A DIY Charles Dickens Walking Tour of Marshalsea Prison and Southwark London

A DIY Charles Dickens Walking Tour of Marshalsea Prison and Southwark London

When you think of the area of Borough in London nowadays, usually Borough Market springs to mind. Borough Market is an upscale food and drink market near London Bridge that has been in existence one way or another for the last 1000 years. In previous centuries, this area  was definitely less pleasant and more dangerous… and home to Marshalsea Prison where a young Charles Dickens experienced poverty in Victorian England firsthand. While Charles Dickens family was imprisoned for debt, he was forced to work in a factory along with other poor Victorian children and live in a neighbourhood that would exemplify Dickensian poverty.

Poverty in Victorian England

Wealthy British philanthropist Charles Booth refused to believe that poverty in Victorian England was so bad that nearly a 1/4 of the population lived in poverty. He commissioned his own team of researchers in 1886 and their report was published in 1903,  a 17 volume page-turner The Life and Labor of the People in London.

What did the report say about Victorian poverty in London?  It was even worse than thought.

Nearly 30% of the population (1.8 million) was living in poverty.

Another 1 million were teetering on the edge of poverty – it would take as little as a debt being called in such as what happened to Charles Dickens family – to topple them into full-blown poverty.

Over half of the poor lived south of the river between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge (see map below) in the area of Borough in Dickensian poverty.

A plaque indicating where the Victorian London Bridge which is currently located in Arizona would have stood.

A plaque indicating where the Victorian London Bridge which is currently located in Arizona would have stood.

Debtor’s Prisons in Victorian England

In the 18th century, over half the people who were in jail were there because they couldn’t pay off their debts. And, every year,  another 10,000 people  would be thrown in debtor’s prisons in the Victorian Era.

If you were a merchant or trader then you could declare bankruptcy. If you were just running up personal debt, there was no way out of the situation short of (i) paying up, (ii) going to prison or (iii) fleeing to Europe.

Factories and workhouses provided work for the poor such as this Menier chocolate factory which is now a trendy residence.

Factories and workhouses provided work for the poor such as this Menier chocolate factory which is now a trendy residence.

Since the Middle Ages in England, you could be thrown in prison for owing money. For example, there are records in the nearby criminal prison, The Clink, for a man being jailed for owing £15 to a blacksmith in the 16th century. So any small amount could land you in jail – it wasn’t until 1827 that the law required your small debt had to be at least £20.

By the way, the Clink is the same prison that held anyone Cromwell didn’t like during the English Civil War and Puritans who went onto become the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth. So, a real mix of the poor, the bad and the devout (but not aristocratic enough to warrant the Tower of London).

Debtor’s Prisons in London

By the time of Dickens, you began to separate the criminal from the merely poor. You had 4 debtor’s prisons in London – Whitegate Street, Fleet Street, King’s Bench and Marshalsea. There was a pecking order among the prisons and Marshalsea Prison considered middling. Despite what Charles Dickens may have thought, it could have been worse!!

Debtor’s prisons were for-profit enterprises that were used to house people who couldn’t pay their debts. While in prison, they were charged for their time in jail! If they could pay prison fees, they could be sent to work and a part of their wages used to pay off their debt.

If imprisoned debtors couldn’t pay their prison fees, the fees just accumulated and got added to the original debt. It was a vicious cycle for the poorest of the poor. People actually starved to death in debtor’s prisons because they couldn’t pay for food.

Needless to say, living and working conditions in these prisons were harsh and corruption was rife.  For example, jailers could chain up their prisoners and then remove their chains for payment.

One of the wardens of Marshalsea Prison was actually put on trial for the murder of prisoners. You know the brutality was bad, i the abuse actually rose to the level fo making it to the courts.

And, life went on as normal in many ways. Entire families were imprisoned together. People could carry on their trades in prison such as laundry services or sewing.  People could also beg or get alms from visitors.

Some European countries had laws that debtors could only be jailed for up to a year but in Britain, debtors were jailed until their creditors were happy. When they closed Fleet Prison in 1842, they found two prisoners who had been there for 30 years.

Fun Fact! Britain did not outlaw imprisonment for debt (except for cases involving fraud) until 1869.

Dickens mentions debtor’s prisons in several books – Mr Pickwick got sent off to Fleet Prison, David Copperfield is at the King’s Bench and Marshalsea Prison appears throughout Little Dorrit.

The Class Divide of Victorian Poverty

Debtors prisons in Victorian England were set up to maintain hierarchy similar to the society at large. For example, at Whitecross Prison, there was a separate barebones facility for common prisoners and better accommodation for citizens of the city of London.

The Kings Bench prison even let you live outside the prison walls with a prescribed area if you were of a higher class.

Did you know?  Emma, Lady Hamilton was reduced to poverty and subject to the Kings Bench prison. She was the mistress of Napoleonic war hero, Admiral Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar. She was left impoverished when the British government ignored Nelson’s request that she be provided for as if she were his widow. Lady Hamilton didn’t actually stay at the Kings Bench but was able to live nearby. Then she fled to France and continued to rack up debts.

So not only were there class divisions in debtors prisons, Victorian England also had different standards if you were upper class and profligate. Your family would just send you abroad to avoid the social embarrassment. A popular alternative was Boulogne in Northern France where nearly a quarter of the town were debt-ridden English people.

Marshalsea Prison

Opened in 1373, Marshalsea was a notorious prison south of the Thames River in Southwark.  Only the ruins remain because Marshalsea was closed in 1842 and its prisoners divided between Bethlem Hospital (the infamous Bedlam) if they were mentally ill and other prisons.

