Charles Dickens and Kent- A weekend itinerary
Kent has extraordinary literary links to some of the greatest writers in history, with Charles Dickens himself taking great inspiration from the beautiful Garden of England. Spending much time in the county, he declared of Kent, “You cannot think how delightful and fresh the place is - and how good the walks.”
Follow in the famous footsteps of this great novelist with a trip to see the luscious landscapes and beautiful buildings of North and East Kent – all with connections to one of the most prolific writers in history.
And why (the Dickens!) not stay for a whole weekend? Experience Kent’s incredible experiences and really delve into the inspiration behind so many of his famous locations and characters as you spend a weekend visiting his favourite haunts and enjoying the local hospitality.
To make sure you don’t miss a thing, we’ve put together an inspirational weekend itinerary to help you make the most of your time in Dickens’ favourite county….
Why not begin your Kentish Dickens tour by exploring Gravesend, rich in Dickens links as the author spent the last 14 years of his life as a local resident in the town, penning a number of his classic titles there. Take a peek at his family home and visit his favoured pub to really immerse yourself in Dickens’ life and begin your literary adventure!
First head to Gad's Hill Place just outside of Gravesend - a beautiful Grade I listed house that Dickens often spotted during countryside walks with his father. Dickens' family was plagued with financial problems, so it was years before he was eventually able to buy the much-coveted property in 1856. It was here that Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and The Mystery of Edwin Drood before his death in 1870. Now a school, the property is only open for dedicated tours in the summertime and on select days when you can access the gardens, visit the ground floor of the house and enjoy refreshments in the conservatory.
Dickens was a dedicated daily walker so why not follow in his footsteps and lace up your hiking books for a refreshing stroll around Higham. Work up your appetite for lunch with a dedicated 6.6 mile ‘Dickens’ route around Higham village where you can let your imagination run wild as the route edges around the marshland that inspired the opening scene of Great Expectations. Enjoy pretty country lanes, open fields and restricted bye-ways whilst spotting landmarks that Dickens would once have known well.
Head into Gravesend town centre for the afternoon and don’t miss the traditional Gravesend Borough Market, a warm indoor market open 6 days a week. Here you will find a unique mix of stalls selling everything from antiques to fashion and beauty as well as a delicious range of local produce and street food.
Eat & Stay
Whilst in the area, don’t miss the opportunity to sample the delicious food and drink on offer at The Leather Bottle, described by many as Dickens’ favourite ale house in nearby Cobham. Frequently visiting to stay in the inn’s accommodation or enjoy a drink in the bar, Dickens eventually featured the inn itself in The Pickwick Papers. With fresh dishes on offer using local ingredients and even an exclusive in-house ale, brewed by Shepherd Neame and proudly called ‘Charles Dickens Ale’, you can sit back and enjoy the hospitality whilst immersing yourself in literary history. The inn has a number of rooms too so why not stay the night ready to continue your Dickensian travels bright and early the next morning?
Dickens' most impressionable childhood days were spent in Medway, providing the inspiration for some of his work's greatest characters and settings and making it the perfect location for day two of your Dickens tour….
First, make your way to Rochester and explore the delightful town where Dickens spent his happy childhood. Many of the buildings found on Rochester's historic high street carry plaques detailing how the author incorporated them into his novels so take a relaxing self-guided stroll around the picture-perfect Victorian town to find out more. For a more thorough literary lesson, delve deeper with a local walking tour guide from the City of Rochester who offer free 90-minute walking tours (April to October).
Don’t miss Rochester Guildhall Museum, home to the Dickens Discovery room, featuring authentic objects from the era, costumes, artefacts and a short film about the man himself. There are also lots of literary links to explore at the ‘Footsteps in Time’ costumed tour.
If you’re visiting in June or December, you’re in luck as the town hosts two fantastic Dickens festivals every year. June’s Medway Dickens Festival is a spectacular event of colour, costume and entertainment. Thousands of visitors soak up the Victorian atmosphere, while parades make their way through central historic Rochester. During the festive season, visitors can revel in Christmas spirit at the Dickensian festival, set in the beautiful grounds of Rochester Castle. Discover an array of wonderful Christmas market huts selling a range of gifts, hand-crafted goods and festive fayre. In addition to all of this, street entertainers and Dickensian characters mingle amongst the revellers, whilst bands and carol singers provide the festive entertainment!
For the afternoon, make your way to The Historic Chatham Dockyard where Dickens’ father worked as a Royal Navy Clerk from 1817. One of Britain’s leading maritime heritage destinations and the world’s most complete dockyard from the ‘age of sail’ – your visit will prove to be quite an adventure as you step aboard the historic warships and discover over 100 years of maritime history. With a huge range of tours, collections, exhibitions and daily events programme, you’re sure to have an action-packed afternoon.
Eat & Stay
Continuing the naval theme, head to The Ship and Trades hotel at Chatham for a delicious evening meal and excellent contemporary accommodation. Here you’ll find Naval heritage meeting contemporary style in a beautiful marina setting, offering visitors a really unique place to dine and stay. In the summer months, enjoy waterfront seating and fresh air whilst you dine – or head inside the glass wrapped restaurant in the cooler months to enjoy those panoramic views from the inside.
The Isle of Thanet
Characterful Broadstairs was Charles Dickens’ “freshest, freest place” and the inspiration for many of his famous works. Head to the town on the final day of this itinerary to complete your Kentish journey of Dickensian discovery…
Explore Broadstairs’ beautiful beaches and characterful town, packed to the brim with literary links, independent shopping and deliciously retro ice cream parlours. From the surf schools to the beach huts to the unspoilt views, Broadstairs has bucketfuls of seaside charm. Visit in the autumn and feast at the three-day Broadstairs Food Festival – a smorgasbord of fine Kentish produce and wine.
Take a trip to the traditional Dickens House Museum, once home to Miss Mary Pearson Strong who inspired Dickens’ complex character Betsey Trotwood. Be welcomed into the characteristically charming cottage to discover his life and legacy in the midst of the distinctive Dickensian décor.
Next, take a cliff-top stroll past Grade II-listed mansion Bleak House, the most prominent building in Broadstairs located above Viking Bay. Formerly known as Fort House, the building was the favourite holiday home of Charles Dickens and where he spent many summers planning and writing parts of David Copperfield, Bleak House and Our English Watering Place. Pause for reflection and soak in the stunning views of Viking Bay.
Head to The Charles Dickens Pub & Kitchen for your evening meal, one of the largest pubs in Broadstairs, with the main bar downstairs serving great pub food, fine wine and local ales whilst the Copperfields restaurant upstairs commands excellent views of Viking Bay and Broadstairs harbour. Sate your appetite with freshly prepared food using locally sourced ingredients, and a new menu every day.
After your last day on the literary trail, rest your head at the Royal Albion, an elegant hotel standing proudly on the Broadstairs seafront. Once a regular haunt for Charles Dickens, it’s the perfect spot to rest and refuel so sit back and relax with a drink in-hand, soaking in the atmosphere whilst enjoying sumptuous décor and first-class hospitality. A wonderful spot to reflect on your Dickens weekend adventure!
On the way home
If you have any energy left (or you find yourself desperate to pick up the complete works of Dickens!) then just a short car journey away is Bluewater, billed as Europe's largest, most innovative shopping centre. Head there on route home for a huge variety of shopping, dining and leisure facilities.