There’s nothing quite like relaxing in a quiet coffee shop with a book, the papers or your trusty laptop, is there?
To me this is one of life’s great pleasures, but it can be hard to find a decent (let alone quiet) coffee shop or cafè in London in which do this.
So I’ve selflessly been spending the last few weeks drinking copious amounts of tea to unearth some of the best hidden gems in or around central London. Purely for research purposes, you understand…
Is your favourite hidden gem on the list? I’d love to know what you think. Let me know in the comments or drop me a message…
The Foundling Museum Cafè, Bloomsbury
This inspiring cafè on the side of the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury is pretty under-the-radar.
But you can’t help but be creative in this peaceful space, surrounded by a specially-commissioned mural by poet Lemn Sissay MBE, which ties the cafè with its museum’s theme of orphans and childhood nicely.
Opening times: Tuesday-Saturday: 10am-5pm; Sunday 11am-5pm
Nearest Tube: Euston Square / Russell Square
The Photographers Gallery Café, Soho
This arty and very central cafè has beautiful food from a specialist baker (pictured above is the mini salted caramel cake I treated myself to) and a chilled-out, social atmosphere.
The staff are really friendly, and there’s free wifi, too. All profits from the cafè go towards their programme of events and exhibitions.
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 9.30am-6pm; Saturday, 10am-6pm; Sunday, 11.30am-6pm
Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus
Address: 16-18 Ramillies Street, Soho, London W1F 7LW
More information: Visit The Photographers’ Gallery website here
Park Life Cafè, Burgess Park
For decent food, beautiful gardens and a park next door, plus a mug of tea for £1, head to Park Life Cafè next to Chumleigh Gardens in Burgess Park, Southwark.
It’s clear that the locals love this place and you can see why. It’s easy to feel at home here and the staff are really friendly.
Before or after your cuppa, head through the gate to the right of the cafè to see the beautiful Chumleigh Gardens (including the multicultural garden — a secret garden within the secret garden…) or head left for a stroll through Burgess Park.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday 10am-5pm
Nearest Tube: Elephant and Castle
Address: Burgess Park, 3 Chumleigh St, London SE5 0RJ
More information: Visit the Park Life Cafè website
Host Café, City of London
Can you believe that you can sit under this and have coffee?
Not only is Host Cafè set in the stunning St Mary Aldermary church, it also opens at 7.15am and has free wifi. Their teas and coffees are from independent producers, their pastries are brought in on a bicycle.
For lunch, there are organic soups or homemade pates on offer, or you can bring a packed lunch with you. Can this place get any more charming? I don’t think so.
Opening times: Monday to Friday: 7.15am-4.45 pm (until 4.30pm on Monday and Friday)
Nearest Tube: Mansion House
Calthorpe Project Garden Cafè, King’s Cross
The organic veg served at this meat-free cafè in King’s Cross doesn’t have to travel very far to your plate — in fact, it’s grown just a few feet away in The Calthorpe Project garden.
Even the coffee is homemade and proceeds help support the project’s mission to support the physical and emotional well-being of local people.
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm
Nearest Tube: King’s Cross
More information: Visit the Calthorpe Project website
The Old Dairy at Vauxhall City Farm
There’s nothing ‘old’ about this light and spacious cafè at one of the nicest city farms in London.
There’s free wifi on offer as well as a great selection of cakes and lunches. Proceeds from the cafè help to fund their work with disadvantaged young people.
And if you fancy some fresh air, the farm is free to visit!
Opening times: Monday: 11am-2:00pm; Tuesday to Sunday: 10:30am-4pm
Nearest Tube: Vauxhall
More information: Visit the Vauxhall City Farm website here
Thackeray’s Coffee House, Clerkenwell
The coffee house of the Charterhouse in Clerkenwell is one of the lightest, brightest and spacious that I’ve been into. The food is delicious and there’s free wifi on offer, as well as lots of natural daylight.
Opening times: Monday to Friday: 8.30am-5pm; Saturday: 10.30am-5pm
Nearest Tube: Farringdon
More information: visit the Charterhouse website here
Djanogly Cafè at Tate Britain, Pimlico
Tate Britain’s cafè is as cool and slick as you’d expect for London’s most famous art gallery.
They roast their own coffee beans on site and they focus on regional produce for their drinks: the soda is from Hackney, the cola is from Northumberland and the apple juice is pressed on a Gloucestershire farm.
Opening times: Daily, 10am-6pm
Nearest Tube: Pimlico
More information: Visit the Tate website here
Café in the Crypt, Trafalgar Square
Take a few moments to look around you at the second church café on our list — an 18th-century brick-vaulted ceiling awaits above your head and tombstones line the floor beneath your feet.
Back on the tables, you’ll have a choice of home-made hot meals as well as teas, coffees and cakes at great value for café that’s smack-bang in tourist central. Go early in the day to beat the lunch and dinner rush, and bear in mind they have live music on Wednesday nights.
Opening times: Monday and Tuesday: 8am-8pm; Wednesday: 8am-6.30pm; Thursday-Saturday: 8am-9pm; Sunday: 11am-6pm
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross
More information: Visit the St Martin in the Fields website here
Cafè Caritas at 30 Euston Square
You might struggle to find anyone else who knows about this café in the Grade II-listed headquarters of the Royal College of GPs in Euston.
