Ightham Mote, Sevenoaks, Kent
National Trust properties up and down the land put on a decent show for the festive period, but some feel particularly special under the twinkle of Christmas lights. Ightham Mote, a stunning 14th-century moated and half-timbered home, is one, where room after room captures that old-fashioned festive vibe. The Great Hall’s open fires, wood panelling and soaring ceilings are decorated in Victorian style, with garlands of pine and red ribbons, while the library has a 1950s New England theme in honour of the former owner, an American businessman. As in many National Trust properties, there’s a Percy the Park Keeper-themed trail in the grounds, mulled wine and gingerbread lattes in the cafe, and gifts to buy, from local gin and cider and sustainable washing products to secondhand books.
Until 3 January, entry £10 per adult, £5 per child, nationaltrust.org.uk
The Christmas House, Hastings, East Sussex
Stepping through the door of this captivating 16th-century merchant’s house in Hastings Old Town is to venture through a portal back in time. Woodsmoke and sweet scents of cinnamon and spiced wine waft through the half-dark of the parlour, where taxidermy magpies and cobwebs add some witchy, elfin magic to the painstakingly recreated Tudor home. Somewhere between an immersive theatre set, a small museum and a stylish open house, the charmingly wonky home is usually used for private events and photoshoots, but it opens to the public a few times a year. In December it becomes The Christmas House, its creaking beams and rustic eastern European antiques decorated with blue fir, homemade gingerbread and Scandi-style decorations. A mini grove of Christmas trees soars up to the rafters in the kitchen, and visitors can buy a copy of the owner’s delightful Christmas book to read a magical Christmas fairytale, and take home some tempting seasonal recipes. A few streets away, the AG Hendy & Co homeware store is a treasure trove of practical stocking fillers.
Open 11, 12, 18, 19 and 23 December 11-5, entry fee on door £5 per adult, £3 per child. Special Christmas Eve event including Tudor spiced wine, £7 per adult, £3 per child, Aghendy.com
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
Lights, candles, and a bit of action, in the form of lively readings and talks, form the ingredients of a Georgian Christmas event at this small museum, former home of the architect John Soane. Visitors will appreciate the intellectual alchemy with which he amassed antiquities, furniture, architectural models, statuary and sculptures, first displayed for the benefit of his students at the Royal Academy. While perusing, guests will be offered a festive gin and tonic and mince pies, to the tuneful warbling of a live choir.
17 December, four one-hour time slots available between 6-8pm, £25pp, soane.org
Dennis Severs’ House, London
Another magical London house museum is perhaps at its best at Christmas, draped in greenery, with presents dotted around a candlelit tree, and piles of red ribbons left as if someone had just finished their wrapping. Those who visit Dennis Severs’ Spitalfields house are led to imagine that a family of Huguenot weavers have just left the rooms as they enter them. Red velvet bedsheets are rumpled on the four-poster, washing is left strung on a line, fires crackle in the kitchen hearth. Revived to look as they might have done in 1724 when the house was built, the rooms encapsulate the atmosphere of a candlelit age, with the sounds and scents of Christmas adding to the effect, especially as tours are done in silence.
Silent Night Christmas evenings Monday-Wednesday and Friday until 9 January, book ahead, £20, dennissevershouse.co.uk
Treasurer’s House, York
Garlands, lights, candles, fruits, gifts and flowers adorn this elaborate townhouse for the festive season, with a 20ft tree in the Great Hall and a trail of hidden fabric gingerbread people for little ones to spot as they tour 13 dark and ornate period rooms. Everything is left exactly as it was in 1930, when the property was donated to the National Trust by a wealthy gentleman owner who vowed to return and haunt the house if anything was changed. A visit is an enchanting diversion from York’s busy shopping streets and lies behind York Minster, whose bells add festive cheer to those admiring the Christmas trees in the treasurer’s garden, and which has its own series of festive events.
