13 quiet libraries in London that every book-lover needs to see
When it comes to classic and peaceful places to study, work, write, or just read (shock!), you can’t get much better than London’s libraries. Here are the 13 best quiet libraries in London (in my opinion), most of which come with free wifi.
Have I got the list right? Which library do you make a beeline for when you need to switch off? Let me know in the comments or send me a message — I love reading about your favourite places!
Keats Community Library
This Grade II-listed library at Keats House is run by volunteers and open to everyone. It’s free to use but the library relies on volunteers and donations — with a little help from Michael Palin, its patron. So if you pay a visit and enjoy it, say thank you by making a donation or even offering your services. Alternatively, they have a lovely selection of events on offer including an evening with Michael Palin on 3rd June to celebrate the centenary of John Betjeman’s birth.
Nearest Tube: Hampstead Heath
Opening times: Tuesday and Wednesday 10am-6pm; Thursday and Friday: 10am-7pm; Saturday and Sunday: 12-4pm
More information: Keats Community Library website
London Metropolitan Archives
Among the collection contained within this lesser-known library are images, maps, films, and books dedicated to London’s history from 1067 onwards.
Whether you’ve got a specific project to research for or you just want to delve deeper into your family history, the archives are open to everyone for free. You’ll need to apply for a history card if you want to access any items within the archives, which is also free and only takes a few minutes once you’ve shown proof of ID/address.
If you’re interested in London’s history, you might also like the City of Westminster Archives Centre near Victoria.
Nearest Tube: Farringdon
Opening times: Monday 9.30am-4.45pm; Tuesday to Thursday 9.30am – 7.30pm (closed bank holidays)
More information: The City of London website
The Wiener Library
This unassuming building on Russell Square houses one of the biggest archives of materials on the causes and consequences of the Holocaust and genocide. Peruse a book in the Wolfson Reading Room and then head down to the ground floor where you’ll find temporary exhibitions that will both disturb and compel you. I promise you won’t be able to take your eyes off any of it.
Nearest Tube: Russell Square
Opening times: Monday-Friday 10am-5pm (open until 7.30pm on Tuesdays)
More information: Wiener Library website
St Bride Foundation Library
The library at the St Bride Foundation near Fleet Street was built in 1895. Its collection charts the story of the printing industry and includes such gems as Dr Johnson’s Dictionary (just down the road from Dr Johnson’s House) and examples of printing from the Oxford University Press dating from the 17th century.
After major cutbacks last year, the library’s reading room is now open to the public one day a month from 1st June; access is free, but retrieving an item from the closed collections costs £1.
Nearest Tube: Blackfriars
Opening times: First Wednesday of every month from 1st June 2016 onwards, 10am-8pm
More information: St Bride Foundation website
The National Art Library at the V&A
Millions of visitors stream into the V&A each year, unaware that there is a small group of Londoners quietly studying, learning, reading, and writing above their heads. This beautiful little library is completely free to use (you’ll need to be a member, which is also free) and there is plenty of space available to creative laziness or hard work.
Go for the classic design, go for the silence, or go for the free wifi: it’s up to you — just don’t let this wonderful little space pass you by.
Pro tip: you’ll need to leave any bags at the cloakroom in the main entrance to the V&A — let them know you want to use the library and they’ll give you a clear plastic bag for your notebooks, laptop, etc. Pens aren’t allowed either — you’ll have to stick to pencil.
Nearest Tube: South Kensington
Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5.30pm (until 6.30pm on Fridays)
More information: V&A website
The Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre
What better place for inspiration than a quiet library filled with poetry? Take in the largest collection of poetry dating from 1912 onwards in Britain at the Southbank – they have over 200,000 items and the library is free for anyone to join.
Nearest Tube: Embankment / Waterloo
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday, 11am-8pm
More information: The Poetry Library website
Westminster Chinese Library
As the name suggests, this quiet space at Charing Cross Library holds one of the largest collections of Chinese books in the UK. They have four Chinese-speaking members of staff and 50,000 Chinese books on offer.
As with all Westminster Libraries, they have free wifi on offer and it’s free to join, even if you’re visiting London from outside of the UK.
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square
Opening times: Monday 9.30am-8pm; Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday 9.30am-7pm; Wednesday 10am-7pm; Saturday 10.30am-2pm; Sunday 11am-5pm
More information: Westminster website
The Horniman Library
There are many reasons to visit the Horniman Museum instead of the Natural History Museum (main reason – it’s much quieter). One of the reasons is the Horniman’s library, which started with the collection belonging to the museum’s founder and namesake – Frederick Horniman – and has now grown to 30,000 volumes covering natural history, anthropology, and music.
Head down to Forest Hill on the first Sunday of the month for a rare chance to see this unique part of the Horniman’s history.
Nearest station: Forest Hill
Opening times: First Sunday of every month, 10.30am-5.30pm (open to researchers by appointment Mondays and Tuesdays)
More information: The Horniman website
The London Library
You’ll be in good company at this 175-year-old private library in central London: a list of esteemed previous members reads like a who’s who of literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf, and Agatha Christie have all come to The London Library to work, read, and write.
Nowadays, the collection spans over a million books dating from the 16th century onwards. You’ll need membership to visit, which starts at £15 for the day.
Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus
Opening times: Monday to Wednesday, 9.30am-8pm; Thursday to Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm
More information: The London Library website
Marx Memorial Library
“The heart of the British labour movement” is closer than you think. It’s just down the road from Farringdon station, in fact.
Learn about the science of Marxism, the history of socialism and the working class at this library dedicated to Karl Marx. It’s open during the week and they also run guided tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Nearest Tube: Farringdon
Opening times: Monday to Thursday, 12pm-4pm
More information: Marx Memorial Library website
Bishopsgate Institute Library
The Bishopsgate Library is one of the quietest places in London that I know of — unlike in some other libraries, the mutual respect for everyone working and concentrating within the library is upheld to the letter. There is also free wifi on offer, no membership required.
Within the library collections are volumes on London history, freethought and humanism, LGBT history and many more subjects. Book ahead if you want to take out any books: the collections are kept behind closed cabinets and you’ll have to read them in their reading room.
Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 10am-5.30pm (until 8pm on Wednesdays)
More information: Bishopsgate Institute website
Little Venice Sports Centre Library
This self-service library near Paddington is notable for having the longest opening hours of any library in Westminster. You can read, work, and relax there until 10.30 at night, and there’s free wifi on offer as well.
Find more Westminster libraries at the Westminster.gov website.
Nearest Tube: Warwick Avenue
Opening times: Monday to Friday 9am-10.30pm; Saturday and Sunday 10am-5.30pm
More information: Westminster website
The third library on our list that specialises in the history of London and part of one of my favourite places in the City of London: the historic Guildhall. The original library at the Guildhall was founded in the 1420s and the current one holds over 200,000 items dating from the 15th century onwards, charting all aspects London life. Also featured are special collections devoted to Samuel Pepys, John Wilkes and Thomas More. The library even has its own blog.
Nearest Tube: St Paul’s
Opening times: Monday-Friday: 9.30am-5pm (open until 7.30pm on Wednesdays); Saturday: 9.30am-5pm on selected Saturdays
More information: City of London website
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