14 quiet places in Bloomsbury and Russell Square, London

Academic but not closed; cool but not pretentious; cultured but not touristy: the areas of Bloomsbury and Russell Square escape all the usual London clichés, even at the weekend.

The feel of the area is heavily influenced by University College London’s (UCL) overwhelming presence and, seeing as it seems to cover half of the area, that’s not surprising. It does, however, make full use of the space with six free museums that are all open to the public, plus numerous cafés, quiet spots and unusual bits to explore.

Here are some of my favourite quiet spots in this classic area of London.

1. The Petrie Museum

Figures at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Image: A Peace of London

University College London’s Egyptian collection is 80,000 artefacts strong, 10% of which is jam-packed into the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology off Gower Street in Bloomsbury. The catalogue is the work of the writer Amelia Edwards and Professor William Flinders Petrie, who both donated large portions of the collection.

Thanks to their dedication, it’s now one of the biggest collections of Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology in the world. Among the catalogue is the oldest dress in the world (from about 2500 BC), countless examples of ancient hieroglyphics and a couple of mummification artefacts thrown in for good measure.

Figures at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Image: A Peace of London

And, not forgetting that the Egyptians had a preoccupation with sex and fertility, so there’re a few phallic symbols for the keen-eyed among you: a marble bas-relief of the god Min with a huge erect penis among the most famous highlights.

Nearest Tube: Euston Square

Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday 1pm-5pm

More information: Petrie Museum website

2. Camley Street Natural Park

Camley Street Natural Park, King's Cross, London
Image: A Peace of London

Strictly this is King’s Cross, but it’s too incredible not to mention here and only a 10-minute walk from Euston Square station on the outskirts of Bloomsbury.

Camley Street Natural Park is a nature reserve squeezed in between the Eurostar platforms at St Pancras and the banks of the Regent’s Canal. The space was created from the remains of a coal yard in 1984 and now consists of a huge pond, two bonfire areas and many corners for wildlife to hibernate. A true gem in the heart of one of the most industrial areas of the city.

Nearest Tube: King’s Cross

Opening times: Winter 10am-4pm daily, summer 10am-5pm daily

More information:  Read my review here or visit the WildLondon website

3. Bloomsbury Coffee House

Bloomsbury Coffee House, London
Image: duncan c on Flickr

Homemade food, excellent coffee, a lovely cup of tea and free wifi, not to mention an excellent  bit of cake: the Bloomsbury Coffee House is one of the highlights of the Russell Square/Bloomsbury area. I would quite happily spend many secluded days in their second room, drinking Tea Pigs winter spice tea and nibbling on their maple syrup granola.

This independent, relaxing space is a welcome break from the many sterile chain coffee shops in the area – sitting at one of their vintage tables feels like sitting at a good friend’s dinner table.

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

Opening times: 8am-6pm Monday-Friday, 8am-1.30pm Saturday-Sunday

More information: bloomsburycoffeehouse.co.uk

4. Grant Museum of Zoology

Grant Museum of Zoology, University College London
Image: UCL News on Flickr

The second UCL museum on our tour of Bloomsbury houses around 67,000 animal specimens, from dodo bones to a jar of moles and a variety of animal brains. They also host fascinating exhibitions and talks around their exhibits.

Nearest Tube: Euston Square

Opening times: Monday – Saturday 1-5pm

More information: Read my review here or visit www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology

5. Skoob Books

Skoob Books, Russell Square, London
Image: Skoob Books

I’ve written about Skoob Books a few times now, simply because it’s one of my favourite places in London (quiet or otherwise) and a guaranteed way to switch off. It’s packed with non-fiction books on everything from philosophy to history and the sciences, as well as a good fiction section.

It’s also just round the corner from Russell Square station or a short walk from Euston, so it’s easy peasy to get to.

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

Opening times: 10.30am-8pm Monday-Saturday, 10.30am-6pm Sundays and Bank Holidays

More information: Read my review here or visit Skoob.com

6. University College London’s (UCL) South Cloisters

The huge, historic University College London (UCL) buildings can seem overbearing to anyone who’s not a student there, but the south cloisters (galleries, basically) are free to wander around in, and very quiet at the weekend.

It’s here that Jeremy Bentham’s famous ‘auto-icon’ (as in his preserved body, minus his head, sat in his favourite clothes and in the same position as he sat in while living) sits in a cabinet. The cabinet is opened 8am-6pm Monday to Friday, whereas the cloisters are open for quiet reading and writing every day of the week.

Nearest Tube: Euston Square

Opening times: Varies

More information: Visit the UCL website

7. The Foundling Museum

The Foundling Museum, London
Image: Candy Gourlay on Flickr

Once served as a hospital set up to care for babies at risk of abandonment and the foundation of the children’s charity Coram, now a museum covering both its own history and that of the charity.

