What?: I hadn’t heard great things about Dickens’ house in terms of child-friendliness but since Babu’s basically an adult now and Roma’s not yet crawling we don’t have to worry too much about silly things like that… for now. We hadn’t planned this visit but the Coram’s Fields play day we were checking out round the corner had revealed itself to be unbearably dreadful – and we’d only resorted to that because the the Soho art exhibition we’d fled had induced an eardrum-perforating tantrum courtesy of Babu, and the Covent Garden pop-up we’d popped into before that was worse than the two things put together. Basically it was a case of “this day probably can’t get any worse” and the CDM was literally a five-minute walk away and was offering family tours that day, so we went for it. And do you know what? It saved the day and then some.
We largely owed the success of this little excursion to our amazing tour guide Kayleigh, who was one of those unfathomable humans who just gets how to talk to kids and get the best out of them, which I really respect since I can barely even talk to cats. Kayleigh didn’t care that our two were under the recommended age (four) to do the tour, and instead adapted it to suit them whilst still keeping it interesting for the two slightly older kids who joined us, as well as the adults. The tour was brilliantly interactive, featuring dressing-up opportunities, things in bags and artefacts to handle, which really helped to bring Dickens’ world to life, even for two three and a half year olds who have literally no idea who Dickens was.
While apparently there are over 100,000 artefacts in the museum it doesn’t feel overburdened with stuff, and while you might happen across Dickens’ actual desk, his wife Catherine’s engagement ring, their furniture and some of their paintings, a lot of the things on display are either replicas of items Dickens owned or pieces from the same period. Despite this, most of what is on display is a no-touching situation – although tbh I think every one of the kids probably did touch something they weren’t supposed to and very few shits seemed to be given. I basically spent the entire hour we were there in total awe of this woman, who’d been put in charge of herding four fairly small children around the historical home of one of the greatest authors of all time and yet managed to maintain arctic levels of chill throughout.
While the family tour was brilliant it unfortunately only runs during August, although the museum does offer self-guided activity trails for families – with the added bonus that this way you can explore the house at your leisure, seeing all the rooms and making a day of it (admittedly we could have done that too afterwards but we got there too late in the day). Children doing the self-guided tour are obviously still permitted to dress up, poke around with the washing dolly in the laundry room and everything else our kids were allowed to do, so it’s still absolutely worth a visit outside of the summer holidays. To be honest I think the ones who benefitted most from the guided tour were probably the adults, who essentially paid £10 per child for an hour’s childcare since our kids were so engrossed they barely spoke to us except to ask us to take them to the toilet (which, by the way, felt really weird since it was right in the middle of Charles Dickens’ house – admittedly probably not where Dickens’ actual WCs would have been, but still).
So I’ve kind of jabbered on without actually saying anything for the entirely of this blog post but my very laboured point is that you absolutely must take your kids here. Alright so maybe don’t bring babies who’ll be unhappy in a sling, since you can’t take a buggy round with you; or walking babies since the house is an absolute death trap stairs-wise; or young toddlers who ignore every word you say since there’s a lot of stuff you’re not allowed to touch, but once they hit three it’s absolutely a green light. Also does it get any more London than Charles Dickens? It just feels like the ultimate London thing to do and it’s such an underrated museum – and one that just happens to be super close to Coram’s Fields, the British Museum, the Foundling Museum, Novelty Automation, the Postal Museum… I mean it’s basically a hotbed of child-friendly treats.
Where?: The Charles Dickens Museum can be found at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury. The nearest station is Russell Square Underground, which is an eight-minute walk. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday 10-5 (open on Bank Holidays) from January-November and every day in December.
Best Bits: This is where Charles Dickens actually lived and raised three of his kids and wrote three of his novels and it’s just totally nuts when you think about it.
Worst Bits: All of the stairs.
Facilities: Toilets, baby changing, on-site cafe with high chairs. There is lift access to four out of the five floors but you have to leave buggies downstairs as it’s a tall, narrow house and there just isn’t the space.
Price: £9.50 for adults; free for under-6s. We paid £10 for the family tour, which included admission.
Would We Come Back?: Yes, definitely.
Babu and Mae play dress-up in the nursery at the Charles Dickens Museum, Bloomsbury.