Charles Dickens London Walking Tour, London (Self Guided)

Born in Portsmouth in 1812, Charles John Huffam Dickens was the second child to arrive in a big family of his father, a Naval clerk. At the age of three, Dickens traveled to London along with his family, upon which two years later they moved to Chatham in Kent. Starting circa 1840 until his death in 1870, Dickens remained the most famous and popular writer in the world. He authored some of England's iconic literary characters. The writer spent most of his life in London enjoying an affluent middle class lifestyle. This tour will take you to the most notable places in Dickens' London.
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Charles Dickens London Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Charles Dickens London Walking Tour
Guide Location: England » London (See other walking tours in London)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 4 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 8.0 km
Author: clare
Marshalsea Debtor's Prison

1) Marshalsea Debtor's Prison

The Marshalsea prison is where Dickens' father, John, spent three months in 1824 for failure to settle his debts. His wife, Elizabeth, along with their youngest children had to move in with him, while Charles lived on his own in a rented accommodation on nearby Lant Street. Dickens would go to The Marshalsea each morning to visit the family, which at that time survived only on his father's wages from a job at the Navy Pay Office. John Dickens was released from prison after he inherited some funds that helped him repay the debts.

The novel "Little Dorrit" is set for the most part in and around The Marshalsea, serving as a testament to the profound despair Dickens suffered during that period of his life. What's left of the prison now is just crumbling remains surrounded by a public park laid out on its original site. A piece of The Marshalsea's wall with the entrance gate is still in place and is marked by a small commemorative plaque installed by the local authorities.
Doctors' Commons

2) Doctors' Commons

Nearby St. Paul's Cathedral in London, the Doctors' Commons used to house all sorts of legal and religious documents, such as marriage and divorce certificates and wills, as well as the society of ecclesiastical lawyers who handled them.

Dickens dedicated a sketch to the work of the Doctors' Commons, whilst on a trip there, that was later published in "Sketches by Boz". The piece describes, in Dickens' typical witty manner, the proceedings of several cases held in the Court of Arches, the supreme court of the Archbishop. Contrary to the favourable interpretation of the Commons in stories of Sherlock Holmes, who found it useful for solving crime, Dickens' own account of this body of law is less benign and says much about Victorian society. There is a plaque set on the Faraday building on the north side of Queen Victoria Street marking the site on which the now demolished Doctors' Commons once stood.
Furnival's Inn

3) Furnival's Inn

Together with his brother Frederick, Charles Dickens resided at Furnival's Inn from 1834 till 1837. This Inn, originally part of the Inns of Court group of buildings, accommodated law students from the 14th to the 19th centuries. After The Society of Furnival's Inn left in 1817, the building underwent reconstruction in 1818-1820. Dickens started working on "The Pickwick Papers" whilst lodging at the Inn, where he settled out of necessity after having to repay his father's debts in order to prevent him from going back to prison.

Save misfortunes and scanty living, Dickens' life of that period is characterised by prolific production, creativity, and introduction into London's literary circles, as well as engagement and subsequent marriage to Catherine Hogarth. Today occupied by a series of office buildings, the site of Furnivale's Inn is presided over by a bust of Dickens and is marked with a plaque attesting to his presence.
Staple Inn

4) Staple Inn

You will be totally charmed by the 7-gabled roof and rather crooked black and white timber-framed façade of Staple Inn to be found on the South side of High Holborn.

It is the last surviving Inn of Chancery and the earliest reference to it was in 1292 when it was a covered market called “Le Stapled Halle”. It was a wool staple building where wool was weighed and taxed.

In the 13th century, when King Henry III decreed that no institutes of legal education could exist within the City of London and a papal decree forbade the clergy to teach law, the lawyers and law students gathered in the small village of Holborn, as near as possible to the Palace of Westminster and met to do business in several inns; these inns later became the four famous Inns of Court, institutions of the legal profession.

Chancery clerks met in different inns, which became the Inns of Chancery. In 1414 lawyers and law students formed the “Grand Company of Fellows of Staple Inn”. A new Hall was built in 1580 and in 1586 the Inn was established as a medieval school of primary legal training, closely associated with Gray’s Inn.

In 1800 Staple Inn’s school closed down and the building became a lawyer’s social club until it was sold to the Prudential Assurance Company in 1886, who in turn leased it out to the Institute of Actuaries in 1887.

