Grab a coffee, write a book: The UK’s most inspiring literary cafes

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Amy Lewis
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JK Rowling famously penned her best-selling Harry Potter books in a coffee shop in Edinburgh, and she’s not the only one. Ernest Hemingway, Henrik Ibsen, TS Elliott and F Scott Fitzgerald all favoured writing in cafes over quiet home offices, claiming that the bustle of real life unfolding before them helped to stir the creative juices.

Even British author Marina Fiorato penned her 2008 best-seller The Glassblower of Murano in coffee shops around London, with her baby sitting on her lap. “At home I tend to be distracted from writing, pottering and prevaricating,” she explains. “I'll always be tempted to tidy the kids' horrible rooms, or make a cup of tea!”

With the literary cafe however, there’s no tea to be made (at least not by you), no television or odd jobs to distract and plenty of real life to be observed.

So if you’re preparing to write your own best-seller, try pulling up a chair in one these cosy cafes, all brimming with literary inspiration.

  • The Marwood, Brighton

    Tucked in a corner on Ship Street in the middle of Brighton’s famous Lanes, The Marwood is an eclectic coffee shop just a stone’s throw from the sea front.

    Serving, in their own words, ‘kick-arse coffee’ with cakes, meals and snacks from the ‘crazy good kitchen’, this the place for thinking outside of the box. The eclectic decor includes stacked and scattered old books, retro children’s toys, taxidermy and even a dismembered mannequin stuck to the wall.

    With two rooms split over different floors, there’ll always be a snug corner to work in here.

    Opening hours: 8am - 8pm Monday to Sunday

  • Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms, Bath

    If your novel has a vintage twist, this is the coffee shop to set up in. Standing proud in Jane Austen’s favourite stomping ground and full of 1930s/1940s decor, a trip to Bea’s in Bath is like stepping back in time.

    From the china tea sets to the wartime-inspired menu and waitresses dressed in Land Girl bandanas, bright red lipstick and period pinnies, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here.

    Opening hours: 10am - 5pm Monday to Sunday

  • The Winding Stair, Dublin

    One of the oldest bookshops in Dublin, The Winding Stair (named in honour of Yeats’ poem) has an atmosphere that’s entirely its own. Split into two sections, the bookshop prides itself on a collection of both new and second-hand books, ranging from popular bestsellers to rare and unusual volumes.

    It should come as no surprise then, that the bookshop’s front window seats where tea and coffee are served, pus its upstairs restaurant have become a haven for writers and readers alike, keen to soak up the powerful magic of The Winding Stair.

    Opening hours: 10am - 6pm Monday to Wednesday, 10am to 7pm Thursday, 10am - 6pm Friday, 10am - 7pm Saturday, 12pm - 6pm Sunday

  • Duddleswell Tea Rooms, Ashdown Forest

    Set on the edge of Ashdown Forest which famously inspired the setting for AA Milne’s Winnie The Pooh, Duddleswell Tea Rooms offers the cosy comfort needed for a head-down writing session, with delicious homemade scones to spur you on.

    The cafe itself has a tale to tell too, having served tea since 1936 and first appearing on maps of the area as far back as 1658. 

    Opening hours: 10am - 4.30pm Monday to Friday, closed for a short period during winter months

  • Dylan Thomas Boathouse, Carmarthenshire

    Though Dylan Thomas preferred to work from a room overlooking the Taf estuary at his home in Laugharne, the Welsh poet’s much loved boathouse has now been turned into an art gallery and exhibition rooms which celebrate both his own work, and that of local artists.

    Naturally, there’s an adjoining tea room too, which shares the very same view that inspired Thomas to write many poems and his famous play Under Milk Wood. Between the incredible scenery and delicious menu, this tried and tested writing spot can’t fail to get you churning out the chapters.

    Opening hours: 10am - 5.30pm Monday to Sunday, though openings times do change with seasons

  • The Black Douglas Coffee House, Kent

    Steeped in the history of bloody battles and the Scottish Wars of Independence, the Black Douglas Coffee House in Kent's seaside town Deal, is named after Scottish soldier and knight Sir James Douglas; a close companion of Robert the Bruce.

    Along with its tasty locally sourced menu, delicious coffee and close proximity to a bookshop (just next door), this is the perfect spot for anyone penning a historical novel.

    Opening hours 9am - 5pm Monday to Saturday, 10am - 4pm Sunday

  • The Café at Foyles Cabot Circus, Bristol

    Set to open its doors this December, the shiny new Foyles bookshop at Cabot Circus will be taking a tip from the legendary Ray's Jazz Cafe, a popular work station at Foyles' Charing Cross store.

