Bursting with character, the vibrant city of London attracts 30 million visitors per year. With its diverse culture and wealth of opportunities, studying in London is an exciting prospect.
Whilst dreams of studying in London itself might be on hold for now, there’s nothing to stop you exploring the cities colourful Victorian past with some of the most captivating and well-loved stories in British history. From Charles Dickens to Zadie Smith, we’ve put together a list of our favourite London tales.
Read the books and untangle the city loved by millions. Why not use your time at home to build a wish-list of iconic places to visit?
Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
A 60’s classic most Brits grow up with – maybe you’ve seen the musical? Encapsulating tales of Victorian London, this story follows the life of orphan Oliver Twist, born in a workhouse for the poor. The emotional plot unravels the life of the young boy through his apprenticeship with an undertaker and his experiences of living with a gang of young pickpockets.
This realistic and gripping book explores real-life sides of Victorian London, not often written about in English literature – and certainly not as well as Dickens did in Oliver Twist.
You could plan a trip to explore Dicken’s London yourself with the Dickens London tour, which takes you to significant monuments and places mentioned in the book. Lasting around 1 hour and 45 minutes, you can really get a feel for the history of the city – and it will only set you back £10 (per person).
The Line of Beauty, Allan Hollinghurst
This book is a 2004 Man Booker Prize-winning novel about class, politics and sexuality in Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s Britain. The story follows Nick Guest, a young middle-class man from Northamptonshire who is about to begin postgraduate studies in London. Nick takes an attic room in Notting Hill, home of a Conservative MP in the family’s home.
If you’ve got any interest in politics, recent British history and British culture in general then this book is one for you. Notting Hill, where the MP’s home is set, is a busy part of London with some great shops. If you like antique, art and book shops then Notting Hill and Portobello Road are the perfect places to add to your wish-list. Cook up a delicious Sunday roast dinner and imagine Nick Guest sat in an iconic London Pub doing the very same thing.
Another must-see featured heavily in the book is Hampstead Heath. This grassy area of woodland park is a popular place for picnics during the summer and a refreshing winter walk. From the Heath’s Parliament Hill, you can see breath-taking views of London’s skyline. Feeling artistic? Why not check out the photography and paint a picture ahead of visiting.
Peter and Wendy, J.M. Barrie
This magical children’s book, admired by youngsters across the nation, reveals the story of Peter Pan – the original ‘boy who never grew up’. The tale follows him around the mythical island of Neverland as he leads his gang of Lost Boys, often fighting with pirate Captain Hook.
Peter is friends with Wendy Darling, along with her brothers John and Michael. The Darling family home is in Bloomsbury, London (according to Barrie’s description). There is no specific home that can be pinpointed as the Darling household but you can go and see the house in Kensington where the author J.M. Barrie lived. The author’s home is said to be a possible inspiration for the Darling house and is located at 100 Bayswater Road.
The London ‘Peter Pan’ sights to see don’t end there. Kensington Gardens is just a short walk from Barrie’s house and here you can see a famous statue of Peter Pan himself. This large bronze sculpture stands at about 14 feet (4.3 meters) high and was made by Sir George Frampton.
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
This 2000 award-winning Whitbread Book is a great fictional story, heavily inspired by real events. The story follows the later lives of two friends, a Bangladeshi, Samad, an Englishman, Archie and their respective families in London. The most captivating part about this book is how it looks at Britain’s relationship with people from former colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
Topics like immigration, racism, assimilation and family are all covered in this fascinating book which has become an interesting narrative of Britain’s recent past.
Smith namedrops several places in London where you could plan a nice walk. There’s Harlesden Clock which can be seen on Harlesden High Street, Kilburn High Road and Hampstead School (which is said to have inspired White Teeth’s Glenard Oak) -to name a few.
If you’d love to explore some more famous London tales, take a look at those listed here. And remember, though you may not be able to visit just yet – let the tales of the city be your inspiration to keep going.