What to read and watch before visiting London

Destinations

Centuries of writers and filmmakers have fallen in love with the charmingly frenetic English capital – from author Andrea Levy and her evocative descriptions of post-war London in novel, Small Island, to the filming locations of the Harry Potter films. Whether you're actively planning or just pondering your next holiday, there's a whole body of literature and cinema set in London that evokes the city’s rich history and electric energy.

Which is why we've rounded up the top books and films to read and watch ahead of your trip, to help you get a feel for this incredible city and ensure you make the most of it.

Books

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch

Thames Valley

Thames Valley

Rivers of London is the first in a fantasy-crime series about contemporary London written by Doctor Who writer, Ben Aaronovitch. The action centres around the Thames River and London’s folklore and history are interwoven with deftly plotted detective work. Aaronovitch doesn’t just focus on the centre of the city; his characters also pay many visits to the often overlooked Thames Valley. The Clerk & Well are down the road from the Rivers of London HQ.

Small Island, by Andrea Levy

The Ritzy in Brixton

The Ritzy in Brixton

World War II infamously rewrote swathes of London’s landscape and the aftermath inspired Andrea Levy’s award-winning novel: Small Island. The story follows the fortunes of a Jamaican couple who move into a tiny flat in South West London and the claustrophobic-yet-hopeful atmosphere of post-war London is perfectly captured by Levy’s sparse prose and borough-hopping narrative. Half Moon is located in the heart of Levy's London.

An Equal Music, by Vikram Seth

The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park

The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park

A love story that’s as much about loving London as it is about the two people involved, An Equal Music by Vikram Seth offers the reader an alternative view of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. The statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus is especially significant and a great deal of the plot focuses on the idyllic Serpentine and Hyde Park areas. Bayswater Apartment are a short walk from the Serpentine.

Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral

Out of all Dickens’ novels, Barnaby Rudge has the most extensive and diverse selection of London locations. The majority of the plot happens outside, around the vividly depicted St Paul’s Cathedral, High Holborn, and Fleet Street. This is an area of Dickens’ London that remains largely intact and is a short walk from the Charles Dickens Museum. Kings Wardrobe Apartments are just two-minutes walk from St Paul's Cathedral.

Films

Attack the Block, directed by Joe Cornish

Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle

Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle

Watching the London landscape being dismantled might not seem like an obvious way to familiarise yourself with the city, however Attack the Block is a great insight into an overlooked side of inner city London. Mainly shot around the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle, this film features real London and real Londoners as a group of local teenagers (led by Star Wars actor, John Boyega) band together to battle aliens. Meanwhile, these luxurious apartments offer different outlook on Elephant & Castle.

Brick Lane, directed by Sarah Gavron

Brick Lane in Shoreditch

Brick Lane in Shoreditch

Sarah Gavron’s adaptation of Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane was shot on and around the famous London market street and features many of the local residents. Gavron takes the viewer on a visual journey through Brick Lane and Islington Chapel Market while telling a compelling story of how overwhelming yet invigorating the city can be. Crashpads Mini Lofts offer capsule accommodation next to Brick Lane.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, directed by David Yates

Westminster tube station

Westminster tube station

The Harry Potter series may be all about magical London, but the Muggle side of life does pop up as well. Nothing typifies the tourist experience like Mr Weasley attempting to navigate Westminster tube station in Order of the Phoenix. And once you arrive the Tour for Muggles will take you all through Harry Potter’s London, including the twisting alleyways around Charing Cross (the inspiration for Diagon Alley) and, of course, Platform 9 ¾. The Georgian House Hotel has two Harry Potter-themed rooms.

28 Days Later, directed by Danny Boyle

Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge

Look past the gruesome subject matter and you’ll notice that 28 Days Later features a haunting, iconic shot of London. Cillian Murphy’s character wakes up from a coma to find the city almost completely deserted and wanders the streets in search of survivors. Which leads to much footage of the deserted streets and Murphy’s famous walk across the empty Westminster Bridge. The London Marriott Hotel County Hall overlooks Westminster Bridge.

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