Cheap days out in London

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Our selection of six belt-tightening itineraries to help you have fun on a budget



I don’t believe in literary pilgrimages, except when it involves genuine worship. I’d never do a Dickens-themed walk in London, but I would go to Anaïs Nin’s apartment on the boulevard Suchet to sniff her bedsheets if they were still there, unwashed. Still, I do believe in literary moods and this low-budget walk has plenty of psychogeographical potential.

Channel TS Eliot

© Rob Greig

An early coffee will set you off in the right state of mind. Monmouth Coffee shop (1) in Borough Market opens at 7.30 am. Then go to London Bridge Station (2) at 7.45am and stand dead still. Watch the hollow men and women crossing the bridge to get to their offices, where they will proceed to shaft and con and trick the rest of us for ten hours or so. This is your TS Eliot mood moment. That is, ‘The Waste Land’ v2010. Afterwards, walk up Fleet Street (3) – tomb of newspaper memories, murdered by Murdoch long before the virtual reality-ists did their worst.

Visit the former home of Virginia Woolf

© Rob Greig

Head north up through Holborn to Bloomsbury: pop into the Bloomsbury Street Hotel (4) and check the reception – that’s a copy of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ enshrined in the installation behind the front desk. The hotel has a book club which gives free books to guests.

Explore the heart of literary London

Bloomsbury is still home to Faber & Faber (Bloomsbury Square (5)) and Quercus (ditto) – but funnily enough not Bloomsbury Publishing (Soho Square). I don’t care for blue plaques, but the district is austere, dark-bricked and atmospheric – and will make you think of Eliot again. For lunch, have a bite to eat at Tea and Tattle on Great Russell St, in the basement of Arthur Probsthain’s Oriental and African bookshop (6).

Be transported to the island of Ham

Any decent literary walk should end in the ’burbs, the realm of ghosts, ideas and failed writers. Take the Northern line to Hampstead Heath (7) aka Ham, the last island to survive the flood in Will Self’s ‘The Book of Dave’, the best London-located book of the last ten years.

Have one for the road

Walk the Heath as the sun sets and then take the Overground to Hackney Central and cross London Fields (8), namesake of the best London novel of the 1980s. Martin Amis set his story in the ugly, expat-ridden West, but the allusion is all that matters, especially in an author who expresses such contempt for the literal. Have a drink at real-ale real pub The Dove (9) on Broadway Market, before heading out into the ungentrified Hackney night, realm of race fear, class war and universal murder, plus, of course, ‘media types’. Dinner? Not a chance. Writers are famously hungry: show some sympathy.

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