Everything You Need to Know about Visiting Charles Dickens' Home & Museum in London
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December is the month of Dickens, a time when our celebrations are forever impacted by that little novella written out of financial desperation, A Christmas Carol.
So that makes it the perfect month for me to share everything you need to know about making a literary pilgrimage to one of the most important literary destinations in England: Charles Dickens' home turned museum in London. Tucked away on a modest street in London's Camden borough, if you were merely passing by the street you'd likely never even notice it there.
But for those who are in the know, Charles Dickens' only remaining residence in London is an absolutely must-see literary site in London and an underrated London destination in general.
The Museum underwent a massive refurbishment in 2012, expanding into the home next door in order to include even more exhibitions than previously. Visitors now get to experience more of the home, including the attic and kitchens, and see even more Dickens-related items of interest.
The Dickens Museum was one of my absolute favorite sites I visited during my literary studies in London, and I'm so happy to be sharing it with you. I hope you'll visit, either virtually or in-person, soon.
Charles Dickens at 48 Doughty Street
In 1837, young newlyweds Charles & Catherine Dickens moved into this row house in London. Charles was thirty-seven chapters in to his first literary sensation, The Pickwick Papers. This work had catapulted him into the literary limelight, and the rising star was ready to move into a grander, more expensive home. 48 Doughty Street was the next financial and social "step up" for Dickens and his wife.
Charles and Catherine lived here for three years, and during that time, many significant events happened, both personally and professionally. While living here, Charles finished The Pickwick Papers and wrote and published Oliver Twist as well as Nicholas Nickleby. (Incidentally, I chose Nicholas Nickleby to read this month as part of #DickensDecember ; check it out on my Instagram page). He also wrote and oversaw production of four plays and served as the editor of a literary magazine.
You'd think with all that writing Charles would have little time for anything else, but he and Catherine were highly social and constantly hosted guests of London's literary elite. Their first two children, Mamie and Katey, were also born during their three-year tenure at 48 Doughty Street.
Their time in this house also corresponded with great sorrow for the Dickens family. It was here that Charles' sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, who was living with the couple, died in his arms after falling suddenly ill. It's believed that Mary was actually the love of Dickens' live, and he was forever changed by her death. Indeed, he stopped writing entirely for a time (although thankfully picked it up again later). Still, he kept her ring on his finger and her lock of hair near his heart for the rest of his life.
Visiting the Charles Dickens Home & Museum
There are a number of options for visiting the museum. You can take a self-guided walk-through of the home, walk through on your own with a rented audioguide, or participate in occasional guided tours with museum docents. Buy your tickets online here.
You can also visit the museum virtually right now with scheduled online tours (see the Covid Update section below for more details).
Here's a sneak peak into some of the rooms that you will tour at the museum, courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum. My last visit was before the grand refurbishment, so my photos are sadly out of date (but I'll include one so you can see how extensively it's been redone!).
Dickens' library and study
Before (left; photo by me) and After of Dickens' study (right; Copyright Charles Dickens Museum)
Pictured on the right is Charles Dickens' desk and chair that he owned later in his life, on which he wrote Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend. This was purchased by the museum in 2015.
Dickens' Drawing Room
Note the famous red armchair in the back corner.
This is one area of the house which was not shown to visitors before the renovation but which is now a regular part of the tour.
The Dickens' Dining Room
This is such a beautiful room and one of my favorites in the house. You can just picture the growing Dickens family sharing their meals here.
There is such a fun collection of the author's items on display at Charles Dickens' home and museum. Because many authors are not widely appreciated until many years after their deaths, it's often difficult for museums to gather many original belongings.
Dickens achieved literary fame in his lifetime, and his surviving family members have carefully cared for many of his belongings, enabling the Dickens museum to feature an impressive amount of original furniture, letters, manuscripts, and other items once belonging to the iconic writer.
In fact, the Dickens Museum has the most extensive collection of Dickens-related items in the world, so not all of it can be on display at one time. Check their website for the latest exhibits. Scholars may request access to the entire collection through their website.
