Literary England almost seems like a parallel country of its own. The writings of Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, Beatrix Potter, Virginia Woolf and William Shakespeare have created their own imaginary landscape – adding extra romance, mischief and magic to our lives. But what of the real places that inspired them? In this post, we list the top book destinations and landmarks in England that bibliophiles need to see in their lifetime.
Each section is organised by area – starting in Northern England and moving South and you can find a link to the individual places via each heading. We have purposefully left off detailed information as this has changed frequently during the pandemic. Please check the official websites for the latest updates.
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A Literary Map of Britain and Ireland
This lovely map of literary Britain and Ireland by Jen Grenell Illustration depicts a beautiful visual view of bookish places in the UK. You can find some of the locations listed in this post. To see more of Jen’s work, check out her Etsy page.
Planning a Tour of Literary England
Here are our five top tips if you’re planning to tour several literary locations in England.
- It’s generally best to travel via car rather than rely on public transport as many of the rural destinations lie off the main routes. If you visit a city, we recommmend parking at the park and ride stations outside the city centres. If you decide to travel by bus or train then opt for linking several cities (London, Oxford and Bath for instance).
- Book accommodation well in advance. Although there are fewer international tourists due to the pandemic, many more British travellers are flocking to popular spots, which means that quality rooms can be in short supply. If you decide to focus on one area, consider renting a self-catering place.
- Similarly, book tickets for literary houses and attractions early. Many are managed independently, but a good number are run by heritage organisations such as English Heritage and the National Trust. For an annual membership fee, you can visit as many properties as you like and also benefit from free parking. If you’re going to visit 5 or 6 places then it might make financial sense to join.
- Look out for special events while planning. We recently saw a production of Dracula at Whitby Abbey and this was free with our admission. These little extras can make a literary trip really speical.
- Build in downtime to read the literary classics associated with each literary landmark – perhaps set aside a day to walk, dream and journal.
The Lake District
For many, the Lake District embodies the ideal of literary England with its rugged fells, breathtaking lakes and woodland walks. The landscape has inspired many poets and authors, and luckily for the bookish tourist, a number of literary houses are open to the public today. It is well worth factoring some of these iconic locations into your itinerary.
Hill Top is a pretty little cottage nestled in the village of Sawrey and it inspired Beatrix Potter to write a number of her famous stories. Today it is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. Visits are via timed entry because of its small size. However, the garden is just as enchanting with a vegetable patch that Mr McGregor would’ve been proud of.
Writer, art critic and philanthropist, John Ruskin lived at the 250 acre Brantwood estate between 1871 and 1900 The property has spectacular views across Coniston water to the fells and sits in the most beautiful gardens. Now open to the public, visitors can explore the house, gardens, art gallery and treasury (which contains Ruskin’s geological collection). There is also a Terrace restaurant (dogs on leads welcome) and you can book to stay in historic apartments both inside and outside the main house.
Live out your childhood adventures and see the sites that Arthur Ransome included in his famous children’s book Swallows and Amazons by booking a cruise on the National Trust Steam Yacht Gondola (possibly the Captain Flint’s houseboat!). Highlights include Wild Cat Island (Peel Island), Octopus Lagoon and Holly Howe. Oodles of fun and back in time for tea.
Wordsworth was justifiably smitten with Grasmere when he first visited in 1799. As soon as he saw Dove Cottage, he and his sister Dorothy decided to move there, and he wrote many of his poems while living in this cosy nook. During normal opening, you are able to visit the cottage, garden, recently expanded museum and cafe, which also cater for children.
A Wordsworth journey wouldn’t be complete without a trip to see Rydal Mount and Gardens, the poet’s home in later years. Situated close to Dove Cottage, the property is grander with sweeping landscaped gardens. There is also a tearoom selling home-made cakes.
Sedbergh Book Town is England’s Official Book Town and is located to the East of the Lake District. The town is still building its bookish reputation, but is worth a drive just to visit the enormous Westwood Books and see the hulking Howgill Fells. You can read our guide to Sedbergh here.
Yorkshire covers a huge area with many different landscapes, although in the book world it is best known for its dramatic scenery and windswept uplands. Whitby Abbey is one of the major landmarks in England and its skeletal structure still epitomises the gothic aesthetic today.
