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The UK’s top festive family days out

It’s exactly a month until Christmas, and keeping children entertained during the festive period can be a challenge. Whether you want to travel on the Polar Express or visit Santa in an underground cavern, from Devon to Edinburgh the UK has it covered. There’s something for all budgets but to ensure you get what’s on your wish list, but book ahead as the Christmas crush is almost upon us.

Lapland UK, Ascot, Berkshire
Mike and Alison Battle set up this award-winning immersive theatre experience in the Windsor Estate when they became frustrated at the lack of good quality Christmas experiences that celebrate childhood innocence and traditional Christmas values without the schmaltz. Now in its ninth year, the tailor-made three-and-a-half hour journey takes families through a magical Arctic homeland of Father Christmas and his elves. Selected dates until 24 December; from £49.50.

Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire
Tatton Park, the 18th-century estate of the Egerton Family has just opened the doors of its “Ding Dong Merrily” Mansion for the season. Staterooms are decked in wreaths and garlands using greenery from the deer park and grounds, which provide a backdrop to the sparkling decorations, lights and candles. Outside on the farm, there’s a reindeer trail, children’s entertainers and storytelling, along with live music from choirs and bands and, of course, the man in red himself. Selected dates until 20 December; children £5.50, adults £9.50.

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Tatton Park

Willows Farm, Colney Heath, Hertfordshire
This year, alongside a spectacular grotto, toy shop, elves, an ice skating rink and real life reindeer, Willows Farm will be hosting a teddy workshop where every child gets the chance to build themselves a bear, complete with festive stuffing and a little (toy) heart, to take home – all included in the entrance price. Plus daily visits from Santa. Daily until Christmas Eve; children £25, adults £10.

Speke Hall, Liverpool, Merseyside
Experience a Victorian Christmas at Speke Hall, a National Trust Tudor timber-framed manor on the banks of the Mersey. The whole house is dressed for the season, just as it would have been in the 19th century when it was restored to its current Victorian Arts & Crafts splendour. Father Christmas will be on hand to collect your Christmas wishes and hand out gifts, and you can also take a winter wonderland walk through the grounds and stop off for festive fodder in Home Farm or the Victorian Stable Tea Rooms to complete this step back in time. Selected dates from 28 November – 13 December, 11am-4pm; £3 to visit Father Christmas (estate admission: children £4.75, adults £9.54).

Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London 
The capital’s most popular winter event, among the top attractions are the Ski Zillertal Ice Rink, Giant Observation Wheel, Zippos Circus, Bavarian Village, Santa Land, Christmas markets and – our favourite – the Magical Ice Kingdom, the biggest ice and snow sculpture experience of its kind in the UK. Prices for attractions vary widely (as do queues), so come prepared. Daily until 3 January; free entry.

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Winter Wonderland

The Polar Express Train Ride, Dartmoor, Devon, and Weardale, County Durham
This enchanting family experience takes inspiration from the hit film and award-winning book by Chris Van Allsburg. Families are taken on a memorable journey to the ‘North Pole’ where Santa and his elves await. During the train-ride, carriages are visited by familiar fictional characters including dancing chefs delivering hot chocolate and cookies and, the book is read aloud accompanied by music from the film. Daily to 28 December; children from £18, adults from £22.

Edinburgh’s Christmas, Scotland 
Scotland’s capital really pulls out the stops over the silly season and includes the continental-style Christmas market on east Princes Street Gardens, under the frosty gaze of Edinburgh Castle. Funfair attractions range from the Big Wheel to the gravity-defying Star Flyer. There’s also a children’s market, carousels, helter skelter, ice rink and, new for this year, Virgin Money Street of Light. This installation of over 60,000 bulbs set in a canopy over the Royal Mile, from City Chambers to the Tron Kirk, “dances” nightly to music sung by a different choir from across Edinburgh. Daily to 4 January; Street of Light is free but must be booked in advance, other events vary.

Paulton’s Park, Romsey, Hampshire
This family theme park, which is also home to Peppa Pig World, has been transformed into Santa’s Christmas Wonderland, a glittering land of twinkling illuminations, seasonal music and giant Christmas trees. Children can meet Santa and his singing reindeer and elves, along with Peppa Pig and George dressed in their best festive winter outfits. Selected dates to 23 December; from £25.75, children (up to 12) £19.25, including Peppa Pig World admission.

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Paulton’s Park

Enchanted Forest, Gloucestershire
If your kids love being outdoors, they’ll get a festive thrill out of this nature trail at Westonbirt Arboretum, which has been illuminated up by a staggering 1,000 lights, creating a mile-long twinkling walkway through the trees. Santa and his reindeers also put in an appearance, plus there’s the chance to explore the array of marvellous flora found at the UK’s national arboretum (yes: there are Christmas trees). The trail opens at 5pm, with last entry at 7.30pm. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening to 20 December; children £5, adults £10.

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Enjoy Christmas traditions both old and new at Bodiam as you join Father Christmas in his grotto at this 700 year old moated castle. There are present- and decoration-making sessions for the kids, while grown-ups can enjoy a mince pie and glass of wassail to warm them up. Medieval characters will also be on hand to entertain you with stories of Christmas past. Selected dates from 5 – 22 December, 10.30am – 3.30pm; children £8.50; adults £10.60. 

Santa’s Grotto at Zip World’s Underground Grotto, Gwynedd, North Wales
Santa and his elves will be in residence in the Zip World Underground Grotto this Christmas season. Strap on a helmet and make your way deep into a cavern where children and adults alike with be captivated by the subterranean playground of nets, obstacles and tunnels, plus a festive lights display, before visiting Father Christmas and the elves in the grotto where every kid gets a prezzie. Selected dates from 5 – 19 December; children £12.50 (minimum age one year or walking); two adults go free with each booking.

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Chester Zoo, Chester, Cheshire
People tend to think of a zoo as a summer’s day out, but when the sun goes down (or at least it gets dark) at Chester Zoo in December, the grounds are lit up with lanterns in the shape of your animals, everything from twinkling tigers to illuminated elephants. Children can also meet and greet Santa, plus make a special Christmas wish to hang on the Giant Wishing Tree. Selected dates from 4– 23 December; children from £8.99, adults from £9.99.


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