Best Places To Celebrate A British Christmas

Looking for something festive, yet original, to do with the family this year? Tickets for the fabulous Hogwarts at Christmas have already been snapped up by forward-thinking muggles (for December at least). But, never fear, if you’ve missed the Harry Potter train, here are some sparklingly unusual alternatives.

1. Oh Dickens!

Where: Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
Best for: all ages

This year visitors to the wonderfully grand Chatsworth House get to immerse themselves in the drama of Dickensian yuletide, with glimpses of its sleazy underbelly. Victorian shop fronts, Scrooge’s bed and more are all dressed in their finest Christmas togs, and you’re likely to encounter Fagin, Bill Sikes and Miss Havisham as they roam about the house. Younger children can bring the nativity to life with real animals in the farmyard.

2. Carol-oke

Where: London, Manchester, Liverpool
Best for: all ages

There’s nothing quite like singing your heart out along to Christmas songs with your kids, and at Bar Hütte, at Winter Wonderland in London, Manchester or Liverpool, you can rent fairy-lit wooden huts to belt out a Mariah Carey classic or two, warmed up by a hot chocolate with marshmallows or mulled wine.

Admission to Winter Wonderland is free; book ahead for karaoke adult/child off-peak £14/7;

3. Illuminations

Where: Kew Gardens, London
Best for: all ages except perhaps seen-it-all teens

With over a million lights casting a veil of magic over Kew Gardens, this is a family sight that sparks a genuine sense of wonder. There are singing trees, a Christmas fir made of sleighs, flaming torches, a wishing tree, elves and Father Christmas, as well as a few tasteful fairground rides and the chance to toast gourmet marshmallows on fire pits. The grand finale is the beautifully choreographed light display over the 19th-century Palm House and ornamental lake.

4. Taking to the ice

Where: Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Best for: age six and up

Brighton Pavilion lights up the rink
You’re spoilt for choice for sublimely located winter ice rinks this year, from the Tower of London to Winchester Cathedral. However, best of all is the rink overlooked by that fanciful beast the Brighton Pavilion, a magical setting for a few twirls on the ice.

5. Festival of Light

Where: Longleat House, Wiltshire
Best for: all ages

Capability Brown mingles with Chinese lanterns for the Festival of Light at Longleat’s magnificent Elizabethan country estate. Beautifully constructed fairy-tale illuminations create tangible magic in the woods, and you can also ride on the site’s Santa trains and take a drive-through winter safari: there’s no thrill quite like a lion emerging from the winter fog.

6. Twinkling trees

Where: Alnwick, Northumberland
Best for: all ages

Jelly-bright light shows highlight the formal gardens next to Alnwick Castle as dusk falls, with its grand cascade waterfall as a centrepiece overlooking an enchantingly pretty skating rink. You’ll encounter street theatre with Christmas elves and penguins on various days, and can seek out stocking fillers at the weekend Christmas market.

7. Ultimate urban cheer

Where: Edinburgh
Best for: all ages

A Christmas tree maze, silent discos for babies, candy-cane bungees, an ice wall for would-be arctic explorers, and a giant advent calendar projected onto General Register House: the six-week Edinburgh Christmas has some of Britain’s most imaginative treats.

8. Elves on a Train

Where: around Britain
Best for: various; just pick the right train

On the Dartmoor and Wearday railways, the Train to Christmas Town (Adults/children £25/19; recreates the story of the children’s book, with characters on board such as Bumblebee the polar bear. You can take an immersive Polar Express-style trip on the Seaton Tramway (Adult/child aged 3-15 £21.95/17.95; or meet Father Christmas and his elves in the Welsh mountains on the Ffestiniog & Welsh Borders Railway (People aged over 2 years/under-2s £13/3) . Passengers more mature in age or temperament should look at the charmingly nostalgic Steam Dreams, which is offering day trips to some of Britain’s most festive Christmas markets on a steam train (from £89 per person, including tea and coffee, to £265 per person, including a champagne breakfast on the outward journey and a five-course meal on return;

9. On the big screen

Where: London
Best for: the young at heart

The Backyard Cinema is not inexpensive, but serves excellent cocktails and treats for kids and has a fun lineup of holiday favourites on the screen
Enter a Narnia-style wardrobe or walk across an ice-covered lake at London’s Backyard Cinema to find an enchanting auditorium showing classic Christmas movies. The Snowman is also flying over the UK, accompanied by a live orchestra, in venues ranging from York Minster to Blackpool Tower Ballroom.

10. Winter rambles

Where: everywhere
Best for: everyone

Frosted country walks are a great way to get the family out in the fresh air and away from all the Christmas adverts. Try Westonbirt Arboretum, in the Cotswolds, where a buggy-friendly trail is lined by enchanting woodland fairy lights. Go deer-spotting in the beautiful parklands around Yorkshire’s Fountains Abbey, with a soundtrack of carols and the ruins colourfully lit, plus the chance to make festive garlands, and there are lots of guided December fossil-hunting walks along the Jurassic Coast.