A haunting reminder of the misery of Marshalsea and Dickensian poverty

A haunting reminder of the misery of Marshalsea and Dickensian poverty

The church of St. George the Martyr next door was used as the burial ground for debtors who died while at Marshalsea.

Charles Dickens Family Experience of Marshalsea

“Marshalsea is gone and the world is none the worse without it.”

– Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’ father was imprisoned at Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison in 1824 when Charles was 12 years old.  Charles’ father, John Dickens, owed a baker a little over £40.

Plaque on Bayham Street in Camden, London locating the site on which Charles Dickens once lived prior to being shown the underbelly of Victorian life south of the River in Southwark.

Plaque on Bayham Street in Camden, London locating the site on which Charles Dickens once lived prior to being shown the underbelly of Victorian life south of the River in Southwark.

This traumatic event made a huge impression on the young boy who was sent to lodgings nearby and forced to work at a factory full-time to pay for his upkeep. His  mother and sisters joined his father at Marshalsea Prison. Luckily for Dickens, his father was released after 3 months when he came into an inheritance.

Charles Dickens himself was put in a boarding house on Lant Street which is now where the Charles Dickens Primary School is located. He worked at Warren’s Blacking Factory near Waterloo Bridge where he worked putting labels on shoe polish bottles.

Fun Fact!  Dickens met a Bob Fagin at his factory whose name was immortalised as the crime boss Fagin in his novel Oliver Twist.

During his lifetime, Charles Dickens family never mentioned the Marshalsea period. His first hand experience with Victorian poverty was only revealed to the public in a biography after he died.

At Marshalsea Prison, Charles Dickens family experienced the misery of Victorian poverty.

At Marshalsea Prison, Charles Dickens family experienced the misery of Victorian poverty.

Dickens’ novel Little Dorritt is about a girl who is born and grows up in Marshalsea Prison. Her father is in jail and the family joins him. In fact, all three of the family’s children are raised in Marshalsea because the father is in Marshalsea for so long. Ironically the father could have gotten himself out of jail, but he’s gotten used to a certain lifestyle and respect at Marshalsea that he doesn’t want to trade for his (or his family’s) freedom.

A Charles Dickens Walking Tour of Southwark

For Charles Dickens poverty was an important theme in his novels and of which he had first hand experience. Charles Dickens’ childhood was marred by the time his father and the rest of his family was thrown in Marshalsea prison. In fact, the written descriptions of poverty in Victorian England were so vivid that the phrase Dickensian poverty immediately brings up images of hardship, crime and degradation a 100+ years later.

Despite having transformed into a trendy area, this DIY walking tour of some of the places in Southwark will give you a flavour for the world described in his books.

We did this Charles Dickens walking tour with children so I have mentioned both outdoor spaces and places where you can stop of for a snack/break. The places are relatively close together and the walking is easy. You can easily do this walk in a couple of hours if you are not dawdling like we were.

A map showing spots of interest for a Charles Dickens Walking Tour of Southwark London

A map showing spots of interest for a Charles Dickens Walking Tour of Southwark London

The Ruins of Marshalsea & Environs

The surviving remains of Marshalsea Prison exist on Angel Place in Southwark (Borough tube stop on the Northern Line). The other prisons are also long gone and replaced with newer buildings including the nearby Kings Bench Jail on Borough High Street. Luckily, the association with Dickens and Little Dorrit has allowed for the location of the Marshalsea prison to remain as a homage to Dickensian poverty.

The gate and a wall is what remains of Marshalsea Prison

The gate and a wall is what remains of Marshalsea Prison

Travel Tip!  The easiest way to find Angel Place alley, all that remains of Marshalsea Prison, is to look for it sandwiched next to the John Harvard Library!  (Yes, THAT John Harvard of Harvard University fame who came from Southwark because his family owned an inn nearby).

The Church of St. George The Martyr is where the character of Little Dorrit was both baptised and married. The church has a stained glass window depiction of Little Dorrit.

The church of St. George the Martyr which is featured in Little Dorrit.

The church of St. George the Martyr which is featured in Little Dorrit.

The Charles Dickens Primary School is over the site of the boarding house on Lant Street where 12 year old Charles Dickens would have stayed while his family was at Marshalsea Prison. He got taken out of school, separated from his family and sent to do factory work all in a short space of time.

The Crossbones Graveyard is located on Redcross Way (at the corner of Union Street ) and is the burial ground for people deemed undesirable by the Medieval church- the prostitutes and poor who lived in the neighbourhood. For hundreds of years, some 15,000 people were buried in this graveyard until it was closed in 1853. It’s not like these people got dignity in death either – the graveyard was a popular spot for body snatchers who would sell the bodies for medical research at St. Thomas Hospital nearby.

For hundreds of years, Crossbones Graveyard has been the final resting place for London’s prostituted and paupers.

Across from the Crossbones Graveyard is a former Victorian Ragged School (now a city council building). Ragged schools provided free education to poor Victorian children consisting of reading, writing, counting and Bible studies. Dickens was not particularly impressed with the schools because he thought they were too heavy on the relgion. A visit to London’s Field Lane Ragged School inspired Charles Dickens to write A Christmas Carol.

This former Ragged School had its outdoor space on the rooftop. Victorian social reformers believed in fresh air (not necessarily clean air and/or health and safety in parks).

This former Ragged School had its outdoor space on the rooftop. Victorian social reformers believed in fresh air (not necessarily clean air and/or health and safety in parks).

Nancy’s Steps are all that remains of the 1831 London Bridge. This older London Bridge was sold in 1967 to an American and currently spanning Lake Havasu in Arizona. The newer version of London Bridge you see today would not be the one that Dickens wrote about.

