Few families take the same approach to the holiday season, For some, Christmas is all about the day itself – the gifts, the feast, the mid-afternoon nap in front of It’s A Wonderful Life.
For others, it starts weeks beforehand with cracking Christmas excursions.
Long gone are the days when ramshackled ‘Winter Wonderlands’, promising some semblance of festive fun. The nation has upped the ante.
Rather than hordes of sorry-looking reindeer and crying children, families are now spoilt for choice; they can dine in igloos next to the Thames, see a star-studded pantomime in their local town, and even spend a fully immersive day with Santa in Lapland.
Not sure where to start? Not to worry. Take comfort – and joy – in our list of the best family events and festive days out across the UK this year. All of which are unashamedly Christmassy.
('Tis the season to be jaunting, or so they say.)
The best things to do this Christmas 2019
Haddon Hall, Derbyshire
Stately homes are a fail-safe destination for days out with the family, and Bakewell’s Haddon Hall is among the best. Largely considered the most perfect English house to survive the Middle Ages, its stunning rooms and courtyards are dressed to festive perfection over the Christmas period. Christmas choirs perform twice a day and candlelit tours are offered in the evening, including mulled wine (for adults) and mince pies (for all).
1 to 23 December, 10.30am-4.00pm, last entry 3.00pm; Haddon Hall, Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1LA; haddonhall.co.uk
Frankfurt Christmas Market, Birmingham
Christmas markets have become a treasured tradition in towns all over the UK, with those in Bath, London, and Brighton praised for offering families endless festive fun. Then, there’s Birmingham’s — the largest authentic German Christmas market this side of the Tunnel, with more food, drink and giftable goods than you could shake a schnitzel at. Frankfurt Christmas Market is well worth a day out with the family.
7 November to 23 December, 10am-9pm; Victoria Square and New Street, Birmingham, B1 1BD; thebfcm.co.uk
Laax Baby Winter Lodge, London
If your family needs a break from the crush of Oxford Circus Christmas shoppers, this hidden après ski bar is perfect for just that. ‘LAAX Baby!’, a collaboration between Mews of Mayfair and Swiss ski resort LAAX, has done everything it can to bring the slopes to the city; sumptuous ski lodge aesthetics, indulgent Le Gruyere AOP, Schlossberger and Reblochon fondues, and a wide range of alpine cocktails (or mocktails, for the little ones).
Mews of Mayfair, 10 Lancashire Court, Mayfair, London W1S 1EY; hmewsofmayfair.com
Wreath-making class, Edinburgh
This year, you can go one better than a shop-bought Christmas wreath and get your floral-loving family members together at the same time. Super-luxe flower shop Narcissus will host a number of wreath-making workshops this winter, alongside yuletide centrepiece classes and an all-day Christmas decor workshop. Prices start at £95 – including food and drink – and you take home everything their experts have helped you create at the end of the day.
27 November to 15 December, day and night classes; 87 Broughton Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3RJ; narcissusflowers.co.uk
Christmas Tree Wonderland, Bournemouth
Bournemouth’s ‘Tree Wonderland’ is a twinkling trail, featuring more than 100 Christmas trees, giving families an excuse to go on a wonderfully festive walk as temperatures drop. Grab a hot chocolate from the town centre’s Alpine Market before scouting out the trail’s best creations; the 60ft Wonderland Tree (with 30,000 LED lights) and Upside Down house (a zero-gravity illusion which helps guests walk on the roof) can’t be missed.
15 November to 2 January; Westbourne Arcade to Immanuel Church, Bournemouth, BH2 5AA; christmastreewonderland.co.uk
Bar Hutte Carol-oke, Manchester/Liverpool/London
For a touch of hygge, head to one of Bar Hutte’s national outposts and book your family into a private Hutte. Though demand is high, each booking secures exclusive hire of a ‘Hutte’ (with Carol-oke machine included) for almost two hours. Inside, you can cozy up with blankets and hot water bottles, enjoy a bit of Christmas crooning, indulge in a few stone-baked pizzas, and live like chalet owners. Fancy dress box upgrade recommended.
Opening dates and times vary; Winter Wonderland (London), Spinningfields (Manchester), or Liverpool One; barhutte.co.uk
Lapland UK, Ascot
This is a 24-karat Christmas day out. An experience so well-executed that you couldn’t call it anything less than ‘magical’. After your child receives their personalised invite from Father Christmas, they are welcomed into an immersive Winter Wonderland; a day filled with toy making, cookie decorating, ice skating, ‘snow’ playing and – of course – meeting Santa. All of which is included in the (uber-premium) price.
16 November to 24 December; Whitmoor Forest, Swinley Rd, Winkfield Row, Ascot SL5 8BD; laplanduk.co.uk
Stockeld Park, North Yorkshire
Stockeld Park is a one-stop shop for festive fun in Wetherby. You can buy your Christmas tree from a selection of the estate’s finest, watch Santa and his reindeer arrive in the park by sleigh, and even visit the man himself in his autism-friendly Grotto. If you have the time, it’s worth sticking around for the park’s Winter Illuminations after dusk.
