If you’re a librophile or a history buff like Jacob and I, The British Library is a no-brainer during your visit to London! It was surprising to me that for a city so rich in literary culture and history, The British Library rarely came up during my research and planning of our visit to London. Don’t overlook this spot when planning your own visit!
When to Go
Jacob and I arrived at London’s Gatwick Airport at 11:50AM on a Tuesday. After an overnight flight with one early morning stop in Reykjavik, Iceland, we were both ready for a nap! However, our goal was to stay awake that first day in London for as long as possible in order to combat the jet lag.
We took a pre-booked, shared shuttle from Gatwick Airport to our hotel near Kings Cross and St. Pancreas. With Gatwick Airport being south of London and our shuttle-mates being dropped off at their hotel on the west end, Jacob and I were lucky to get a nice introductory tour of the city of London a-la our shuttle driver.
That initial shuttle ride out of the airport was a great way for us to get our bearings in a new city. At least…it was a great way for me to get my bearings in a new city. Our plan of staying awake for as long as possible on our first day didn’t last very long for Jacob! He fell asleep on the shuttle ride and missed a majority of those initial sights.
After about a two hour shuttle ride, we made it to The California London. We were able to check in and become acquainted with our home-away-from-home for the next five days. After some quick unpacking, showers, and another nap for Jacob, we were ready to head out!
We definitely wanted to make the most of our time in London and see as much as possible. In my planning of our itinerary, every hour counted! So even though we were tired from our long flight, I knew that I wanted us to get out and see our first attraction for our first evening in London.
The British Library was a perfect first stop! That particular evening, it was open until 8:00pm, giving us a solid couple hours to explore it. Our hotel was located in the King’s Cross area, making it only about a five minute walk to The British Library. We got to walk right past King’s Cross and St. Pancreas Stations and entered The British Library from the south. What a great first impression!
What to See
If you’re planning on visiting the British Library yourself, you must check out the Treasures of the British Library exhibition. This is a permanent installment at the British Library and features original, historic works such as the Magna Carta, DaVinci’s notebooks, original lyrics from The Beatles, and beautiful, ornate religious works from throughout the world, to name just a few!
There is something in this exhibit for anyone and everyone to enjoy and appreciate. It is truly awe-inspiring and I left feeling humbled and wonderstruck.
The best part: it’s free!
As I’m sure you can understand, photography was prohibited inside the exhibit, so I don’t have any photos to share. However, you can find out more information here.
What to Do
Apart from the Treasures of the British Library exhibition, The British Library has many other exhibitions that are available to the public. Many are permanent installments, others are only available for viewing for a limited time. Jacob and I were really bummed that we missed Harry Potter: A History of Magic by just about two months. So, to make sure you’re up-to-date on what exhibits The British Library will be putting on, make sure you head here. Note that a majority of the exhibitions are free to enter, though there are some exhibitions that require a paid ticket entry.
Grab a Bite
The British Library has several dining options for the hungry readers and tourists alike.
For those needing a quick bite, the King’s Library Café has a cafeteria-style setting with plenty of grab-and-go options.
For those wanting a more immersive, relaxing experience, check out the Terrace Restaurant located on the first floor.
Each of the coffee shops and bars also has it’s own selection of pastries, donuts, sandwiches, and other snacks.
We grabbed some coffee from the Origin Coffee stand located in the entrance hall and found a small table nearby. We sat sipping our coffee, rested our jet-lagged bodies (by this time it was starting to get to me, too), and took in the sights of The British Library. From our vantage point we had a view of the gift shop, the King’s Library Tower, stairways, and all the people coming and going.
I really enjoyed sitting back and taking it all in, living vicariously through the patrons of The British Library. I’ll admit that I was a little envious of the students, professors, etc. that are able to use The British Library for their research on a regular basis.
Because what trip is complete without a souvenir? The British Library has a cute little shop full of, you guessed it, books and book-related gifts and novelty items.
Explore the Terrace
There are some cute photo-ops outside of The British Library on the terrace. London weather is notoriously glum, but if it happens to be cooperating during your visit, make sure to explore the terrace yourself!
Channel a Local
Grab a cuppa and head for one of the Reading Rooms. Be aware, though, that you’re going to have to put in a little work. Access to the Reading Rooms isn’t automatically granted to just anyone, but rather there is a process you must complete if you’re interested in visiting.
Anyone interested in spending time in one of the Reading Rooms must have a Reader Pass, and you can go here to get direct instructions from The British Library on how obtain one for yourself.
Once you do have your Reader Pass, you must also have some items in mind to view. In other words, you can’t just get a Reader Pass to look around the Reading Rooms, but must request specific materials to view.
You can learn more about the Reading Rooms and the process for entry here.
There are so many nooks and crannies and interesting installments to explore even within the general areas of The British Library. You never know what you may find that will peak your interest!
Take Some Photos
There are so many cute spots inside The British Library to take photos. Our favorite spot was the King’s Library Tower, seen in the background of half of the pictures in this post.
Other must-see sites to take pictures are the entrance hall (look for the book-shaped bench!) and the terrace.
How to Get There
I’ll just leave this here: if you’re going to visit London, you better get familiar with the Underground. It’s the main mode of transport in the city, and for obvious reasons.
London’s Underground is a well-oiled machine and fantastic feat of city engineering. I think Jacob judged me a couple times for geeking out so hard about the convenience of “The Tube”.
From wherever you are located in the city, determine which Underground line will get you to the King’s Cross St. Pancreas station. There are six lines that stop at this station directly: Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, and Victoria.
Once you reach the King’s Cross St. Pancreas Station, it’s an easy walk west (about 1000 feet or so) on Euston Road (A501) to The British Library.
If you hail from a right-side-of-the-road country like us, remember that they drive on the left side in England. You may not realize it at first (we didn’t), but you must also pay attention to this as a pedestrian, not just as a driver. So as you’re crossing a street, remember to look to your right first, and then your left, as the traffic closest to you will be coming from your right-hand side.
The British Library was a great way to kick off our London itinerary! Click here to learn where we went the next morning!