Great Expectations is mostly set in Victorian England, with occasional references to other countries. For example, the novel mentions Egypt when Pip's best friend Herbert Pocket emigrates there. The convict Provis, like about 40,000 other British criminals before him, is transported to and returns from New South Wales, Australia. "Transportation" was the 18th and 19th century version of exile or punitive deportation, where people who had committed crimes as small as stealing a loaf of bread could be sent as indentured servants to the New World, and forbidden from returning on pain of death.
The action of the book in England is largely split between two locations. The first, Pip's place of birth, is located in the marshy and sparsely populated Hoo Peninsula, which is about 25 miles south of London in the English county of Kent. This space is characterized by damp mists, Gothic graveyards, and chance encounters, and is based on Dickens's own childhood home. Kent is one of the "Home Counties" of England, historically wealthy areas of the country surrounding London in which upper- and middle-class people often had country houses. This depiction of Kent differs significantly from other Victorian versions of the area, as a lot of Kent is actually very fertile, arable countryside. The county is often called the "Garden of England" because of its productive soil, but the bogland that Pip hails from is quite different. The Hoo peninsula is on an estuary of the Thames river, which runs through London. Pip spends his life in some connection with this famous river, as do many of Dickens's other most prominent protagonists.
The Thames metaphorically leads Pip from Kent to London as it winds its way to the coast. The author describes England's capital as cramped, crowded, smoky, and gloomy, but occasionally also very beautiful. It contains dwellings of varying degrees of splendor, from the imposing Havisham residence of Satis House to the poky offices of the law clerks. Dickens's novels have a strong sense of being made up of rooms, as they depict many interlocking social scenes in intricately described interiors of buildings. These small moments build up to large, dramatic occurrences, moving events from a small to a large scale.
Dickens often uses London as the setting for his books, and in doing so satirizes and comments on the corruption, privilege, and vast disparity between rich and poor visible in England's capital city. The city is also a metaphor for Dickens's view of human character, which can contain corruption and compassion in the same moment. Pip's transition from country "innocence" to "experience" gained in the city is a typical path for the protagonist of a coming-of-age novel.