The steps are on the corner of London Bridge and Duke Street Hill and leads you into Borough Market.  In Oliver Twist, on these steps Fagin’s henchman overhears Nancy plotting against the gang’s interest (a betrayal that does not end well for poor old Nancy). You can surmise that Nancy would have ended up in the Crossbones Graveyard.

Nancy’s Steps at London Bridge named after the original hooker with a heart

Nancy’s Steps at London Bridge named after the original hooker with a heart

Outdoor Spaces

Mint Street Park is the location of the former Mint Street Workhouse which Charles Dickens would have passed every day on his way to work in the shoe polish factory off Waterloo Bridge. It is believed that Charles Dickens modelled the workhouse in Oliver Twist on the Mint Street Workhouse. The Mint Street Workhouse was still in use until 1921 but today all that remains is a bit of a wall.

Across from Angel Place, the Little Dorrit Park is a former Victorian slum that was razed to create a children’s play ground and named after the Charles Dickens’ character.

The Red Cross Garden is an oasis in an otherwise bleak urban landscape. Set up in 1887 on the site of a former paper factory, it is overlooked by  houses that were set up by Victorian social reformer, Octavia Hill. She was a big believer in having access to the outdoors for urban dwellers.

Did you know? Octavia Hill was also responsible for keeping our personally beloved Hampstead Heath from becoming a residential development and also one of the three founders of the National Trust.

Eating and Drinking

The George Inn is located at 77 Borough High Street. A National Trust property in London, the George Inn was built in 1677 and the only remaining inn in London with a galleried porch front. Charles Dickens frequented the George Inn and it is mentioned in Little Dorrit.

Borough Market is a foodies delight. If you want to keep in line with the Dickens theme though for a quick lunch, the Little Dorrit Cafe on Park Street just outside Borough Market is reputed to have the best bacon butty (sandwich) in London.

The Little Dorrit Cafe has great bacon sandwiches if you want to stop for a bite on your Charles Dickens walking tour.

The Little Dorrit Cafe has great bacon sandwiches if you want to stop for a bite on your Charles Dickens walking tour.

If you are heading towards Waterloo Bridge, check out Thai Silk which is one of my favourite authentic Thai places in London. It’s got a lovely outdoor space for nice summer days too.

Guided Charles Dickens Walking Tour

Prefer to have your Charles Dickens walking tour with a guide who knows where to go and explain it all? Check out these options!

Reread the books before you do a tour!



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See for yourself on this free and easy Dickens walking tour places from Charles Dickens childhood that inspired his interest in poor Victorian children.

See for yourself on this free and easy Dickens walking tour places from Charles Dickens childhood that inspired his interest in poor Victorian children.

When you think of the area of Borough in London nowadays, usually Borough Market springs to mind. But in previous centuries, this area was definitely less pleasant and more dangerous… and home to Marshalsea Prison where a young Charles Dickens experienced poverty in Victorian England firsthand. Discover the history behind Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison and what it has to do with Charles Dickens.

When you think of the area of Borough in London nowadays, usually Borough Market
springs to mind. But in previous centuries, this area was definitely less pleasant and more
dangerous… and home to Marshalsea Prison where a young Charles Dickens experienced
poverty in Victorian England firsthand. Discover the history behind Marshalsea Debtor’s
Prison and what it has to do with Charles Dickens.

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Fun Facts About an English Christmas Through The Ages We Learned At Fenton House London

Fun Facts About an English Christmas Through The Ages We Learned At Fenton House London

We are big fans of National Trust properties and luckily live near Fenton House which is a 17th century Merchant’s House in Hampstead. For Christmas, Fenton House London had a very cool exhibit about how the English celebrated Christmas through the ages. The periods shown off in the Fenton House rooms were a tribute to a Georgian Christmas, Victorian Christmas traditions, a flapper fabulous 1920s Christmas and a groovy 1970s Christmas.

Christmas Through The Ages

For 20+ years, the Geffrye Museum of the Home in Hoxton, east London  would host a very popular look at Christmas through the ages in London. As a large museum they were able to cover more of the different time periods of Christmas through the ages. Currently, however, the Geffrye Museum is closed for a major refurbishment  and is due to open again in Spring 2020.

Its technically not all of the assorted Christmas through the ages that Fenton House London has seen but there are not that many rooms in the house. The contrast between the Georgian Christmas and Victorian Christmas traditions showed my family the origins of some of the traditions we keep today. The 1920’s Christmas was a high point in between what would have been the bleak Christmases during the wars. Unlike the prosperity of the 1950’s in the USA, the period after World War 2 in the UK was similarly bleak. I can understand why Fenton House London just wanted to jump ahead to the psychedelic good times of a 1970’s Christmas.

Georgian Christmas

We didn’t actually recognise the Georgian Christmas decoration at Fenton House London as anything other than a nice dinner party.

Georgian traditions also meant that Christmas lasted a full month from December 6th until January 6th. If you remember all the Jane Austen novels, the people in her stories had parties and balls and family gatherings during Christmas time. Christmas in Victorian times was a much shorter affair because the Industrial Revolution meant people had to get back to work.

Georgian Christmas Food

Some of the Georgian Christmas food did seem familiar though. For example, after the Puritans banned Christmas Pudding for being too rich and sinful during the English Civil War, George I served it for his first Christmas dinner in 1714. This revival of the tradition of Christmas Pudding made it the big deal it is now. Georgian Christmas food also included mince pies and a Wassail Punch (similar to mulled wine).

A Georgian Christmas revolved around food and hospitality.

A Georgian Christmas revolved around food and hospitality.

Georgian Christmas Decorations

With its emphasis on food, Georgian Christmas decorations revolved around elaborate centrepieces on the dining table. You showed off your food and your best silver.

