Happy birthday, Charles!

It’s Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday today. Doubtless, the dour Victorian author would have wanted us to celebrate the day exploring the city he loved and hated, London.

Dickens’ London was a magnificent and horrendous place. At the height of the British Empire, London was the envy of the world, by far the most majestic city anywhere. Unimaginable wealth passed through its gates every day.

But London was also a stench-filled, sewagey dump of a city. Crowded, squalid conditions meant that everyone lived cheek-by-jowl. The streets stank. The food was moldy. And the beer was warm.

Dickens reveled in conveying the “real” London – not the rarefied royal city whose image shone around the world, but the grittier reality of a metropolis bursting at the seams.

Fortunately, exploring Dickensian London today is a significantly more hygenic experience. Here are three of our favorite spots to start your journey.

Charles Dickens Museum

This one’s obvious, but it’s the best place to start. The museum is in Bloomsbury, right in central London, and is housed in an actual Dickens residence. Visiting it gives you a sense of exactly what it was like to live in Dickens’ house – if that house were stuffed with hundreds of thousands of artifacts, manuscripts, and other historical objects.

Want an amazing stay in Bloomsbury? Try this luxury apartment. Or, for something a little more budget-friendly, you could go with these cute little rooms.


Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

The Cheshire Cheese probably didn’t have the “Ye Olde” appendage in Dickens’ day – but it could have. With roots going back to the Middle Ages, this pub is tucked away from Fleet Street up a narrow alley. Fans of the pub tout its mention in A Tale of Two Cities, although Dickens never mentions the pub by name. Apparently, though, it’s a great place to grab a pint or two after you’ve been acquitted of treason.

Fleet Street is London’s former journalism center and is still synonymous with the city’s media industry. This nearby apartment is a steal. This one will blow you away.


Southwark Cathedral

You won’t find this cathedral mentioned anywhere in Dickens’ works. That’s because in his time, it was just a plain ol’ church (named “St Saviour’s”).

The cathedral – one of the oldest churches in London – appears in a classically Dickensian sentence from Oliver Twist: “The tower of old Saint Saviour’s Church, and the spire of Saint Magnus, so long the giant-warders of the ancient bridge, were visible in the gloom.” Uplifting!

If you want to stay a short stroll from the Tower Bridge referenced in that sentence, try this place. Traveling in a group and want to stay in a Victorian? This home might be more up your alley.

Whatever your fancy, we hope that your London experience is more like the best of times than…well, you get the idea.

Top image courtesy gailf548; second image Curtis Cronn; third image Davide Simonetti; all Flickr Creative Commons.