Tucked away in the bustling heart of London, Holborn is more than just a nexus of history and culture; it’s an invitation to discover the capital’s hidden gems and experiences. Dive deep into the top things to do in Holborn, and you’ll find a tapestry of tales, from ancient inns to cutting-edge galleries.
And, as the British would cheekily put it, exploring Holborn is much like a pot of Earl Grey – steeped in tradition yet remarkably refreshing. Whether you’re a seasoned Londoner or a curious traveler, Holborn has a story waiting just for you. Best of all, Holborn is easy to discover – it’s right in the heart of Central London, and you’ll probably pass through the area a few times during your London trip without even realizing it!
So, pop on your best walking shoes and prepare for a splendid jaunt through one of Central London’s most intriguing – and most overlooked – districts.
1. Visit The British Museum
The British Museum is not just one of the best things to do in Holborn, it may even be one of the best things in all of London! (And free too, unless you’re visiting a special exhibition!)
With eight million permanent works, the world’s national public museum was founded in 1753 and has the largest permanent collection in the world. This free London attraction documents two million years of human culture, from its beginning to the present day, with exhibits from different countries, such as ancient Egypt, China, and America. (The most famous currently is probably the Parthenon Marbles, which have been the object of much contention between Greece and the U.K.)
The comprehensive collection is so vast, you’ll need an entire day and sturdy walking shoes if you really want to see everything properly!
2. Explore Sir John Sloane’s Museum
Photos courtesy of Sir John Sloane’s Museum
Open to the public since 1837, the current Sir John Sloane’s Museum building is where 19th-century architect, Sir John Sloane, used to live. Sir John Sloane was the son of a bricklayer who went on to become a famous Regency architect. If you’ve visited the Bank of England or the Museum on Lincoln Inn’s Fields, you’ll have seen his work!
The house was designed in several different styles, to inspire architectural and drawing students, and has a wide range of sculptures, architecture, and paintings, including works by Turner and Canaletto. Today, the Museum also houses interesting events, such as conversations with art historians and the Artist-in-Residence.
Sir John Sloane’s Museum is only open from Wednesday to Sunday. You can walk in for a look around but do book in advance if you want to join a highlights tour. Oh, and did I mention that entry is free?
3. Admire Temple Church
Photo courtesy of Maggie Jones via Flickr
Just North of the River Thames lies this simple round church that was built in 1162. Linked to the Catholic military order, the Knights Templar, there are nine human-sized marble effigies on the floor by the entrance to marvel at.
The headquarters of this mysterious organization was initially in Holborn before the Knights moved to this circular building known as The Round Church. It remained the base for the military group till 1307 when the organization was outlawed. (The Temple Church was then handed over to the Knights Hospitalier, another Catholic military group.)
For almost 150 years, The Round Church served two functions: it was a place of religious worship and a place at which one could deposit valuables or, in other words, one of England’s first banks! The Temple Church was also the site at which many debates about the Magna Carta took place, although the agreement was eventually signed at Runnymede.
Note that entrance to the church is ticketed and that it only opens from Monday to Friday.
4. Visit Charles Dickens Museum
The Charles Dickens Museum is located at 48 Doughty Street, where Charles Dickens lived between March 1837 and December 1839. Back in the day, this exclusive street had porter-manned gates at both ends! It was almost demolished in 1923 before fortunately being listed in 1954.
This typical Georgian terraced house is also where Dickens wrote some of his most famous works: Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers, and Nicholas Nickleby. (His writing desk still stands in the house today.) At the museum, you’ll be able to find Dickens’s curiosities, such as a plaster bust of the Man himself, and take a tour to experience life as a housemaid in 1838, the Victorian Era.
Like Sir John Sloan’s Museum, the Dickens Museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday. (Last entry is at 4 pm.)
5. Eat Your Way through Leather Lane
Situated between Halton Gardens and Chancery Lane, Leather Lane is home to a weekday market. (There has been a market held here since the 17th century!)
Unlike Borough Market and Smithfield Market, which are mainly food markets, you can find a wide range of things for sale at Leather Lane, such as jewelry and food. Leather Lane is not quite as gentrified as Borough Market or Exmouth Market. However, it also feels more local, making it one of the best things to do in Holborn if you want to get away from the tourist hordes.