Georgian Christmas decorations also brought in nature. There was always a giant roaring fire and a Yule Log started on Christmas Eve. Growing up in New York, we always had a yule log blazing away on television. Now I know the antecedents to that television show (which my British husband thought was a joke when he first head about it). Nowadays, the Yule Log in England is usually made of chocolate.

Georgian Christmas decorations at Fenton House London included these chairs decorated with a ribbon in a popular color called Georgian blue.

Georgian Christmas decorations at Fenton House London included these chairs decorated with a ribbon in a popular color called Georgian blue.

he houses were decorated with holly and greenery. We can thank Georgian traditions and their love of greenery for the kissing under the mistletoe tradition we have today.

Fun Fact!  A Georgian Christmas involved decorating the house with greenery but these Georgian Christmas decorations were only put up on Christmas eve. It was considered unlucky to have greenery in the house before Christmas eve.

Victorian Christmas Traditions

Victorian Christmas traditions were the start of so many Christmas traditions we have nowadays. The contrast with the Georgian Christmas room at Fenton House London was quite stark. Unlike the Georgian Christmas the kids and I felt we actually recognised Christmas in Victorian times.

We can thank the Victorians for the origin of Christmas crackers, Christmas cards, Christmas shopping and the popularity of the Christmas tree. Christmas in Victorian times though was still a far simpler affair than what we know now.

Victorian Christmas Presents

The Victorians were conspicuous consumers and so it was only right that they started the boom in Christmas shopping. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, goods like toys could be mass-produced which made them affordable for the growing middle class.

So you needed presents for under a Christmas tree which was a Germanic tradition introduced into England by Prince Albert in the 1840s. He thought Christmas trees were part of that whole family tradition that he and Victoria and their umpteen children wanted to promote. Christmas tree also became super popular when they made appearances in public places like schools. Photos of the Royal Family around a Christmas tree  helped spread the propaganda, too.

Christmas trees are one of the many Victorian Christmas traditions that we have today.

Christmas trees are one of the many Victorian Christmas traditions that we have today.

And, the gifts kept coming. Victorian Christmas stockings filled with presents were introduced around 1870. Victorian Christmas stockings always contained an apple and an orange for health and a penny for prosperity.  For poor kids, these would be all the Victorian Christmas presents they could expect.

Fun Fact!  While he was working at Marshall Fields in Chicago and before he set up Selfridges in London, Harry Selfridge started that famous anxiety inducing slogan “Only XXX days until Christmas”.

The Tradition of Christmas Crackers

Who invented Christmas crackers? The inventor of Christmas crackers was a London-based confectioner’s apprentice called Tom Smith.

Christmas in Victorian times was big on family time.

Christmas in Victorian times was big on family time.

They weren’t popular for years until Tom Smith came up with the idea of having Christmas crackers pop when they get pulled apart. Now, Christmas crackers are so popular that it’s hard to imagine that the tradition of Christmas crackers was ever in doubt.

Fun Fact!  The British tradition of Christmas crackers was inspired by French bon bons wrapped in coloured tissue paper. Despite their Francophile Christmas crackers origin, they are now a totally must-have for a British Christmas.!

Victorian Christmas Cards

The history of Christmas cards started with Victorian Christmas cards.  In 1843, Sir Henry Cole needed to streamline his Christmas letter writing. He commissioned an artist to create 1000 hand coloured lithographs to mail out as seasonal greetings. This brilliant idea of Victorian Christmas cards took off (you can see if why if everyone had 1000 Christmas greetings to send!).

The popularity of Victorian Christmas cards took off with the lower cost of postage introduced in 1840.

The popularity of Victorian Christmas cards took off with the lower cost of postage introduced in 1840.

Christmas in Victorian times ended with games like charades and popping Christmas crackers.

Christmas in Victorian times ended with home spun entertainment and games

Christmas in Victorian times ended with home spun entertainment and games

1920s Christmas

A 1920s Christmas was all about having fun and enjoyment after the hardships of World War I.

1920s Christmas cards with Art Deco style

1920s Christmas cards with Art Deco style

The 1920s invented the pre-dinner cocktail hour which was actually the two hours between 6 and 8pm. Affluent Americans stuck with Prohibition in the USA visited London to enjoy the party scene.  People also took the cocktail scene into their own home.

Fun Fact!  The most popular cocktails in the 1920’s were gin-based. Gin has always had waves of popularity as a British drink of choice.
The room at Fenton House London was set up for a Roaring 20s’ Christmas party

The room at Fenton House London was set up for a Roaring 20s’ Christmas party

A 1920’s Christmas tree was usually decorated with paper decorations and paper garlands. Glass ornaments were still expensive because they were handmade in Germany. If the house had electricity, you could have Christmas lights. People still had candles like Christmas in Victorian times.

A 1920’s Christmas tree usually had candles, fairy lights and paper ornaments.

A 1920’s Christmas tree usually had candles, fairy lights and paper ornaments.

1970s Christmas

From what we could tell from the Fenton House London exhibit depicting Christmas through the ages, in the 1970’s Christmas in England was all about board games and dodgy food. And cocktails to grease the wheels of merriment. ⁣

1970s Christmas Food & Drink

People had buffets because they were cheap and easy to do. The recipes were colorful (and outrageous by our standards). Nothing on this Earth would convince us to think that Ham and Banana Hollandaise  was a special treat but times have changed.

My kids were fascinated by the 70’s Christmas food options but not so fascinated that they would want to try any of it.

The popular drinks were Babysham, Cinzano and Martini & Rossi. I remember when my mother-in-law asked for a Martini at Christmas, I was a little surprised when the martini came out of a bottle as opposed to a  mixed martini cocktail. Now, I know why we have different conceptions of what a proper martini should be.

