Fair dos; at first, the idea of immersing yourself in a recreation of London’s past based, around tales of torture, murders most horrid and deeds too despicable to mention here, may not sound the recipe for a perfect day out in London (especially when you’ve the kids in tow and staying at superior accommodation like the San Domenico hotel London). But you’d be surprised… because the London Dungeon offers up all these things and more – and is a truly awesome and actually very funny, family-friendly attraction.
To be found located in the underground vaults beneath the old County Hall building on the South Bank (just a few metres away from Westminster Bridge, so merely a quick Tub/ cab trip from hotels near Kings Road Chelsea London), the venue was previously to be found in the arches – under a bridge ferrying trains to and from London Bridge station – in Tooley Street; a location then that, for sure, seemed a perfect fit for its revelations of squalor, darkness and evil-goings-on. Yet, don’t doubt it, the venue’s switch to the mainstream tourist stretch that’s the South Bank has done nothing to dampen the vileness it offers visitors; indeed, nowadays it doesn’t just feature visual recreations but the likes of genuine foul smells and real-life rats!
On entry to the ‘Dungeon’, you’ll first be faced by a walk down a cobbled, shadow-lined alleyway and, from here, you’ll begin an hour-and-a-half immersive guide through the gruesome grimness of London life in the days of legendary lore – down through many centuries of the mega-city’s history, in fact. Indeed, up to 20 different actors’ll jump out at and interact with you, often in disgustingly impressive garb (such as incredibly made-up if repugnant puss-filled sores). And tales – some told by them – will be recounted of the city’s torrid history; a smattering of them lesser known alongside the more well-known and (ahem) much-loved episodes of evil, debauchery and death. In all, everything from tyrant kings to pestilential homes and murder to torture and terror to more murder are very much on the menu.
Yes, it’s all about the thrills, chills and spills (and smells!) here, with the 90-minute tour’s hi-jinks staged on terrifically realised sets, complete with awesome animatronics, revolting waxworks, supreme sound effects and exciting theme park-like rides (the latter of which’ll undoubtedly prove a hit with your little monsters), enabling you to suspend your disbelief and feel that the 21st Century’s been left long behind and that you’re pelting head-long back through London’s gruesome centuries past.
Particularly worthy of mention is the chance to step into the shoes of a so-called traitor in the age of the execution-happy King Henry VIII (who’s presented in a startling 3D recreation, with the suitably bombastic voice of Brian Blessed), as well as sailing downriver to that site of so many decapitations, the Tower of London. Elsewhere, there’s ample opportunity to explore the history of – and find out about the players behind – the notorious early Stuart-era Gunpowder Plot (Guy Fawkes himself tells you all you need to know) and then, of course, who could resist wandering the streets old Jack the Ripper did during his serial-killing spree in the late Victorian East End?
It’s fair to say the London Dungeon’s a past-master at scaring the wotsits out of its guests – adults as well as the youngest members of a party – and, to that end, while there’s no official age limit for entry, it’s recommended for nobody under the age of 12, as they may find the experience a little too much. Those who, again, find it all a bit much as they go along can drop out a certain points and wait for the rest of their party at the end – probably just to be left repulsed by some of the truly disgusting souvenirs their little ones might want to buy at the gift shop, of course!
Riverside Building, County Hall SE1 7PB
020 7403 7221
Usually 10am-5.30pm daily, but does tend to vary so you’re advised to call the venue to check