7 Magical Things to Do in England at Christmas Time

Destination is Christmas sign

Christmas in England is a time of magic and wonder, whatever your age or life stage, there is magic all around if you look for it.  The cities are brightened with light and commercialism and can be fantastic places to experience the wonder of the season with the bright lights, parties and hustle and bustle.  For a truly magical experience do something different, maybe you already have traditions and obligations, maybe you don’t….. now is the time to create some new ones and very often, even in the 21st Century looking back at history is where the magic can truly be found.  Go out of the comfort of the city or big town and embrace the magic that England has to offer. 

Here is a guide of things to do at Christmas time in England.  There is so much to offer outside of the cities.

1. Visit a Christmas Market

Christmas markets are sprouting up everywhere and there are some fantastic city markets, but for a magical experience try one of the country markets, here are a few from around England.

Ulverston Dickensian Christmas Market

Famously one of the best for atmosphere and olde worlde charm the event is held towards the end of November so is one of the earliest too and attracts thousands of people.  With cobbled streets, fancy dress, horse-drawn carriages and free entertainment you can embrace the theme by hiring fancy dress and with a little imagination experiencing a different era. To complement the Christmas market the towns great pubs, cafes and specialist shops there is a traditional fairground and music to add to this magical experience.

 Getting there:

Ulverston is just a few miles from the Lake District National Park and just over an hour by train from Morecambe.  Benefitting from a train station, there are regular trains and buses.  By car the nearest motorway is the M6 and travel time is approximately 30 minutes from the motorway.

Knaresborough Christmas Market

Knaresborough offers a bustling street market, selling local produce and crafts, seasonal goods and gifts. The market is next to Castlegate the cobbled courtyard of interesting independent shops which complements the market experience.  Morris dancers and various live music concerts by a variety of artists add to the fun, the weekend is finished off with a grand firework finale on Sunday evening.

Getting there:   

Just a few miles from Harrogate, Knaresborough is centrally located and easily accessible from York, Leeds or Bradford. Regular buses from York and Leeds, the car journey from either is less than an hour with park and ride and a bus shuttle in place.

 Petworth Christmas Market

Extending from Market Square to Lombard Street and High Street with stalls also in the Leconfield Hall, the Christmas market offers all day entertainment such as buskers, a magician, live music, Father Christmas and lantern making.  A lively nativity features Darcy the Donkey and the usual shops stay open until 8pm.  The Petworth market is a one day market with the light switch on at 6pm. 

Getting There

Petworth is situated on the A272 and is about 30 minutes by car from Horsham or Chichester. Train and bus from Horsham takes a little over an hour and bus from Chichester an hour and 10 minutes.

2. Go to a Pantomime

Ever been or never been, Panto is a fun packed traditional evening for everyone, not just for kids or those with kids.  Many of the smaller ones offer value for money and a great laugh and are well worth a journey or overnight stay.

The Frome Musical Theatre Company presents a Pantomime at the Frome Memorial Theatre from the end of December to the first week of January.  For the 2019/20 season they offer Beauty and Beast and promise slapstick, humour filled magical panto suitable for all.

Getting There:

Frome is in Somerset close to the Wiltshire border and easily accessible from Bath 30 minutes by car and 50-57 minutes by bus or train and Salisbury 45 minutes by car and 1 hour 17 minutes by train.

If you prefer a professional pantomime, the Great British Pantomime Awards Winner, the Yvonne Arnold Theatre in Guildford is sure to please with a line up of professional singers and actors their pantomimes always deliver.

Getting There:

On the A31 Guildford is accessible from all directions, easy from London it is around 25 minutes by car from Kingston upon Thames and +/- an hour by train.

3. Go and Gather Your Tree

Bring out Your Hunter Gather Instinct go forage for a Christmas Tree.

What could be more seasonal than embracing your hunter gatherer and going to cut down (or collect) your Christmas Tree from the farm? Many farms now offer the opportunity of going and choosing your tree, cutting it down or if you are brave digging it up and this is a great way to kick off the season.  Many offer roasted chestnuts, mulled wine or tea and coffee around an open tin fire too.

Look in your local press; check on line for the area you want to go to, here are some to get you started:

  • Hertfordshire: Dane End Christmas Tree Farm
  • Surrey: Alice Holt Woodland Park
  • Warwickshire: Crocker’s Christmas Tree Farm
  • Staffordshire: Keele Christmas Tree Farm
  • Somerset: Mendip Christmas Tree Farm
  • Dorset: Cranborne Manor Garden Centre (close to Wiltshire and Hampshire)

4. Go to the Lighting-up Ceremony of a Historic Town or Village

Light Up!

