Many visitors to London know Bloomsbury as a neighbourhood of books, B&Bs and the British Museum. But it's also a district of elegant architecture, hidden parks and upscale boutiques that's a pleasure to explore on foot.
Much of the area was developed during the 18th Century, with solid Georgian houses arranged around a series of squares. It has had a literary reputation since Virginia Woolf and other members of the bohemian Bloomsbury Group gathered here in the early 20th Century.
The presence of University College London and other institutions of learning means Bloomsbury still has an academic air, with good bookshops and multiple museums.
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Foremost among these is the British Museum (Great Russell Street), deservedly one of Britain's most popular destinations. Founded in 1753, it contains a vast collection of artifacts spanning millennia of human civilisation. The extensive collection of Egyptian mummies is among the most popular draws.
Among the most controversial are the Parthenon friezes, taken from Athens by a British nobleman 200 years ago. Greece has long fought for their return, so far unsuccessfully.
Admission to the museum is free, although special exhibitions charge for tickets. The museum's large, airy Great Court — topped with a glass ceiling by architect Norman Foster — is a good place to stop for coffee or just to people-watch.
Bloomsbury's rich history is reflected in several fascinating small museums, including the Dickens House Museum (48 Doughty Street), where writer Charles Dickens lived and worked early in his career. The Foundling Museum (40 Brunswick Square) movingly tells the story of the Foundling Hospital for abandoned babies, which was established here in 1739 and became the world's first children's charity. Its early patrons included artist William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel.
St George's Gardens, just around the corner from the Foundling Museum, feels like a secret hideaway. It's a former burial ground that is now an atmospheric little park, dotted with crumbling tombs and gravestones.
Anything but secret is nearby Russell Square, Bloomsbury's biggest and most famous square, an expanse of grass and trees with a cafe and a fountain that's a joy in hot weather.
Young visitors can explore Coram's Fields (93 Guilford Street), a three-hectare park with playgrounds, sports pitches, paddling pool and a city farm. Adults are only allowed if accompanied by children.
Bloomsbury has long been famous for its bookshops. Among the best for browsing are Judd Books (82 Marchmont Street), a packed discount emporium strong on fiction, design, literature and history, and the London Review Bookshop (14 Bury Place), an eclectically stocked bibliophiles' paradise. The attached London Review Cake Shop serves good coffee, a vast range of teas and delicious cakes.
Persephone Books (59 Lamb's Conduit Street) specialises in republishing neglected female authors in attractive paperback editions.
Lamb's Conduit Street also offers less cerebral shopping. The partially pedestrianised strip is home to a slew of smart men's-wear boutiques, including Oliver Spencer (No. 62), Folk (No. 49) and Simon Carter (No. 36A).
No day in London would be complete without a visit to the pub. The Lamb (94 Lamb's Conduit Street) and the Museum Tavern (49 Great Russell Street) both have beautifully preserved wood-and-glass Victorian interiors and manage to be busy without feeling too touristy.
Both pubs offer inexpensive meals. Other good-value dining options include neighbourhood Italian Ciao Bella (86-90 Lamb's Conduit Street) and Hare & Tortoise (11-13 Brunswick Square), a cheap-and-cheerful spot for sushi and noodles beloved of local students and professors.
Bloomsbury is a London neighbourhood roughly bounded by Euston Road to the north, Theobald's Road to the south, Tottenham Court Road to the west and Gray's Inn Road to the east. The nearest London Underground stations are Russell Square, Holborn and Goodge Street.
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