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London Travel Guide

  • Photo: © Zach Nelson / Fodors Travel

Bloomsbury and Holborn

Guarded by the British Library to the north, the British Museum at its heart, and the Inns of Court of the Holborn district (right by the Thames), Bloomsbury might appear all bookish and cerebral—but fear not, it’s much more than that. There’s a youthfulness about its buzzing thoroughfares—not surprising, given all

the nearby universities and colleges, let alone students heading to the British Library. To the southeast, Holborn was once Dickens territory and now is home to legal London.

Fundamental to the region's spirit of open expression and scholarly debate is the legacy of the Bloomsbury Group, an elite corps of artists and writers who lived in this neighborhood during the first part of the 20th century. Gordon Square was at one point home to Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes (both at No. 46), and Lytton Strachey (at No. 51). But perhaps the best-known square in Bloomsbury is the large, centrally located Russell Square, with its handsome gardens. Scattered around the University of London campus are Woburn Square, Torrington Square, and Tavistock Square. The British Library, with its vast treasures, is a few blocks north, across busy Euston Road.

Bloomsbury is bordered by Tottenham Court Road on the west, Euston Road on the north, Woburn Place (which becomes Southampton Row) on the east, and New Oxford Street on the south.The area from Somerset House on the Strand, all the way up Kingsway to the Euston Road, is known as London's Museum Mile for the myriad historic houses and museums that dot the area. Charles Dickens Museum, where the author wrote Oliver Twist, pays homage to the master, and artists' studios and design shops share space near the majestic British Museum. And guaranteed to raise a smile from the most blasé and footsore tourist is Sir John Soane's Museum, where the colorful collection reflects the eclectic interests of the namesake founder. Bloomsbury's liveliness extends north to the exciting redevelopment of King's Cross—once the ugly sister of all ugly sisters—and farther north to quaint, bustling Islington.Southeast of Bloomsbury and west of The City, Holborn may appear to be little more than a buffer zone between the two—but while it may lack the panache and of its neighbors, don’t underestimate this varied slice of the capital. Home to legal London and the impressive Inns of Court, this is also Charles Dickens territory, with the Old Curiosity Shop snug within its borders and the Dickens museum close by. Add to that its fair share of churches and quirky places of interest, and you’ll soon discover that Holborn can be a rewarding place to while away an hour or three. Holborn's massive Gothic-style Royal Courts of Justice ramble all the way to the Strand, and the Inns of CourtGray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, Middle Temple, and Inner Temple —are where most British trial lawyers have offices to this day. Geographically, Holborn is probably best defined as: west, Kingsway; north, Theobald's Road; east, Gray's Inn Road; south, where the Strand becomes Fleet Street.To the north of Soho, on the other side of Oxford Street, is Fitzrovia, famed for its dining and drinking. It is known affectionately by some as "Noho." Like its brasher southern sibling, it has some excellent bars and restaurants (especially on Charlotte Street) but more breathing space and fewer crowds. Some people think it found its name because Fitzroy Square is near its heart. Originally designed by the Adam brothers, the square and its environs quickly became fashionable for haute bohemia: George Bernard Shaw and James McNeil Whistler lived here. To the west, Great Portland Street separates it from Marylebone, while Gower Street marks its eastern border, beyond which is Bloomsbury. Busy Euston Road (and the Circle Line beneath it) is its northern extent.

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