No longer working at the office all the time? Need to spend a day away from the flat? Writing a novel, and want to do it in public so everyone knows? We've rounded up some of our favourite places to work in central London. Generic coffeeshops and bars have been eschewed (there are thousands, after all); these places, have something special going for them. They're all free to access, too. Just buy a coffee/sandwich/martini if you can.
Royal Festival Hall
For a plum piece of hot desking real estate, nab a window in the Royal Festival Hall overlooking the South Bank. This venue is a solid office-from-office for many Londoners, and even if you don't score the best seats in the house, there's ample space towards the back of the ground floor. Coffee and snacks are readily available — or push the boat out at Skylon — and don't forget, you've got the National Poetry Library upstairs, should you need to get those creative juices flowing. There are a few caveats: the Festival Hall often has rehearsals/setups/events going on (lately when we were here, the foyer space gradually transformed before our eyes into a candy pink wonderland for the Wonka premiere), so it's not necessarily ideal for meetings and video calls. We've also found the internet — although free and easy to connect to — glitchy from time to time. That's splitting hairs though: this is fab spot to work from.
You wouldn't necessarily associate the architecture of Denys Lasdun with feeling all snuggly and warm, but the National Theatre somehow achieves just that — partly because of all the concrete crevices you can stow yourself away in, partly because it's so plushly carpeted and liberally sprinkled with soft banquettes and pouffes to sink into. Freelancers can indulge in an up to snuff internet connection; long, glossy wooden tables for communal working; and smaller circular ones from which you can watch the South Bank go by. The NT has coffee shops and bars aplenty to keep you fuelled (plus a Forza Wine and the swankier Lasdun Restarurant), and you can often find a quiet space up in the Lyttelton Circle Bar or Wolfson Gallery. We've seen people have full-blown meetings in here. We've HAD full-blown meetings here.
A few seconds from the NT is BFI Southbank, which has seating in a light-flooded cafe area (ensconced rather nicely among potted palms) and a reference library, not to mention the BFI Mediatheque, which is ideal for pretending to research something when you're actually watching arthouse films. All in all, the Southbank complex is a bit of a playground for freelancers — allowing you to hop from place to place throughout the day/week, and feel altogether urbane.
Like a National Theatre of the east, the Barbican Centre offers more snuggly modernist vibes in it's open-to-all foyer space, comprising chunks of concrete so delicious, it'll melt the heart of the biggest brutalist critic. The internet's good, and there's a great mixture of tables and soft furnishings on the ground floor, and more up on the mezzanine (this often seems to be closed off, which everyone duly ignores). Even the basement and sub-basement attract their share of laptop prodders (and the wifi and 5G still work down there). We've sometimes found the Barbican to be HEAVING during the week, so you'll either want to arrive early, or be prepared to bide your time for a free space. Should you need a post/during-work tipple, know that Barbican has the magnificent Martini Bar, which even serves a cocktail called The Brutalist.
A towering honeypot for London's most bookish, Foyles draws you up to its fifth floor cafe by way of hundreds of thousands of neatly-stacked tomes. If the project you're working on is indeed a book, then this is the place to come and feel motivated. The cafe itself is a sprawling space with dozens of tables, both for communal and solo coffee sipping/laptop bashing. It is, by definition, a cafe rather than a public space, so the pace of things can be a tad frantic (you'll want to bring headphones). But the coffee's excellent, and it's a cushy spot to get some work done in central without resorting to a Costa/Wetherspoon. They do ask that you don't spend more than two hours here at a time; after all, you're not the only person writing a bestselling novel.
5th View, Waterstones Piccadilly
Another grandee of a bookshop with an excellent upper-storey cafe, 5th View has been called "the best kept secret in London", although try telling that to the throng of folk you find up here on any given day of the week. Like Foyles (maybe even more so), this Waterstones flagship store coffeeshop/bar/restaurant is invariably frothing with customers, making it somewhere to work for an hour or two, rather than hunkering down for the day. As its name suggests, there are sublime views to be devoured — at least there are if you time it right and get a good table. Oh, and 5pm-8pm is cocktail happy hour. Just sayin'.
5th View, Waterstones Piccadilly
A devastating cyber attack may have rendered the British Library's website near-useless in recent months, but the physical building — a wondrous liner-shaped slice of architecture — is very much open for business. Anyone can access the communal areas after a swift bag check, but to access the glut of reading rooms in the British Library, you'll need to get yourself a Reader Pass. This is a quick and painless procedure (they won't start quizzing you on the works of Marcel Proust), and opens up a throng of wonderful places to work/study, many of them with compartmentalised desks featuring plug sockets and individual lights (how posh is that). When the BL's website is up and running again, you have access to every single book ever published in the country. Londoners really are spoiled.
St Pancras station
A hectic international train station isn't necessarily the first place that springs to mind for someone who needs to dive into a bunch of spreadsheets. But for the hot desker who likes to watch the hustle and bustle of humanity go by as they work (not to mention admire the most awe-inspiring ceiling in London), then St Pancras is for you. The station's Costa Coffee is a suggestion we've seen bandied around (and after all, it is open 24 hours). However, for somewhere a tad quieter/not next to an endless stream of people who've not had a wee since Lille rushing to the toilets, we'd suggest heading to the mezzanine level, and working on one of the terraces. We especially like the Betjeman Arms; it's comfy, and surprisingly serene up here, and watching the Eurostars ping in and out is somehow soothing. If you're doing particularly well at this freelance lark, you could also work from the Searcys Champagne Bar. The small, mezzanine Benugo is also worth a look, with its cosy wooden interior. It's on a lesser-used bit of concourse and almost always has free tables.
Westminster Reference Library
A beautiful, free-to-use library that's just off Leicester Square — what's not to love? Westminster Reference Library offers free wi-fi, study spaces, not to mention a fair few thousand books, should you be in research mode. You don't need a card to access the venue or the reading material. On the upper floor, you'll find the (usually quieter) Westminster Music Library, stuffed with scoresheets and reference books. If you're wondering what that constant dull thud, thud thud is — that's the two digital pianos, which are free to practise on. Fun fact: the library was built on the site of Isaac Newton's house.
This ever-fascinating museum/library is seconds from Euston station, and offers a couple of nifty spots to get your head down and check some emails. The downstairs cafe has excellent coffee and cakes, although it can get loud. For a more peaceful experience, head upstairs to the Reading Room — a stunning space with a book-packed mezzanine, medical displays, arty lighting and — most importantly for freelancers — a number of tables and comfy chairs. No membership is required, you can simply walk in. Seeing as this is a library, it's not suitable for meetings (although tell that to the guy blithely Zooming away when we were last there). In our experience, the internet — though free — can be patchy, so prepare to hotspot.
Churches in London serving coffee
A number of churches in the city have pivoted to dish up coffee and cake during the daytime, including:
- St Martin-in-the-Fields
- St Nicholas Cole Abbey
- St Mary Aldermary
- St Mary-le-Bow
- Westminster Chapel
- Christ Church Spitalfields
- Lumen church, Bloomsbury
- St John's Smith Square, Westminster
- The Sherriff Centre, West Hampstead
- St Luke's, Chelsea
- Southwark Cathedral
- All Saints, Kingston
Care to share your favourite freelance spot in central? Feel free to put it in the comments.