8 magical Christmas experiences to book now from just £5

Great Christmas experiences
Gilly Ferguson,-Contributing Editor

Our guide to must-do events for big kids and little ones will ensure that making fabulous festive memories is easier than ever this Christmas

Whether you’re a super-organised sort, looking to keep kids busy through the Christmas holidays, or you’re longing to lock in some memory-making experiences for your crew, there’s no denying that the best Christmas activities sell out fast. 

Elves, grottos, ice-skating rinks, carol singers, snow, Christmas lights, meeting Santa: the finest Christmas events in the UK have them all, with (jingle) bells on. 

Of course, if thoughtful gifting is your thing, kids’ experiences are a surefire way to win best parent/grandparent/godparent/cousin-twice-removed. But the best part? These festive events come with feelgoods as standard, particularly for those of us wanting to give back this Christmas.

Want to know more? We’ve whittled the possibles down to the eight best things to do this Christmas, including fun festive activities designed to help you celebrate the Yuletide season in style.

1. The Christmas spirit comes to John Lewis: how to meet Santa and more

Father Christmas, The Big FC, Santa – no matter the moniker, there’s no denying that he’s a pretty big deal for kids come December. Happily, John Lewis stores will be playing host to the big man with magical grottos and Santa’s tea parties bringing some extra Yuletide magic in 2023.

If you want early access to tickets, join My John Lewis and you’ll be able to book from August 25, while tickets go on sale to everyone else on September 22.

Santa’s Grotto

The elves need your help finding the hidden code to the elf portal! Do you accept your mission? Reveal the hidden letters, crack the code, open the portal and just quite possibly save Christmas! Upon completion of your mission, you’ll have the opportunity to meet Santa and purchase a professional photo, and kids will receive a surprise plush toy.

Where? Available at the following John Lewis stores: Cambridge, Cheadle, Cribbs Causeway, High Wycombe, Liverpool, Oxford Street, Peter Jones, Southampton and Welwyn.
How much? £20 per child plus £2 booking fee; £2 per adult plus 20p booking fee.
How to book: Click here for booking information.

Santa’s Tea Party

Santa and his cheeky elves are taking a hard-earned break. So pull up a chair and join them for a heart-warming cup of cocoa, a tasty festive biscuit and fun festive activities.

Where? Available at the following John Lewis stores: Bluewater, Brent Cross, Canary Wharf, Cardiff, Chelmsford, Cheltenham, Chichester, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Horsham, Ipswich, Kingston, Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Poole, Reading, Solihull, Stratford, Trafford and White City.
When? From 22-25 November (depending on location) to 24 December.
How much? £15 per child plus £1.50 booking fee; £5 per adult plus 50p booking fee (includes tea or coffee and a slice of seasonal cake).
How to book: Click here for booking information.

2. National Trust Christmas lights, nationwide

If you’re reading this, you’ll likely know that (for the most part) parenting involves switching lie-ins for early starts and ditching pub crawls for Saturdays spent pinballing between soft play and/or National Trust properties, mainlining coffee and cake along the way. So it’s only fitting, then, that Christmas 2023 involves a sprinkling of National Trust magic, too. With a stellar line-up of Christmas lights and illuminations, Christmas markets and Santa visits, here’s how to see your favourite places transformed into a winter wonderland.

Best for: All ages.
Where? Nationwide. 
When? Mid-November 2023 to January 2024.
How much? From approximately £15, but see individual events for up-to-date details.
How to book: nationaltrust.org.uk

3. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland 2023, London

If a trip to the North Pole isn’t on the cards, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland will come a close second with its epic array of frosty activities, from a real ice slide to the largest open-air ice rink in the UK, and Bar Ice where you’ll sip cocktails from frozen glasses in ice caverns kept at -10ºC.

Break up your crawl of the street-food cabins and fairground rides by taking in a show, either adrenaline-fuelled Cirque Berserk or the more traditional Zippos Circus. And don’t miss getting an Instagram-ready shot of the capital at night as you take a spin on the giant 70m observation wheel.

