Get into the holiday spirit — Victorian style! The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, where it’s always Christmas Eve in the 1850s, is back for 2022! This Bay Area tradition has been going strong for nearly 40 years now, and features elaborate sets depicting the streets and alleys of 19th-century London, non-stop musical and theatrical performances, and hundreds of costumed living history performers depicting everyone from street urchins, Chimney sweeps, and sailors to Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge, Father Christmas, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim, as well as chimney sweeps, newsboys, sailors, carolers, and musicians.
We had a chance to visit the fair again on its opening day, and it was great to be back experiencing all the magic the fair has to offer. The Dickens Fair is a holiday must-visit for the whole family, and everyone will find plenty to see and do!
Stroll the streets of London, which are divided into areas like the Grand Concourse, the London Docks, Tinsley Green, Fish Street, and Pickwick Place. All around you’ll find costumed vendors offering anything from 19th-century clothing and hats for all ages, jewelry, books, musical instruments, soaps and candles, toys, and more. It’s a great place to find unique holiday gifts for everyone.
This year, they’ve added a new section: “Vauxhall Gardens,” a park-like area with a synthetic ice skating rink ($12, $8 for ages 6 and under; includes skate rental) and Christmas trees for sale in partnership with the Delancey Street Foundation. Visitors to Vauxhall Gardens can also enjoy treats like hot cider and handmade chocolates. Vauxhall Gardens is accessible to the public free of charge ($15 parking fee still applies).
The Dickens Fair offers constant entertainment, not only from the wandering actors with whom you interact, but on numerous stages and performance venues, too. Join in at Fezziwig’s Dance Party, hear excerpts from the grand opera and Gilbert and Sullivan at the Victoria and Albert Music Hall, sing along to sea shanties at the Paddy West Stage, and enjoy music-hall songs and entertainment at Mad Sal’s Dockside Alehouse. You’ll also experience folk dancing and caroling at various spots around the fair.
Don’t miss a chance to sit around the table with Charles Dickens himself, where he’ll read from his classic tale A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future may even make appearances! Other opportunities to take in intimate events like this include the Dickens Family Parlor and the Athenaeum Club, which offer a schedule of performances throughout the day featuring 19th-century luminaries like Oscar Wilde, Mary Shelley, the Pre-Raphaelite painters, and even Edgar Allen poe
Younger visitors will want to spend time at Tinsley Green where they can play games, ride the Adventure Carousel, enjoy a Punch-and-Judy puppet show and performances by characters from Alice and Wonderland, and even meet Father Christmas himself! Kids can also get hands-on making crafts like fairy houses and Christmas tree ornaments.
hungry? Grab a snack like hot cinnamon crunch almonds or roasted chestnuts from one of the stands. Pubs and bars offer libations for all ages, including hot cider, eggnog, lemonade, beer, wine, and hard cider. For something more substantial, visit the food vendors, most of whom are located along Fish Street and Tinsley Green, where you can dine on authentic cuisine from the British Isles like bangers, fish and chips, roast beef, meat pies, and sausage rolls. If British food isn’t your thing then there’s pasta, crepes, Greek, and Indian food. You can also reserve a spot for tea time, complete with scones, finger sandwiches, and a teapot to take home, at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe.
There’s so much to do and see here that you won’t want to leave. It’s easy to get lost within the twisting streets of London but don’t worry — any character can give you directions to where you want to go. It’s fun and absorbing and you’ll really feel like you’ve stepped into another time and place. Visitors are encouraged to come dressed in period costume and really get into the spirit of things, too!
If You Go
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair takes place on weekends (including the Friday after Thanksgiving, November 25) November 19 through December 23, 2022; Hours are 10 am to 6 pm. General admission to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair is $45 for adults and $25 for children aged 5 to 12. Twilight tickets, for admission after 3 pm, cost $30 for adults and $18 for children. Children under 5 are always free. Parking costs $15 per car. All tickets must be reserved online in advance; Tickets are not sold at the gate. Order tickets online here.
The Cow Palace is located at 2600 Geneva Avenue in Daly City. To get there from Marin, take 101 south across the Golden Gate Bridge. Bear right onto Park Presidio/19th Avenue and follow it until you get to Brotherhood Way, which you’ll take east. Take Brotherhood to Alemany Boulevard, then follow Alemany until you get to Geneva Avenue, where you’ll turn right. Follow Geneva Avenue all the way to the Cow Palace, which will be on your right.
A wide variety of food and drink are available for purchase at the fair. Make sure you wear good shoes, since you’ll be doing a lot of walking on concrete floors, and strollers are a must for little ones. Make sure you pack water, too, since there are no drinking fountains on site.
For more information, online tickets, and a full schedule of entertainment and events, visit dickensfair.com.