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Travel & Holiday

Dickens' London

You can spend 48 hours exploring the favourite haunts of Charles Dickens
The Straits Times - February 14, 2012
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Dickens' London Actors dressed as characters from Charles Dickens stories at Dickens World in Kent and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, one of the writer's favourite hangouts. -- PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

London - London in the 21st century is not all that different from the Victorian metropolis forever preserved in the novels of English writer Charles Dickens, whose 200th birthday last week is being celebrated in a year long celebration.

You can still walk the same streets of the city, which helped to inspire such characters as Oliver Twist and Ebenezer Scrooge, and have a drink at some of the writer's old watering holes.

Here is how to spend 48 hours enjoying some of his London haunts.

Friday, 7pm: Check into a London hotel near Russell Square, a stone's throw from the Doughty Street home where Dickens wrote some of his greatest works.

8pm: Ride on London's Underground railway to a late-evening theatre show in Covent Garden, a bustling square even in Dickens' day, which he used to frequent.

10.30pm: Covent Garden is a hive of activity at night, with numerous bars and clubs. Duck into The Marquis on Chandos Place, explore the upstairs dining area or watch passers-by in the now modernised Dickensian haunt.

Saturday, 10am: Go to Borough Market (www.boroughmarket.org.uk) and search through the food and other fare to get a sense of the kind of neighbourhood that the writer knew well. Borough Market traces its roots back to the 11th century.

Noon: Go for lunch at George Inn, a 17th-century pub which is mentioned in Little Dorrit and is London's last remaining galleried coaching inn. Dickens used to come here for coffee.

The George's aged balconies overlook a courtyard where patrons eat and drink. This London treasure was rebuilt in 1676, after a fire destroyed the original. Shakespeare was another well-known regular.

1pm: Go on a Dickens walk. There are firms which offer themed walks, including those for Charles Dickens. London Walks (www.walks.com) offers a Christmas Carol tour, which explores the darker side of London led by a Victorian-dressed guide.

The author of Walking Dickensian London, Richard Jones, will give guided walking tours (www.dickenslondontours.co.uk) this month. Do not forget to drop by Westminster Abbey, where Dickens is buried in Poet's Corner, alongside Lord Alfred Tennyson, Samuel Johnson and others.

4.30pm: The weary traveller might want a drink at one of the many public houses where Dickens would take respite from his lengthy walks about the city, spurred by insomnia.

One of his haunts was Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. The pub, which was alluded to in A Tale Of Two Cities, is in Fleet Street. It is still a dark, cramped series of odd- shaped rooms, the walls thick with history and adorned with copies of Victorian-era paintings.

5.30pm: On the way to dinner, take in the sights and sounds of London, passing the Shard, the soon-to-be-completed tallest building in Europe.

6.30pm: Dickens was a man who worked and played hard. Take a trip to the theatre in the West End or its modern-day equivalent, the cinema.

Sunday, 9am: Go to the Dickens museum in 48 Doughty Street, where the writer lived with his wife and where he wrote Oliver Twist. Visitors can run their hands along the wooden crevices of the desk used by Dickens when he was a reporter at the Daily News, explore the house and have a bite to eat in the museum cafe.

11am: Take a trip to the Old Curiosity Shop, which inspired the story of the same title. It still exists and bills itself as 'the oldest shop in London'. The 16th-century building with a sloping tiled roof is now home to an expensive shoe boutique.

1pm: Visit the wharfs in Wapping and Limehouse, where ships in Victorian times used to unload spices and other goods from all over the world. The area has a number of good places to stop off for lunch.

The Grapes pub, which was built in 1720 and described by Dickens in Our Mutual Friend, is now owned by English actor Ian McKellen. Charles Dickens knew this pub well, according to www.pubs.com: 'As a child, he was made to stand on a table and sing to the customers. As an adult, he immortalised it as the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters pub in Our Mutual Friend.'

3pm: After lunch, take a boat across the River Thames, from Canary Wharf pier to Greenwich. This was one of Dickens' favourite places for weekend excursions.

4pm: Visit the Royal Observatory (www.rmg.co.uk) and climb the hill for a breathtaking view of London.

6pm: Dine in Greenwich, where pubs include Gipsy Moth, near the newly restored Cutty Sark, the world's last tea clipper (ship) or The Trafalgar Tavern, which lies just beyond the picturesque National Maritime Museum.

 

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