Whitby provided the iconic setting for Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, and this dramatic coastal town crowned by the gothic Whitby Abbey is one of the top literary destinations in the world (English Heritage manage this site and there is a large pay and display car park nearby). Bram Stoker spent a few weeks exploring the sea port in 1890 and it is here that he gathered inspiration for his chilling tale. Although Whitby is a busy place these days, it still has a unique character and it’s possible to escape the crowds if you venture off the beaten path.
Other books that have featured Whitby include Possession by A.S.Byatt and Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell. The Offing by Benjamin Myers was set in nearby Robin Hood’s Bay.
Haworth is justifiably one of the most famous places of literary England. The moorlands that surround the town inspired the Brontë sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne to write their classic novels, which include Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. You can book to tour the Brontë Parsonage Museum, where the family lived until their premature deaths and wander the scenic paths that wind above this pretty village. Find out more in our blog post on Brontë Country.
At the height of her fame, Agatha Christie left her home in 1926 and disappeared without trace – sparking off a national manhunt. She was finally found after 11 days. It turned out that she’d been been signed in as a guest under the name ‘Mrs Teresa Neele’ from Cape Town at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel. You can still enjoy a stay at the (now called) Old Swan Hotel and experience the retreat for yourself. Crime-writing enthusiasts can boost their visit by combining the experience with a trip to the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival takes place at the hotel every July.
Manchester has enjoyed a revival as an English literary location in recent years, recovering its former glory days when novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, dominated the Victorian bestseller scene from her house on 84 Plymouth Grove. Expect to see another cultural boom as publishing houses start to move their hubs to this thriving city,
The writer Elizabeth Gaskell lived at 84 Plymouth Grove in Manchester with her family from 1850 until her death in 1865. Restored in 2014, visitors are encouraged to sit on the furniture (not original!) and enjoy Gaskell’s beloved home. The tearoom serves drinks and cake on vintage china. There is also a second-hand bookshop and a small garden.
Enriqueta Rylands founded the magnificent John Rylands Library in memory of her husband John Rylands, who died in 1888. The neo-gothic building is located in Central Manchester and holds holds one of the finest collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives in the world. Entry is free, but you need to book in advance.
The Peak District
Much of the Peak District remains untouched and the area is known for its country houses. Book lovers have a range of settings to lose themselves in – from the grandeur of Chatsworth House to the romantic grounds of Haddon Hall.
The Jane Eyre Trail is a 5.5 mile (8km) walk that winds through the dramatic landscape that’s said to have inspired Charlotte Brontë to write Jane Eyre. Starting at the Peak District village of Hathersage, the trail takes you past North Lees Hall, allegedly the template for Rochester’s Thornfield Hall (not open to the public) and up to Stanage Edge, a location that has appeared in films such as Pride and Prejudice. Discover more about the trail.
If you adore screen adaptations of classic novels, Haddon Hall is an absolute must for all fans in search of literary England. This picture-perfect manor house has appeared in 1986 movie, The Princess Bride featuring Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin, Zefferelli’s Jane Eyre, The Other Boleyn Girl featuring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman to name but a few. The Hall has a tearoom and exquisite gardens so you can spend all day living your fairytale dreams in this magical nook.
Arguably the number one tourist destination in the Peak District. The super-grand seat of the Cavendish family has been associated with Jane Austen’s Pemberley for a number of years and certainly it lives up to its glorious reputation. The late Dowager Duchess, Deborah Cavendish (nee Mitford) wrote a number of non-fiction books and was best friends with acclaimed travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor. The house is full equipped for visitors, with shops, cafes and restaurants as well as extensive grounds.
Not a church, but an otherworldly natural chasm hidden deep in the Peak District. Reputedly the site of the Green Chapel in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it’s hard to find unless you have the directions. A worthy quest if you want to see one of the strangest sites in the area.
Arguably Britain’s most influencial writer, William Shakespeare grew up and lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon, which is is now a hub for those wishing to learn more about his life and work.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace is the first place most visitors want to see when they arrive in Stratford Upon Avon. William Shakespeare was born here in 1564 and continued to live in the property with his wife Anne Hathaway and his three children, Susanna, Judith and Hamnet, were born under its roof.