14 November to 6 January, 10:30am-8:30pm; Stockeld Park, Wetherby, North Yorkshire, LS22 4AN; stockeldpark.co.uk
Coppa Club Igloos, London
East London hasn’t always been known for its igloos, but one restaurant is doing everything it can to change that. Coppa Club’s Thame-side ‘igloos’ are woodland-themed this year – a wonderland of evergreen trees, rustic candles, recycled wool blankets, cruelty-free sheepskin rugs, and breath-taking views over Tower Bridge. Reservations and cancellations are snapped up in a flash but a limited number of walk-ins are welcome every day, and the kid’s menu (three courses & a drink for only £6.95) is sensational.
Until January 31; 3 Three Quays Walk, Lower Thames Street, London, United Kingdom, EC3R 6AH; coppaclub.co.uk
A historical Christmas at Beamish, County Durham
At Beamish, the Living Museum of the North in County Durham, kids can experience a smorgasbord of festive celebrations. Here, festivities aren’t limited its winter funfair, ice rink or grotto. Guests are offered a unique and immersive walk through the Christmastimes of years gone by — from Georgian times to the 1950s.
16 November to 24 December, 10am-4pm; Beamish Museum, Beamish, County Durham, DH9 0RG; beamish.org.uk
Ice Village, Manchester
Manchester has a lot to offer throughout the festive season. In Cathedral Gardens alone, there are four holiday hotspots; an Ice Tiki Bar (over 18s only), Santa's Grotto, ice skating and – best of all – an Ice Cavern filled with over 100 interactive ice sculptures. In years past we’ve been titillated by all-ice polar bears, yetis, and even a frozen Rovers Return sign, but this year promises an all-ice unicorn and a cold-carved regal carriage (which, yes, you can sit in). Don’t miss out.
8 November to 5 January, 11am-9pm; Cathedral Gardens, Corporation St, Manchester, M4 3BG; icevillage.co.uk
Santa Hunt, West Midlands
If you promise to keep its location secret, the Black Country Museum’s costumed guides will help you seek out Santa’s very own secret West Midlands hideaway – right in the museum! The unforgettable Christmas experience includes magic reindeer fly, surprise gifts, mince pies and more. Plus a steaming mug of mulled wine for the adults.
23 November to 24 December, limited availability; Black Country Living Museum, Tipton Road, Dudley, West Midlands, DY1 4SQ; bclm.co.uk
The UK’s only Ice Jet, Liverpool
In Liverpool, the Christmas Ice festival is back at Pier Head for the fourth year running, meaning families will once again be lining up to ride the UK’s only Ice Jet; a white-knuckle bobsleigh simulator that lets daring individuals race at speeds of up to 80mph. There’s also an ice rink and three-lane, 30-metre ice slide.
13 November-5 January; Liverpool Christmas Ice Festival, Pier Head, Georges Parade, Liverpool, L3 1DP; icefestivalliverpool.co.uk
A celeb-cast Christmas pantomime, Nationwide
There are a rather ridiculous number of C-list celebrities popping up in pantomime this year. You can book to see Lesley Joseph in Birmingham, Craig Revel Horwood in Manchester, and the inimitable Su Pollard in Wolverhampton. But, invariably, the best of the best will be the star-studded cast of Paul O’Grady, Julian Clary and Nigel Havers in The London Palladium’s ‘Goldilocks’.
7 December to 12 January, matinee and evening performances; 8 Argyll St, Soho, London W1F 7TF; palladiumpantomime.com
The Train to Christmas Town, Devon and Durham
All aboard! These real-life replicas of The Train to Christmas Town (of the eponymous book by Peggy Ellis) are back and better than ever. This year’s interactive and family-friendly journeys are all-singing and all-dancing, led by the train’s storytelling Elves and Conductor. You can purchase festive food before setting off for Christmas Town, but you will want to save a little room for chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate on board.
29 November to 24 December; Okehampton Station (Dartmoor) and Stanhope Station (Weardale); traintochristmastown.com
Christmas at Kew, London
The Christmas Light Trail at Kew Gardens has made a name for itself over the last few years, creating a twinkling escape from the hustle and bustle of central London. This year, they’ve kicked things up a notch; a waterfall of lights cascading an 18m-high Treetop Walkway, laser projections, smoking white haze arches, a walkway of glittering pink cherry trees, and a host of independent dinnertime delicacies from street food pioneers KERB.
20 November to 5 January, 5-10pm; Kew, Richmond, London, TW9 3AE ; kew.org
Thursford Christmas Spectacular, Norfolk
This is, quite literally, as spectacular as it gets for families in the South East. As Europe’s biggest Christmas event, the Thursford Christmas Spectacular truly stands out from the crowd; the three-hour variety show delights with 65 musical performed by a show-stopping troop of over 100 dancers. Toddlers may lose their patience, but older children will be wowed.
6 November to 23 December; Thursford Collection, Fakenham, Norfolk, NR21 0AS; thursford.com
Neighbourhood Cinema Ice Palace, Beaconsfield
Though there is certainly a time and place for reciting every line from Home Alone at your TV, Neighbourhood Cinema do Christmastime cinematics better than anyone. Their 'Ice Palace' palace, hidden deep within a 100-year-old church in Buckinghamshire, lets guests watch some of the very best holiday films (from Miracle on 24th Street to Love Actually) whilst snuggled up under snow-capped trees. Popcorn, mince pies and mulled wine available. And necessary.
16 to 21 December; St. Michaels Church, Grenfell Road, Beaconsfield, HP9 2BP; neighbourhoodcinema.co.uk