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Being one of the most dynamic, exciting and diverse cities in the world, with a long and fascinating history, it’s unsurprising that London has been featured in hundreds of books over the last few centuries.
From the classics of Victorian London and elegant Regency dramas to modern-day romances, social satire and a murder mystery or two, there’s a book set in London to suit every taste.
Below are 20 of my top recommendations for great books and novels that were set in London.
This article is split into four main sections; classic novels set in London, historical novels set in London, books set in modern-day London and non-fiction books about London.
Classic novels set in London
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
What is probably one of the most famous historical novels set in London, Oliver Twist is the story of a young orphan as he escapes a workhouse and falls in with a gang of juvenile pickpockets in Victorian London.
One of Dicken’s most iconic works, Oliver Twist exposes the prevalent poverty in the slums of London during the mid-19th-century and the criminal underworld that formed because of it.
Genre: Coming-of-age & social satire
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf’s literary classic follows a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high-society woman in 1920s London, as she travels around the capital preparing for a party she is hosting that evening.
Taking place predominantly in Westminster where Mrs Dalloway lives, the book mentions many London landmarks including Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square, not only as the backdrop of the story but as important symbols of life in post-war Britain that feed into the wider context of the book.
Using stream of consciousness storytelling, Mrs Dalloway touches on many important themes, including feminism, mental health, homosexuality and cultural changes in the modern world.
Genre: Psychological fiction
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and other stories by Robert Louis Stevenson
While most people know the basic story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, far fewer have read the book from which the tale originated.
Written as a novella by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson in the late 1800s, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is about a legal practitioner in Victorian London named Gabriel John Utterson who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll, and the evil and violent Edward Hyde, eventually coming to a chilling revelation.
One of the most iconic and important Gothic horrors of all time, the original story set in London can now also be found within a larger book of other Gothic tales also written by Stevenson.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ is a collection of twelve short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle in the late 1800s.
These stories are the earliest to feature the now internationally renowned consulting detective Sherlock Holmes who has featured in a whole host of books, tv-series and movies ever since.
Centered around his apartment at 221B Baker Street, Arthur Conan Doyle’s book is perhaps one of the most important literary classics ever to be set in London.
Fan of Sherlock Holmes? Check out my complete guide to the coolest Sherlock Holmes attractions and famous locations in London.
Genre: Detective, mystery, crime
Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton
‘Hangover Square’ is a dark comedy set in the grimy publands of London’s Earls Court in 1939, following the awkward, mentally unstable and usually drunk character of George Harvey Bone and his unreciprocated love interest Netta.
“In the darkly comic Hangover Square Patrick Hamilton brilliantly evokes a seedy, fog-bound world of saloon bars, lodging houses and boozing philosophers, immortalising the slang and conversational tone of a whole generation and capturing the premonitions of doom that pervaded London life in the months before the war.”
Patrick Hamilton wrote numerous books throughout the early 20th-century, many others of which were also set in the capital. His work is widely praised for being beautifully evocative of everyday life in inter-war London.
Genre: Dark comedy
Historical novels set in London
Bridgerton Book Series by Julia Quinn
Chances are that unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve already heard of Bridgerton; Netflix’s most streamed series ever. But did you know that it was based on a best selling book by Julia Quinn?
Better yet, the book on which the entire first season is based is just one book in a series of 8.
Set in the early 1800s, each of the Bridgerton books tells the story of one of the Bridgerton children who are navigating their way through romances in the ballrooms of Regency London.
Genre: Period drama & romance
Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
If the name Julian Fellowes rings a bell, that’s probably because he was the screenwriter responsible for creating the award-winning television series Downton Abbey.
After his Downton success, Fellowes went on to write a historic novel set in London by the name of ‘Belgravia’, published in 2016.
Set around the mid-1800s, the book follows the unraveling of a secret that shakes the wealthy neighbourhood of Belgravia in London, an area where the aristocracy rub shoulders with the emerging nouveau riche of the industrial revolution.
If you’re a fan of the high-society scandals of the likes of Downton Abbey and Bridgerton, Belgravia should definitely be your next read.
Genre: Period drama
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
Based on several literary classics that you’re sure to recognise, Goss’s unique novel tells the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders in Victorian London.
Mary Jekyll, daughter of the notorious alchemist Dr Jekyll, goes on a journey to discover her father’s mysterious past. A hunt that leads her to cross paths with characters of the time including Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, Justine Frankenstein and her father’s ex-partner Edward Hyde.
Genre: Gothic mystery
Books set in modern-day London
One Day by David Nicholls
Although not all of David Nicholl’s ‘One Day’ is set in London, a good chunk of it is, and being one of my favourite books of all time I couldn’t not include it on this list.
The book follows the lives of two people – Emma and Dexter – on the 15th of July every year for 20 years, as they navigate their own lives and their often complicated friendship with each other.
And if you’ve already seen the 2011 film adaption, hear me out… As much as I love any movie with Anne Hathaway in it, the film did not do the book justice AT ALL (sorry, this is a sore spot!). Just trust me and read the book anyway.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
While the film adaption starring Emily Blunt was set in NYC (once again – don’t get me started on this!), Paula Hawkins original book ‘The Girl on the Train’ actually recalls the story of three women, one of whom travels in and out of London by train each day.
