Movie-wise, we could have chosen Richard Curtis’s romantic Notting Hill or Love Actually, both of which make superb use of London as a backdrop, or perhaps Alfie, the 1960s movie with Michael Caine as the lothario bedding his way around the city. Instead we went for crime, criminals, zombies, aliens and dystopian futures. London after Brexit, perhaps?
London The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
You might want to skip the bits about the Jurassic period but the later chapters of this penetrating work are perfect for anyone interested in the history of London. Concentrates on the micro – the weather, food, childhood, crime – rather than the macro.
A Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison
Wonderful old novel from 1896 which depicts the fictional life of one Dicky Perrott, a street urchin growing up in a slum in the Shoreditch area of East London that’s so trendy today. A sort of Oliver Twist for grown-ups.
Longitude by Dava Sobel
Absorbing account of a London clockmaker who solves the problem of keeping time on board a ship at sea. Great read if you’re aiming to visit the National Maritime Museum and Greenwich Mean Time at the Royal Observatory.
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
Hilarious but affectionate look at Britain (and London) through a young American visitor’s eyes. Explains so much about the British. Bryson followed it up years later with The Road to Little Dribbling, also worth a read if you like a titter.
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
This wonderfully frank memoir by Hornby is perfect if you want to understand the British obsession with soccer, especially if you’re in London when the Premier League season is on and want to understand references to the Gooners.
Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
Guy Ritchie’s movie is a peek at the dodgy underworld dealings of a bunch of London criminals and conmen. Will help you pick up on the East London accent and includes lots of local colour. There might be the odd bit of swearing, guvnor.
Attack the Block
This cheap and cheerful film about a bunch of south London council estate teenagers who fight off an alien invasion was filmed in Brixton and Peckham and is a great insight into modern London. The cast includes John Boyega, now starring as Finn in the new Star Wars movies.
28 Days Later
Not exactly a travel documentary, given it’s about zombies, but London does have a starring role when Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma to find the capital deserted. Westminster, Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade and the London Eye all feature.
V for Vendetta
The film that turned the Guy Fawkes mask into a symbol of freedom from tyranny is set in a future London and was filmed in London and Potsdam. The final scene at Westminster saw the area from Trafalgar Square up to Parliament closed for three nights, the first time this had ever happened.
A not very good film featuring a stand-out performance by Tom Hardy as Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the notorious East End gangsters. Makes wonderful use of the actual locations where the Krays hung out, including Pellicci’s café, the greasy spoon that still serves a mean tea and toast today.