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Russell Square

Home > London > Gardens | Hotels | Parks | Picnic Spots | Walks
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published February 4th 2014
London's squares may not always meet up in neat grids, but everywhere you walk seems to end up in some fascinating central space. Russell Square is a large, bustling example of how leisure and business, concrete and grass meet apparently effortlessly. More than a garden, this space epitomises a whole way of London life.

Down one side are buildings belonging to the University of London, such as the Senate House. If you've ever watched Agatha Christie (or anything else set in the 1920s) on television you'll recognise it immediately, as it is often used to stand for a generic Art Deco building, whether in London or New York. Once gleaming, the stone now betrays London's dirty atmosphere with its streaky grime, but it's still a splendid and imposing place. Famous people associated with the sight include TS Eliot, and there is one of London's famous blue plaques to commemorate his presence there.

senate, house, london, university, russell, square
Senate House, University of London


On the opposite side is the unmissable Hotel Russell, a luxury 4* hotel now part of the Principal Hayley group. This elaborate building attracts the eye to its decorative facade, imposing and impressive on the corner. It includes the Virginia Woolf bistro; everything around here is going to be named after someone famous who has frequented the area.

hotel, russell, square, virginia, woolf, london
The Hotel Russell


In the centre of the square is, in good London style, a garden. There are benches where you can sit down and watch the world go by, and trellises offering a canopy of green to wander through as you criss-cross the square. You could just walk round it, in business-like fashion, but going through it much more interesting.

russell, square, gardens, london
Russell Square Gardens


In a 2002 re-fashioning, the cafe in this central garden square was re-established, and a fountain added. It is definitely somewhere to stop off, and not just the place to pass through which it seems from the convenience of its tube station. Holder of a Green Flag award, home to a fountain, and now lasting memorial to remember the flowers left in memory of those killed on the July 7th bombings, this has all the attributes of a park in miniature.

russell, square, gardens
Russell Square Gardens


Part of the London Borough of Camden, it also forms the centre of the fashionable area known as Bloomsbury. This name goes back to the 13th century. Places such as Russell Square are physical manifestations of the city's changing face. Much of the area has its roots in the 17th-18th century fortunes of the Duke of Bedford, as nearby spots such as Bedford Square attest. The square and its roads lie on land which was previously Bedford House. You can spot their coat of arms on the street lamps too - this is no forgotten legacy. The rest of the square has a mix of shops and private buildings around it.

Oddities of life in London-past remain to remind you that London is both a vibrant modern city and a living museum and history tour. One particularly noteworthy thing is the cabman's shelter. This small, insignificant hut, offered shelter to the nineteenth century cabmen looking to chauffeur Londoners around, and it's now a grade II listed building, along with the other 12 examples around the city.

The square has its own tube station, so it's very easy to get to it. You can also walk from the British Museum (5 minutes), Kings Cross St Pancras (10 minutes), the British Library (10 minutes), or Euston (10 minutes), for example.
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Why? A great park & diverse area in the heart of London
Where: Russell Square
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