Famous Holborn resident Charles Dickens once proclaimed: “Holborn, in fact, suffers from being neither one thing nor the other.” But what did that old fart know, anyway? Plus, that was 1879, so they probably didn’t have a digitally interactive ping pong bar back then, did they?
Holborn is overspilling with history. There was a 350,000-year-old axe found under Gray’s Inn Road; St. Etheldreda’s RC Church dates back to the 13th C.; and Holborn Viaduct (opened by Queen Victoria in 1869) is just one fine example of many grandiose Victorian edifices and structures in the area. These days, it is an area known for being the heart of the legal profession; its eccentric museums; peaceful public gardens; and the illegal number of Pret A Mangers (probably). There is also a riot of cafes, very old pubs, bars (legal and drinking), and agreeable restaurants.
Dip your toes into Dickensian London…
Be The Architect of Your Own Claustrophobia at Sir John Soane’s Museum
Sir John Soane’s Museum is essentially a large Georgian townhouse packed full of 45,000 objects Sir John collected throughout his illustrious architectural career… and it’s notable because he was a Georgian, too, meaning this place has barely been touched in two centuries. Expect Egyptian tombs, immaculate libraries, moving walls, a tiny cooker, and an almost offensively ornate breakfast room.
Details: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3BP | Free entry, find out more here
Make Friends… And Mortal Enemies at Bounce Farringdon
Ping Pong, whiff-whaff, table tennis, paddle-bopping, or whatever you call it. It’s just good, wholesome fun. But how about we made that fun less wholesome with beers, wines and cocktails, and then dialled up the fun with DJs, neon graffiti and digital interactive games projected onto the table?
Details: 121 Holborn, London EC1N 2TD | Book here
Listen To Suspicious Trickles Outside The Coach
The sound of the trickling water in an alleyway outside a pub: usually a warning sign. But outside elegant Holborn pub The Coach, it’s just gentle burbling of a subterranean stream you can hear, “The Fleet”. The river actually gave the area its name (‘bourne’ was an old English word for stream), but it was built over in the 18th century. This is one of the few places in London you can catch sight (or at least sound) of it. Pop into the pub for a craft brew and a snack off the chalkboard menu while you’re there. We hear that pints are highly compatible with listening to suspicious subterranean trickles.
Details: 26-28 Ray St, London EC1R 3DJ
Get Pranked at Novelty Automation
Novelty Automation is a satirical arcade created by cartoonist Tim Hunkin to poke a giggle out of you with its mechanical finger. For example, a Nobel Prize is up for grabs if you can hit the Small Hadron Collider, or perhaps you’d like to try your hand at a light-hearted game of Divorce. On the first Thursday of every month it stays open late, and you can peruse the arcade with a glass in hand.
Details: 1a Princeton Street, Holborn, WC1R 4AX | Find out more here
Visit Leather Lane Market
Leather Lane becomes a strip of various mouth-watering street food vendors during lunchtime hours. There is so much choice, ingenuity and incredible flavours available along here. And while you’re there, pop into Prufrock Coffee, which measures out life in coffee spoons of special daily filter put through V60 drippers.
Details: Leather Lane, London EC1N 7TJ | For more information, click here
Devour Said Food in Gray’s Inn Gardens
It’s all very exciting ordering street food in the hustle and bustle of a market. But eating it? There’s no better place than the serene backdrop of Gray’s Inn Gardens, AKA ‘The Walks’, which is open weekdays only between the hours of 12 pm and 2:30pm.
Details: 9 Gray’s Inn Square, London WC1R 5JQ | Find out more here
Yeah, turns out the guy who was neither here nor there about Holborn… lived in Holborn. Poke around the Charles Dickens Museum like the little street urchin you are, and uncover hand-written letters, first editions, and Dickens’ toilet, as well as temporary exhibitions delving into different aspects of his life and writing.
Details: 48-49 Doughty Street, London, WC1N 2LX | Find out more here
Take a Cultural Bath In The Warm Waters of Holborn’s Historic Sites
Behold the limestone splendour of Victoria House. Have a coffee in Bloomsbury Square (try Redemption round the corner). Gawp at The Royal Courts of Justice. And ogle Staple Inn (1585) near Chancery Lane station, where wool was once taxed and weighed.
Details: Strand, London WC2A 2LL
Take Refuge in The Garden Cinema
The art deco-styled Garden Cinema is unique in that they are independent. They put on the films they love. A one-time £20 payment grants you a lifetime membership and £2 off every ticket, which are already affordable. Plus, they play short films instead of adverts before the film which is, in a word, adorable.
Details: 39-41 Parker Street, Covent Garden, WC2B 5PQ | See what’s on here
Get The Creeps at The Hunterian Museum
Do you like looking at pickled organs & anatomical oddities? Then you will absolutely love the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s Hunterian Museum. Just make sure you go for lunch before, not after.
Details: 38-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE | Find out more here
Grace Holborn With The Power of Your Lungs at Lucky Voice
Lucky Holborn, because Lucky Voice has an outpost on Chancery Lane. Complete with costume boxes, push for drinks buttons, and over 11,000 songs. And 4am closing times.
Details: 84 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1DL | Find out more and book here
The newly unveiled 9th floor rooftop garden at The Post Building is open to the public for free. You can be on the rooftop with just a quick ID check, pointing out landmarks across the London skyline until the cows come home. Well, no, actually, until 7pm.
Details: Museum St, London WC1A 1PB | For more information, visit their website here
Crawl Inside The Birthplace of The English Lexicon, a.k.a. Dr. Johnson’s House
We regret to inform you, that you cannot live inside a dictionary. But you can do the next best thing. Visit the writer Dr Samuel Johnson’s home just off Fleet Street, where he compiled the first ever dictionary of the English language in 1755.
Details: 17 Gough Square, London EC4A 3DE | Find out more here
Enjoy a Game of Pétanque at Baranis
Inside the belly of a bar named Baranis there lies the UK’s only indoor boules court. Whether you are French, got obsessed with it on a French holiday, or simply think it’s a funny word to repeat over and over again… we guarantee, pétanque is never a bad idea.
Details: 115 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PP | Find out more here
Have a Pleasant Pint In A Historic London Pub
If the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub were actually a block of cheese, it would be pretty stinky by now. This now Samuel Smith-owned pub reportedly dates back to 1667, and the cellar/basement back to the 13th C. If you’re looking for a pint where you can feel the surrounding history, there is only one place.
Details: 145 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2BP | Find out more here
I Wanna Take You To A Tea Bar
In the rear of Twining’s flagship store (dating back to 1706) you will find a delightful loose-leaf tea bar. This is a rare opportune moment to break the curse of the Builder’s Tea and float into more sophisticated, aromatic heights.
Details: 216 Strand, London, WC2R 1AP | Find out more here
Drop Into One of the Best Restaurants in Holborn
The Holborn dining scene is unexpectedly rich. If you’re in for breakfast, look no further than Catalyst Café’s bacon sandwich. For the oenophiles, Noble Rot is borne of the anti-snob wine magazine of the same name and offers exquisite wines and British-leaning food provided by ex-St. John and The Sportsman chefs. Holborn Dining Room in the Rosewood London Hotel serves up equally opulent cuisine inside a Grade-II listed ex-banking hall. On the move? Get a pork pie to go straight from their dedicated hatch. See all our favourite Holborn restaurants.
Wander a little further… and you can also find these great restaurants in Covent Garden