Yuri with some actors on the photo who where having fun at Dickens Festival.
Christmas,  Cultural Experiences,  Netherlands

Dickens Festival: the perfect Christmas outing

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.

Queen Victoria having a tea party. You see her and another women behind a window.
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.

Chimney sweeper at Dickens Festival. Walking between the crowd.
Chimney sweeper

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.

Cosette and an actress
Cosette and an actress

In short the Charles Dickens festival is one play with stages along several streets.

Girl orphans being sassy and having to work
Girl orphans being sassy and having to work

Christmas markets

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.

The Christmas market inside the Lebuinus church
The Christmas market inside the Lebuinus 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.

Christmas market on the Brink. In the evening, lighted up stalls and a a Christmas tree in the middle. In the forefront people walking.
Christmas market on the Brink

Next to the 2 Christmas markets there’s also ‘Deventer Kerststad’ (Deventer Christmas city) with free concerts in churches on Sunday.

Our experience

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 crowds at the Dickens Festival
The crowds at the Dickens Festival

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.

Christmas Carol Singers
Christmas Carol Singers

For a completely different Christmas experience read about our Christmas in Jordan.

Deventer

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.

Selling food to the people in the waiting line for Dickens Festival
Selling food to the people in the waiting line

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.

Distinguished man and woman walking past the waiting line.
Distinguished man and woman

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 living statue 'A Mother's love'
The living statue ‘A Mother’s love’

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.

A choir singing a Charles Dickens song
A choir singing a Charles Dickens song

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.

Queen Victoria passing through on the Dickens Festival in a small carrier carriage
Queen Victoria passing through

For other Dutch festivals read about why we love Kingsday.

Stories

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.
Ebenezer Scrooge walking among the spectators.
Ebenezer Scrooge

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.

Conclusion

When looking for a true Christmas feeling and entertainment, the Dickens festival in Deventer is a must visit.

Girl's prison at Dickens Festival. Two girls are hanging against a fence, trying to lure you closer.
Girl’s prison

Right now it’s not sure if the 2020 edition will happen, more information about that you can find here.

18 Comments

  • Esther

    Yes, this is such a special festival! And even better when it snows (I love thinking about snow in the sweltering heat that we’re experiencing just now)! #wandefulwednesdays

    • Cosette

      We had it without snow, but that would have been perfect. The heat should be getting less tomorrow, but it’s does give a real vacation feeling.

  • Rhonda Albom

    The Dickens Festival looks amazing. I can only imagine how engaging it must be with close to 1000 actors descending into a small town. I haven’t been to Christmas markets in Europe but I don’t think I’ve seen mention of them being held inside a large cavernous church. Great idea.

    • Cosette

      Yes, I don’t think there are more in a church. In the south of The Netherlands, there’s aChristmas market in a cave.

    • Cosette

      Fellow one obsessed with all things Christmas. I bet you have other things around Christmas in Toronto and you have a higher chance on snow.

  • Kelly

    OMG this looks amazing. I love Dickens and would love to go ro this festival. It looks so Christmasy and like so much fun! Thanks for sharing!

  • Courtney

    This is incredible! Europe really knows how to bring Christmas to the next level. This is so cool, and i have never heard of a whole town joining into a reenactment. I have so many more questions, but the first is how do they decide who gets to play the Queen?! Also, thanks for sharing the list of stories that the event is based one. Would definitely want to do a refresher before going.

  • Rob + Ann @TravelLatte

    This is fantastic! We love festivals like this, and go see them whenever we get the chance. Interestingly, there is a similar one in the U.S., called Dickens of a Christmas in the city of Franklin, Tennessee. It’s amazing how widespread the Dickens fandom is!

    • Cosette

      Yes, when I did my research for the festival, I found a few others. Didn’t come across the one in Franklin, sounds amazing.

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