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

Keats House, Hampstead, London

Image: A Peace of London

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

St Bride Library, London

Image credit: kim anh on Flickr

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

Poetry Library, Southbank, London

Image credit: Kevan on Flickr

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

Horniman Museum Gardens

Image: Samuel Mann on Flickr

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

#dailyworker #socialism #marxmemorialibrary

A photo posted by @selenamarinello on

 

“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

Bishopsgate Institute, London

Image: slocumjoseph / Flickr

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

Guildhall Library

Guildhall exterior, City of London

Image: A Peace of London

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.

While you’re there, pay a visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery and its Roman Amphitheatre, as well as the hall where Lady Jane Grey’s trial took place. The area is particularly quiet on the weekends.

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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Comments (07)

  1. Hey Charlotte! Bless you for making this list! You’ve given plenty of lovely information and i just wanted to ask about the V& A library whether visitors (not UK citizens) are allowed to become members or use the library without it? -i see you’ve mentioned memebership is free for V&A. I’m in the UK for just 5 months accompanying my sister and am desperately in need of a quiet space to read/study :)

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Terry, thanks for your comment and I’m so glad you like the post! You’d have to contact the V&A about whether visitors can join, as I’m not sure. I know you have to be a member to use the library though. Good luck!

  2. Thanks for the library recommendations. With a fair amount of coursework ahead I look forward to visiting a few of these while I focus on my own projects. Ideally though I need computer access too. I know many of the Westminster Libraries offer free workstations but I wonder anyone has recommendations for other London libraries also offering computer stations? Thanks, Jesse

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