Over the centuries, the building has been renovated many times, but always in keeping with the original design of the inn. The current Hall has beautiful stained-glass windows commemorating the Norman merchant market, the early Fellows of the Inn and Tudor and Stuart monarchs and judges. The ground floor is rented out to restaurants and shops, whose signage, because the building is Grade I Listed, is sober and discreet.
Grays Inn

5) Grays Inn

Established in 1569, Grays Inn is one of four inns – the other three are Lincoln's Inn, the Inner, and Middle Temples – where British barristers undergo training. Prior to becoming a barrister a student must join the inn, pass their exams, and dine at the inn a certain number of times. The Inn is both a professional body and a provider of office accommodation (chambers) for many barristers. It is ruled by a governing council called "Pension", made up of the Masters of the Bench (or "Benchers"), and led by the Treasurer, who is elected to serve a one-year term. The Inn is known for its gardens, or Walks, which have existed since at least 1597. Charles Dickens worked here as a clerk whilst briefly playing with the idea of pursuing a legal career. Dickens mentions Gray's Inn in several of his novels, including David Copperfield and The Pickwick Papers. Gray's Inn and the other three Inns of Court remain the only bodies legally allowed to call a barrister to the Bar, allowing him or her to practise in England and Wales.

Having existed for over 600 years, Gray's Inn has a long list of notable members and honorary members. Even as the smallest of the Inns of Court it has had members who have been particularly noted lawyers and judges, such as Francis Bacon, F.E. Smith, Baron Slynn, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Hoffmann and others. Outside the Bar and judiciary of England and Wales, members have included the clergy (including five Archbishops of Canterbury), industrialists like John Wynne, astronomers such as John Lee, media figures, like Huw Thomas, and members of the Bar and judiciary of other nations, such as Yang Ti-liang (former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong) and Aitzaz Ahsan (former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan).
48 Doughty Street

6) 48 Doughty Street

A year after their marriage, Dickens and his wife Catherine moved into this three-story house on a private street in an affluent part of London. The move was made possible by the early success of "The Pickwick Papers" and ensued fame which afforded the Dickenses the more spacious accommodation after their tight room at Furnival's Inn. They spent here two years, from 1837 to 1839. This last standing London residence of the Dickens family escaped demolition courtesy of the Dickens Fellowship, who renovated the home and opened in its quarters the Dickens House Museum in 1925. The main rooms have retained the arrangement befitting Dickens's period. Among the museum's exhibits are the writer's letters, manuscripts, first editions of his best-known novels, paintings, and furniture, including the desk he used at public readings of his works. Several days a week, visitors are allowed to physically handle the displayed items.
Lincoln's Inn Fields

7) Lincoln's Inn Fields

Lincoln's Inn Fields is the largest public square in London. It was laid out in the 1630s under the initiative of the speculative builder and contractor William Newton, "the first in a long series of entrepreneurs who took a hand in developing London", as Sir Nikolaus Pevsner observes. In Charles Dickens' novel Bleak House, the sinister solicitor to the aristocracy Mr Tulkinghorn has his offices in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and one of its most dramatic scenes is set there. The description of his building corresponds most closely to Lindsey House.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Seven Dials

8) Seven Dials

Lying between Covent Garden and Soho is the small cobbled-street area known as Seven Dials. It’s a great place for shopping without having to pay high London prices, and is also a small slice of the history of the capital.

The area is made up of seven streets and yards, which were once a part of the St Giles Rookery – a slum area frequented by the poor, criminals and prostitutes. However, when Thomas Neale laid out the designs in 1690, and gave his name to a street and a yard, he had visions of turning the area into an upper-middle class part of the city.

His original drawings centred on the central part of the area, a square where six streets would converge, and here he set up a pillar bearing six sundials. Shortly before the completion of the work, a seventh street was added, but although the name Seven Dials caught on, a 7th sundial was never added to the pillar.

In 1773 the Town Council removed the column, supposedly for repairs, but in truth to try to disperse the “unsavoury elements” that used the central place as a meeting point. This didn’t noticeably reduce the crime rate, but it gave the locals something to talk about.

Eventually, as often happens, the “unsavoury elements” lost interest in the place and moved on to more prosperous areas, where the pickings were easier, and gradually the Seven Dials became a popular meeting place for students.

