You may have noticed that there’s something of a Dickens craze at the moment, what with it being the bicentenary of his birth this year. There are Dickens exhibitions at the Museum of London, National Portrait Gallery, British Library and the British Film Institute, not to mention the two BBC costume dramas which aired over Christmas. So, when I spotted a map for a self-guided walking tour of Dickens’s London at the tourist information office, it seemed like a topical idea for a babydaytrip.
To complete this walk, you need to pick up a map from the City of London Information Centre at St Paul’s Cathedral (“Dickens’s ‘Magic Lantern’”, unfortunately the map’s not currently available to download). The walk takes you from the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury to St Paul’s Cathedral, via Clerkenwell and Farringdon, describing places that featured in Dickens’s life and works. We stuck to the official route and found that it meanders quite a bit and takes about 90 minutes, but you could skip bits, follow the itinerary in reverse (which makes sense if you pick up the map from St Paul’s), or just do half of the walk depending on what interests you. You could even combine part of this walk with a trip to the Museum of London which is located close to point 18 on the itinerary.
I’ll get my minor criticisms out of the way up front. First, not being a Dickens scholar, the references to his less well-known works were lost on me. Second, some of the sites of interest featuring in the itinerary have been redeveloped since the nineteenth century, so you need a bit of imagination to picture how it would have been in Dickens’s time.
Now for the positive. The first part of the itinerary takes you to areas of Clerkenwell and the City of London that you might never otherwise stroll around. It describes how these parts of town once were, and how they influenced Dickens – for instance, contrary to its modern reputation for gold and diamond merchants, Hatton Garden used to be ridden with poverty and child crime, providing inspiration for works such as Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol.
The second half of the tour takes you to the key monuments of the City of London: the Guildhall, Bank of England and the Royal Exchange, before ending at St Paul’s Cathedral.
The striking Guildhall – the centre of government for the City of London since the twelfth century – is particularly worth a visit. An obliging and knowledgeable member of staff offered to show us around the impressive Great Hall, which hosts State banquets and other high profile events. You can also visit the Guildhall’s art gallery, the basement of which houses the remains of London’s Roman Amphitheatre. If you fancy a spot of shopping, the last section of the route also passes by the One New Change shopping centre at St Paul’s.
If you decide to head off on a self-guided walk, it is worth thinking in advance about places to stop off en route for refreshments and baby changing. Some suggestions are set out in the “Café” and “Facilities” sections below.
This babydaytrip takes a bit more organisation than a visit to a museum or other attraction, but the itinerary might introduce you to corners of the City you didn’t even know existed. If you follow the trail at the weekend, bear in mind that many shops and eateries in the Square Mile are only open during the week.
The beauty of a self-guided walk is that you can choose to stop off for refreshments wherever you like. Here are some suggestions:
- Brunswick Centre – there are a number of family-friendly places to eat e.g. Giraffe, Strada, Carluccio’s, Patisserie Valerie, Nando’s, Starbucks etc., as well as a Waitrose. Coram’s Fields park next to the Brunswick Centre is a good spot for a picnic and has a playground. The Brunswick Centre is located opposite Russell Square tube station, near point 1 on the itinerary
- Exmouth Market – stalls selling street food (Monday to Friday lunchtimes), cafés, restaurants and boutiques. You can eat your picnic in the hidden park behind the church, about halfway down the street. Exmouth Market is a short detour from the itinerary between points 2 and 3
- Smithfields – there are a number of cafés, restaurants and takeaways situated around Cowcross Street, St John Street, Charterhouse Street and Long Lane including chains such as EAT, Pret a Manger, Pizza Express and similar. The café on the ground floor of Smiths of Smithfield also has high chairs and space for buggies. Smithfields is on the itinerary (around points 10 and 11)
- St Paul’s – there are lots of cafés and restaurants at the end of the itinerary in the streets around St Paul’s. The One New Change shopping centre also houses some popular chain restaurants such as Zizzi, Nando’s, Byron, EAT and an M&S Simply Food store
Baby changing facilities are available in many of the eateries mentioned above. In addition, there are baby changing facilities at the Museum of London (close to point 18 on the itinerary), the Guildhall and at the One New Change shopping centre at St Paul’s.
City of London Information Centre, St Paul’s Churchyard, London, EC4M 8BX
By tube: St Paul’s (Central Line)
Charles Dickens Museum (start of itinerary), 48 Doughty Street, London, WC1N 2LX
By tube: Russell Square (Piccadilly Line)
Guildhall, Gresham Street, London, EC2V 7HH
By tube: Moorgate (Northern, Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith and City Lines, National Rail), St Paul’s (Central Line), Bank (Northern, Central, Waterloo and City, Docklands Light Railway)
The Brunswick Centre
One New Change Shopping Centre
City of London Tourist Information