One of the capital’s traditional garden squares, Russell Square London is really worth a visit. Right next door to the British Museum it has a leafy public garden with a lovely cafe, as well as historic Georgian town houses. Close to excellent transport links as well as cultural treasures, a Russell Square hotel is also a great place to stay in London. Here’s what you need to know about this secret London gem.
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Why you should know about Russell Square London
- It’s a quiet enclave in Central London with elegant Georgian terraces and literary connections.
- Russell Square has a pretty garden that’s open to the public.
- You’ll find some great accommodation options around Russell Square including a landmark historic hotel.
- It’s bang next door to the British Museum and in walking distance of Oxford Street and Soho.
- This elegant garden square has cafes and restaurants too.
- Nearby Euston, King’s Cross and St Pancras railway stations provide excellent transport links across the country and into Europe.
- Russell Square tube station will carry you to Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus and Knightsbridge.
- The Piccadilly tube line at Russell Square is a direct route to London Heathrow airport too.
- Russell Square is a 15 min walk from the Elizabeth line station at Tottenham Court Road which is a fast route to Heathrow airport and Windsor Castle.
Where is Russell Square?
Russell Square is set in the central London neighbourhood of Bloomsbury, a conservation area with posh Marylebone to the west and the legal district of Holborn to the south. Euston road lies north of Russell Square along with Regents Park and the three major north London railway stations.
The square is surrounded by the campuses of the University of London and has the British Museum on its doorstep. So no surprises that over the years this elegant square has become well known as an intellectual hangout.
History of Russell Square
It was Sir Francis Russell, the 5th Duke of Bedford, who masterminded the development of north Bloomsbury in the late 18th century. He owned swathes of land in the area and enlisted the services of the talented developer James Burton, of Regent Street fame. You can still see some of the handsome neoclassical terraced houses that Burton built on the south and west side of the square.
This brand new development became the largest square in London, overtaking Grosvenor Square. James Burton’s grand design incorporated Bedford Place as a central axis running between Russell Square and Bloomsbury Square to the south. The area attracted politicians, lawyers and doctors as well as wealthy merchants and bankers.
Nowadays Russell Square is home to language schools, businesses, the Wiener Holocaust Library and SOAS, the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
A landmark hotel on Russell Square
At the end of the 1800s two enormous Russell Square hotels sprang up, convenient for the new railway stations on Euston Road. Designed by Charles Fitzroy Doll in French Renaissance style, the terracotta-tiled Hotel Russell was a lavish affair. The exterior with its glamorous arcaded balconies features statues of English queens. Inside Doll equipped it with new-fangled ensuite bathrooms and lots of marble. He went on to design the first class dining saloon on RMS Titanic, modelling it on the opulent dining room at the Russell hotel. In fact Doll’s signature style gave rise to the slang term ‘dolled up’.
These days this landmark hotel on Russell Square is the luxurious Kimpton Fitzroy London and many of its gorgeous decorative details have survived.
Doll’s second Russell Square hotel, the equally grand Imperial, hasn’t survived. It was demolished and replaced in 1967. But the current Imperial is being refurbished and is due to re-open in 2025.
Take a walking tour of the Russell Square neighborhood
Explore elegant Bloomsbury and hear intriguing and moving stories of the squares and their residents over the centuries on this 5 star-rated, 2 hour Private Guided Walking Tour of Bloomsbury
Russell Square Gardens
Traditionally, upscale London residential squares were built with private gardens in the centre. You’ll find them in affluent areas like Kensington and Belgravia. (Remember the scene in the movie Notting Hill where Hugh Grant climbs over the railings?).
Most London square gardens are still private, but Russell Square is different. The Russell Square gardens are open to the public every day. Visitors come to escape the city bustle, stroll beneath the trees, meet friends or take a nap in the sunshine.
Back in the early 1800s Francis Russell called on star landscape architect Sir Humphry Repton to design the gardens. He installed a broad perimeter walk, curving paths and a lime walk. A family man, Repton ensured that children playing on the lawns could still be seen from the windows of their homes surrounding the gardens. The garden refurbishment in 2002 reinstated some of Repton’s original plan so we can enjoy his vision today.
At the south end of the square Repton installed a statue of the Duke of Bedford. He looks along Bedford Place to a statue of his friend the abolitionist Charles James Fox which Repton placed in Bloomsbury Square.
Russell Square cafes
Caffè Tropea Russell Square gardens
The jewel in the crown of Russell Square gardens is the proper family-run Italian cafe that has been there for 40 years. After a morning’s shopping on Oxford Street you can revive yourself at Caffè Tropea with brunch or lunch. Or relax on the broad outdoor terrace with coffee and Italian pastries.
