their ownership and whether they should remain in England or be returned to Greece.
Exit out of the main entrance onto Great Russell Street and into the museum's courtyard.Less
James Smith & Sons Umbrellas Ltd. is just as it sounds: a wonderful shop dedicated to craftsman umbrellas and canes. Established in 1830, it retains a Golden Age charm and is a great spot for gifts.
Monmouth serves arguably one of the best cups of coffee in all of London. While there is often a line out the door, it moves quickly and you will not be disappointed. Every cup is made to order and you can choose from any of a dozen or so daily roasts for a fresh drip (ask for it white if you prefer milk in your coffee). There are a few cute but... More small booths in the back if you want to take a rest or they will bring a cup outside if you want to sit on the bench and watch people walk past. The pastries are also delicious.
You will easily find Neal's Yard Dairy by the blue awning and large wheels of cheese stacked up out front. As you get closer you may even begin to catch the scent of cheese wafting out the front door. The staff is quite knowledgeable and is always happy to offer free samples or larger cuts should you have the urge for a snack.
... More Monday-Saturday 10am-7pmLess
Whether you want to shop, eat or people watch, Covent Garden is a great place to pause and look around. As one of the more frequented tourist stops in London, it also can be quite crowded.
The square was designed in 1632 by Inigo Jones and quickly became a hub of life in London. The increased popularity and foot traffic drove richer residents... More away toward Bedford Square. By the 1800s, Covent Garden had become known for its taverns and brothels.
Parliament decided to try to civilize the area and in 1830 commissioned Charles Fowler to design the building that to this day dominates the square (though it did not have the wonderful glass ceiling until much later). In the 1980s the area was again redeveloped to its current iteration.
Covent Garden is one of the few areas in London where street performers can legally operate with a license, and they are around in abundance. If you choose to have your photo taken with one, it is customary to leave a pound or two as payment.