From Harry Potter's platform to the Bard's hometown, five destinations that make England a book lover's dream getaway.
England has some of the world’s most interesting attractions for literature lovers, from museums dedicated to some of the world’s most celebrated authors to locations made famous through fictional accounts.
If you’re considering a literary pilgrimage across the Atlantic, make sure your itinerary includes these destinations, which are our five reasons why England is every book lover’s dream getaway.
In England’s West Country, not far from the border with Wales, the gorgeous Georgian town of Bath is an undisputed must-visit for lit buffs. Some of the country’s most celebrated authors have lived (and written) there, including Mary Shelley, of “Frankenstein” fame, along with her poet husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
However, the town’s best-known former resident is Jane Austen, who spent five (purportedly miserable) years in the spa town. The Jane Austen Centre and its Regency Tea Room are among Bath’s most-visited attractions, and there’s a 10-day festival held every September that honors the writer and her work.
Naturally, many authors made London their home, including Oscar Wilde, who was arrested in Room 118 (now the Oscar Wilde Room) at the Belmond Cadogan Hotel in Knightsbridge.
London has long been a favorite setting for English storytellers, and the capital city has appeared in countless stories and novels over the years, from Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” to Helen Fielding’s bestselling “Bridget Jones” books; from Mrs. Dalloway to countless accounts of Bertie Wooster and his archetypal butler Jeeves. Sherlock Holmes had a flat on Baker Street in his crime-solving days, and it was at London’s King’s Cross Station where Harry Potter caught the train to Hogwarts every autumn. (Alas, Platform 9 3/4 is still invisible to muggles). If you’ve read “Vanity Fair” (the book, not the magazine), you’ll recognize Russell Square as the closest landmark to Amelia Sedely’s family home, and you might know Soho as the home turf of the legendary Dr. Jekyll, er, Mr. Hyde.
Charles Dickens is perhaps the most celebrated author of the lot, and there are dozens of Dickensian London tours available to literature lovers. Those who want to go it on their own might be disappointed to learn that many of the spots Dickens wrote about were destroyed in the Blitz of WWII, but there are still a few memorable spots to visit. Scrooge keeps an office in Cornhill, part of the City of London financial district, while Fleet Street makes an appearance in the “Pickwick Papers” and “A Tale of Two Cities.” Finally, “Oliver Twist” fans might remember that the Artful Dodger lures young Oliver to Fagin’s den, located in Saffron Hill in Camden.
Although Oxford is best known as home to one of the world’s oldest and most respected universities, this beautiful city has also produced some of the finest fiction writers of all time, including a few noteworthy writers of children’s literature and fantasy. Lewis Carroll wrote “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” while living in the city, as well as the sequels, “Through the Looking-Glass” and “What Alice Found There.” Tolkien wrote the “Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” there, while his friend and colleague C.S. Lewis penned “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” in Oxford. Other famous works written in Oxford include the comical “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)” by Jerome K Jerome, and poet and author Philip Larkin wrote his novel “Jill” there while still an undergraduate student.
The birthplace of William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon has built an entire tourism industry around the Bard. Although many of Shakespeare’s plays were set in far-flung destinations such as Greece, Italy, Denmark and a make-believe island in the middle of the ocean, there are still plenty of attractions that fans won’t want to miss.
You can visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, along with the homes of his mother, daughter and granddaughter. Most visitors also make a point of catching a performance at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
And for the full Stratford experience, travelers can stay the night at one of the towns many historic hotels; Billesley Manor Hotel is a popular choice, and rumor has it that Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in a tiny chapel on the grounds way back in 1582.
Hardcore Dickens fans will likely want to make a pilgrimage to the city of Portsmouth, in Hampshire (which, incidentally, is also the only island city in the U.K.). Dickens was born in the city in 1812, and today his former home serves as the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum. It features three furnished rooms full of Regency-style décor, alongside a handful of authentic Dickens mementos, including his snuffbox and the sofa on which he took his last breaths. Costumed volunteers show up on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month to add to the historic feel.