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Hidden reading spaces around London: the most peaceful spots for you and your book

Posted by
Anna Brech
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Reading spots in London

Grab a book and a map: you’re about to find a peaceful slice of heaven in one of the busiest cities on earth. 

There’s no greater indulgence in life than an hour or two of solace with one of your favourite books. It’s a chance to escape the hustle and bustle, take time for yourself and let the rest of the world melt away. 

We love the company of a good book so much that we’re forever swotting up on a plethora of titles to read next: like the best non-fiction books to come out this year, incredible science fiction books (especially those written by women), powerful memoirs by black women and, for example, moving poetry perfect for when we need a good cry. 

We like to think appreciating a beautiful book is a holistic experience, and usually needs a warm, soothing beverage and a cosy spot to hide away in. 

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City-dwellers will know, though, that finding head space in London is easier said than done. Between the crammed streets and hectic roads, it can feel impossible to get a moments peace.

However, we’re willing to let you into a little secret. If you dig beneath the surface, you’ll find the capital is dotted with quiet corners of paradise. From canal-side coffee shops to cavernous book stores and sleepy inner city squares, these little-known havens are your passport away from the maddening crowds.

So, throw your worries to the wind, leave demanding flatmates, work stresses and commuter woe behind, and grab a well-thumbed read to settle down in one of these fabulous hidden reading spots.

  • Ray's Jazz Cafe At Foyles, Charing Cross Road

    Immerse yourself in the artsy ambiance of Ray’s Jazz Cafe on the first floor of Foyles’ flagship store. Mellow melodies from jazz and blues greats help to create a wonderfully laid-back space, but it’s also small so get in there early to find a seat.

  • Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, Old Street

    This oasis of green space is surprisingly quiet given its location just below the hubbub of Old Street. The burial place of John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, and the poet William Blake, there’s plenty of literary inspiration to fuel your creativity.

  • Daunt Books, Marylebone High Street

    Daunt Books is rewarding no matter what branch you visit, but the travel section on the basement level of the Marylebone High Street store is an especially tranquil spot. Grab one of the unusual and evocative travel tomes on display and settle in for an afternoon of escapist delight.

  • The Kenwood Ladies’ Pond, Hampstead Heath

    The lawn overlooking this wonderfully secluded pond is a great spot for you and your novel. The ladies’ pool feels cut off from the rest of the heath in the best way possible, wreathed by big old trees that will keep you company in your reading. Revel in the solitude before processing the story - and perhaps dreaming up a few of your own - as you join other swimmers with a few gentle laps in nature.

  • Dalston Roof Park, Hackney

    A patch of “urban utopia” overlooking the skyline of Hackney, Dalston Roof Park is a lovely place to hang out in come summer, as it’s closed in the winter months. Deckchairs and comfy-looking sofas litter the rooftop, so order some blueberry pancakes from the on-site cafe and bag your favourite spot.

  • The British Museum reading room, Bloomsbury

    Built in 1857, this beautiful centrepiece of The British Museum has inspired many - including Alfred Hitchcock, who used it as one of his sets for 1929 thriller Blackmail. Now used as an exhibition space, you’re still likely to find a quiet corner to read in amid very regal surroundings.

  • Burgess Park, Elephant and Castle

    Stretching from Camberwell and Walworth in the west to Peckham and the Old Kent Road in the east, Burgess Park offers up 56 hectares of greenery and thinking space. Good reading spots can be found at Chumleigh Gardens, the Park Life Cafe and the lake near Old Kent Road.

  • The canal path opposite Regent’s Park Zoo

    Let the exotic birds and animals of London Zoo be your reading muse - entirely for free - with a pew on the canal path that runs at the back of the Regent’s Park enclosure. Not only are the gentle put-put of barges and canal-side activity a lovely backdrop for reading, you’ll also get to glance up now and again at the archaeologically stunning Snowdon Aviary.

  • The Conservatory at the Barbican, Moorgate

    There are few more creative places to pass time at than the Barbican. This stronghold of cutting edge art and film is filled with potential reading spaces but one of the best areas is The Conservatory, where you can enjoy your book surrounded by a tropical haven of finches, quails, exotic fish and over 2,000 species of plants and trees.

  • Towpath cafe, Hoxton

    With a front row seat to the Hoxton stretch of Regents Canal, the Towpath cafe is a friendly, fun pit-stop for a good read over a Macchiato and grilled cheese sandwich. The brainchild of Lori De Mori, an American Italian food writer, the cafe serves up top notch Italian coffee, as well as food at pretty much all times of the day.

