The Dickens Festival (called Dickens festijn in Dutch) in Deventer, The Netherlands was on my radar to visit for years already. We finally got to visit it in 2018 and loved it. It’s truly a unique experience and something for everyone looking for something spectacular around Christmas time.
Dickens Festival Deventer
For 2 days Deventer turns into an 19th century English town from the stories of Charles Dickens. Want to meet Scrooge, Oliver Twist or Mr. Pickwick? It’s possible at the Dickens Christmas festival. Listen to Christmas carol singers or watch orphans moan about their lives. See a living statue or watch Queen Victoria having a tea party.
The area Bergkwartier is where the festival is held. You walk along the streets on a designated route. On that route are some 950 actors dressed as orphans, paper boys and girls, chestnut sellers, chimneysweeps, drunks, idiots, gypsies, Christmas carol singers, distinguished notables and spinsters.
Among the characters are the main persons and secondary persons out of the books of Charles Dickens. You can watch short plays on the street, or choirs singing the stories. People walking along are being engaged in the stories, being it by letting them participate in the play or by having a conversation with them.
In short the Charles Dickens festival is one play with stages along several streets.
The Dickens festival isn’t all there is to do in Deventer around Christmas. In the ‘Grote of Lebuinus’ church is an indoor Christmas market that starts on Thursday until Sunday. Stalls are lined up inside the church.
On the Brink (a square) there’s an outdoor Christmas market is on Sunday (the last day of the festival). Stalls are lined up on the square.
Next to the 2 Christmas markets there’s also ‘Deventer Kerststad’ (Deventer Christmas city) with free concerts in churches on Sunday.
We loved strolling over the Dickens festival. The characters are brought to life well. The actors are all well into character. We enjoyed walking the route for a couple of hours, stopping along when we saw an interesting sketch, play or something to eat. Our son loved seeing all the dressed up persons and holding conversations with them.
The Christmas markets were fun, especially the one in the ‘Grote of Lebuinuskerk’, but not as great as their German counterparts. The festival is definitely the highlight of Christmas in Deventer.
For a completely different Christmas experience read about our Christmas in Jordan.
Deventer is a city in the province of Overijssel. In the eastern part of The Netherlands. It’s a hanseatic city and situated on the river Ijssel. Deventer is one of the oldest cities of The Netherlands, already being mentioned in 9th century sources.
Interested in other Dutch cities? Read our guide on best cities for shopping in The Netherlands.
Information on the Dickens Festival
The festival is being organized the weekend before Christmas, since 1991. It’s only 2 days: one weekend a year. The entrance is free and is open from 11.00 am till 5.00 pm. The festival attracts some 125.000 visitors, so it’s crowded. Entrance to the medieval Bergkwartier is only on the corner of Walstraat and Keizerstraat.
There’s a really long line before you can enter, the line is being organized with fences. Waiting in this line can be up to an hour. While in line, on the last part, Dickens characters are already walking up and down and entertaining the crowd. It’s not just Dutch people visiting, also people from everywhere, but mainly from Germany. Kids are welcome and it’s loads of fun for them to walk among the streets and see all the characters from the Charles Dickens books.
Bergkwartier is part of the old town of Deventer. The Medieval area is perfectly suited to host the Dickens Festival, it ads to the atmposphere. Streets that are participating are: Walstraat, Goltstraat, Damstraat, Roggestraat, Bergkerkplein, Bergstraat, Kerksteeg, Bergschild and Menstraat.
The characters are being played by actors, residents of Deventer, choirs, trades, drama clubs, musical groups, singers and extras. The entrepeneurs of Deventer are the organisors behind it.
Dickens festival costumes are either owned by the organization (they have some 700 costumes), privately owned by the actors or are being rented. The Dickens festival Victorian theme comes back in the costumes. It’s called the Victorian era after Queen Victoria.
For other Dutch festivals read about why we love Kingsday.
The stories that are being used for the festival are the following:
- Christmas carol;
- The Chimes;
- David Copperfield;
- The Old Curiosity Shop;
- The Pickwick club;
- Bleak House;
- Great Expectations;
- Little Dorrit;
- Nicholas Nickleby;
- The adventures of Oliver Twist.
Where to eat
Have lunch or dinner at Deventer Koekwinkel, Eigenwijs or Goesting Eten en Drinken. The last 2 have delicious lunches. Deventer Koekwinkel has over 100 years of history.
Where to stay
We stayed in a cabin on campsite De Stuurmanskolk in Welsum, a 20 minute drive from Deventer. When we wanted to book our accommodation, everything in Deventer was expensive or booked full.
When looking for a true Christmas feeling and entertainment, the Dickens festival in Deventer is a must visit.
Right now it’s not sure if the 2020 edition will happen, more information about that you can find here.