Eventually the house passed out of the Shakespeare’s ownership, but was purchased as a heritage site after a successful public campaign in 1847. It is now managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Equally as popular, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage belonged to the family of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne. The building was occupied by 13 generations of the family until it was bought by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and contains pieces of original furniture such as a courting settle that William Shakespeare will most certainly have sat upon.
Located by the River Avon, the 1018-seat theatre is the main venue for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s plays are regularly performed here.
‘The City of Dreaming Spires’, Oxford has inspired countless authors, most notably J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S.Lewis who wrote their fantasy classics while teaching here. The city is perfect for wanderers, thinkers and history buffs.
Many acclaimed authors have featured the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum in their novels. Visitors can follow a Literary Trail to discover more about these connections, which include Will and Lyra’s bench from the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman and the Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
The ‘Narnia Door’ – St. Mary’s Passage
When you approach the famous Radcliffe Camera (pictured from the High Street) via the narrow St.Mary’s Passage, you will pass a wooden door carved with a lion (it opens into Brasenose College). Stand back and you’ll notice two golden fauns on either side. Walk a little further towards Radcliffe Square to find an old-fashioned lamp-post. Although C.S.Lewis never said that this magical combination inspired his famous children’s book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the similarities are striking and the author would have walked this route many times.
The famous meeting point for the Inklings writing group which inspired C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to create their fantasy worlds. The pub is closed for renovations at present and is due to open in 2022.
If you’re visiting Oxford with kids then the Story Museum is an ideal destination for book lovers. This recently re-vamped museum is dedicated to story for all ages and hold exhibitions, activities and author talks. There is a charge to enter.
Bath has long been associated with elegance and sophistication. The city has preserved much of its Regency architecture, making it a fantastic book destination from Jane Austen fans.
Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806 when the city was at the height of its popularity. She worked on some of her earlier novels here and had an opportunity to observe society in full swing. The Jane Austen Centre recreates her Regency world, providing immersive experiences for visitors. It also holds an annual Jane Austen Festival.
It’s difficult to narrow down London literary locations. The UK’s capital city is packed with bookish connections and bibliophiles will find plenty to explore. We recommend starting at the breathtaking British Library, which offers a great overview of British literary history.
Situated next to Kings Cross Station and open (free) to the public, the British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom. With a collection of over 170 million items, the archive includes the Magna Carta and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook. The entire stock physically occupies 746km of shelving – equivalent to the distance from London to Aberdeen. Inside you can find restaurants, cafes and shops.
You can find the Peter Pan statue to the west of the Long Water, in the same spot as Peter lands his bird-nest boat in the story, ‘The Little White Bird.’ Peter Pan creator and local resident JM Barrie was inspired by Kensington Gardens. He commissioned Sir George Frampton to build the statue which has been a favourite feature of the gardens since 1912.
Situated on the bank of the Thames, this unusual building is a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre where William Shakespeare’s plays were first performed. It is a truly fantastic experience to see the plays enacted in their original format. Standing ticket are £5, but book ahead to get the bargains!
Enter the home of Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s genius detective is still as popular today as in the 1900s and this attraction in Central London is a must-see for Sherlock fans. Opened in 1990, the four-storey Georgian townhouse dates back to 1815 and is full of Victorian memorabilia, Sherlockian clues and a dedicated gift shop.
The poet John Keats lived at Wentworth Place (its former name) for 17 months from December 1818, and wrote some of his best known poems here. He also met and proposed to Fanny Brawne during his time in Hampstead (the film Bright Star re-imagines this period in Keats’ life). The house is open to the public.
London Accommodation Map
This handy London accommodation map from Booking.com shows hotel availability across the city. Do check the latest reviews before you book.Booking.com
Kent is a county of contrasts. Close to London, but also with an extensive coastline and lush countryside, it has acted as both retreat and muse to many English authors.
The Dickens House Museum celebrates Charles Dickens’ long connection with Broadstairs and contains items that once belonged to the author, including letters written about Broadstairs, his writing box and mahogany sideboard. It is closed to the pubic at present.
Home to writers, Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, Sissinghurst Castle has captured the imagination of bibliophiles and garden-lovers since it was first opened to the public in the 1960s. Now managed by the National Trust, this glorious estate has a restaurant and a shop. It also welcomes dogs.
Charles Darwin wrote ‘On the Origin of the Species’ at Down House, Kent where he lived and worked for 40 years. Visitors can see Charles Darwin’s study, which still has the same structure to this day. Every piece of furniture is original and some of the possessions date from his time on HMS Beagle. The house and garden is managed by English Heritage and the organisation hosts various exhibitions at the property.
