“A day in London sets me up and starts me”, wrote Charles Dickens in 1846. Old Charlie never got to experience the joys of the Central Line on a Monday rush hour, or he might have said something rather different. Still, no writer is connected so intricately with London as Dickens, and since today (February 7) happens to mark what would have been his 212th birthday, we might as well celebrate him by telling you about this handy Charles Dickens tour of London.
1. Visit the Dickens Museum
Yeah, it’s an obvious start, but 48 Doughty Street is where some of his best works were written, and where he began to hit the heights of fame. Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers, and Nicholas Nickleby were all penned here, and it contains first editions, letters, and even his old writing desk. Hosting tours, talks, and special events, the Dickens Museum is surely worth a visit.
48 Doughty Street, WC1N 2LX.
2. Browse in The Old Curiosity Shop
Even if it wasn’t the inspiration for a Dickens novel, this place would still be fascinating. The Old Curiosity Shop was built from the timbers of old ships, and stoically weathered the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. It makes for a pretty nice present, too: Charles II reportedly gave it as a gift to one of his mistresses. It’s most recently been a shoe shop stocking some truly bizarre creations, the place is worth a visit if you’re in the Holborn area. However, the shop currently sits unused as it is temporarily closed, but it is expected to be let out as another shop. Still, it’s a good sight to tick off on your Dickens tour of London.
13-14 Portsmouth Street, Holborn, WC2A 2ES.
3. Wander around Seven Dials
Nowadays, Seven Dials is filled with tourists and theatregoers. However, back in Victorian times, the area was a notorious slum, filled with scoundrels, thieves, and prostitutes. Dickens roamed the filthy alleys of Seven Dials, writing portraits he’d put into his first major work, Sketches by Boz. The only remnant of this time is The Escapologist, a cocktail bar with a decidedly Victorian theme. Having said that, the scandalous crowd that once patronised the local taverns are nowhere to be seen. Goddamn gentrification!
4. Take a trip to Broadstairs
When you’re a Victorian author writing about poverty, crime, and the miseries of London life, you’re going to want a decent holiday. Charles got his by escaping to Broadstairs, a lovely seaside town less than two hours from London. Stay at Bleak House, the stately house in which the author wrote David Copperfield, and visit yet another museum dedicated to him. If you visit in June, the town throws a Dickens Festival, which seems like a jolly good excuse to lark about in Victorian garb. Finally, stop at Morelli’s; Dickens definitely never visited, but this ice cream parlour makes a mean sundae.
Trains to Broadstairs run regularly from Cannon Street, Victoria, and St Pancras.
5. Drink in a Victorian pub
Dickens was a noted drinker, and as a result, if a London pub can trace its history to Victorian times, it will also claim he drank there. Our roundup of London’s oldest pubs found several claiming to have played host, but the two with the strongest connections are The George in Southwark and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street. The former earned itself a mention in Little Dorrit, whilst the latter has a colourful history that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dickens novel. The top floor was formerly a brothel, and their resident parrot Polly was known to shout “fuck the Kaiser” when prompted. Sometimes, life really is stranger than fiction.
Also published on Medium.