Do you know the way to Neverland? Second star to the right, and straight on till morning. Or perhaps you can find it in London.
For over a century, Peter Pan has sprinkled fairy dust over London and turned it into a magical playground. He flies across the city in search of his wandering shadow. He whisks the Darling siblings to a land untouched by time. He fights Captain Hook and races through the woods with Lost Boys.
And this extraordinary tale of The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up all began in one ordinary city. This is the Peter Pan literary trail of London anyone can get on.
Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park: The real Neverland
Begin your journey at Queensway Station or Bayswater Station. Walk over to a house called Leinster Corner at 100, Baywater Road. The man behind this beloved character, J.M. Barrie, lived here when he created and wrote Peter Pan in the early 20th century.
Built in 1820, the villa supposedly looks the same as it was when the Barrie lived there, with a blue bedroom that overlooks Kensington Gardens and resembles Wendy’s room. At least, that’s what they said when it went on sale for almost £7 million. Although the house isn’t open to the public, you can still see the historical blue plaque on the wall.
From here, take a short stroll to Kensington Gardens next door. If there is one place that truly captures the spirit of Peter Pan, it’s got to be this beautiful pocket of greenery.
It was in Kensington Gardens that Barrie met the 5 brothers who would inspire Peter Pan. In 1897, he befriended George, Michael and baby Peter Davies, who were out on a walk with their nanny. It is no coincidence that Peter, George and Michael are the names of his key characters alongside Wendy. Barrie later became close to the family, their lives intertwined over the passing years.
In 1928, he even revealed in a Preface for his play how he created this iconic devil-may-care child: “I suppose I always knew that I made Peter by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame. That is all he is, the spark I got from you.”
As if reality isn’t strange enough, the brothers later became orphans – real-life Lost Boys, in that sense. Barrie became their guardian. Their story does not have a rosy ending, unfortunately. You can read more about the tragic history here.
There are several stops you can make in Kensington Gardens. Have a rest at the Italian Gardens, a 150-year-old ornamental garden dedicated to Queen Victoria as a token of love from King Albert. It’s a gorgeous sight with fountains, elaborate urns and stone carvings, adorned by water lilies and irises.
At the north end of the Long Water, the Serpentine River stretches out across the park. You’ll notice in the 1953 film that this is where the children glide over the surface and meet some swans. In fact, you can spot a flock of swans on the river during the day.
For over a century, Peter Pan has sprinkled fairy dust over London and turned it into a magical playground.
Walk along the river and you’ll eventually reach the Peter Pan Statue. Before the bronze sculpture was made in 1906, Barrie had 6-year-old Michael Davies wear a Peter Pan costume as a reference for the artist. The statue stands in a middle of a serene natural setting, framed by lush gardens and rows of birds by the river. A must-see for any Pan fan!
Make your way to Hyde Park to find the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. Opened in 2000, the playground commemorated Princess Diana’s devotion to charity. Children can be seen playing outside, on the fields and in the massive shrubs.
Within the enclosed playground, the centrepiece is a large wooden pirate ship, dotted by teepees, play areas and more. It’s practically Neverland made a reality. Only children are allowed to enter, so unless you have kids or are a kid (and I don’t mean at heart), you won’t be able to step into the playground.
Big Ben: Picture-perfect Pan
The world loves Big Ben. It is a love affair made apparent in brochures, postcards and travel guides. In the 1953 Peter Pan film, four children soar pass this clock tower, one of London’s most recognisable cultural icon, before heading towords “the second star to the right, and straight on till morning”.
You can get to Big Ben from Westminster Station and easily walk to plenty of London’s other major attractions.
Bloomsbury: Home of the Darlings
Although Kensington Gardens is the birthplace of Peter Pan, Barrie placed the Darling’s home in Bloomsbury. “Just think of happy thoughts and you’ll fly,” Peter told the Darlings before they took off.
Barrie lived in the corner house at Grenville Street and Bernard Street in 1885. Not far from this location are lively shops, parks and the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Great Ormond: After ever after
The final stop in this Peter Pan trail is the Great Ormond Street Hospital. The children’s charity was one that Barrie held dear so in 1929, he gifted it the rights to his most celebrated masterpiece. Every penny earned through the copyrights goes straight to the hospital. In a way, The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up provides significant funding to the children’s charity to this day.
Coincidentally, Princess Diana was also a patron of the charity. Right outside, the commemorative statue of Peter Pan and Tinkerbell watch over the hospital and the children they help.
It’s apt that the trail should end here. I love the fact that Barrie’s gift of generousity means that Peter Pan continues to help thousands of children every year, both in a physical form and in the child-like hope he inspires.
There you have it – a Peter Pan trail in London for anyone with no intention of growing up. Personally I like that it showed me a different side of London, one filled with magic and wonder, one that perhaps you might want to call Neverland.
What are your thoughts? Would you look for Peter Pan in London too?