Entertainment in Victorian London

There were many different things for people to do for fun in the Victorian Era (1837 to 1901). Leisure activities included reading, visiting the seaside and playing outdoor games.



There were many barriers between males and females during the Victorian Era. Leisure activities broke down these barriers, for men and women often took part in them together. New opportunities for traveling arose as the railways were built, new sports were invented and new games became more popular. Before this time, natural history was a hobby of interest, especially for collectors, but as leisure activities came about, natural history was left for the specialists. The range of exciting activities attracted tourists to London, which caused travel to grow in popularity.



  • People were interested in a variety of literature, including works by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • One of the most famous Victorian children’s books was ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll, which was published in 1865.
  • Children’s books included moral lessons, while women read fiction and poetry.


  • Dining clubs were popular among gentlemen.
  • Casinos were popular, as were gambling card games. Reform movements targeted these casinos in their arguments against gambling, drinking and prostitution.


  • A popular game played during Easter was ‘Egg-Shackling’. Each child would write their name on an egg and put it in a big basket. Then, someone shook the basket until all of the eggs cracked. To win the game, your egg had to be the one that was broken last.
  • Maypole dancing was also popular during the Easter holidays.


  • It was common to hear the sound of brass bands as you were walking through the parks.
  • Recording music was quite rare – it was only for extremely wealthy people.
  • Since there was no radio or TV, singing was popular. Rich families used pianos to accompany their voices, while poorer families used fiddles or pipes.
  • Vocal and instrumental parts were balanced in the music heard in concert performances.
  • Street musicians commonly played barrel organs, some of which had a monkey with them. These people/animals attracted large crowds.
  • Bands played at the park on weekends, where people would gather around the bandstand.
  • Opera was often attended.

Outdoor Games

  • Rich children played in their nurseries, but poorer children played in the street, woods or fields, considering their homes and gardens did not have a lot of space.
  • There was no motorized traffic. This meant children could often play in the streets.
  • Street toys included hoops, marbles, skipping ropes and balls (made from old rags). Hopscotch was also a popular game.
  • Chasing games included tag, musical chairs and Tom Tiddler’s Ground. This was where one child had to catch others who invaded his space, indicated by a line.
  • Children were taken to the zoo to watch the animals being fed, as well as ride the elephants and camels.


  • After the railway was built, trains were used to travel to the seaside. Small fishing villages turned into large tourist attractions due to the large number of visitors.
  • At the shoreline, people enjoyed fish and chips, ice cream, donkey rides and making sand castles.
  • Boating was an exciting hobby for many families.

Special Events/Shows

  • Paranormal events always drew huge crowds, where participants were chosen. Some types of these events were communication with the dead, ghost conjuring and mesmerism.
  • Birthday parties were a fun event to host, especially if there was a magic lantern show. An oil or gas lamp would show large images of wild animals or other pictures, telling a story in the process.
  • Fairs traveled around the country with their slides and swings, shooting galleries, strongmen shows, fire-eats, fortune tellers and jugglers.
  • Circuses also traveled with their big tents, clowns, horses and elephants.


  • Team games were encouraged to build character.
  • Football: If there was no proper football, a blown-up pig’s bladder would be fetched from the butcher shop and used as the ball.
  • Badminton: Rules for this game developed from an old game called Battledore and Shuttlecock.
  • Croquet: Popular game among women, since they were considered to have no strength or technique. It had economic advantages because it required minimal equipment.
  • Lawn Tennis: This was another women’s game. First, the ball was hit back and forth without keeping score, but then it became a competitive sport and provided exercise.
  • Rowing and Canoeing: These pastimes required women’s clothing to change, since corsets could not be worn. The outfits included stout boots, a long skirt, a flannel shirt, a sailor hat and heavy gloves for hand protection. Men considered rowing competitive, while women considered rowing for pleasure and exercise.
  • Horseback Riding: Only the wealthy could afford to horseback ride, since you would have to maintain a horse, as well as buy the proper clothing. A lady was required to wear gloves, boots and tights. On the other hand, the wealthy thought it was an expression of social status.
  • Outdoor camping: The ideal number of campers would be six or eight, who would bring many tents – some for sleeping and some for dining. Blue, red and gray blankets were used because they didn’t show dust and old carpet was used to cover the ground. Camp chairs, hammocks, boxes and trunks were used as chairs.
  • Bicycle: Bicycling created great confusion about women’s role in society and ruined their reputation, since nobody knew how they should ride or who they should ride with. Skirts could not be worn while riding the ordinary bicycle, but worked on a giant tricycle. Women could not cycle alone, so professional lady cyclists became a common job.


  • Women often went to the beach, but most women didn’t swim until the 20th century.
  • Bathing suits were made of two pieces: drawers and a tunic, which were not made of clingy fabric. In addition, there were stockings, a ruffled cap and bathing shoes. These bathing suits were extremely heavy and made it hard to swim.


  • Theatre and the arts were common interests.
  • Those who could not afford the regular theatre attended the Music Hall, which featured many different acts. These acts included comedians, singers, acrobats, and much more. If a poor person was looking for a good paying job, they would turn to job openings at the Music Hall.
  • The pantomime was popular during the Christmas season. This show had incredible special effects, including lights, smoke and live animals. Once again, poor children could obtain jobs at the pantomime, instead of the regular theatre.


  • Popular games children played indoors were card games, board games, charades, pencil and paper games, Tiddlywinks, the well-known game of Snakes and Ladders, and scrapbooks.
  • There was no plastic, so the toys were made from wood, metal or paper.
  • Rich children had several toys, such as toy trains, toy soldiers, doll houses and tea sets. Toys that were not as expensive were sail boats, jigsaw puzzles and alphabet bricks.
  • Poor children did not have as many toys, but the ones they did have were home-made. These included clothes peg dolls, wooden toy boats, skipping rope and balls made from rags.


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