A 1970s Christmas in England had alcohol at the ready.

A 1970s Christmas in England had alcohol at the ready.

1970s Christmas Decorations

Check out this tree decked out in 1970s Christmas decorations. They definitely weren’t sparing on the tinsel. By the 1970s Christmas ornaments were plastic as well as glass which  made them much more affordable.

People would play board games like Monopoly, Twister and Operation for entertainment.

People would play board games like Monopoly, Twister and Operation for entertainment.

1970’s Christmas Entertainment

In addition to playing board games, people used radio and television in the 1970’s as a form of Christmas entertainment. You had the Queen’s Speech at 3pm – the annual Christmas message from the monarch. Although it started as a radio message in 1939 when George VI during World War II to keep spirits up, It was first broadcast on television in 1952. Now you can listen to the Queen’s Speech on all forms of media including YouTube and a podcast.

A lava lamp, a radio and a typewriter surrounded by tinsel - groovy retro Christmas decor

A lava lamp, a radio and a typewriter surrounded by tinsel – groovy retro Christmas decor

For a 1970’s Christmas, you also sat around and watched a Christmas show or movie. The choices were limited back then unlike now when there is a huge choice of Christmas specials.  I remember feeling television channels in the US were limited in the 1970’s but in Britain, there were only 3 channels (BBC 1 and 2 and ITV).

I always did wonder why every year at Christmas aliens descended on London in a Dr Who special Christmas episode.

More tinsel and an old-fashioned television. My kids couldn’t believe that you had to actually get up and change the channels back in the day.

Fun Fact!  Tinsel has been around for hundreds of years. It was invented in Nuremberg Germany in 1610 but back then it was made from real silver!

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Fun facts about Christmas through the ages in England

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5 Delicious Things To Eat in Berlin on a Berlin Food Tour (including Berlin Food With Kids!)

5 Delicious Things To Eat in Berlin on a Berlin Food Tour (including Berlin Food With Kids!)

I have found Berlin food surprisingly diverse – maybe because it is such a young cosmopolitan city in Germany.  You can get some of the best German food in Berlin but you also have lots of ethnic things to eat in Berlin. A Berlin food tour is a great way to experience the city’s culinary diversity. I once took one of the Withlocals Berlin food tours and loved it for I finally  got to appreciate some of the best food in Berlin! A local foodie named Liz enriched my discovery quest of Berlin foods with lots of insights, anecdotes and fun facts about the delicacies, venues and places we were exploring together.  The small scale of the tour meant we got to experience both typical Berlin food but also lots of the stories behind the food. As a bonus (and as you all know, the kids and I have got a sweet tooth), there are plenty of sweet treats considered Berlin local food.

Typical Berlin Food: Currywurst

You can’t leave Berlin without experiencing Currywurst which is ubiquitous in the city. We are always happy to try  street food in a new place. This German fast-food equivalent of pizza for Americans or fish and chips for the British has a relatively recent history.

After World War 2, ketchup was in scarce supply to accompany pork sausages.  An enterprising Berliner came up with a sauce involving ingredients she got from the British forces stationed in Berlin.  This sauce of tomato paste, worcestershire sauce and curry powder quirky caught latched onto the public’s tastebuds and a food icon was born. As an Indian-American, I am always fascinated by how widespread the British love of curry went.

One of the most popular places in Berlin for Currywurst is Curry 36 in the young and trendy Kreuzburg district.  Open 24 hour, Curry 36 caters to the late night bar and club crowd in the area well.

Currywurst is typical Berlin food and is ubiquitous.

Currywurst is typical Berlin food and is ubiquitous.

Berlin food :  Kartoffelpuffer

Technically Kartoffelpuffer (German potato pancakes) are not just a Berlin local food. They are popular everywhere in Germany. Berlin however is such a walkable city and Kartoffelpuffer is a great street food snack.

Fun Fact! Kartoffelpuffers are NOT potato rostis even though they look similar. Rosti uses shredded potatoes but the katoffelpuffer uses grated potatoes for a finer texture.
German potato pancakes are among the great things to eat in Berlin.

German potato pancakes are among the great things to eat in Berlin.

 

You can serve Kartoffelpuffer as a sweet or savoury dish. We prefer our Kartoffelpuffer dusted with icing sugar but you can also get it served with apple sauce. The savoury version has a yogurt sauce or sour cream.

What to eat in Berlin:  Berliner Pfannkuchen

A Berliner Pfannkuchen (or Berliner for short) is a type of German doughnut. Just to be contrary, Berliners call this pastry treat a Berliner Pfannkuhen but Pfannkuchen is technically pancakes elsewhere in Germany. Don’t get conned into eating pancakes when you are looking for doughnuts!

Urban Legend Alert! American media has called out John F. Kennedy’s famous speech in Berlin where he said “Ich bin ein Berliner for using the indefinite article wrong. Instead of identifying as a Berliner, he was thought to have referred to himself as a jelly doughnut. Wrong! Apparently the indefinite article use was correct AND no one from Berlin calls the Pfannkuhen a Berliner anyway.  

You can get Berliners everywhere but traditionally they were eaten at celebrations like New Years Eve and the period before Lent. Berliners can come as jelly doughnuts or have no filling inside.

According to my sugar loving kids, some of the best food in Berlin is a Berliner Pfannkuchen (a jelly doughnut)

According to my sugar loving kids, some of the best food in Berlin is a Berliner Pfannkuchen (a jelly doughnut)

Food To Eat in Berlin: Schaumkauss

Schaumkauss (translated as “foam kiss”) are tasty little treats of chocolate covered marshmallow. Similar to a teacake in the United Kingdom, you can find them easily in Berlin. In fact, there are approximately 1 billion schaumkauss made in Germany which works out to a dozen per person per year.

