The British Library is the undisputed lord of the libraries. Within these imposing walls and behind the bookshelves there is a rich culture and history to explore. You can find the grand library on the Euston Road, a short distance from the Park Grand Paddington Court and we urge guests to visit at least once. Read on to discover why a trip to this colossal archive should be on everyone’s must-do list when visiting London.
1) It houses some of the most important literature in the world
In case you need reminding, the texts housed in the British Library are some of the most revered and rare in the whole world. The collection includes literary manuscripts, letters, maps, photographs, religious texts and historical documents. You can read about, literally, anything. And if you don’t feel like reading, you can opt to listen to one of the sound recordings instead. There are over 170 million items, spanning 3,000 years of history, making it the largest library collection on the planet. Now, find out how to access the works!
2) Anyone can register for a Reader Pass for free
Most of the collection at the British Library is locked away, but by registering for your free Reader Pass ahead of your visit, you can access the Reading Rooms and explore the works. There are 9 Reading Rooms at the British Library, which range from subject to subject. You’ll find Humanities, Social Sciences, Maps and Rare Books. Ahead of your visit, you can browse the online catalogue to track down the item you need, and then once in the Reading Room, you can request it using their onsite catalogues. Although you can’t borrow anything from the library, the Reading Rooms are stocked with photocopiers which you are welcome to make use of and take away to decipher over a glass of wine at the Grand Court Restaurant.
3) They have a fascinating programme of exhibitions
The British Library always has a series of cool and quirky exhibitions on, most of which are free. Current and upcoming exhibitions include the Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels, which explores how gutsy characters have stood up for their beliefs. The exhibition includes Roald Dahl’s handwritten drafts of Matilda alongside enduring classics such as Pippi Longstocking, Tracy Beaker and The Secret Garden. Alternatively, you can delve into the life and writing of poet William Wordsworth (17 January – 31 May).
4) You can feel zen at the Buddhism exhibition
The current exhibition is Buddhism, which traces the evolution of this mystical practice which originated in 6th-century BCE India. Get to grips with the fundamental principles of mindfulness, compassion and tolerance which form the basis of Buddhism. The exhibition includes sacred texts written on tree bark, palm leaves and gold plates, exquisite silk scrolls of major sutras and artefacts made by hand in a setting inspired by a Buddhist temple. Until 23 Feb 2020.
5) They have a remarkable schedule of exclusive talks
When searching for hotel deals in London, have a look on the British Library website to find out what talks are scheduled during your visit. These discussions range from panels analysing characters from classic literature, historical talks which debunk myths and misconceptions and investigations into the lives of famed poets. At present, there are a series of discussions about Buddhism. Many of the talks are free, others have a small cost.
6) You can get your head down
The British Library is the perfect place to retreat for a few hours to work, study or read for pleasure. The building is equipped with Wi-Fi and power sockets and plenty of public areas with desks or comfortable seating.
7) You can grow your business
If you run a small business of your own or are self-employed – you might want to pay a visit to the library’s Business Centre. The centre has staff available throughout the day who are trained to provide help to startups and support business owners with their next steps. The centre also runs regular workshops and talks. So whether you’re stuck with branding, intellectual property or experiencing website woes, drop in and get some advice – the service at the Business Centre is free!
8) Royalty have touched these tomes
The King’s Library tower earned its name with good reason, it contains works that were personally collected by King George II. There are 65,000 books and 19,000 housed safely behind the glass panes that you’ll see as you explore the library. Among the collection, you’ll find a Gutenberg Bible as well as Caxton’s first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Unfortunately, if you want to take a photo of this regal collection, you’ll struggle. There is a special layer of UV filter glass to protect these precious, rare books.
9) You can turn your book browsing session into a lunch date
If you’re worried about your energy levels dropping, rest assured that you can eat very well under the roof of the British Library! Located on Floor 1, let yourself be tempted by artisan bread, homemade quiches and sweet treats at The Terrace Restaurant. The Terrace Café offers hot bistro-style meals, a roast of the day and an extensive salad bar as well as a licensed bar serving beers and wines. The library is also dotted with coffee points for your caffeine fix before your dinner reservation at the Grand Court Restaurant.
10) You can treat your loved ones (or yourself) at the gift shop
Museum and gallery shops rarely disappoint, and the British Library is no exception. Their two gift shops stock homeware, jewellery, books, prints and all the apparel you could possibly think of. If you are looking to shop for souvenirs for yourself or your loved ones, you will be able to find something special here. Expect a lot of literary-themed gifts such as Alice in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Shakespeare as well as limited edition items inspired by the current exhibition.