The festive season is finally upon us, and with it comes various Christmas festivals and festive events – one of which is the Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The annual festival this year celebrated the 20th year of festive magic at the Victorian Festival of Christmas, and to honour the occasion the dockyard really pulled out all the stops – creating the biggest and best event yet!
For the first year the Victorian Festival of Christmas had a main stage for their performers (of which there were over 100!) and the cobbled streets of the dockyard were transformed into a lively harbourside market, full of festive treats and Christmas gifts. Familiar Dickensian characters were wondering around the streets performing, alongside daring circus performers. We even spotted a mermaid!
The Victorian Festival of Christmas is held in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the entrance to which you’ll find next to the iconic and imposing HMS Warrior.
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As you enter and explore the streets of the Historic Dockyard you’ll pass Christmas trees, market stalls and food vendors selling their wares. There was plenty to see, festive cheer in the air and the dockyard was bustling with excited tourists!
It was a very cold day when we visited on Saturday, so we headed straight to HMS Victory and found some mulled wine to sip while we walked around the ship. Fitting in with the theme are several speakeasy bars serving mulled wine, cider and other alcoholic drinks.
There’s not a lot more festive than a hot mulled wine on a cold winter day!
Tickets to the Victorian Festival of Christmas included access to all of the ships and attractions, so it’s the perfect time to explore HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose Museum – all included in your event ticket. It’s an impressive saving compared to the normal attraction prices!
If you have a full navy ticket or a Portsmouth pass, you would need to purchase a separate ticket to the event.
The tickets for the Saturday had completely sold out, which meant that the dockyard was extremely busy – as were the main attractions, HMS Victory and the Mary Rose Museum! The queues were so long for both that we decided not to look around on our visit, so we instead spent our time inside the National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth and looking around the market stalls at the Love Southsea indoor market.
Along the cobbled streets there were plenty of stalls selling local products and festive fares – from traders like The Garlic Farm, Winchester Distillery, Silent Pool and Boozy Bakers, plus stalls selling deliciously fragrant dried wreaths. You could smell them before you could see them! I resisted the urge to buy some more gin for my collection, and instead just stocked up on some of our favourite products from The Garlic Farm.
There was even snow in Portsmouth this weekend! Not real snow – but just as enjoyable, especially at a Christmas festival!
I’d never been onboard HMS Warrior before, so it was the part of the dockyard that I was most looking forward to seeing! I actually see HMS Warrior every day on my way to the office, so it was exciting to have the chance to explore.
HMS Warrior is extremely well maintained, and you are able to walk freely around the majority of the ship and explore at your own pace. It was actually the least busy part of the dockyard, which was refreshing after the crowds of people excitedly waiting to go inside HMS Victory and the Mary Rose Museum.
HMS Warrior was built in 1859 and has undergone a reinterpretation to allow the ship to reflect what she was like in 1863, when the ship was the largest and fastest in the Royal Navy. The Warrior was Queen Victoria’s favourite ship!
As you go down a deck and start to look around, amongst the guns you’ll find a cafe onboard – allowing you to grab a hot drink and a sweet treat and take a seat at one of the authentic tables on HMS Warrior. This was one of my favourite parts of our day at the Victorian Festival of Christmas! There were even some carol singers belting out festive favourites.
After exploring HMS Warrior we headed back onto the cobbled streets to explore another attraction I’d never visited – Boathouse 4. Boathouse 4 is actually home to the International Boatbuilding College, where you’ll find various small boats being built and restored. I found this area fascinating!
Boathouse 4 was originally built in 1939 in response to the need for a rapid rearmament programme, prior to the start of World War II. The building has since been restored and repurposed for the college – plus there are exhibitions and children’s activities inside.
As daylight fades, the Victorian Festival of Christmas at the Historic Dockyard really comes to life. The iconic HMS Warrior has lights in the shape of a Christmas tree, the carousel is lit up and strings of lights are trailed along the streets. The display onboard Warrior is one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen – I love how they use the mast to create the shape of a tree!
The Victorian Festival of Christmas was on from Friday 29th November to Sunday 1st December – so, unfortunately it is now finished and won’t be back until next year. However, it is an annual event and I’d definitely recommend making a note in your calendar for next year! It’s a fantastic day out for family & friends, and such a great way to access all of the attractions in the Historic Dockyard for the price of one ticket – an impressive saving.
If you’re planning a visit to Portsmouth this December, the lights on HMS Warrior will be up throughout the month – and the Historic Dockyard attractions are still open, so why not plan a trip down to explore the sights and feel festive even though the festival is over?
Visit the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard website here to find out more about planning a trip, ticket prices and upcoming events. It’s one of the best places to visit in Portsmouth, and definitely worth the trip!
If you’ve visited the Victorian Festival of Christmas or the Historic Dockyard, what was your favourite part of your visit?