Best for: All ages.
When? 10am-10pm, from 17 November 2023 to 1 January 2024.
How much? From £5.
How to book: hydeparkwinterwonderland.com

4. Hogwarts in the Snow, Warner Bros Studio Tour, Hertfordshire

At The Making of Harry Potter experience at the Warner Bros Studio Tour, Christmas 2023 welcomes the return of the Yule Ball for Hogwarts in the Snow, as the Great Hall is transformed with icy slivers and snowflakes. The Gryffindor common room will be dressed for the holiday season and a blanket of faux snow will cover the Forbidden Forest, Diagon Alley and the magnificent Hogwarts castle.

Best for: 4 years+.
Where? Warner Bros Studio Tour London, Watford.
When? 11 November 2023 to 14 January 2024.
How much? £40 for 4-15-year-olds; £51.50 for adults (under 4s go free). 
How to book: wbstudiotour.co.uk

5. Christmas at Paultons Park & Peppa Pig World, Hampshire

Promising magical illuminations, Santa’s Christmas Wish Show, the notorious P-I-Gs (Peppa and George) looking suitably seasonal, and all the rides and attractions that Paultons is famed for, this is the stuff of kids’ dreams. 

Best for: 1-14 years.
Where? Paultons Park, Romsey. 
When? 2- 23 December 2023.
How much? From £37.
How to book: paultonspark.co.uk

6. The Polar Express Train Ride 2023, nationwide

Based on the 2004 Warner Bros film The Polar Express, this one-hour rail trip allows children – big and small – to relive the magic of the classic story. Think golden tickets, silver bells, matching Christmas pyjamas, hot chocolate and cookies (served by dancing chefs, natch), plus the opportunity to meet Santa himself.

Best for: All ages.
Where? 12 sites nationwide: Yorkshire; South Devon; Seaton; Telford; Norfolk; Churnet Valley; Cholsey and Wallingford; Spa Valley; Caledonian; Birmingham; Isle of Man; Edinburgh.
November to December 2023.
How much? Prices vary, but start at approximately £25 per person. Check the individual websites above for details.

Ice Skating

7. Ice-skating spots, nationwide

Sure, you can go ice skating all year round, but there’s something magical about seasonal ice rinks. From London’s Somerset House to Hampton Court Palace, the best outdoor and indoor ice rinks come with Christmas feels as standard. Throw in a Christmas market or a festive fayre – all mulled wine, mince pies, carol singers and twinkly tree lights – and you’ve basically completed Christmas. Here are some of our favourites…

Best for: 4 years+.
Where? Skate at Somerset House; Hampton Court Palace; Canary Wharf Ice Rink; Bath on Ice at the Royal Pavilion; Windsor On Ice at Alexandra Gardens; The Ice Factor at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland; Eden Project Ice Rink, Cornwall; Reading Winter Wonderland; Ice Skate Birmingham.
When? November to December 2023.
How to book: See the individual websites above for prices and booking details.

8. Pantomime time, nationwide

Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes it is! Fear not: we’ll leave the bad gags there, but nothing says ‘It’s Christmas!’ quite like panto (and Slade). Here are just a few that we’re looking forward to in panto season 2023/2024.

Best for: 3 years+.
Where? Cinderella at Milton Keynes Theatre; Peter Pan at the New Victoria Theatre, WokingBeauty and the Beast at Leas Cliff Hall, FolkestoneSnow White & the Seven Dwarfs at Aylesbury Waterside TheatrePeter Pan at the Bristol HippodromeSnow White & the Seven Dwarfs at the King’s Theatre, GlasgowCinderella at the New Wimbledon Theatre, LondonJack and the Beanstalk at the Opera House Manchester.
When? Early December 2023 to late January and early February 2024.
How to book: See the individual theatre websites above for prices and booking details.

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