    Fully integrated into the jam-packed bookshop, the new cafe will offer a 'seamless blend of caffeine and literature', perfect for cracking through any bout of writer’s block.

    Open from 12 December 2015: 10am - 8pm Monday to Saturday, 11am - 5pm Sundays

  • Barter Books, Northumberland

    Set in what was once Alnwick’s old Victorian railway station, Barter Books is a second-hand bookshop with a difference. From the layout to the buffet style refreshments, this is a non-stop place of quirky inspiration.

    Full of nooks and crannies perfect for curling up with your laptop, there are several rooms where you can grab a coffee or tea and a bite to eat.

    The American diner-themed Skylight room, for example, offers a little ‘over the pond’ inspiration, while the Red room takes its cue from music, the Green room is walled in continental tiles, the Blue room is entirely inspired by station master top hats and the fantastic Waiting Room has been fully restored to its 1887 state.

    Opening hours: 9am - 5pm Monday to Sunday, with 7pm closing on Saturdays

  • Cake Shop at the London Review Bookshop, London

    Intentionally traditional with a modern twist, the Cake Shop at Holborn’s London Review Bookshop is the perfect place to see ideas morph into words on the page.

    Billed as the modern-day answer to London’s once famed coffee houses, where literary minds came to work, share, debate and discuss, this is the perfect place for channelling creativity.

    An impressive selection of fine teas and powerful espresso should help you get going too.

    Opening hours: 10am - 6.30pm Monday to Saturday 

  • The Orchard Tea Garden, Cambridge

    From Virginia Woolf and poet Rupert Brooke, to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, the Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester has attracted many a literary luminary.

    While the main attraction remains taking tea in a deck chair under the blossoming fruit trees, there’s a cosy pavilion to provide indoor seating too.

    Naturally, the beverage of choice is fine tea, but the Orchard serves hot food all day, making it the perfect place to set up camp and fire off a few chapters whatever the weather.

    Opening hours: 10am - 4.30pm Monday to Sunday, with longer opening hours during summer

  • Peyton & Byrne at the British Library, London

    If your book needs research, there couldn’t be a better-suited coffee spot than one of Peyton & Byrne’s four cosy cafes at the British Library in London. After flicking through rare historical tomes, pull up a chair to get cracking on your next chapter.

    Friendly staff, plenty of tea and coffee (plus great espresso) and delicious cakes, snacks and sandwiches are served all day. Writer's bliss.

    Opening hours: 9.30am - 7.30pm Monday to Thursday, 9.30am - 5.30pm Friday, 9.30am - 16.30pm Saturday and Sunday

  • Cafe Twit, Buckinghamshire

    If it’s a children’s book you’re working on, there’s no better place for inspiration and a space to write than Cafe Twit, inside the Roald Dahl Museum.

    Though there may be surrounding bursts of excitement as museum goers make their way out of the galleries and into the cafe for a slice of Bogtrotter chocolate cake, it’s more likely to spur you on rather than interrupt. We suggest sipping on a tall Fizzlecrumper should you encounter writer’s block.

    Opening hours: 9am - 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, 10am - 5pm on Sunday

  • Town Gate Tea Room, the Yorkshire Pennines

    From Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath to the Bronte sisters, the Pennines have inspired many a literary great. Nestled in Heptonstall (where Hughes and Plath actually lived for some years after they married) above Hebden Bridge, is the cosy Town Gate Tea Room.

    Serving teas, coffees and everything from homemade pies and quiches to scones and tarts, this is the perfect place to capture the wild beauty of the mountains in a quaint hideaway.

    Opening hours: 10.30am - 5pm Monday to Wednesday, 10am - 5p, Thursday to Sunday

  • Zennor Chapel Cafe, Cornwall

    Before DH Lawrence was forced to leave the area during the First World War due to concerns the eccentric writer was actually a spy, he wrote of Cornwall:

    “At Zennor one sees infinite Atlantic, all peacock mingled colours and the gorse is sunshine itself. Zennor is a most beautiful place: a tiny granite village nestling under high shaggy moor-hills and a big sweep of lovely sea beyond, such a lovely sea, lovelier evan than the Mediterranean.”

    So what better place to blow off the cobwebs and finally commit your ideas to paper? The Zennor Chapel Cafe offers up the best of Cornwall’s local produce, with a cracking view and hot coffee to boot. If it worked for DH Lawrence…

    Opening hours: 8am - 5pm Monday to Sunday

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Amy Lewis

Amy Lewis is a freelance writer and editor, a lover of strong tea, equally strong eyebrows, a collector of facial oils and a cat meme enthusiast. She covers everything from beauty and fashion to feminism and travel.