  • Horniman Museum and Gardens, Forest Hill

    London folk have been enjoying the Horniman Museum’s 16-acre garden since Victorian times. And little wonder, since it’s filled with curiosities, from the 1903 bandstand to the Dutch barn and the Pavilion. Good reading times are guaranteed here.

  • The food market by the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank

    The Southbank Centre is an absolute gem as far as street food is concerned, with fare from all over the world to keep you steaming through your favourite books. Find a bench overlooking the Thames on Southbank, or on beautiful Hungerford Bridge, and soak in London at its most evocative. 

  • Camden Arts Centre, Finchley Road

    The moment you cross the threshold of Camden Arts Centre off Finchley Road, you’re filled with a curious sense of calm. Home to art exhibitions, classes and a great little shop, this is a small and creative centre has a great little garden round the back where you can escape with the book of your choice.

  • Canada Water Library, Southwark

    This inverted pyramid building on the old Surrey Commercial Docks in Canada Water is a feat in both architectural and literary terms. Inside, the space is dynamic with a spiral staircase leading up to a bright, airy top floor filled with books (and a cafe below). “Libraries still hold these magic realms of invention, realms of ideas,” says architect Piers Gough. They’re also places where you can stay and stop and spend as long as you like.”

  • London Review Bookshop, Holborn

    One of London’s best-loved book shops doubles up as social space, with plenty of literary events and debates. Located within a stone’s throw of the British Museum, it is crammed with books, thoughts and inspiration without seeming overly intellectual. And the cake shop - touted as “the modern answer to London’s long-lost literary coffee-houses” - is worth the trip alone.

  • Keats House garden, Hampstead

    Most people have heard of Keats House in Hampstead but few know about its well-kept garden, which is open to the public between 11am - 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Have a nose around before settling on a patch in the sun, as you soak in the poetic ambiance of the place John Keats once called home.

  • Geffrye Museum Gardens, Hackney

    The Geffrye Museum’s award-winning walled herb garden boasts over 170 different plants, including roses, honeysuckles and aromatic and medicinal herbs. Then there’s the historical period gardens, including the Tudor knot garden, planted in santolina and wall germander. We couldn’t ask for a more fragrant place to hang out.

  • Lavish Habit coffee shop, Balham

    This cheery Balham-based coffee shop is run by two sisters and is filled with interesting knick-knacks, from unusual lamps to jewellery, candles, teapots and scarves (all available to buy). Settle in for a coffee with a kick or any of the summer “superheroes” (such as the Mighty Monmouth Iced Latte, The Tantalising Iced Tea or The Lavishly Long Traditional Pink Lemonade).

  • Grays Inn Gardens, Chancery Lane

    Just off the frenetic Grey’s Inn Road, the Gray’s Inn Gardens provide a restorative escape from the crowds, with manicured lawns and a blossom tree here and there. Thanks to the surrounding law courts, the place has a distinct scholarly air but make sure you don’t overstay the strict 2.30pm curfew.

  • Monmouth coffee shop, Borough Market

    Serving up some of the best coffee in London, the Borough Market branch of Monmouth coffee shop is manic on weekends - but otherwise, it’s a joy to read in. Soak in the irresistible smell of roasting beans as you sample one of their many great, ethical sourced brands - we recommend the fruity Kochere Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia, with hints of raspberry jam and cocoa.

  • Waterstones, Gower Street

    What’s so special about Waterstones? we hear you cry - but the cavernous branch on Gower Street really is a unique place and it’s ideal for book-lovers. Europe’s largest academic bookstore can be found in a Grade I building in the heart of Bloomsbury (with University of London students all around). Make yourself at home with its five floors of over 160,000 titles. There are so many nooks and crannies here; it’s perfect for getting lost.

  • Hill Garden and Pergola, Hampstead Heath

    The Hill Garden and the Pergula are one of Hampstead Heath’s hidden treasures, hidden away off the main tourist trail in the midst of East Heath. The Pergula is an unusual Georgian construction with cool, shaded archways, climber plants and blooms of jasmine, honeysuckle, clematis and wisteria during summer. The Hill Garden has a scenic ornamental fish pond and one of the Heath’s oldest trees - a sweet chestnut - but the best spot is a little alcove with a bench and sweeping views of London and the Heath.

Images: Priscilla du Preez / Instagram / Additional words by Megan Murray 

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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