Schaumküsse are a great food to try in Berlin.

Schaumküsse are a great food to try in Berlin.

Sometimes you can find Schaumkauss served in a bun. I personally prefer to put the extra carbs to use in eating more Schaumkusse itself.

Food to try in Berlin: Baklava

When did Baklava become German I hear you ask.  Well, there is a huge Turkish community (including German-born descendants of Turkish immigrants) living in Berlin. They are located mostly in the areas that were formerly West Berlin (let’s face it immigration to East Germany was not happening).

Fun Fact! The German Turkish community is the largest population of Turks outside of Turkey!
Tasty Baklava is a surprising entry in Berlin local food to try.

Tasty Baklava is a surprising entry in Berlin local food to try.

You can find “Little Istanbul” in the southeast part of the trendy Kreuzberg district. If you’ve stopped at Curry 36 for a currywurst, it’s easy to meander over to this area for something sweet afterwards.

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5 delicious Berlin local food suggestions (including Berlin food your kids will love)

5 delicious Berlin local food suggestions (including Berlin food your kids will love)

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The Best London Gifts To Give (And Gifts To Bring Back From London For Yourself!)

The Best London Gifts To Give (And Gifts To Bring Back From London For Yourself!)

London either you love it or loathe it. I’m one of those people that love London, and I honestly can’t understand how someone wouldn’t love London. Do you know someone who loves London despite its obvious flaws? Here are some great idea for London gifts for every lover of London you might know. You can get some great London themed gifts which are not the tacky souvenir kind. And, you know when you shop for others, gifts to bring back from London for yourself may catch your eye. Here’s our curated list of cool gifts from London and about London.

London Gift Ideas for Architecture Lovers

In the London skyline chess set, we’ve got famous London landmarks in moulded acrylic stand in for the the usual pieces:

  • Big Ben = rook
  • The London Eye = knight
  • The Gherkin = the Bishop
  • The Shard = Queen
  • Canary Wharf = The King
  • Terraced houses = pawns

This beautiful set is perfect for people who love London and/or chess and/or design.

If you are looking for cool gifts from London, check out the London Skyline Chess set which has pieces based on the architecture of the city.

If you are looking for cool gifts from London, check out the London Skyline Chess set which has pieces based on the architecture of the city.

For the young budding architect lover, the Lego Architecture skyline building set has The London Eye, Big Ben, the Tate Modern, St. Pauls and Tower Bridge.  Other Lego architecture London gift ideas include the Buckingham Palace Landmark Building set and a Lego Creator/Lego Creator Expert sets of Tower Bridge and red London double decker buses.

My son loves this Lego Architecture set of London landmarks

My son loves this Lego Architecture set of London landmarks

This gorgeous book by a London resident artist, Modern London, showcases the best of London’s modern architecture for the last 100 years.

An architecture book with beautiful artwork created by a London resident

An architecture book with beautiful artwork created by a London resident

Buy These Great London Gifts Now!

London Themed Gifts for Book Lovers

Books about the city and its life make great London themed gifts.

London themed gifts for book lovers include aspects of the city’s history, cooking and entertainment.

London themed gifts for book lovers include aspects of the city’s history, cooking and entertainment.

Spitalfields is a really interesting overview of an interesting part of East London which has seen waves of immigrants, Jack the Ripper and now trendy hipsters.  Narrowing down the focus of the area even more, 18 Folgate Street is the history of a house in Spitalfields which is now restored as a museum.

Moving onto modern London, Together: The Community Cookbook was a project by the Duchess of Sussex (our very own American princess!) to fundraise for the inhabitants of one of the worst London tragedies in recent times – the fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 which killed 72 people. These recipes are from some of the displaced survivors of Grenfell Tower and showcase the migrant history of London today with diverse recipes including Iraqi, Algerian, Indian and Russian.

Everyone who loves London appreciates its quirkier aspects. Here are three great options that go beyond the usual tourist information:

Fun Fact! (From London’s Strangest Tales) Did you know that upscale grocer Fortnum & Mason started off by recycling Queen Anne’s old candles?

These books are gifts from London, ideas where to go in the future for that London lover who will surely return.

Buy these London themed gifts for book lovers now!

London Gifts for the Home

We have wonderful memories of Regents Park (see the print below by Alice Tait) because we lived when the kids were young in St. Johns Wood near the famous Abbey Road Studios. Every time we left our house, we would run into tourists trying to recreate the famous walk across the crosswalk by The Beatles. Every single time. It was never-ending. I can tell you that got annoying very fast. We had to leave the neighbourhood before my impulse for vehicular homicide got the better of me.

These prints make great London gift ideas because they can commemorate a special place.

These prints make great London gift ideas because they can commemorate a special place.

Gin has had both a huge history in London and a new resurgence as a drink.  In the early 18th century, Londoners would drink about 1/2 a pint of gin a day leading to serious alcoholism and social issues as depicted by artist Samuel Hogarth’s famous engraving series, The Rake’s Progress. Then there was a lull in the popularity of the drink and now there are gin bars all over London. Gordon’s is the world’s best selling London gin but cool craft bottles of local gins make great gifts to buy in London.

Bottles of London gin make great London gifts

Bottles of London gin make great London gifts

Buy these London gifts for the home!


Cool Gifts in London for Map Lovers

You can buy great antique maps of London. This map below I bought as a present for my husband. I loved that this particular map contained all the illustrations of the buildings on the banks (including the Tower of London!) and the boats on the River Thames as well as the layout of the streets. You can see the old London Bridge which had buildings on it similar to what you find in the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence Italy today.

