By Jade Braham
It’s said to be the most wonderful time of the year, and with travel still somewhat on hold – or just too expensive – 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 tastes 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. 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. 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.
Visit the funfair and ice skate at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland. One of the best Christmas markets is St Nicholas Fair. For a movie-magical Christmas, step through the wardrobe at Castle Howard’s Christmas in Narnia experience. York’s Castle Museum always transforms Victorian Street Kirkgate into a stage for tales like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Children can also visit Santa here. While adults will delight in Christmas Afternoon Tea at iconic tea room Bettys.
From pantomimes at the Theatre Royal Bath (this year it’s Cinderella) to seeing the beautiful Georgian buildings decked with lights, Bath sparkles with festive joy. The Bath Artisan Market in Queen Square has one-of-a-kind local treats. While the American Museum’s Enchanted Garden of Light display adorns the woodland, gardens and mansion in festive colours.
Marvel at Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon which is currently on display at Bath Abbey. Stargaze with astronomers or experience the magic of the moon after hours at a Moonlight Lates session. Get your skates on and experience a winter wonderland at Bath On Ice.
Skate amongst the ruins of Coventry’s iconic cathedral as Coventry Glides returns to the city. 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 which run in the city’s FarGo creative quarter, which is full to the brim with amazing independent businesses for both gifts and food and drink.
Other highlights include the Vintage Sleigh Ride and Winter Wonderland, which includes a visit to Santa, at Coventry Transport Museum. Catch festive flicks at the Cosy Cinema Club. Go on a 4D VR Santa’s Magical Sleigh Ride at West Orchards shopping centre. 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 until December 11, or head to Millennium Point to watch Love Actually with Wine. 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 Marco Pierre White’s Bar & Grill at the top of The Cube.
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, especially at night. For those who prefer to stay closer to the ground, the new Apres Ski bar, winter-themed igloos, or Helter Skelter bar offering mugs of Gluhwein should do the trick. A traditional carousel will also light up the square.
Other offerings include a magical Yuletide light show and trail at Wollaton Hall, where Batman was famously filmed. Step back in time for a Regency Christmas at Belvoir Castle or tumble down the rabbit hole this winter for an immersive Alice-themed experience at Wonderland in Victoria Centre.
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 Nutcracker within the palace rooms 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. Head to London Christmas Beer Market for stalls full of UK breweries, craft spirits and artisan food. Or skate the night away for the last time ever this year at the Natural History Museum’s ice rink.
The immersive Backyard Cinema has three 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.
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 4 and 5 expect to see costumed characters, parades, street entertainment and open-air carol concerts. 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. And don’t miss out on tickets to The Mistletoe Costumed Ball on Friday December 3, which is another opportunity to dress up in Dickensian outfits. The night starts with a Christmas dinner and finishes with lots of dancing.
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’. For something a bit different, sample the Burlesque Christmas Cabaret Dinner at Le Monde boutique hotel in Edinburgh’s New Town.
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 from 24-28 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 will be carol singing, mince pies, mulled wine and special readings. Once the festival is over, the quaint town is still a delightful area to do last-minute Christmas shopping.
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