There are plenty of opportunities to soak up the festive spirit for free around Britain, beginning with a stroll down almost any street from late afternoon, when the Christmas lights twinkle and shop windows are filled with fantastic displays. London’s most elaborate decorations attract big crowds to Regent Street, Oxford Street and Carnaby Street (mid-November to early January); while in Edinburgh, the city’s Norwegian Christmas Tree will light up on 26 November (see http://www.edinburghsparkles.com/christmas for the city’s full Christmas calendar). The world’s tallest Christmas tree to be made out of Lego was built out of 400,000 bricks at St Pancras International in London last year, and this year the station promises an equally stunning surprise showpiece.
There are lots of traditions the British look forward to every year, from switching on the Christmas lights to ice-skating in the open air. VisitBritain picks highlights from around the nation
Winter is a great time to bring the family to Britain, and many children have learnt to ice-skate against the picturesque background of Kew Gardens, the Natural History Museum or Edinburgh’s dramatic skyline at East Princes Street Gardens. This year Kew Gardens will also be home to a Santa’s Grotto, with Winter Tree Tours, a vintage carousel and roasted chestnuts to conjure the festive atmosphere (www.kew.org). Nature-lovers should go to Longleat, the popular safari park in Wiltshire, where they’ll find a huge outdoor ice-rink as well as Britain’s biggest singing Christmas tree! It stands at 50 feet tall and is decked with almost a million multi-coloured lights. The park’s usual attractions remain open, including a Safari Drive Adventure that takes you up close to the animals in Jungle Kingdom (www.longleat.co.uk, 16 Nov – 9 Dec, then 14 Dec – 7 Jan 2013).
Highlights of this year’s Southbank Winter Festival include dark comic cabaret, candlelit classical concerts and baby opera. These will run alongside a programme of free events, which include choirs singing by the river and gigs in the Royal Festival Hall foyer. Visitors can join in the fun, dancing in The Clore Ballroom, making Christmas cards and presents, and eating plenty at the the Real Food Christmas Market and Chocolate Festival (www.southbankcentre.co.uk, 16 Nov – 7 Jan).
Wales is known for its food festivals, and this year a festive market will be taking place at the iconic Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff (www.wmc.org.uk), along with markets in Caerphilly Castle and Abergavenny, the food-festival capital of Wales. Cardiff Castle will play host to Victorian Christmas Tours, which promise ‘a real flavour of Christmas past’ (www.cardiffcastle.com).
The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future are united in Dickens’s famous A Christmas Carol, and their story told in Scrooge The Musical, which will play in London’s West End from the end of October. The same man behind the special effects in Harry Potter is behind special illusions for the show, so it’s guaranteed to wow (www.londonpalladium.org/scrooge). The holiday season in Britain wouldn’t be complete without The Nutcracker, and the English National Ballet’s new version is part of Tamara Rojo’s first season as Artistic Director. It shows in Southampton at the end of November before moving to London’s Coliseum (www.ballet.org.uk). While The Nutcracker is an old favourite, new play The House Where Winter Lives looks set to enthral children at the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford, East London, which will be transformed into a magical frozen forest: children and their families will explore the wonder of winter in an immersive storytelling adventure (www.discover.org.uk).
For more grown-up fun, the Winter Cinema at The Berkeley Hotel in London is one of the season’s most exclusive and cosy events. Classic winter films will be shown on the hotel’s rooftop high above Knightsbridge, while guests snuggle up under Moncler blankets and sip home-made hot chocolate and mince pies (www.the-berkeley.co.uk, 26 Nov – 31 Jan). The cinema is open to anyone during the week, but reserved to guests over the weekend. Another sumptuous place to stay – and visit – is Waddesdon Manor, in Buckinghamshire. The National Trust property is stunning at any time of year, with turrets worthy of Harry Potter and sumptuous interiors, but in winter is particularly beautiful. Each year the Christmas decorations have a different theme and for 2012, as in previous years, they will reflect the five European countries where the founding sons of the Rothschild dynasty (who bought the Estate) made their fortunes, with England as the focus this year. London’s great sights – Big Ben, Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s column are outlined in the Oval Hall, great English writers Dickens and Shakespeare are celebrated and a Christmas feast fit for Victoria and Albert will be laid out in the White Drawing Room (www.waddesdon.org.uk).
Link source: http://media.visitbritain.com/Story-Ideas/Winter-fun-in-Britain-aef0.aspx
London and UK Chrsitmas Tours: http://www.bestvaluetours.co.uk/tour-of-england/london-uk-christmas-tours
Travel Editor – Best Value Tours