As with Kent, many classic British authors have found solace in the pretty southern county of East Sussex – enjoying the rural and coastal life. All three properties listed in this section are managed by the National Trust and are open to the public.
Rudyard Kipling bought this pretty Jacobean home in 1902 and lived in the property with his family until his death in 1936. While here, he wrote his famous poem “If—”. The National trust have preserved Kipling’s Study as it was left with cigarette burns and ink stains intact.
Leonard and Virginia Woolf regularly escaped London to spend time at the 16th century Monk’s House near Rodmell, East Sussex. The tiny cottage is filled with artworks by Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell, who lived nearby with her companion Duncan Grant. Virginia wrote most of her major works in the writing lodge in the garden.
Lamb House in Rye has housed many authors over the years including Rumer Godden and EF Benson although it is most often associated with Henry James who took out a 21 year lease on the building. H.G Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Hueffer (who later became Ford Madox Ford) all visited James during this time there.
The village of Chawton in Hampshire (near Winchester) is a must-see for Jane Austen fans. She lived here for the last 8 years of her life and wrote most of her classic novels during this time. We highly recommend a trip to Winchester too.
Jane lived in Chawton, a village close to Winchester, from 1809 to 1817 with her mother, sister Cassandra and close friend, Martha Lloyd. The family moved into the cottage after their brother, Edward Knight, who had inherited nearby Chawton House. Nowadays, the House is run by a charity and is “the most treasured Austen site in the world.”
Jane Austen called Chawton House the ‘Great House’. Only a short walk from Jane Austen’s House, it contains the research library for the Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing, 1600–1830. The gardens are extensive and there is a tearoom on site.
In the southwest of England, Dorset is known for its dramatic coastline. No wonder that some of the most moving English literary classics have been based in this characterful landscape.
Hardy was born at this traditional cob and thatch cottage in 1840. It has remained largely untouched over the centuries, making it easy to imagine the young author writing the literary classics Far from the Madding Crowd and Under the Greenwood Tree here.
John Fowles, the author of The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, lived at Belmont from 1968-2005. His writing room on the first floor overlooks the Cobb. It includes a writing desk and a large number of John Fowles books in the library. The house is not open to the public but stays can be booked via the Landmark Trust.
Devon has a gentle charm with softer lines than its neighbour, Cornwall. Popular as a holiday destination, it was a favourite for Agatha Christie who spent summers overlooking the glorious Dart Estuary.
Agatha Christie’s Devon retreat, Greenway, is both a museum and a holiday destination, having self-catering apartments and lodges onsite. The house contains her personal possessions (five generations of the family collected over 11,000 objects). For keen walkers, there are a number of routes to explore around the gardens and surrounding countryside.
Myth, magic and secrets abound in this remote part of England, making it a magnet for artists and writers. It’s best to travel out of season to experience the true spirit of Cornwall.
Undoubtedly the most famous Arthurian site in the world, the ruins of Tintagel Castle sit upon a Cornish promontory overlooking the sea. Although the connection with King Arthur is still in dispute, the spectacular location has become a setting for many fantasy works, including Lord Alfred Tennyson’s epic poem, Idylls of the King. On the beach below the castle, visitors can explore Merlin’s Cave at low tide. The site is managed by English Heritage and pre-booking is advised during high season.
If you’re travelling to the tip of Cornwall then chances are that you’ll pass the historic Jamaica Inn where Daphne du Maurier set her novel of the same name. Established as a coaching stop in 1750, this characterful hostelry has welcomed many weary wanderers. Daphne due Maurier stayed in Bedroom 3 in 1930 when she became lost while out riding on her horse, and this inspired her to write her dramatic tale. You can still stay here. There is also a Smuggling Museum and a restaurant on site.
Frenchman’s Creek can be found just off the Helford River and also inspired Daphne du Maurier who honeymooned here in 1932. There are many ways to experience this enchanting spot. You can go on a kayaking tour, a circular walk or stay in this secluded Landmark Trust cottage.
A map of Literary England and the UK
Take your exploration of literary England to the next level with the Great British Literature Map! It includes many British literary locations as well as independent bookshops – a fantastic treat for serious book lovers.