This antique map of London shows the Thames and the City of London during Elizabethan times.

This antique map of London shows the Thames and the City of London during Elizabethan times.

I bought this map in an antique shop off Bond Street but you can get much cheaper options which make great gifts to bring back from London.

I’ve gotten books for my son called Maps of London and Beyond and London: A History in Maps which has got maps showing how the city progressed. They are very cool to browse through to see how this dynamic city has changed through the centuries.

Maps of London don’t need to be expensive such as this postcard.

Maps of London don’t need to be expensive such as this postcard.

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The Best London Gifts To Give (And Gifts To Bring Back From London For Yourself!)

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5 Great Ways To Explore Paris As An Art Lover (+ See An Old Favourite Differently!)

5 Great Ways To Explore Paris As An Art Lover (+ See An Old Favourite Differently!)

Paris is just as much an art enthusiast’s paradise as it is a lovers’ destination. From the traditional to the avant-garde, the City of Lights has many interesting things in store for the art lover. If your love for the arts has brought you to Paris, consider visiting these spots which range from taking in modern street art, viewing Old Masters in the museums, staying in a luxury Paris art hotel, taking an opportunity to eat in the dark and browsing an art and design bookstore.

Paris Art Hotel le Bellechasse

Your exposure to the arts can begin with your accommodation at a Paris art hotel. The Hotel le Bellechasse, a boutique hotel in boho cool St Germain des Pres, offers 7 different art themes across its rooms. The interiors of this Paris art hotel are a beautiful display of Bohemian styles and Parisian neo-classicism. The hotel was designed by renowned French fashion designer Christan Lacroix who is well known for his theatrical flair.

Hotel Bellechasse is one of several hotels in Paris that has been designed by Christian Lacroix.

Hotel Le Bellechasse is one of several hotels in Paris that has been designed by Christian Lacroix.
(Image credit: Hotel le Bellechasse’s Facebook)

Street Art at Paris Oberkampf

In Paris Oberkampf is the district known for its vibrant street art sort of like Shoreditch in London. There is art everywhere, from building walls to metal shutters to street furniture. Like its British counterpart, Oberkampf Paris nightlife is also very popular spot. After getting your cultural fix, you can stick around and party late into the night.

You can find street art in Paris in several neighbourhoods.

You can find street art in Paris in several neighbourhoods.

Perhaps the most popular street art spot in Oberkampf is the Le Mur, which is a wall dedicated to showcasing the works of internationally renowned artists. The art on this space is changed every two weeks (to date 270+ artists have had their turn on this space). Check out their website to find out when the next installation will occur.  Crowds gather to watch each installation happen.

Eat in the Dark at Dans Le Noir?

… food is not simply organic fuel to keep body and soul together, it is a perishable art that must be savoured at the peak of perfection.

– E.A. Bucchianeri

If you’re in love with the concept of being fed the unknown, Dans Le Noir? will be an enjoyable experience. In this restaurant, you are forced to eat in the dark with no knowledge of what’s on your plate. No, not dimly lit like so many trendy restaurants but total pitch black darkness. The idea is to heighten your other senses in the absence of sight.

Experience a feast for the senses by dining in the dark.

Experience a feast for the senses by dining in the dark.

Reviewer Zach Brooke even jokes that it’s not a restaurant you ought to dress up for because of the many possible moments you could knock your glass over or spill food. In addition, he notes that the experience where you eat in the dark makes one realize how much the eyes play an important role in food, whether it’s cooking or eating.

Old Masters at the Musée du Louvre

The Louvre Museum is renowned for having one of the most extensive and impressive art collections in the world. There’s Michelangelo’s Dying Slave statue, Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People painting, and the Law Code of Hammurabi.

One of the most popular pieces that everyone wants to see in person is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. When my kids first saw the Mona Lisa they were surprised by how small the actual painting is – so outsize is its influence in modern culture appearing everywhere from high brow books to low brow memes.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most famous paintings in the world.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most famous paintings in the world.

The Mona Lisa arguably the artist’s most famous piece, though his other works are also noteworthy in their own right. Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings in general have a huge influence even outside the art industry, as they’re often subjects in other forms of media like films and video games. For instance, his works functioned as plot devices in the film The Da Vinci Code. Meanwhile, SlotSource’s Da Vinci Diamonds game heavily feature the artist’s portraits in its gameplay mechanics. Because of the prominence of such products, even non-artists are familiar with Da Vinci’s paintings.

Travel Tip! Expect the museum to be crowded especially around the most famous pieces, such as the Mona Lisa. Try visiting on Wednesday or Friday evening, as the museum stays open until 9:45 PM.

Prefer your art with less crowds? Sainte Chapelle houses a large collection of 13th century stained glass which has to be seen to be appreciated.

Art and Design Bookstore, Artazart

The unique offerings at Artazart makes it a must-visit art and design bookstore in Paris. You can find a curated collection of books and magazines on graphic design, photography, and other art-related topics. Aside from books, the store also sells polaroid cameras and prints.

Artazart is a well-regarded art and design bookstore in Paris.

Artazart is a well-regarded art and design bookstore in Paris.
(image credit: Artazart’s Facebook)

This art and design bookstore also holds monthly exhibitions in order to shine the spotlight on both popular and up and coming artists. After shopping for art and design books here, you can also stop by the Canal Saint-Martin, which is both a nice picnic area and a popular spot for street art.