Pubs and shops were either renovated or opened around the pillar, which was replaced by a copy of the original in 1988. Today the area attracts millions of tourists every year, with Monmouth Street’s shops selling luxury goods, Earlham Street that sells fine vintage and street-style clothes; Short’s Garden where you will find Neale’s Yard Dairy, with its 50 varieties of cheeses, and Neale’s Yard itself with its Herbal Remedy shop and several great pubs, restaurants with music provided by street musicians.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Warren's Blacking

9) Warren's Blacking

When Dickens' father was jailed at the Marshalsea Debtors' Prison, his parents decided to send Charles, 12 at that time, to work at Warren's Blacking warehouse on the Strand, producing boot polish. The job was offered by a relative, James Lamert, the warehouse's manager, who knew about the family's financial dire straits. Dickens' job implied wrapping up jars of polish with paper, securing each with a string, and then attaching a printed label. He had to support himself on a weekly pay of six shillings. Dickens worked there from February to June of 1824 and left, contrary to his mother's wishes but at the insistence of his father who by that time had been freed, to go to school—the Wellington House Academy—for another few years. The former location of Blacking factory is now occupied by London's Charing Cross Station.
Westminster Abbey

10) Westminster Abbey (must see)

Westminster Abbey is a Gothic church in the municipal borough of The City of Westminster. Back in the day, Westminster was a totally separate town from London. The documented origins of the abbey date back to the late 10th century. A century later, during a major reconstruction run by King Edward the Confessor, the church got its Romanesque look becoming one of the grandest temples of Europe of that period. The construction of the present church started in 1245 under Henry III, who put the unique Cosmati pavement in front of the High Altar, and it was largely completed during the reign of King Richard II. Under Henry VII, a chapel was added, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The chapel took 16 years to build and was finished in 1519. The two western towers of the abbey, featuring early Gothic Revival style, were added between 1722 and 1745. In the 19th century, the abbey underwent further refurbishment.

By far more than just a church but a symbol rather, Westminster Abbey, in a way, represents the epitome of Britishness set in stone. This is the place where all the English and later British monarchs have been crowned, starting with William the Conqueror in 1066. Some of them, like Queen Elizabeth I, are buried here as well, alongside prominent Britons like scientists Isaac Newton & Charles Darwin, writers Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Rudyard Kipling, actor Laurence Olivier, and many others. In 1997, funeral of Diana, the Princess of Wales was held here. Recently, the Abbey made mark on a more cheerful note hosting the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. The ceremony was televised to a billion audience worldwide and largely added to the abbey's popularity.

Owing to this popularity, all year round, Westminster Abbey is besieged by visitors who stand in long queues outside, waiting to get in. If you wish to skip the line, it is therefore recommended that you get your tickets online, in advance. Upon arrival, just tell the attendants you have your tickets already and walk straight in. No picture taking is allowed inside the abbey, mind you, so you'll have to rely entirely on your visual memory to absorb whatever info you can about this magnificent place.

Why You Should Visit:
You can't deny the amazing architecture and history that you're confronted with when approaching this collection of buildings.
Final resting place of so many people that contributed to civilization both ancient and recent.

By all means get timed-entry tickets online (which include an audio guide).
Tell the attendances outside that you already have tickets, and you'll go right in.
Photos inside are not allowed, so you should visually absorb all you can.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Tue, Thu-Sat: 9:30am-3:30pm; Wed: 9:30am-6pm
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in London, England

Create Your Own Walk in London

Create Your Own Walk in London

Creating your own self-guided walk in London is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Bloomsbury Museums, Part 2

Bloomsbury Museums, Part 2

There are over 240 museums in London and they welcome about 42 million annual visitors nationwide. This wonderful tour will lead you to the most famous and significant museums of London Bloomsbury area, such as Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, Wellcome Collection, The Crypt Gallery and others.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 km
Holborn/Covent Garden Walk

Holborn/Covent Garden Walk

During this self guided walking tour around Holborn and Covent Garden areas you will have a chance to visit such famous and interesting London attractions, as National Gallery, London Coliseum, London Transport Museum and many others. Don't miss your chance to explore the best of the Holborn and Covent Garden areas.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 km
City Orientation Walk

City Orientation Walk

London emerged as a humble settlement on the outskirts of the great Roman empire in the 40s AD. Originally known as Londinium, it was only the second incarnation of that village that survived. The first one burned to the ground at the hands of local tribesmen. In the course of two millennia since, London has evolved progressively first to become the capital of the Roman province of Britannia, then...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.7 km
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

