Visit the British Library

19 people are going
British Library map
British Library, 96 Euston Road, St. Pancras NW1 2DB
0330 333 1144

Opening times and price

Opening hours:
9.30 AM to 6 PM (Mon, Wed-Fri); 9.30 AM to 8 PM (Tue); 9.30 AM to 5 PM (Sat); 11 AM to 5 PM (Sun)
Visiting hours are subject to change
Ticket cost:
Adults free entry
Time required:
A typical visit to British Library lasts 1 hour (approx)

Pubs and restaurants

Pubs and restaurants near British Library

Getting to British Library

Service stations and parking near British Library
Minicab firms close to British Library
10, 30, 59, 63, 73, 91 – London bus fares
Euston OVR NRN VIC, King’s Cross St. Pancras CRC H&C MET NRN PCL VIC
The nearest train station to British Library is Kings Cross St Pancras
Plan your journey from Earl’s Court, Euston, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Marylebone, Paddington, Victoria, Waterloo or another London Underground station:
Train journey to British Library
London train fares · Oyster fares · Travelcard fares · Contactless fares
Accommodation near British Library
British Library Good for kids? Value for money? free Worth a visit?

Craig recommends… Here’s my latest British Library review. If you’re into literature then try Keats’ House, Dr. Johnson’s House, the Charles Dickens Museum and Sherlock Holmes Museum. You can also watch a play by William Shakespeare and tour of the Globe Theatre.

The British Library is No.10 in our list of London’s most popular attractions.

Outside the British Library

History of the British Library

The British Library came into being when George IV gifted his father’s vast collection of books to the nation in 1823.

They were originally housed inside the Reading Room at the British Museum, but as the collection grew it was decided to move them into a purpose-built home along the Euston Road. The space required was so vast that it took forty years to build and came in at three times its budget – a whopping £500 million!

The 150 million books, magazines and pamphlets are now stored on over 500 miles of shelving on fourteen floors (including six underground). It also has a public piazza, three large galleries, two restaurants and a shop.

Inside the British Library, London

Treasures of the British Library exhibition

As well as containing a modern copy of every book published in Britain, the British Library also has an historic collection of manuscripts that date back several millennia, from old Buddhist texts like the Diamond Sutra to the Lindisfarne Gospels of 698 AD.

The John Ritblat Gallery contains the most valuable possessions: a copy of the Magna Carta from 1215, the Gutenberg Bible from 1455 (the first book printed in moveable-type), and the first complete text of the New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus.

Also on display are William Shakespeare’s First Folio, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and some music manuscripts by the likes of Mozart and Handel. They’ve got plenty of letters as well: like Henry VIII’s letter to Cardinal Wolsey, Elizabeth’s draft for a parliamentary speech, and Admiral Nelson’s handwritten love-letter to Lady Hamilton.

Craig’s review of the British Library

This review originally appeared in his London blog

If we built the British Library 150 years ago then I’m guessing it would have been fantastic. We would have got the equivalent of Tower Bridge, the Natural History Museum and the Royal Courts of Justice. But, alas, we built it twenty years ago, so we ended up with this instead. What a monstrosity!

It’s a big car park, that’s what it is. No, wait… it’s a supermarket. It’s a prison. What is it? It’s three million wasted bricks, piled up into the first shape they could think of… the cheapest shape possible. Even the clock looks like something out of playschool. It really is ugly. It’s even uglier than me, and that is saying something – because I am pretty ugly.

I am reminded of that story about St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square – about how Ivan the Terrible poked the architect’s eyes out so that no one else could build anything as beautiful. Well, we should do the same thing with the bloke who built the British Library, but for the total opposite reason: so we don’t ever again have to look at something so bad.

Mercifully, once you step inside it starts to look a little bit better. It opens up into a vast entrance hall with some stairs and escalators, and some huge bookcases spanning several floors that look like they are full of dusty leather tomes. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s a damn sight better than the exterior.