The building and security guards at the front door look very imposing at first, but get past that and you’ll be rewarded with an airy space with plenty of natural light and free wifi.
The prices are reasonable and there is some good people-watching to be done as the staff at the college go about their doctor-y business.
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 8am-8pm
Nearest Tube: Euston / Euston Square / King’s Cross
More information: Visit the 30 Euston Square website here
George’s Cafè, Holborn
Eat, drink and reset your mind in the church where Sylvia Plath married Ted Hughes in 1956.
The church is newer than some of the other churches on this list, but has its own unique charm and the cafè stretches right around the aisles, making it a very spacious place to spend a few hours.
There’s also free wifi available, and it’s got some of the longest (and earliest) opening hours on this list.
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 7am-7pm; 9am-3pm on Saturday
Nearest Tube: Russell Square
More information: Visit the St George’s Holborn website
The Ragged Canteen, Vauxhall
I found this place by accident on a walking tour of Vauxhall, and instantly fell in love.
Not only is it on the side of the independent Beaconsfield art gallery, it also serves great coffee and ethically sourced and seasonal vegetarian comfort food in a retro and spacious location (with free wifi).
If you fancy a wander around the building, there is progressive art available to view for free and magazines/newspapers if you forget your book.
Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday, 11am-5pm
Nearest Tube: Vauxhall
More information: Visit the Beaconsfield gallery website here
Tucked away behind The Brunswick Centre is this arthouse cinema with a long history and a chilled bar that doubles as a coffee shop during the day.
Perfect for grabbing a coffee and people watching.
Nearest Tube: Russell Square
More information: Visit the Curzon website
Charles Dickens Museum Garden Cafè, Bloomsbury
This little spot in the extension at 48 Doughty Street (the former London home of the author and his family) is inspired by the house itself and — fittingly — perfect for writers and readers.
There is free wifi available and a wide selection of special teas, as well as a whole side table full of huge cakes. Everything from the furniture to the sugar pots is inspired by a Victorian home.
Of course, my favourite part is the reading chair in the corner…
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-4:30pm
Nearest Tube: Russell Square
More information: Visit the Charles Dickens Museum website here
Stanford’s Coffee Shop, Covent Garden
Leicester Square might not be the first place you’d head to get a break from touristy London, but Stanford’s Coffee (in the bookshop of the same name) is the perfect place.
They stock a wide selection of London travel books and there’s free wifi, too — so you can research your next exploration while you’re there.
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 8am-7.30pm; Saturday 9am-7.30pm; Sunday 11.30am-5.30pm
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square
Address: 27A Floral Street, London WC2E 9EZ
More information: Visit the Stanford’s website here
Café Below, City of London
If the idea of having tea in the actual church at Host Cafè doesn’t appeal (see above), try Cafè Below just up the road at St Mary-le-Bow, which is hidden away in the crypt.
The crypt is much altered from when the church was built in 1080, but it’s easy to imagine its original use from the old brickwork and the traditional restored ceiling.
Fun fact: the bells at St Mary-le-Bow Church have rung at 9pm every day since at least 1363, and if you were born in an area where you can hear Bow Bells, you’re officially a Cockney.
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 7.30am-2.30pm
Nearest Tube: Mansion House
Address: St Mary-le-Bow Church, Cheapside, London EC2V 6AU
More information: Visit the Cafè Below website here
The Refectory at Southwark Cathedral
The cafè on the side of Southwark Cathedral is a little hideaway from the touristy areas of London Bridge and Borough at the weekend.
During the winter you can relax in the clean and airy cafè and in the warm weather, they serve food and drinks in the courtyard.
Nearest Tube: London Bridge
Address: Montague Close, London SE1 9DA
More information: Visit the Southwark Cathedral website here
Mouse Tail Coffee Stories, Borough
This little chain of coffee shops has branches around London, but I have a soft spot for the one at John Harvard Library in Borough, simply because it’s in a library.
Besides some good coffee (which is the same price, no matter what size you get), they also serve fresh juices, delicious vegetarian/vegan food and some pretty mean cakes.
While you drink, you can browse shelves-upon-shelves of magazines for free, or pull up one of the chairs and make use of the free wifi.
Opening times: Mondays and Thursdays, 10am-7pm; Tuesday and Fridays, 10am-5pm; Saturdays, 10am-3pm
Nearest Tube: Borough / London Bridge
Address: John Harvard Library, St Dunstans House, 211 Borough High St, London SE1 1JA
More information: Visit the Mouse Tail Coffee website here
William Morris Gallery tea room, Walthamstow
A little bit farther out than most of the other cafès on this list, the tea room at William Morris’ childhood home is bathed in daylight and has lovely gardens attached to it if you fancy eating in the fresh air.
They serve lovely afternoon teas, fresh food from local producers and some of the biggest scones I’ve ever seen.
Once you’ve finished eating your way through that, make sure you check out the gallery itself, which is free and gives a fantastic insight into his life and work.
Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-4.30pm
Nearest Tube: Walthamstow Central
Address: Lloyd Park, Forest Road, Walthamstow, London, E17 4PP
More information: Visit the William Morris Gallery website here