Here are some of my favorite items from my visit there:
A copy of the first serial contribution of Great Expectations. If you don't already know, Dickens' novels generally didn't appear as traditional novels but rather as episodic writing in newspapers. Much as you now wait a week for the latest episode of your favorite network TV show, readers would have to wait for the next regular publication to continue the story.
A first edition copy of A Christmas Carol
Catherine Dickens' engagement ring
The Arm and Hammer sign referenced in A Tale of Two Cities as hanging at the building of Dr. Manette's residence. This is the original sign from Manette Street in Soho, which was named after the fictitious character.
Special Events at the Dickens Museum
There are a number of special events that happen each month at the Dickens museum both in-person and online. You can check out December's events (and other literary events) here.
For a list of upcoming events, check out the "What's on" section of their website.
More Tips for Visiting the Dickens Museum
Don't plan to bring any bags other than a small purse, as you will not be allowed to enter.
Make sure you allow yourself a minimum of one hour (more if you're a real literary lover) to take your time here.
They've turned the rather lovely terrace into a cafe, so if you're visiting in decent weather, plan to stay a while for a snack and enjoy the beautiful garden.
There's a very nice gift shop (an "old curiosity shop," if you will) in the museum, so come prepared to buy a few knick knacks.
You can also shop their gift store online. Non-profit author homes and museums have been struggling in 2020 with closings and reduced visitors, so this would be a great place to buy some Christmas presents and help keep this wonderful museum running for many years to come.
Some fun gift ideas I found are:
A beautiful special Dickens Museum edition of A Christmas Carol for £20.00
Dickens Coaster set for £12.00
Plaster bust of Charles Dickens for £23.00. Wouldn't that look lovely on your bookcase?
Christmas at the Dickens Home
The Dickens Museum celebrates Christmas with a number of special events, including this year:
Virtual reenactments & readings of A Christmas Carol
Virtual Christmas-themed tours
Virtual lectures about Dickens' impact on how we celebrate Christmas
Virtual events with living Dickens family members
In addition to events, the entire house is decked out in Christmas decor throughout the month of December, and Christmas-themed tours are offered.
Note that the museum will be closed on Christmas Day.
COVID Update for Visiting the Dickens Museum
The Dickens Museum reopened to the public on December 3 after the latest lockdown. It's currently open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm (last admission is at 4 pm).
Groups of up to 6 from the same household will be let in the house at 15 minute intervals to allow for social distancing.
Admission prices are as follows:
Concessions (Students, Seniors and Disabled Visitors): £7.50
Child 6-16 years: £4.50
Children under 6 years: Free
It's recommended to book online in advance, but some walk-ups will be accomodated depending on availability.
The cafe is still operational with a limited menu of teas, filtered coffee, mulled wine (for the Christmas season) and some snacks. Indoor seating is limited to allow for safe distancing, and outdoor seating on the patio is available (see below).
You also have the opportunity to visit the Dickens museum virtually from the comfort of your own home with a number of themed virtual tours, such as the Housemaid's tour which I will be attending next week (can't wait!).
Getting to the Dickens Home & Museum
The Dickens Home & Museum in London is located in the London borough of Camden, just north of the City of Westminster. It's walking distance from the British Museum, the British Library, Russell Square, and Kings Cross Station (another great literary site in London and a necessary stop for the Harry Potter lover).
The address is:
48-49 Doughty Street
London, WC1N 2LX
Driving: There is limited, metered street parking available. Public transportation is recommended.
By bus: Accessible by bus numbers 7, 17, 19, 38, 45, 46, 55, 243. Check bus timetables here.
By the tube: London's underground is one of the best in the world and very easily navigable, even for beginners. You can get there on any of the following lines:
Piccadilly Line: Russell Square station (10 minute walk)
Central Line: Chancery Lane or Holborn stations (10 minute walk)
Circle/Hammersmith/Northern/Victoria Lines: Kings Cross St. Pancras Station (14 min. walk)
That wraps up my list of everything to know before visiting Charles Dickens' Museum in London!
Have you ever visited? What did you love or enjoy the most?
Find more activities to do in London at Viator, including a Charles Dickens Walking Tour.
Pin this now to reference on your next trip to London:
Special thanks to Penny at the Dickens Museum for providing photos & Covid visiting information for this post.