Everyone knows about the Famous Lighting-Up Ceremonies in Trafalgar Square, Regent Street and Oxford Street in London, but there are similar smaller ceremonies going on in towns, cities and villages up and down the country.  It is much more of a personal experience to visit a village for their lighting up ceremony.

St Ives in Cornwall, Home to a Tate Modern Art Gallery is one of the first to light up each year and the town celebrates with a parade of lights through the ancient seaside town.

Barnstaple in Devon go further than many others with a special appeal in the lead up and a star will be lit to remember loved ones.  Money is raised towards Children’s Hospice South West and a local adults Hospice. The event features twinkling and sparkling stalls, a giant snow globe, naughty elves and celebrity guests.

Christchurch in Dorset boasts real reindeer, donkeys and a chance to dress up for photos, their switch on is done by a local television personality and street food and mulled wine is abundant.  Christchurch also has a street market and live music.

In West Sussex, Horsham have gone high tech with a 10 minute projected show every 15 minutes every day in December designed to give the town a ‘festive buzz’.

The Kent village of Downe village lights were started in the early1990’s and this quaint village that is easily accessible from London offers a brilliant light display with a backdrop of the pretty historic village cottages and traditional inn.

Castleton in the Peak District boasts ‘One of the most dazzling displays’ where the main street is adorned with brightly lit Christmas trees at every opportunity.  But it doesn’t stop there the magic is village wide featuring Christmas trees and enticing window displays galore.

5. Visit a National Trust Property

The National Trust saysChristmas is here, and all across the country magnificent houses and beautiful gardens are being transformed with twinkling lights to add some winter cheer.’

Many National Trust historic houses lay on special events and decorations to create a magical Christmas, phone ahead or check online as advance booking is often required.

Norfolk: Blicking Estate with its magical tree lit drive and Christmas themed rooms, Blicking Estate offers visitors a truly, wonderfully magical Christmas experience, The view of the lights on Temple Walk with the fountain and acorns lit up on the Parterre are not to be missed, but once seen will always be remembered.

Suffolk: Ickworth offers a sound and light based trail through the Italianate garden that glows, including the magic of a gothic Victorian Stumpery and some exciting modern additions.

Worcestershire: Hanbury Hall gives visitors a truly unique experience of a ‘70’s and ‘80’s Christmas Party, built as a country retreat the house is decorated and themed with the excess of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, look out for the ghetto blaster and the period tinsel and trees.

Berkshire: Basildon Park provides visitors with opulent Christmas decor and thousands of tree lights offering the experience of a luxurious Victorian Christmas.

Hertfordshire: Ashridge Estate, offers a magical opportunity to meet and join the chocolatier team from Auberge Du Chocolat to sample their locally made chocolate.

Wiltshire: Avebury Manor has Christmas Carol themed room decor, lavishly decorated with handmade festive displays.  Whilst there enjoy a walk around the mystical Neolithic Avebury Stones for a truly magical experience at this world heritage site.

6. The Festival of Light at Longleat

The Festival of Light at Longleat
The Festival of Light at Longleat

Privately owned by the Marquis of Bath, Longleat House and Safari Park is a well known tourist attraction.  Increasingly the winter spectacular of the Longleat Festival of Light is becoming more and more famous, the Festival of Light display runs alongside all the usual traditional celebrations, such as the Santa Train, an Enchanted Christmas Tree Show and Longleat House throws open its doors to visitors showcasing fabulous festive 1920’s decor.  Over a thousand lanterns transform the house and grounds into a twinkling, glowing wonderland and with the light festival is truly magical and not to be missed.

7. Attend a Cathedral or Church Service

Cathedrals are architecturally beautiful buildings and whatever your faith it is well worth looking around inside one.  Do so at Christmas and everything is extra special.  The acoustics tend to be fantastic and any musical concert at a church or cathedral is magical and breathtaking.  As well as the traditional midnight mass, many cathedrals and churches hold special ceremonies in the run up to Christmas both the traditional advent services and other things like carol services.  Because the way it works a cathedral will always be in a city, the city does not have to be large Wells City, home to the breathtaking Wells Cathedral, dedicated to St Andrew the Apostle is home to about 10,500 people, compared to London at almost 9 million is a tiny place near Cheddar in Somerset.  Yet Wells is a thriving, beautiful Anglican Cathedral well worth a visit.

It is well worth seeking out the cathedral nearest to you and having a look around at the architecture and the magical stories the building can tell you.  Another famous cathedral outside of London is York Minster or The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York to give it its full title. 

Many churches and cathedrals will hold the Cristingle service, which is a modern tradition of candlelight and oranges, aimed mainly at children and is a spellbinding service to see.   Or you could find a church or cathedral with a nativity scene to enjoy as a reminder of the meaning of Christmas.

Whatever you decide to do, England has a lot to offer at Christmas.

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