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5 Great Ways To Explore Paris Through an Artist’s Eye

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Celebrating International Mushy Peas Day at the Best Fish and Chips in London

Celebrating International Mushy Peas Day at the Best Fish and Chips in London

In honour of the second International Mushy Peas Day, we visited a restaurant well-known for having one of the best fish and chips in London. After all fish chips and mushy peas are a classic British dish. It seems like something you either love or hate, like Marmite. My son loves mushy peas, my husband hates them. I think they just taste like a solid form of split pea soup. You can have traditional mushy peas or use them to jazz up other dishes like a burger or risotto.

Mushy Peas

So just when you thought they couldn’t come up with any more gratuitous holidays, November 9th is now the International Mushy Pea Day. I’m OK with celebrating food though (even the humble pea).

Fish and chips mushy peas - a classic British dish

Fish and chips mushy peas – a classic British dish

What is Mushy Peas?

First things, first. What is mushy peas? Mushy peas really are just that –  a glob of cooked peas seasoned in salt and sugar mushed together.

Mushy peas are a classic side dish in the North of England. They’ve earned their nickname of being Yorkshire’s caviar by accompanying many a fish and chips or pie meal. It’s the obligatory green vegetable bit that makes you feel better about all the fat and salt in the rest of the meal.

There’s an apocryphal story about Labour politician Peter Mendelson who was trying to shed his city slicker image and be one of the regular folk. Unfortunately, on a trip to Yorkshire he ordered fish and chips with a side of the “avocado dip”.  He has denied the story but the Peter Mandelson avocado story is just too good to disappear.
fish chips and mushy peas is a dish that you will find all over Britain

fish chips and mushy peas is a dish that you will find all over Britain

How To Make Mushy Peas

Do you know there are even mushy pea recipes that make mushy peas curry? The British have embraced and adapted Indian food totally. I like this simple easy-to-make mushy pea recipe for mushy pea curry that shows off the best of British Asian fusion food.

Making a mushy pea curry involves more than just adding curry sauce

Making a mushy pea curry involves more than just adding curry sauce

A traditional mushy pea recipe calls for dried marrowfat peas to be soaked in baking soda overnight and then simmered in salt and sugar until they form a green mush.  Appetising (to some). Here is the basic traditional recipe for mushy peas.

If you want to go non-traditional, you can use mushy peas to make burgers, risottos and tarts.  I’ve always loved risotto with peas so I am partial to this mushy pea recipe that adds a pea puree to risotto.

a mushy peas recipe for mushy peas risotto

a mushy peas recipe for mushy peas risotto

Why have avocado toast when you can have peas on toast? Here’s a cool variation on the ubiquitous millennial dish.  Can you blame Peter Mandelson for (allegedly) mixing up avocados and mushy peas?

mushy peas on toast is a less fattening version of the popular avocado toast

mushy peas on toast is a less fattening version of the popular avocado toast

Are Mushy Peas Good For You?

Well, it’s not bad. There are about 87 calories per 100 grams. It’s also low in fat but provides proteins and carbohydrates. Other essential nutrients include iron, zinc, potassium and fibre.

There are not many calories in mushy peas but lots of essential nutrients

There are not many calories in mushy peas but lots of essential nutrients

Go on. Have some mushy peas. Maybe they will be your new avocado substitute.

Best Fish and Chips in London

If you want to try a classic British dish, then fish chips and mushy peas are the way to go.  They are many options for fish and chips in London at many price points. Here are out three favourite options, including the obligatory cheap and greasy joint.

I am not big on deep fried food and/or anything wrapped in newspaper. My pores break out just thinking about it. So you know, the fish and chips have to be good to get a pass from me!

Fish and chips are Friday school lunch classic in British schools. Even my non-fish eating daughter was fine with Fish Finger Fridays (probably because there was hardly any fish in the versions she was served).

Seashell of Lisson Grove

Our vote for the best fish and chips in London goes to the Seashell of Lisson Grove located in Marylebone. It’s been around for 50+ years (e.g, supposedly Princess Di would send her driver to Seashell Lisson grovefor takeaway back in the day). There’s a take away and casual dining place on the corner of Lisson Grove as well as a fancier restaurant next door.

The Seashell of Lisson Grove menu has an extensive choice of fish.

The Seashell of Lisson Grove menu has an extensive choice of fish.

More Good Options For Fish and Chips in London

My friend went on a quest to find the most ‘authentic’ and best fish and chips in London. His methodology was simple. He asked every cab driver he met. The most recommended was The Fryer’s Delight (19 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8SL) near Holborn. He loved it – basic, delicious and cheap.  Personally, I thought it was too greasy.

Another good option for a retro-cool ambience is Poppies Fish and Chips London which has outposts in three locations now. In addition to the original location in uber-cool Shoreditch, it’s also got outposts now if you are craving fish and chips in Camden and Soho. The owner has been serving fish and chips for decades in the East End before gentrification pounced upon this working class neighbourhood. Anyway, we didn’t choose the fish and chips in Camden because they didn’t serve mushy peas.

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How to make mushy peas, both as a traditional side dish and as a fresh take on old favourites

How to make mushy peas, both as a traditional side dish and as a fresh take on old favourites

Where to go for the best fish & chips in London

Where to go for the best fish & chips in London

In honour of the second International Mushy Peas Day, we visited a restaurant well-known for having one of the best fish and chips in London. Mushy peas go well with fish and chips; you can have traditional mushy peas or use them to jazz up other dishes like a burger or risotto. Check out these mushy peas recipes & ideas.

In honour of the second International Mushy Peas Day, we visited a restaurant well-known
for having one of the best fish and chips in London. Mushy peas go well with fish and chips;
you can have traditional mushy peas or use them to jazz up other dishes like a burger or
risotto. Check out these mushy peas recipes & ideas.

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them at no extra cost to you. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.