By Jade Braham
It’s said to be the most wonderful time of the year, so we’ve rounded up the best places to visit in the UK at Christmas.
Whether you’re longing for mince pies and mulled wine, can’t wait to peruse the Christmas markets or just want to marvel at the scintillating light displays, there’s something for everyone whatever your taste and budget.
The best places to visit in the UK at Christmas
Dubbed ‘England’s Christmas capital’, Winchester has everything you need to get in the Christmas mood. From November 18 the Christmas lights are switched on, followed by the annual lantern parade on November 25. Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market is considered one of Europe’s best and lasts until December 22. Hop on board the steam train at the Watercress Line, an incredible LED light show you won’t want to miss. Or explore National Trust house Hinton Ampner and discover Christmases past as each room is brought to life with a different tale. This year it’s The Wind in the Willows. Booking essential.
York is another UK city that continues to capture people’s hearts at Christmas. Not only is it beautiful to walk around at any time of year, it looks especially pretty covered in twinkling lights over the festive season and celebrates its 30th anniversary of its Christmas Fair this year. Visit the funfair and ice skate at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland. Pick up Christmas gifts at one of the north’s best Christmas markets, St Nicholas Fair. Or listen to Christmas carols at York Minster. York’s Castle Museum transforms into a stage for tales like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Children can also visit Santa here. Castle Howard’s ‘Into The Woods: A Fairytale Christmas’ is one not to be missed. While adults will delight in Christmas Afternoon Tea at iconic tea room Bettys.
From pantomimes at the Theatre Royal Bath (this year it’s Aladdin) to seeing the beautiful Georgian buildings decked with lights, Bath sparkles with festive joy. Bath’s Christmas Market celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and is the place to head for one-of-a-kind local treats. The American Museum’s Enchanted Garden of Light display adorns the woodland, gardens and mansion in festive colours. Get your skates on at Bath on Ice or embrace the Christmas spirit with Santa and his elves just outside the city at Wookey Hole Winter Woodland.
Get your skates on at Coventry’s Winter Wonderland in the city centre until January 8. See the huge Christmas tree and free festive light shows every hour in the run up to the big day in Broadgate square at Coventry Christmas Market. Drink mulled wine and toast marshmallows at the Christmas cabins. And don’t miss the Christmas Makers Markets in the city’s FarGo creative quarter, which is full to the brim with amazing independent businesses for both gifts and food and drink. Don’t miss the Vintage Sleigh Ride, which includes a visit to Santa, at Coventry Transport Museum. Catch festive flicks at the Cosy Cinema Club. Watch The Snowman accompanied by a live orchestra at Coventry Cathedral. While a little further afield, Luminate Coombe at Coombe Abbey hotel is always special.
Birmingham is known for boasting the largest German Christmas market outside of Austria and Germany, and it’s rated one of the best in Europe. Tuck into schnitzels, pretzels and gluhwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market. While The Centenary Square’s ice rink and big wheel are back and bigger than ever. There is even a new elevated bar and outdoor terrace offering Christmas tipples with a view. For a bit of culture, watch the Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome or take the kids to see this year’s pantomime, Dick Whittington. Head to Millennium Point to watch Love Actually with Bottomless Prosecco and Brunch. Expect plenty of vino and film trivia during the screening. For a festive meal with 360-degree views of the city, book a table at one of Birmingham’s newest and highest restaurants, Orelle.
For one of the most spectacular Christmas markets we’ve ever seen, head to Nottingham this festive season. Marvel at the 60ft Christmas tree or if you’re feeling brave, have a go on the giant Observation Wheel which whisks visitors up over 30 metres in the air offering stunning views of the city. For those who prefer to stay closer to the ground, there is an Apres Ski bar, Ice Bar, winter-themed igloos and a unique ice rink which envelopes around the entire market square. Other offerings include a magical Yuletide light show and trail at Wollaton Hall, where Batman was famously filmed. Or Step back in time for a Regency Christmas at Belvoir Castle.