This Russell Square cafe is a fabulous find in central London, where lots of traditional Italian cafes have disappeared in favour of chains. Get here early for a full English breakfast or the Anglo-Italian Job! Enjoy Penne Salsiccia, a pasta and tomato sauce with homemade Calabrese sausage, for lunch. Or bag one of their sarnies or a La Tropea pizza with tomato, ‘nduja, red onions and chilli. The pizza dough and foccacia are made on site.
Caffè Tropea even sells its own coffee, cups and a book on Russell Square Gardens, all lovely souvenirs of your visit.
This handsome little green pavilion in the north-west corner of the square is one of only 13 cabmen’s shelters left in London. Originally designed as places of shelter and sustenance for the drivers of hansom cabs these huts have been serving cups of tea and bacon rolls to cabbies – and the public – for over 100 years. Only cabmen are allowed to sit inside though!
More cafes in Russell Square
Burr & Co A light and airy coffee house and wine bar in the Fitzroy Kimpton hotel. 1-8 Russell Square
Noxy Brothers One of a small London chain serving coffees, bagels and shakes. 9 Russell Square
Things to do near Russell Square
These historic London places are all in walking distance of Russell Square.
- British Museum Great Russell Street. One of London’s best free museums
- Foundling Museum Brunswick Square
- British Library Euston Road
- Charles Dickens Museum Doughty Street
- Oxford Street, Soho and Covent Garden – the heart of the West End
What is Russell Square famous for?
Over the years Russell Square has attracted its fair share of intellectuals, artists, scholars and radicals as well as lawyers and politicians. The 18th century poets William Cowper and Thomas Gray both had lodgings here, the latter enjoying its “air and sunshine and quiet”. Whilst a blue plaque at No 21 commemorates Sir Samuel Romilly the law reformer.
In the early 1800s W M Thackeray featured the square in his novel Vanity Fair, a satire of high society. At the end of that century suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters lived at No 8, now the site of the Kimpton Fitzroy. And a few years later Virginia Woolf made the square the fictional home of a suffrage society in her novel Night and Day.
Richard D’Oyly Carte, founder of the Savoy hotel and the opera company that staged the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, lived here too. He was occasionally spotted jogging in the gardens, in the days before jogging was ever a thing!
For 40 years poet and publisher T S Eliot worked in Russell Square at Faber and Faber. And in the 20th century the square was home to Librairie Internationale, something of an anarchist bookshop.
Transport Links from Russell Square London
Russell Square’s own tube station is just round the corner from the Kimpton Fitzroy on Bernard Street. It’s on the Piccadilly line. Other nearby tube stations are:
- Goodge Street which is on the Northern Line and 12 mins walk
- Holborn, on the Central line and 10 mins walk
- Tottenham Court Road, on the Central and Northern lines, 12 mins walk
- Tottenham Court Road’s Elizabeth line station is a 16 min walk from Russell Square. From here it’s a short hop to Whitechapel and Canary Wharf to the east. Alternatively the Elizabeth Line takes you west to Heathrow airport or Windsor (via Slough). Or you can change at Paddington station for mainline trains to Bath, Bristol or Plymouth in Devon.
Day trips from Russell Square
The three north London mainline train stations are all within easy reach of Russell Square. Here are some of the destinations in England and Europe that you could visit on a day trip from Russell Square Bloomsbury.
- Euston station: catch trains to Manchester and the Lake District.
- King’s Cross station: travel to Cambridge, York and Durham.
- St Pancras station: take the Eurostar to Paris and Brussels.
Russell Square hotels
Russell Square is a great place to stay in London. It’s a peaceful area with lots of handy transport links and culture on the doorstep. Here are two highly regarded Russell Square hotels:
More hotels on Russell Square and nearby
Russell Square Tube Station
Opposite Russell Square on Bernard Street, the Art Nouveau-style station building with its distinctive dark red tiles opened in 1906. Russell Square tube station still has some of its original patterned tiling and signage on the platforms. This underground station has three lifts rather than escalators and a spiral staircase.
Tragically on 7 July 2005, London suffered two terrorist bombings near Russell Square. An explosive device detonated on an underground train and another on a bus in nearby Tavistock Square.
FAQs about Russell Square London
Russell Square is on the Piccadilly line, Zone 1.
Russell Square is part of the Bedford Estates in central London which has been owned by the Russell family since 1669. It is in the London Borough of Camden and Camden Council maintains it.
Russell Square is in the WC1 postal district.
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And here’s an essential round up of the Best Gifts and Souvenirs from London to hunt down during your stay or online.
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Please note that all visitor information here is for guidance only. Please check the relevant websites for the most up to date information eg. accommodation details, tickets, entrance requirements, opening times etc.
About the author Nancy Roberts is a former women’s magazine editor and writer. She lives in London and is mum to two 20-something boys. In Map&Family she shares info and inspiration for curious travellers: singles and couples as well as families travelling with teens and young adults.
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