Bloomsbury is something of an unknown quantity. It’s hidden away, tucked among and behind all sorts of places that everyone already knows. But head to its back streets, past the busy roads and you’ll discover one of central London’s greatest treasures. Neither crazy-busy like Oxford Street, nor aggy like the City, not touristy like Covent Garden, it has all the history of Soho but, brilliantly, none of the crowds.
Despite being near London’s busiest bits, Marchmont Street is one of Zone 1’s most chilled-out places to wander around and it has an amazingly rich heritage. It’s got all bases covered: art, cinema, architecture, museums, green spaces, shopping, fine food, nice pubs and cheap eats. And if you turn up on a Sunday morning you basically get it all to yourself.
That rich history I alluded to earlier? The street’s full of stories: from the LGBT powerhouse Gay’s the Word (recognise it from Pride?) to Percy and Mary Shelley’s old house and the gossip-worthy goings-on of Jane Austen-era Brunswick Square, it’s basically a living museum of London.
So as all the tourists head straight to the British Museum, go a little bit east and give yourself the whole day to have a proper exploration of the road that London historians call Bloomsbury’s ‘original high street’.
The Norfolk Arms runs a mean bar and also serves pata negra and soutzouki as well as modern British food and delicious ales. Enjoy your pint and/or jamon out in the garden whenever the weather’s up to scratch.
Boozy milkshakes are the order of the day at Burger & Shake. If you can stomach bourbon and peanut butter, the Bourbontun is the baby for you, while for the fainthearted, the chocolate malt is probably a safe bet.
Got some time to fritter away on your tod? Fork Café has a cake menu, wifi, outdoor tables and a stack of magazines to browse. Who needs company, anyway?
You can find some pretty awesome Sichuan food beyond Chinatown. Stop off at Chilli Cool if you like hotpots, dan dan noodles or ‘fish fragrant’ dishes. Service is quick, dishes are affordable and everything is mouth-wateringly hot.
The Horse Hospital is brilliant for talks, films and esoteric exhibitions. It’s wondefully weird.
Cinephiles should check out what’s on at the Curzon Bloomsbury. This cinema looks like a tiny kiosk above ground, but it turns, Tardis-like, into an elegant subterranean multiplex.
London’s luckier abandoned Victorian children were taken in by what is now The Foundling Museum. It’s full of fascinating history and art, with Cornelia Parker’s amazing ‘Found’ show on at the moment.
Marchmont Street is London’s secondhand books heaven. For anyone who worships at the altar of Penguins and Pelicans, you cannot miss the palindromic Skoob Books: a super-stocked shop bang under Waitrose full of classic paperbacks of yore.
Then nip a few doors down to the ‘Black Books’-alike Judd Street Books (amazing for poetry), and the pioneering Gay’s The Word.
For gorgeous homewares, hit up Petit A which stocks cult brands like Marimekko as well as Moomin gifts, plus they have a gorgeous little coffee bar in the store.
If you only do one thing…
Check out the Brunswick Centre, a Grade II-listed mixed-used development from the late 1960s and one of the finest bits of brutalist architecture in London.
By Ellie Broughton, who thinks Bloomsbury is bloomin’ lovely.
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