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

Opening times: 10am-5pm Tuesday – Saturday, 11am-5pm Sunday, Monday closed

More information: www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk

8. Wellcome Collection Cafe And Reading Room

The Wellcome Collection should need no introduction: this hub for the ‘incurably curious’ is well-known among Londoners for its daring (free) exhibitions from everything from death to sex. But it also has a few sidelines in the form of a bright, airy cafe and a reading room with over a thousand books, plus 100 objects (including sculptures, medical exhibits and paintings) to inspire you.

Nearest Tube: Euston Square

Opening times: 10am-6pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday; 11am-6pm Sunday; 10am-10pm Thursday. 

More information: wellcomecollection.org

9. The Bloomsbury Squares

Brunswick Square Gardens, Bloomsbury, London
Image: A Peace of London

Forget your city beaches and your Green Park: Bloomsbury has no less than 13 classic London parks to watch the world go by in on a sunny day, and they’re all quiet and peaceful. Collectively named The Bloomsbury Squares, they are Argyle Square, Bedford Square, Bloomsbury Square, Brunswick Square (pictured above), Fitzroy Square, Gordon Square, Marchmont Community Garden, Mecklenburgh Square, Regent Square, Russell Square, Tavistock Square, Torrington Square and Woburn Square. View them all on a map here.

As well as all being within a stone’s throw of each other, they all have their own quirks and histories too.  Whether it’s the statue of Mahatma Gandhi and the view of Virginia Woolf’s family home in Tavistock Square, or Brunswick Square’s mention in Jane Austen’s novel Emma, the gardens in Bloomsbury compliment the area’s bookish and unassuming character.

Nearest Tube: Euston Square or Russell Square

Opening times: Varies

More information: bloomsburysquares.wordpress.com

10. The Octagon Gallery, UCL

Octagon Gallery, UCL
Image: A Peace of London

This tiny gallery hosts a constantly-changing selection of interesting exhibitions, each running for six months and chosen through a competition. Anyone can apply to exhibit here, although we’ll settle for just visiting for the moment.

Nearest Tube: Euston Square

Opening times: 6am-9pm daily

More information: Visit the UCL website here

11. Waterstones Gower Street

Waterstones in Gower Street, London
Image: Aires Almeida on Flickr

The Piccadilly branch might be huge and famous, but you do have to pass through Piccadilly Circus to get there. On this front, Waterstones Gower Street beats its bigger, more famous sister hands-down.

Add in the fact that it’s the largest academic/specialist range bookshop in Europe (it has three floors of general interest books, two floors of academic titles, secondhand/out-of-print selections throughout, and a Rare and Antiquarian department in the basement), and the building’s Grade II-listed status and Gower Street is about as quirky as a chain bookshop gets. There are creaky floors, lots of little rooms to hide in and plenty of window seats to let the world go by, too.

Nearest Tube: Goodge Street

Opening times: 8.30am-8pm Monday-Friday, 9.30am-7pm Saturday, 12pm-6pm Sunday

More information: Visit the Waterstones website

12. Moreish Cafe Deli

Pasta from Moreish Cafe Deli, Bloomsbury, London
Image: A Peace of London

I stopped here on my travels while researching this post and have been dreaming of it ever since. This Spanish-inspired deli serves fresh treats ranging from coffees and cakes to pasta, tortillas, cold meats and salad. It’s a small but popular place, which means it’s best to visit out of peak lunch/dinner times for the best choice of seats. But so worth it either way…

Nearest Tube: Euston Square

Opening times:  7am-10pm Monday-Friday, 8:30am-10pm Saturday, 8.30am-8pm Sunday

More information: Visit the Moreish Cafe Deli website or their TripAdvisor entry

13. Brunei Gallery / Japanese Roof Garden

Japanese Roof Garden at SOAS Brunei Gallery, London
Image: A Peace of London

Close the door on this peaceful gallery at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and forget the world outside. The gallery contains exhibits from Asia, Africa and the Middle East and once you’re inside, the sounds from the students and Russell Square outside disappear.

Once you’ve had a look round the gallery, the Japanese Roof Garden is just a short walk upstairs. The garden is one of Bloomsbury’s best-kept secrets (so you’re likely to have the place to yourself) and is especially gorgeous in the sunshine. It’s one of my favourite places to escape to for some thinking time: it really feels like no one would be able to find you up there…

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

Opening times: Tuesday-Saturday: 10:30am-5pm (late night Thursday until 8pm)

More information: SOAS University of London website

14. The Wiener Library

Wiener Library reading room, London
Image credit: Peter Alfred Hess on Flickr

Get a deeper understanding of the Holocaust and the events surrounding it at the Wiener Library in Russell Square. This small but important library holds regular free exhibitions as well as talks, screenings, and tours. Their reading room is also open to the public for free, and you don’t have to become a member to use it.

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

Opening times: 10am-5pm Monday to Friday (until 7.30pm on Tuesdays)

More information: Wiener Library website

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