Divorcee Rachel witnesses something rather unusual on her daily commute to the city, which results in her becoming entangled in a mysterious missing persons investigation.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie yet, there’s really not a lot I can say without giving anything more away, other than the fact you will not be able to put down this chilling and cleverly written psychological thriller until you turn that very last page.
Genre: Psychological thriller & mystery
London Belongs To Me & London, Can You Wait by Jacquelyn Middleton
This two-part book series follows Alex, a recent college graduate from Florida, as she moves to London to follow her dreams and overcome her past of panic attacks and broken relationships.
Although author Jacquelyn Middleton is from Canada originally, her love for London and knowledge of the city is obvious throughout, with the book featuring many real theatres, including the National Theatre on Southbank, and several pubs in Chelsea, Bloomsbury, Hackney and Islington.
The Lido by Libby Page
A feel-good and heartwarming book centered around the unlikely friendship between Rosemary, 86, and Kate, 26, who come together due to the potential closure of the public lido in Brixton.
In interviews, author Libby Page often talks of how she was inspired by the real Brockwell Lido and the role it serves the local community. She also discusses the fact that she chose Brixton as the location for her book after living there as a student and experiencing the special sense of community spirit.
Through the character of long-term Brixton resident Rosemary, the book really delves into the culture and history of such a diverse area of the city.
I’m not usually a crier when reading, but The Lido is without a doubt one of the most special and touching books I’ve read in a long time and had me in tears on several occasions. Definitely one of my top recommendations for must-read books set in London.
Genre: Contemporary fiction
From London with Love by Jemma Forte
A fun and heartwarming book set in London which makes for an easy holiday read.
Jessica, the daughter of a former James Bond actor and Bond girl, moves from Hollywood to London to try and find herself in a city where nobody knows who she is.
While the insight into what it’s like to grow up with famous parents is an interesting thread within the book, I can almost guarantee that Jessica’s struggles and transition to living in the big city on her own will be relatable to anyone who’s moved to London from abroad or even just from elsewhere in England as a young adult.
Genre: Romance, chick-lit (the book version of a chick-flick)
A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks
‘A Week in London’ follows seven characters, including a tube driver, a hedge fund manager, a Polish footballer and a schoolboy, whose lives are weaved together through their shared use of the Circle Line over the week leading up to Christmas in December 2007.
Faulk’s gripping and satirical novel explores the complex patterns and crossings of modern urban life by exposing the fact that even though our lives are so closely intertwined, we often know very little about each other.
The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Another book where the film adaption – Confessions of a Shopaholic – was moved to the USA, Sophie Kinsella’s original book was actually set in London.
Rebecca Bloomwood is a financial journalist living in a luxury flat in Fulham who has accrued a serious amount of debt due to her unsustainable shopping addiction.
Although some of the London locations in the book are fictional, there are still a number you’re sure to recognise, including Rebecca’s local neighbourhood in South West London and her business meeting at the luxurious restaurant of the Ritz Hotel.
I Heart London by Lindsey Kelk
‘I Heart London’ is just one book in a wider series that follows British girl Angela Clark as she lives in New York City and travels around the world to destinations including Paris, Hollywood, Vegas and Hawaii.
Kelk’s latest book sees Angela finally return home to London – through no choice of her own – where she has to confront her past life and the memories that come with it.
Genre: Romance & comedy
Non-fiction books set in London
This is London by Ben Judah
Maybe this is the Cultural Anthropologist in me speaking, but ‘This is London’ isn’t just one of my favourite books about London but probably one of my favourite books of all time.
With one-third of Londoners today having been born abroad, Ben Judah – an acclaimed foreign correspondent – tells the hidden stories of many of London’s immigrant populations, from Arabian princesses to Romanian beggars and everyone in between.
So much more than your average social commentary, Judah’s book is based on the stories he gathered by fully immersing himself in the lives and cultures of the people he writes about over many years.
‘This is London’ is a must-read for every Londoner. It allows you to see the capital from more perspectives than you ever knew existed and gives you a whole new outlook on the thousands of people you walk past on the street every day. I know I certainly haven’t looked at the capital in the same way since I read it.
Londoners by Craig Taylor
If you enjoyed ‘This is London’, your next read should definitely be ‘Londoners’ by acclaimed journalist and writer Craig Taylor.
Taylor’s book once again gives a voice to many of the capital’s residents – both native and immigrant this time – based on years of listening to people’s stories.
From a Guardsman at Buckingham Palace to the woman whose voice announces the stations on the London Underground; a Pakistani currency trader to the man who plants the trees along Oxford Street – these are the voices of Twenty-First Century London.
Between the Stops by Sandi Toksvig
‘Between the Stops: The View of My Life from the Top of the Number 12 Bus’ are the memoirs of Great British Bake Off and QI star Sandi Toksvig, published in 2019.
Set on the top deck of the Number 12 bus from Dulwich in South East London to the BBC offices just off of Oxford Circus, the route which Sandi would take to work most days, the book is a funny and moving trip through the comedian’s memories, musings and the many delights seen from the bus window along the way.
As well as plenty of fun facts about the capital and a brief history of a few of the places she passes, Sandi also reveals some of her favorite spots in the city – such as the best Spanish coffee under Southwark’s railway arches and the Pissarro painting at Dulwich Station.
What’s your favourite book set in London? Please let me know in the comments if you have any more recommendations…
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