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The historical connotations attached to London are myriad, as you would expect from a city that has spent a large amount of its 2000-year history as the centre of civilization. Perhaps when you think of London, the first thing that comes to mind is the Swinging Sixties of Carnaby Street and Soho. Perhaps it's the early 90s era of acid house or the 2000s heyday of Camden indie rock.

For many people, however, the strongest historical reference point for London goes further back, to the Victorian age, when London was the centre of the largest empire in history, and a byword for urban inequality, with glittering splendour and squalid decay, stacked up side by side. Think of Victorian London and you think belching smokestacks, Jack the Ripper, dingy alleyways full of sinister pubs, alongside elegant mansions and champagne-soaked parties. Fortunately, London's fascinating Victorian heritage still exists today, as long as you know where to look. Here are the top spots to experience Victorian London. 

Drink like a Victorian 

If there's one thing the Victorians of London loved, it was a drink. One of the most popular types of venue was the so-called "gin palaces", a kind of faux-ornate drinking den which served up gin at rock-bottom prices. One of the last remaining examples of a gin palace is the Viaduct Tavern in Holborn, where you can sit in the original booths and get merry 18th Century style.

Have Your Fortune Told

One of the most popular pursuits of the upper and emerging middle classes of the Victorian age was having your fortune told, also known as clairvoyance, which came into vogue after rumours started swirling that Queen Victoria herself used to frequent fortune tellers. You can still find old-school fortune tellers in the side streets of Victoria, Central London today, which remain so popular in London that people also flock to the internet for online psychic readings. Some traditions just don't fade away.

Become a Victorian Schoolchild

One of the most enduring images of the era is that of the schoolhouse. Public, mandatory schooling for all was first invented by the Victorians, although the standards were certainly different to what we'd expect today. The free schools, also known as "ragged schools", were notorious for overcrowding, brutal beatings, and terrible food. Re-live all of this yourself (minus the beatings) at the Ragged School Museum in Tower Hamlets, where you too can experience the joy of being a Victorian schoolchild for the day.

Follow in the Ripper's Footsteps

This one is best saved for the autumn evenings when the nights are getting darker and the cold is starting to creep in. A Jack the Ripper tour is a jaw-dropping crash-course in the crime situation of Victorian London, one that focuses on so much more than just the notorious serial killer. Retrace the steps of the killer and victims through places once considered to be the most dangerous neighbourhoods on Earth, and see how much has changed since then.

While these experiences are all a great way to spend the day, remember that one of the best ways to see Victorian London is to just walk around! The majority of the architecture and buildings from this period remain, and can be found in any neighbourhood. 


Top Ways to Experience Victorian London
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