The only real exhibition they’ve got for the tourists is a room called Treasures of the British Library. It’s very dark and quiet inside, and even a little reverential; full of lowly-lit display cases containing books and faded manuscripts. They’ve got some old music scores by the likes of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart, and some handwritten scraps by The Beatles. The literature section contains some books by Ben Johnson and Marlow, and a copy of Shakespeare’s plays in his First Folio. They’ve also got a few of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.

Amongst the historical documents is a letter from Galileo, written one month before his trial, and some pages by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I and Mary I. They’ve also got a letter from Charles I, written whilst he was banged up inside Carisbrooke Castle, and Admiral’s Nelson’s last letter to Lady Hamiltion, written two days before the Battle of Trafalgar onboard HMS Victory.

And that’s just a very small sample… how about Captain Scott’s diary from his fateful voyage to the South Pole? Or pages from Alexander Fleming’s notebook, on the day that he discovered penicillin? The absolute holy of holies is a copy of the Magna Carta from 1225. It’s impossible to read most of them, though, but it’s quite interesting to see what their handwriting looked like.

There are also lots and lots (and lots) of decorated bibles and religious texts. All very old and beautiful. And some early books from the dawn of the printing press. They’ve also got a collection of old maps and landscapes, and some Oriental stuff.

It’s not the biggest exhibition in the world, and you will probably be done inside half an hour, but it’s worth a visit if you’re interested in that kind of thing. But that’s basically all that you can see as a tourist. There are a few corridors and cafes for you to walk around, but you need to get hold of a pass to see the actual books – and they vet everyone beforehand. You have to go through the rigmarole of telling them what book you want, and why you need it, before they give you a pass and let you loose in the library – so it’s not as simple as just turning up and sitting down for a read. (I sat down and had a cup of tea instead.)

  • Be the first person to ask a question

> Talk about the British Library

> Craig’s review of British Library – “The British Library is a construction of such monumental ugliness that it's worth seeing simply for that. Come and see the ugliest building in London! It's as if they've tipped a billion bricks into a pile and now they're waiting for the builders to start putting it all together. Only they won't. Because it's finished. This is it. Now it just sits on the side of the E… continued”

Events at the British Library

The New Londoners — British Library to

Imaginary Cities — British Library to

Writing -- Making Your Mark to

Leonardo da Vinci -- A Mind in Motion to

Buddhism exhibition, at the British Library to

If you enjoy this then try: Charles Dickens Museum (walk it in 14 mins or catch a train from Kings Cross St Pancras to Charles Dickens Museum); Dr. Johnson’s House (walk it in 28 mins or catch a train from Kings Cross St Pancras to Dr. Johnson’s House); Globe Theatre (catch the tube from Kings Cross St Pancras to Globe Theatre); Keats’ House (catch the tube from Kings Cross St Pancras to Keats’ House) and Sherlock Holmes Museum (walk it in 30 mins or catch a train from Kings Cross St Pancras to Sherlock Holmes Museum).

Writing: Making Your Mark This exhibition will explore the history of writing from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs right up to our modern communication tools
Letters Live Hear some of the world's most moving and powerful letters being read out live on stage by celebrities from the world of TV, cinema and music at the Royal Albert Hall
Guided walk around Charles Dickens London This guided walk will take you around some of the most memorable streets and locations that Charles Dickens used in his novels.
London Film & Comic Con 2019 Enter a world of cosplay, comics, manga and movies, and meet some of the biggest stars from the big and small screen.
Review British Library The British Library is a construction of such monumental ugliness that it's worth seeing simply for that. Come and see the ugliest building in London! It's as if they've tipped a billion bri…
Review Sherlock Holmes Museum If you're nuts enough to visit Madame Tussauds then you might end up doing the Sherlock Holmes Museum on the same day, because tourists love a bit of Sherlock Holmes. Fish and chips and a cu…
Copyright © 2019 London Drum · Contact us · Cookies / Privacy policy · Search / Site map
London city guide