6. Stroll in Russell Square
Photo courtesy of David McGinlay via Flickr
This approximately 2.5 hectares large garden square located northeast of the British Museum is Central London’s second largest square. Enclosed by cast-iron railings, there are two entrances in each corner, totaling eight entrances.
You’ll find lawns, walks, and three ornamental fountains in the middle. Russell Square is so iconic, it has appeared in many novels, from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day to John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids.
7. Discover Dr Johnson’s House
Photos courtesy of Dr Johnson’s House
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
If you’ve always wondered about the person who said these famous words, Dr. Johnson’s House is one of the best Holborn attractions for you! This 300-year-old townhouse, located at 17 Gough Street, is where the writer, Samuel Johnson lived and worked.
It hosts free 1-hour lunchtime lectures on the last Thursday of each month, up till March 2024 (except for December 2023.) Topics will range from dictionaries to urban planning, and lunch is even provided!
Dr Johnson’s House is open from Tuesday to Saturday, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
8. Walk through Lincoln’s Inn Fields
Photo courtesy of Nick via Flickr
After visiting Russell Square, you may wonder what is London’s largest public square. Well, it’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields!
This large public square, with a cafe in the center (temporarily closed), was laid out in the 1630s as private property. It was only after it was acquired by the London County Council in 1895 that it was opened to the public. You can even play tennis there!
Do note that the square is gated, and some of the gates are locked up early.
9. Admire Royal Courts of Justice
Photos courtesy of Royal Courts of Justice
Also known as the Law Courts or London’s High Court, the Royal Courts of Justice is located on the Strand. Built in a Gothic cathedral style, with stained glass windows and soaring arches, the Law Courts is a beautiful place for a wander. There is no charge to view the courtrooms- but note that photos of the inside are not allowed- and this is one of the top Holborn things to do for those interested in architecture.
You can ask the front desk about the trials being held on the day and have the opportunity to hear cases being conducted. For those curious about its history, there is also a small museum on site.
Alternatively, the Royal Courts also offer official tours (The tours are ticketed, and require a minimum of 14 people to run.) If you want to see more of London, you can even combine the Royal Courts tour with a London legal walking tour that is conducted by guides with legal expertise and lasts for two to three hours.
Note: There is a security check before you head in, and you’ll be asked to finish all your water before entry.
10. Visit Novelty Automation
Photos courtesy of Novelty Automation via Instagram
A five-minute walk from Holborn tube station is Novelty Automation, an amusement arcade that houses a collection of satirical arcade machines. This is one of the most interesting things to do in Holborn if you’re looking for a more quirky experience.
The arcade games were homemade by the cartoonist, Tim Hunkin, often by hand! (He also has a video series on YouTube.) They are still working, so you can buy tokens to give them a go.
Novelty Automation opens every day besides Monday, and there is no need to book. However, note that there is no food and drink for sale within the arcade, although there are plenty of food options nearby.
Note: The arcade is not very large, so it can get quite crowded and hot inside.
11. Explore the Hunterian Museum
Photos courtesy of The Hunterian Museum
The Hunterian Museum is a place to learn more about anatomical specimens and surgery, from ancient times up to the present. Newly reopened in 2023 (after a £4.6 million investment), this small museum is named after the 18th-century surgeon John Hunter, and you can view his specimen collection in the museum. (Do be warned that there are many examples of fetuses and genitalia on display.)
Entry is free but you will need to book, and the Museum does not open on Sundays and Mondays.
12. Stroll through Gray’s Inn Gardens
Photo courtesy of Maggie Jones via Flickr
Laid out by Sir Francis Bacon in 1608, this 5.8-acre garden is one of the largest privately owned London Gardens.
Also known as The Walks, The Gray’s Inn Gardens is open to the public between noon and 2:30pm on weekdays. You will find many beautiful plants and sculptures inside this relaxing city oasis.
If you have any questions about the top Holborn attractions, let me know in the comments!
Have any questions about the best things to do in Holborn or how to spend your time in this part of Central London? Let me know in the comments below!