Few neighborhoods in London represent the city as well as Bloomsbury. Packed with leafy squares, universities and culture, the area captures London’s diversity and balance between past and present — all while offering plenty of things to do.
I lived in the neighbourhood whilst attending graduate school in London – and now make frequent visits back – and am constantly amazed by the amount of culture, history, and convenience that this beautiful area has to offer.
Whether you’re looking to shop, take in one of the neighbourhood’s many museums, or escape the hustle and bustle of the city with some nature, here are our top picks for how to spend your time in Bloomsbury.
by Alison Durkee;
Alison is a journalist covering the arts, culture and politics in the US and UK. When she's not writing, she can frequently be found taking walks around the city or at the theatre.;
What to see and do in Bloomsbury?
1. See places that inspired the Titanic at the Kimpton Fitzroy London
It’s hard to miss the grand Kimpton Fitzroy London (formerly the Hotel Russell) located right on Russell Square – and those who venture inside will get to enjoy a bit of Titanic history.
Architect Charles Fitzroy Doll designed the hotel, which was completed in 1898, and then went on to draw inspiration from his designs as he worked on the Titanic.
In addition to the recently renovated hotel’s modern amenities, visitors can still see the hotel’s main dining room, on which the Titanic’s dining room was based, and a bronze dragon on the hotel’s main staircase whose twin went down on the Titanic.
2. Enjoy the greenery at the Bloomsbury squares
Bloomsbury is home to a number of historic squares, with the largest being Russell Square, Tavistock Square, Argyle Square, Bedford Square, Bloomsbury Square, Brunswick Square, Fitzroy Square, Gordon Square, Marchmont Community Garden, Mecklenburgh Square, Regent Square, Torrington Square and Woburn Square.
These leafy gardens offer a quiet respite from the city, with plenty of places to sit down and enjoy the weather on London’s sunnier days.
The relaxing spots are also packed with history of their own; author Virginia Woolf lived on Tavistock Square while writing many of her famous novels, for instance, and the square now honors the writer with a statue of her likeness.
3. Take the kids to play in Coram’s Fields
Families with kids who need to take a break and run around should head to Coram’s Fields, a seven-acre playground and park specifically for children under age 16.
Adults without children are not permitted in the public park, which has been in use since 1936.
4. Explore the animal kingdom at the Grant Museum of Zoology
The Grant Museum of Zoology, part of the University College London, is the city’s last remaining university natural history museum and one of the country’s oldest natural history collections.
The museum features 68,000 zoological specimens from across the animal kingdom, including the quagga, which is the world’s most rare skeleton
5. Take a shot at the Camera Museum
Located in a basement below a neighbourhood café, the Camera Museum showcases how photographic technology has developed with a full collection of cameras dating from the 1800s through the present day.
After checking out the small museum’s collection, photographers can also get some gear for themselves at a camera shop onsite, as well as enjoy a gift shop.
6. Tap into your artistic side at the UCL Art Museum
In addition to its bustling campus, the University College London is also home to an art collection featuring more than 10,000 works of art from the 1400s through the present day.
Art lovers wanting something different from London’s better-known museums can check out a variety of artwork in all styles, including prints, drawings, sculptures, paintings, and media works.
7. Get lost in a good book at Waterstones
Waterstones may be one of the most common bookstore chains in the UK, but few locations offer as nice an atmosphere as the chain’s Gower Street location.
Housed in an ornate Grade II-listed building designed by Charles Fitzroy Doll, the store is one of the largest bookstores in Europe, offering five full floors of new and used books in all genres, including a wide range of academic texts.
After you’re done browsing through the store’s vast collection, spend more time at the shop by taking advantage of their studying nooks, coffee shops and full programme of events.
8. Tap into your inner child at Pollock’s Toy Museum
Pollock’s Toy Museum is a cozy museum located in two historic houses that showcases toys from around the world.
The museum particularly features toys from the Victorian Era, though visitors can expect to see a wide variety of playthings from days gone by.
In addition to its collection, the museum also features a shop on the first floor stocked with toys for visitors to take home themselves.
9. Visit an Art Deco icon at Senate House
One of Bloomsbury’s most imposing buildings is Senate House, a grand tower located between Gower Street and Russell Square.