The Cotswolds are beloved for their fairy-tale-like villages, and Christmas only magnifies this impression tenfold. There are many village Christmas markets but Cirencester, with its seasonal cuisine and twinkling lights, is one of the best. Blenheim Palace is re-imagining The Kingdom of the Snow Queen this year. While the magical Sudeley Castle is putting on a Spectacle of Light, which illuminates the gardens with lanterns and water features. And a visit to the Cotswolds wouldn’t be complete without popping into a country pub for a festive lunch. The Kings Head Inn in Bledingdon is a favourite.
The capital is an intoxicating place to visit all year round, but it really comes alive at Christmas. King’s Cross has some of the best Christmas markets, including plenty of places to eat and drink in the run up to December 25. For a boozy day outing, head to London Christmas Beer Festival for stalls full of UK breweries, craft spirits and artisan food. Or skate the night away at Somerset House. The immersive Backyard Cinema has winter wonderland locations where you can sit on cosy beanbags and enjoy Christmas favourites like The Holiday and Elf. While Kew Gardens will be illuminated by magical installations and is well worth a visit. Just be sure to book ahead to avoid disappointment. If you can’t get a ticket, try Lightopia in Crystal Palace instead. For a free light show, walk through Covent Garden, Carnaby Street, Bond Street and our personal favourite Mayfair, where many designer shops are.
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Spend Christmas at Warwick Castle and discover dazzling ornaments in the Staterooms and Great Hall, or marvel at the medieval armour and 20ft Christmas tree. There is also an outdoor light trail and open-air ice rink. Don’t miss the Warwick Victorian Evening on November 25 for traditional costumes – there’s a best dressed competition and the prize is an overnight stay at Warwick Castle, plus more. Discover fairground rides, a Christmas market and the chance to meet real-life reindeer at the town’s historic Lord Leycester Hospital. Pop into St Mary’s Church to see the town’s annual Christmas Tree Festival. While Hatton Shopping Village has a number of Christmas markets, including a vintage themed one.
For a Dickensian Christmas, head to Rochester in Kent which is said to have inspired many of the great author’s works. Over the weekend of December 3 and 4 expect to see costumed characters, parades, street entertainment and open-air carol concerts at the Rochester Dickensian Christmas Festival. Visitors are also encouraged to dress up for the family friendly festivities. Set within the picturesque Rochester Castle Gardens is the Rochester Christmas Market where you’ll find unusual stocking fillers, Bavarian food and plenty of mulled wine. Don’t miss out on tickets to The Mistletoe Costumed Ball on Friday December 2, which is another opportunity to dress up in Dickensian outfits. The night starts with a Christmas dinner and finishes with lots of dancing. While kids can meet Santa and his Alpacadeers until December 21.
There are few places in the UK that do Christmas and New Year celebrations, but Edinburgh goes all out for both. From the end of October through December, the Scottish capital is brimming with events for all ages. See the spectacular Castle of Light show at Edinburgh Castle. Stock up on bespoke gifts at the East Princes Street Gardens Christmas Market in the heart of the city. Discover how Mary, Queen of Scots would have spent Christmas at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and sneak a peek at the chamber where she used to sleep. Here, Christmas decorations include pomanders of citrus fruits popular in the Queen’s era, and you’ll discover how to play her favourite game, ‘The Queen of the Bean’.
While Cardiff might be best known for its Christmas market in Wales, Hay-on-Wye has a unique Hay Festival Winter Weekend which is well worth visiting at the end of November. It spans five days and includes workshops, music, storytelling, comedy, and conversations with stars like TV’s Bear Grylls and Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie. Even if you can’t visit, you can catch some of the festival events online. The market square is also transformed into a winter wonderland with the turning on of the Haye Christmas Lights on November 25. There is carol singing, mince pies, mulled wine and special readings. Once the festival is over the quaint town, famous for its love of books, is still a delightful area to do some last-minute Christmas shopping.
Although more people visit Cornwall in summer rather than winter, it really is a year-round destination and has some great things for the whole family to do if you visit over Christmas. There are no shortage of festive lunches and afternoon teas on offer here at some of the best restaurants on the southwest coast. For magical light shows, The Lost Gardens of Heligan and Christmas at the Eden Project are not to be missed. Padstow Christmas Festival is one for the foodies and is held at the beginning of December each year. For markets hit Truro Big Christmas Farmer’s Market or Carbis Bay Costal Christmas Market if you’re close to St Ives.
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