Drop in Saturday-Wednesday until 19 December, entry £8 per adult, £4 per child, nationaltrust.org.uk
The Charles Rennie Mackintosh House (78 Derngate), Northampton
The only house in England designed by the famed architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 78 Derngate has been immaculately restored to articulate his interior style. It features a dazzling array of his signature leaded and stained glass, tiled fireplaces, wood panelling and striking furniture. The 19th-century red-brick terrace is the only place in the world where his mature style can be seen in its original setting, including a dramatic staircase with yellow and black geometric detail. The dining room is decorated as Mackintosh’s patrons, Mr and Mrs Bassett-Lowke, might have done so when they lived there between 1917 and 1926, with a candlelit tree and bunches of holly and ivy. In the tiled kitchen, mince pie ingredients are laid out among clove-studded oranges and dishes of chestnuts as if the couple have just finished their festive baking. Mackintosh-related presents can be bagged in the gift shop, as well as crafts from an exhibition by the Northamptonshire Guild of Designer Craftsmen, which runs until 19 December.
Entry £8.50 per adult, £4 per child, 78derngate.org.uk
Dinefwr, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Artist Bettina Reeves’ gorgeous vintage-style textile animal decorations will hang from the tree in the front hall of Dinefwr’s Newton House, while local artist Lucy Donald’s chalk pen drawings decorate the windows, and foliage is brought in to create a magical effect. This grand house sits at the heart of an 18th-century deer park and national nature reserve, which is lovely for winter walking. There are festive activities every weekend until Christmas, such as carol singing and roast chestnuts, and Santa doing his thing in the grotto. On 11 December Lucy Donald hosts a workshop demonstrating how to bring some winter magic to your own windows.
Entry £8 per adult, £4 per child, winter windows workshop £4pp, nationaltrust.org.uk
Georgian House, Edinburgh
This grand and beautifully restored Edinburgh New Town house on Charlotte Square was the height of luxury in its day, built by “starchitect” Robert Adam in the late 1700s. Elegant furniture, chandeliers and a fine collection of porcelain, paintings, silver and glass reflect the lavish lifestyle and tastes of the first owner, John Lamont, who did plenty of entertaining at this time of year, Edinburgh high society’s party season. Although these days the house is closed through winter, it will reopen, fabulously and festively decorated, for two special evening readings of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
18 and 19 December, £14 per adult £8 per child including a hot drink and a Victorian sweet treat (suitable for aged 10+), nts.org.uk
Blackwell, Lake District
Among the many gorgeous features of Blackwell, Cumbria’s famed Arts and Crafts house on the shore of Windermere, the huge inglenook fireplace of the Great Hall is likely to make visitors lose themselves in reverie, imagining a long winter evening tucked up with a book in one of the settles beside the flames. You’ll want to imagine yourself living there all the more at Christmas, when the scene is alive with festive greenery, and a pianist or a choir soundtracks the occasion. Festive snacks and fizz in the cafe, and a shop stocked with contemporary crafts, will help keep spirits bright.
Open daily, music on 10, 17 and 24 December, tickets £9 per adult, lakelandarts.org.uk
Moseley Old Hall, Staffordshire
Given the history of Moseley Old Hall, an Elizabethan farmhouse that hid King Charles II from Cromwell’s troops after he fled from battle in 1651, you might expect the fireside Christmas storytelling sessions to revolve around 17th-century life and war … but no, it’s going to be Stick Man. Julia Donaldson’s children’s story will nevertheless be read by a man dressed up in britches and era-appropriate garb. As well exploring the house to see the priest hole in which the king hid, you can play board games in the parlour, taste 17th-century sweets and appreciate decorations galore – sticking it to Cromwell, who banned Christmas, once again.
Storytelling on 11, 12, 18 and 19 December, £10 per child in addition to normal admission of £9.50 per adult, £4.50 per child. A Christmas crafts session to make decorations from natural materials on 11 December costs £50pp, nationaltrust.org.uk