The Art Deco landmark has been featured in a number of films and television shows, and even served as the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s landmark novel 1984.
While the building currently houses the library for the University of London, visitors can head into the building’s lobby or check out free public exhibitions offered through the library.
10. Escape the city at St. George’s Gardens
St. George’s Gardens is a three-acre public garden offering a lovely escape from London’s hustle and bustle.
Formerly a burial ground that was converted into a park in 1884, the garden retains aspects of its past with a variety of stony tombs and statues while providing a calm oasis and space to relax for modern-day Londoners.
11. See the founder of Scientology’s former home at Fitzroy House
Visitors looking to learn more about the man behind one of the world’s most controversial religions can head to Fitzroy House, which showcases the life and work of writer and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
While the house is dedicated to Hubbard, who holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for Most Published Author, the 18th century home was also once home to famed playwright George Bernard Shaw.
The house is now free and open to the public, though the museum asks that you make an appointment before visiting.
12. Learn more about the first children’s charity at the Foundling Museum
The Foundling Museum gives visitors a look at the former Foundling Hospital, which was the first children’s charity and public art collection.
Housed in a beautiful 18th century building, the museum blends both old and new, offering a historic look at the hospital and British society alongside more modern offerings like contemporary art commissions.
13. Catch a taping at the BBC New Broadcasting House
See how some of the UK’s top programmes get made at the BBC New Broadcasting House, which is located on the edge of Bloomsbury north of Regent Street.
While the broadcasting hub no longer offers public tours, members of the public can still get into the iconic building by attending a television show taping, radio broadcast, or concert being recorded at the building.
14. Discover the stars of tomorrow at RADA
Some of the UK’s most famous actors on stage and screen have been trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, including Kenneth Branagh, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Vivien Leigh, and Alan Rickman.
Catch tomorrow’s celebrities before they get famous at performance by the current students at RADA, which take place throughout the school term.
15. Enjoy a West End musical at the Dominion Theatre
Take in London’s unparalleled theatre scene with a trip to the Dominion Theatre, a spacious West End theatre dating back to the 1920s.
The theatre typically presents musicals, including Beauty and the Beast, the long-running Queen musical We Will Rock You, and Bat Out of Hell, a rock musical featuring the songs of Meat Loaf.
To save on tickets, head to the nearby TKTS stand in Leicester Square, which offers discounted West End tickets to same-day performances.
— Alison Durkee
16. Shop on one of London’s major thoroughfares on Oxford and Regent Streets
London’s famed Oxford Circus lies on the corner of Bloomsbury where the neighborhood meets Soho and Mayfair, and the iconic shopping district encompassing Oxford and Regent Streets is not to be missed.
The thoroughfares are packed with the UK’s top brands and stores, offering plenty of choices to suit any shopper’s tastes.
17. Go shopping at the Brutalist Brunswick Centre
While older buildings may dominate Bloomsbury’s streets, the neighborhood puts Modernism on full display at the Brunswick Centre, a Grade II-listed Brutalist building home to a number of shops and restaurants.
Head here to shop, grab a bite or catch a film at the centre’s newly opened Curzon Cinema.
In addition to the shopping centre’s regular food options, check out the centre’s food market each Saturday, which features global cuisines from a variety of local vendors.
— Alison Durkee
18. Check out London’s dance scene at The Place
London’s amazing culture includes a thriving dance scene, and one of the best places to check it out is at The Place.
The dance centre offers performances nearly every night by a variety of contemporary dance artists, and those hoping to try out some dancing themselves can even drop in and take an open ballet or contemporary dance class.
19. Go back to school at the University College London campus
Bloomsbury is home to many of London’s top universities, and few have as big a presence as the University College London.
Stroll through the campus’ scenic main square to take in the school’s bustling atmosphere before heading into the university’s main building.
There, you can visit the Octagon Gallery, featuring exhibitions focused on the university’s latest research, or head into the South Cloisters to see one of Bloomsbury’s most bizarre artifacts: the preserved skeleton of the university’s “spiritual founder” Jeremy Bentham.
20. “Draw” up inspiration at the Cartoon Museum
Cartoon lovers shouldn’t miss out on the Cartoon Museum, which will relocate from a previous location on Little Russell Street to Wells Street in spring 2019.
