Sunday 1 December 2019

Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Tis the season to be merry and that's exactly what you'll find at the Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard this weekend. The annual event will be celebrating twenty years of festive magic over three days bringing Christmas to life on their cobbled streets. 

The festival sees the dockyard transformed into a bustling Christmas market full of wonderful stalls selling food and drink to festive decorations and gifts as well as circus performances, Dickensian characters and the chance to meet Father Christmas in his beautiful grotto. 

We have wanted to visit the Victorian Festival of Christmas for a number of years now but for one reason or another haven't made it so being able to finally visit on Friday filled me full of Christmas joy. My grandmother and I took Joshua and arrived at 10am for a full day of festive fun in the beautiful November sunshine.

We couldn't have picked a more perfect day for it! 

Getting into the festival was really easy and people were guided through quickly which was reassuring as it was already a little busy. Our first stop was HMS Warrior where you could relax in the cafe, watch the Neptune Girls perform and explore the battleship. I've visited HMS Warrior many times and it's such an impressive ship to explore - kids will absolutely love it too. I can't wait for Joshua to see it next year as he'll love it so much more as he'll be that little bit older. 

We took the morning slow, wandering around to see where it would take us. As mentioned, there were plenty of Dickensian characters around and Joshua was nearly sold for tuppence and taught how to pickpocket by Elmer Ellery. 

The characters really brought the festival to life and it was incredible to see the costumes. 

The Christmas market featured over one hundred stalls where you could sample delicious gin from Silent Pool, be tempted by alcoholic cupcakes from Boozy Bakers, pick up beautiful decorations from Oscar Plants and many more. It's the ideal place to choose some totally unique Christmas gifts for loved ones and decide on your tipple of choice for the festive season. 

The toffee vodka is pretty fabulous if you're looking for something a little different. 

If food is your jam then Pudding Lane is the place for you! It is chocker full of sweet treats, plant-based tasties and everything you could possibly need to satisfy your taste buds. If it wasn't for the fact we only had a limited amount of cash (a lot is cash only and we forgot to withdraw more!) we would probably still be working our way around the food stalls. 

I did get the chance to try roasted chestnuts for the first time but they were definitely not for me, I think I'll just stick to enjoying the smell of them roasting. 

One thing I was really looking forward to was visiting Father Christmas and it did not disappoint. We've not taken Joshua to see one before as he was just too young but we thought this would be the perfect time to do it. Father Christmas' Grotto was within The National Museum of the Royal Navy and it was just magical. It's free and on a first-come, first-served basis with bookings not available and we timed it perfectly as it was still quiet with only two families in front of us. 

While the children waited, we were entertained by a jester who was marvellous with the children, getting them involved no matter what the age. An elf came through to collect Joshua and we were soon walking into the most wonderfully decorated grotto full of twinkling Christmas trees, snow and Father Christmas dressed in a traditional green coat. 

If I had to tell you what my ideal Father Christmas would look like, he would be it. He was brilliant and Joshua absolutely loved him especially as he gave him a clementine, his favourite. 

I teared up a little because it was just so special. 

This was the first year the Victorian Festival of Christmas had a stage and what a treat the Magnificent Harrington's Grand Stage was! There were scheduled performances throughout the day with them continuing through the weekend including appearances from Peterkin the Fool who brings party tricks and games to the main stage, the hilarious Scrooge Comedy Show and incredible circus acts. 

The Kids Arena Stage had a number of theatre shows and storytimes for little ones and the Jolly Jamboree Stage had a wonderful festive choir performing. 

We stuck around the Magnificent Harrington's Grand Stage sipping mulled wine in the sunshine while watching the characters wander about their day.

The Angels on Segways were a sight to behold! 

The Victorian Festival of Christmas ticket included all the attractions on-site as well as the Mary Rose which is something I have always wanted to see. The museum is absolutely fascinating and seeing Mary Rose as close as we did was something this history fan bloody loved! We didn't spend as much time in there as we wanted to as nap time was looming for a certain someone so we're going to head back down in the new year minus Joshua so I can spend as much time as I want to explore. 

It is really worth taking the opportunity to look around the battleships - I've written more about them in my A Family Day Out at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard post from our visit in the summer. 

Joshua fell asleep not long after we left the museum so we headed off-site for lunch and went back to the festival later in the afternoon. We timed it perfectly as we caught the dockyard at golden hour and the sun setting behind HMS Warrior was beautiful.

And yes I couldn't resist a reindeer cupcake!

Our second time around the festival saw us spot Scrooge singing his way around the dockyard much to everyone's delight, costume-clad men riding penny-farthings across the cobbles and The Pramdemonium entertaining people of all ages with music and bubbles. 

The festival came to life as the sun began to set and with the evening drawing in, the Christmas tree lights began to twinkle and HMS Warrior was lit up for all to see. It was quite magical at dusk and as we strolled around with the smell of cinnamon in the air and cups of mulled wine warming our hands, I just felt the buzz of Christmas around us. 

It was the perfect way to see in December this weekend and being able to watch Joshua in awe at so much was heart-warming. The day was spent with him exclaiming "Wow, look at that" or "Mummy, over there!" and I knew there and then this would become our yearly tradition to signal the start of our Christmas. 

There is just one day left of the Victorian Festival of Christmas so if you can, be sure to swing by. It's fun for all ages with a healthy dose of history thrown in for good measure. 

Tickets can be purchased online via or on the gate upon arrival. Visitors who hold an attraction ticket (Full Navy Ticket, Portsmouth Pass or an any 1, any 2 or any 3) are unable to use it to access the Victorian Christmas Festival. A separate event ticket is required. 

It is the perfect festive day out in Hampshire for you and your family and if you don't get there this year, be sure to mark it in your calendar for next year. 

It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Complimentary press tickets for the purpose of review - see disclaimer
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