By Anne McCarthy
“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it,” wrote British author Roald Dahl in The Minpins. And I must say, I agree with Dahl.
London is a magical city, and it’s also a literature lover’s paradise. London is the former home to literary greats like Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes), Sir James M. Barrie (creator of Peter Pan), John Keats, and many more.
Even though not all prominent British authors have called London “home,” older writers like Jane Austen (who primarily lived in Bath) and more contemporary writers like J.K. Rowling (who lives in Edinburgh) have ties to the city – via their fiction stories and their family connections. (Curious to learn more about Harry Potter’s London? Here’s a guide we created for Potterheads on how to find the most Harry Potter-centric spots in the Big Smoke.)
Roald Dahl & London
British author Roald Dahl was born in Wales in 1916, though he had ties to London. He even married his second wife, Felicity Dahl, at Brixton Town Hall in South London. The author, who passed away in 1990 in Oxford, lives on through his beloved children’s books which include The BFG, Matilda, The Witches, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Many of his stories live on not only through his books but also in film adaptations. (A new version of Willy Wonka’s story, called Wonka and starring Timothée Chalamet, comes out this holiday season.)
If you’re a Roald Dahl fan visiting London, be sure to check out Matilda the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre. Want to learn even more about London and its storied history? Book a tour with Fat Tire Tours London. Our colorful and story-telling guides are the most epic and magical way to experience the city. We have bike tours, walking tours, and even beer tours.
Visiting Roald Dahl’s Oxford
Oxford is a beautiful place to visit from London, and it’s an easy day trip, too. You can travel by train in the morning and return to London via an evening train. The journey from London to Oxford by train takes around one hour. It can be longer on weekends or public holidays, and the fastest train service is around 50 minutes. Trainline is an easy-to-navigate booking system to use for booking trains from London to other parts of the UK.
If you’re a literature lover, you must make your way to Oxford. Dahl and others found literary inspiration in Oxford’s inspiring environment. The Chronicles of Narnia creator C.S. Lewis spent time in Oxford, and so did Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, The Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien, and Irish raconteur Oscar Wilde. Famous crime novelist Agatha Christie called Oxfordshire home.
Dahl spent his final years in Oxford, and he died there in 1990 after a battle with blood cancer. (If you want to pay homage and visit Dahl’s grave, you can find it in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Children who visit his grave often leave toys, notes, and flowers.)
At The Story Museum in Oxford, you’ll find a place with the primary purpose of celebrating children’s stories, including those written by Dahl. Visitors are especially fond of the Enchanted Library.
Address: 42 Pembroke Street, Oxford, OX1 1BP
You might also want to visit Crocodiles of the World in Oxfordshire in honor of Roald Dahl’s 1978 story, The Enormous Crocodile. (Like many of Dahl’s books, the crocodile story was illustrated by Quentin Blake). Crocodiles of the World is the UK’s only crocodile zoo, and it features endangered Siamese crocodiles, Nile crocodiles, and Chinese and American alligators.
Address: Burford Rd, Brize Norton, Carterton OX18 3NX
You may also want to visit Stonor Park in Oxfordshire, where you can see a film location from Danny, Champion of the World (1989). The red brick house at Stonor Park in Henley-on-Thames is where the character of the snobby Victor Hazell (portrayed by Robbie Coltrane, who also played Hagrid in the Harry Potter films) lived in the movie.
Address: Stonor, Henley-on-Thames RG9 6HF
Visiting the Roald Dahl Museum in Buckinghamshire
Many of Dahl’s most famous stories were written from a little writing hut in his backyard garden in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. These stories include James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and more.
Dahl bought the home in 1953 and enjoyed many magical moments there. His widow once mused, “Roald’s gift was that he never forgot what it was to be a child.” She continued, “We think that we can remember, but we don’t.”
For the best deep-dive into all things Dahl, take the train from London to Buckinghamshire (around a 49-minute train journey) to visit The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. It was founded in 2001 by Dahl’s widow, Felicity.
Annually, the museum is visited by 10,000 schoolchildren. More than one million people have visited the museum to date. Tickets cost £7.95 for adults and children five years old and over (children under age five are free). Book your tickets in advance online. It’s open year-round, Thursday to Sunday, from 10 am to 4:30 pm. The museum offers storytelling sessions, various activities, craft series, and fun events.
Address: 81-83 High St, Great Missenden HP16 0AL
Anne McCarthy is the Editor in Chief of the Fat Tire Tours Blog. She is a contributing writer to the BBC, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Wired, and many more. She splits her time between the U.S. and Europe.