The museum is dedicated to British cartoons and comic art from the 18th century to today, including political cartoons, comics and caricatures.
Past exhibitions have spanned everything from Alice in Wonderland to World War II, and the museum’s new space is expected to include a permanent collection, exhibition space and a full programme of events.
21. Go back to ancient Egypt at the Petrie Museum
Bloomsbury is home to one of the greatest collections of Egyptian artifacts in the world – and it’s not just at the better-known British Museum.
The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, which is part of UCL, gives a look at ancient life along the Nile River through some 80,000 artifacts from Egyptian and Sudanese archeology.
Make a trip to the university museum to catch such interesting pieces as Egyptian costumes and the earliest example of metal in Egypt.
22. Discover historic treasures at the British Museum
In a city filled with world-class museums, few are as popular as the British Museum, which features historic treasures from around the globe.
The museum was first founded in 1753 as the first public museum in the world, and is now housed in an imposing building with a glass-ceiling concourse that’s worth a trip in itself.
Take advantage of the museum’s free admission to see such world-renowned artifacts as Egyptian mummies, marble sculptures from the Parthenon in ancient Greece, and the Rosetta Stone.
If you’re arriving at a peak hour, beat the crowds by entering the museum through its lesser-known rear entrance on Montague Street.
— Alison Durkee
23. Stroll down one of Bloomsbury’s most scenic shopping thoroughfares
Located in the heart of Bloomsbury near Russell Square, Lamb’s Conduit Street is a narrow and scenic street packed with unique shops that are worth a visit.
Shoppers can head to such spots as Persephone Books, which stocks out-of-print books by female authors; the ethical People’s Supermarket; and a wide variety of boutique shops stocking clothing and apparel.
24. Worship at – or simply step into – St. George’s Church Bloomsbury
Among London’s many beautiful churches is St. George’s Church Bloomsbury, which was designed in the early 1700s by leading architect Nicholas Hawksmoor.
In addition to offering traditional church services, visitors can also attend arts performances inside the elegant church.
25. Discover African and Asian art at SOAS
The School of Oriental and African Studies gives Londoners and tourists alike the chance to look beyond the U.K. at their Brunei Gallery, which showcases both contemporary and historical exhibitions centred on Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
In addition to its permanent collections, the free gallery also lets visitors escape the city at its quiet Japanese roof garden.
26. “Read into” a literary legend at the Charles Dickens Museum
Explore the former London home of author Charles Dickens at the museum now bearing his name.
Visitors can discover the residence where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickelby — among other works — as well as see thousands of artifacts from the author’s life and career.
The museum also offers regular events celebrating Dickens, along with special exhibitions delving even deeper into the iconic writer.
Want to step into Dickens’ home without paying the admission fee? Skip the exhibitions and head to the museum’s lovely garden café, which is open to the public.
— Alison Durkee
27. Remember the Holocaust at the Wiener Library
One of history’s most tragic chapters is being preserved at the Wiener Library, one of the world’s largest archives dedicated to the Holocaust and Nazi era.
Members of the public can visit the library’s reading room, take in temporary exhibitions or attend a free tour of the library, which take place every Tuesday at 1:00pm.
28. See one of the city’s tallest buildings at the BT Tower
While Bloomsbury might not be a section of the city known for its skyscrapers, the neighbourhood is home to one of London’s most distinct buildings, the BT Tower.
The tower, which is located on Cleveland Street but is visible throughout the city, was originally built in 1965 to carry telecommunications transmissions from London to the rest of the country and remains a broadcasting hub.
Viewers around the city can see messages on the tower’s 360-degree LED display, which is the largest of its kind in the world.
While the BT Tower isn’t normally open to the public, the building typically offers tours during Open House London, which takes place annually in September.
— Alison Durkee
29. Shop for LGBTQ literature at Gay’s the Word
In addition to the neighbourhood’s more distant literary history, Bloomsbury is also home to Gay’s the Word, the UK’s only bookstore dedicated to LGBTQ literature.
The distinctive bookshop, which was immortalized in the 2014 film Pride for its role in the UK’s miner strikes, has served as a refuge for the city’s LGBTQ community since the 1980s and has hosted such well-known writers as Alan Ginsburg.