Life List: Literary London

How are we mere days from the end of 2017 and I still haven’t written about one of the Life List dreams I was thrilled to knock off earlier this year?

In reality, I achieved the dream — to take a literary-themed trip through Great Britain — with a few different trips. (And hopefully I’ll be able to add to this dream over the coming years during more travels.)

It all started when I visited Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day in 2013. Beyond riding on parade floats and drinking copious amounts of Guinness, I also dipped my toe into the city’s literary traditions. I visited the Book of Kells and even more impressive Long Room, and sped through the Dublin Writers Museum.

And on a second trip to Ireland this past May, I attended a W. B. Yeats dinner experience — an in-depth dive into one of Ireland’s most famous authors.

But let’s talk about the meat of this Life List dream: a five-day literary-themed trip to London.

paddington c.s. lewis
Paddington: London was, unsurprisingly, a stellar place to immerse ourselves in literary culture, starting with the subway stops. Visiting Paddington Station was the very first thing we did on our very first day. Paddington Bear definitely played a role in my childhood, so we visited the platform where he was left behind.

There’s also a Paddington-themed shop in the station, where I bought my mom a postcard. (She loves Paddington too.)

harry potter
Harry Potter: Significantly more crowded than Paddington Station is platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross. The queue to grab a photo at this famous Harry Potter site was about 20 minutes long, but we absolutely stood in it. How could we come all the way to London and not get the picture?

Harry Potter is also sprinkled liberally around Oxford, which we visited on a day trip. A number of movie scenes were shot on the campus, and it was a blast to see these buildings in real life. Part of the magic for me is that I think Oxford is magical (more about that below), so whereas other movie destinations don’t hold much appeal, seeing these buildings was actually really special.

dickens sherlockSherlock Holmes: We read mixed reviews about the Sherlock Holmes museum itself. However, the museum is housed in the building where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. We stopped in the gift shop for a quick look around and then walked up and down the street, talking about what might have inspired him in the neighborhood.

Bonus find: The Sherlock Homes Museum is next to the famous Beatles shop, so we made a quick detour there as well.

Charles Dickens: A confession: I don’t love Charles Dickens. Except for the Christmas Carol, I’ve absolutely despised everything I’ve ever read by him, so his home/museum wasn’t a must-do on my list. However, we ended up spending a couple hours here because it was incredibly well curated and interesting.

My favorite part was seeing his writing desk. I’m always intrigued by the spaces that inspire people. Ultimately, I think this is one of the best sites to visit for a literary London experience.

globe theatre
The Globe: What is a trip to England without a little Shakespeare? We toured the Globe, which is basically just a view of the theatre from a seat while a guide tells you about the building and original troupes who performed in the space. We wanted to see a show here, but everything was sold out.

Not to worry, though. We did squeeze in two other theatre performances while we were in London. The one we bought tickets for in advance, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, was beyond stellar. By far one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. The staging. The acting. The pace. The technical aspects. Just … wow. I’ve been recommending it to everyone possible now.

We bought tickets for the second show, Kinky Boots, on a whim. It was … okay.

Stratford-Upon-Avon: This was my second visit to Stratford, Shakespeare’s birthplace. I actually don’t remember much about it from my first visit. (Side note: High schoolers shouldn’t be allowed to go to places like Stratford with all of their classmates.) Though I’m still not all that into Shakespeare, spending the whole day touring all the Shakespeare-related sites in town was definitely worth the day trip.

Oxford: It’s kind of a miracle I’m in Kyiv, to be honest with you. Because while we were at Oxford, I found out tuition is only $9,000/year, and I almost signed up to go back to university right then and there. It doesn’t matter what I would have been studying. I fell in love.

Oxford is bursting at its seams with literary lore. Yes, several scenes from the Harry Potter films were shot here, but it’s better known for many literary icons who have graced its grounds. Lewis Carroll was inspired to write Alice in Wonderland here. C.S. Lewis paced near his home here, finding inspiration from a lamppost right outside his front door. While we were on campus, there was a stellar display comparing texts linked by some sort of theme, so we also saw a Gutenberg Bible, Mary Shelley’s handwritten manuscript of Frankenstein and other similarly notable items.

Every single footstep at Oxford was magic. By far my favorite day on our trip.

From Harry Potter to Game of Thrones, the United Kingdom is teeming with literary history. We hit only a fraction of what’s available in London, and obviously there is so much to see. How amazing would it be to take the Jacobite steam train over the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland a la the Hogwarts Express?!

The Life List dream grows.

2 Responses to “Life List: Literary London”

  1. Jill

    We saw the Jacobite steam train cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct while in Scotland. There was a big sign noting the Harry Potter connection, and we just happened to be there a few minutes before the train was due to cross. Talk about timing! So, so fun to see it. I envy your literary trip…would love to do those sites & more someday. (Especially Oxford!)

    • JoAnna

      It would be a dream to ride the Jacobite steam train – but seeing it unexpectedly would be almost as amazing!


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