Most visitors to London consider shopping as part of the must-do London experience. From street markets to Victorian arcades and from snobbish Sloane Square to busy Oxford Street there are a host of shops selling items which typically depict this vibrant city. Whether you are shopping for souvenirs for yourself or gift for friends, here are a few ideas to give you some great inspiration.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.5 km
Walk around Buckingham Palace

Walk around Buckingham Palace

London is deservedly recognized as one of the cultural centres of the world. Among many cultural treasures found here are perfectly reserved ancients buildings, grandiose monuments and beautiful statues, as well as museums with wide collections of various objects, featuring traditions of different nations and epochs. This self guided walking tour around Buckingham Palace will reveal some of the...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 km
West End Nightlife

West End Nightlife

Be prepared for the exciting, throbbing sensation of London's nightlife, one of the best in the world. You will find everything you are looking for: trendy clubs, hot atmosphere and exclusive drinks. Follow this London West End nightlife tour to get the party started!

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

London Souvenirs: 20 Distinctively British Products for Travelers

London Souvenirs: 20 Distinctively British Products for Travelers

Most visitors to London consider shopping as part of their must-do London experience. From street markets to Victorian arcades to snobbish Sloane Square to busy Oxford Street, there are a host of shops selling items which typically represent this vibrant city. Whether you are shopping for souvenirs...

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in London for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best London has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes

To save yourself time and money visiting London's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as the London Pass, London Explorer Pass, or iVenture Card.

A city pass combines all or multiple London's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows you to skip the lines at major attractions, thus saving you precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels

Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of London hotels conveniently located for a comfortable stroll: The Trafalgar St. James London Curio collection by Hilton, Corinthia Hotel London, The Grand at Trafalgar Square.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as London, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours

We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of London typically costs somewhere between US$30 and US$130 or more per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off double-decker to enjoy sightseeing of London from the open top of the bus listening in the headsets to the commentary provided in a variety of languages, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the six interconnecting routes, plus get on board the Thames River Sightseeing Cruise. The tickets are valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours.

- Spend half a day pedaling your way around London Royal Parks on a guided bike tour to see the city's most spectacular highlights stopping at some for a bit of rest, watching the surroundings, and learning interesting facts about the attractions from a knowledgeable group leader.

- Commit yourself to a full-day of sightseeing to appreciate the English capital in its full splendor complete with its top (UNESCO-listed and other) attractions, plus to enjoy a sightseeing cruise down the River Thames, and more.

- Dive into Britain’s royal and political history on the Westminster Abbey & Houses of Parliament tour for an up-close view of the country's two most prominent landmarks that have been in place and duly served their purpose for almost a millennium.

- Explore the WWII chapter of the British history on a guided 2-hour walking tour of Churchill War Rooms & Westminster to see how they operated back in those days. Hear some little-known war tales and tidbits about London and the country's most celebrated leader, Winston Churchill.

- Satisfy your penchant for English tradition, glamour and food culture in style with an afternoon tea experience at the 5-star Grosvenor House Hotel in London complete with a full set of lovely cakes, sandwiches and tea!

- If you're into music, give yourself a treat, whilst in London, to the Musical Theater Show at Apollo Victoria Theatre presenting the alternate side of the famous Wizard of Oz story previously untold.

Day Trips

If you have a day to spare whilst in London, why not use it to explore some out-of-town destinations like the Warner Bros. Studio London, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Bath, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle, Cotswolds, or Leeds Castle, Cliffs of Dover and Canterbury. For as little as circa US$100+ to US$120+ per person you will get a chance to explore the postcard-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage sights, get behind-the-scenes of the mystical world of Harry Potter, see what has been the home of the British Royals for the past 900 years, explore the ancient rock formations, Roman Baths and medieval castles, walk the streets of the charming hometown of William Shakespeare, check out one of the world’s most prestigious universities, get to see the picture-perfect region officially designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, otherwise known as “forever England,” renowned for its quaint villages and rolling hills, admire the symbolic White Cliffs of Dover, and more. For any of these tours you will be picked up straight from your hotel in London and transported by a comfortable air-conditioned coach or train (whichever is applicable) to the destination of your choice and back again.