From dancing lasers to magical gardens, imaginative light shows are being switched on throughout the land. We previews 10 Christmas spectaculars.
Christmas light trail, Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
The Capability Brown-sculpted parkland at Blenheim features a new one-mile multisensory path, including a scented fire garden, fibre-optic lawns and twinkling hedges. The lake is illuminated with lit-up boats, the fountains cascade in time to Christmas music, the waterfall is bathed in colour and the arbour sparkles with fairy lights. Santa Claus and his elves have set up their workshop in the boathouse, and there are festive sideshows and a Victorian carousel in the courtyard. Warm up with spiced cider, mulled wine and hot chocolate, roasted chestnuts and toasted marshmallows.
• From £16 adult/£10 child/£48 family/under-fives free; until 2 January;blenheimpalace.com
Festival of Light and Sound, Eden Project, Cornwall
The Eden Project has a spectacular new light and sound show this Christmas. Visitors can watch from a viewing platform or walk along the pathways as lasers create a canopy of light, painting the biomes with festive colours, set to a soundscape of music and stories. There are light projections in the Mediterranean biome, too, illuminating the winter planting displays, plus live performances by musicians and choirs from the south-west. The show is the brainchild of light artist Chris Levene, who created the laser tribute to David Bowie at Glastonbury festival, and Marco Perry, Björk’s spatial sound designer. Other festive fun includes ice skating, winter storytelling, festive crafts and meeting Father Christmas and his elves. A baobab rum cocktail (or a smoothie for the kids) will take the chill off.
• From £22.50 adult/£12.60 child/£62 family/under-fives free, 5pm-8pm on 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 and 16-23 December, and 5pm-7pm on 27-30 December, edenproject.com
Festival of Light, Longleat safari park, Wiltshire
Longleat is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and it has pulled out all the stops for its third light festival. Giant lanterns take the shape of some of the park’s animals – an avenue of lions, a troop of monkeys – but there are also lots of Beatrix Potter characters, to mark the 150th anniversary of the author’s birth: Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Squirrel Nutkin will all be there. There is also an illuminated Christmas scene and a 20-metre-high birthday cake. Altogether, the displays use 12 miles of silk, 30,000 bulbs and 2½ miles of LED lighting. Plus there is a Santa Express, a musical Christmas tree, an Arctic playzone for kids and an exhibition of costumes from the 1971 Royal Opera House production of The Tales of Beatrix Potter.
• From £27.85 adult/£20.65 child/under-threes free, to 2 January, longleat.co.uk
Enchanted Parks, Gateshead
Light up the North is a network of light festivals in the north of England: York, Leeds, Lancaster, Durham, Blackpool, Salford – and, over Christmas, Gateshead. Enchanted Parks is an interactive walk through Saltwell park, just south of the town centre, along a trail of light with art installations, performances, sculptures and projections. The story being told is a Midwinter Night’s Tale, inspired by the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
• £8 adult/£2 child/under-fours free, 6-11 December, newcastlegateshead.com
Christmas Glow, RHS Wisley, Surrey
The garden is glowing with giant illuminated flowers for the second year running – but this year they are bigger and brighter. Some of the trees are ablaze, too, including a liquidambar, giant redwood and scots pine. The glasshouse is decorated like a gingerbread house, and displays seasonal plants such as poinsettias, Christmas cacti and bromeliads. There are lanterns around the lake, and the plant centre has been turned into Santa and Mrs Claus’s grotto. The cafe serves hearty goulash, hot chocolate with marshmallows and spiced apple juice. Visitors can stock up at the Christmas shop, join stories and songs with Santa, and attend gingerbread-decorating workshops.
• From £9.90 adult/£3.60 child, until 2 Jan, rhs.org.uk
Christmas at Kew Gardens, London
Kew is a special place to visit at any time of the day or year, but the festive light show gives it a magical twist, as the mile-long trail through the garden sparkles with 60,000 lights, passing a Christmas karaoke juke box and eight newly commissioned artworks. These include singing Christmas trees, a light installation of 1,700 swaying flowers and a roaring fire garden. Some of the garden’s oldest and tallest trees are also beautifully lit along the way. The finale is the iconic Palm House and pond lit up with coloured laser beams and streams of light dancing to Christmas songs.
• From £16 adult/£10 child/£48 family/under-fours free; until 2 Jan, kew.org
Enchanted Christmas, Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
The national arboretum has a one-mile illuminated trail, with the towering trees lit up, and interactive displays along the way. There are free Christmas crafts, carol singing, an old-fashioned carousel and two Christmas shops – one is devoted to decorations, housed in a shepherd’s hut. Father Christmas is there with his elves, Mrs Christmas tells stories in a yuletide yurt, and stilt-walking versions of Jack Frost and the Christmas Fairy flit around. Winter warmers include hog roasts and Baileys hot chocolate.
• £12 adult/£6 child/under-fives free, Friday to Sunday until 18 December,forestry.gov.uk
Magical Lantern festival, Leeds, Birmingham, London
The first Magical Lantern festival was held in Chiswick House Gardens, London, last winter. It is back from 19 January but, first, the magic is heading to Roundhay Park in Leeds and the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham. Each festival has a trail of giant lanterns, mixing seasonal themes, local landmarks and Chinese culture. In Birmingham, for example, there is a Bullring Bull alongside a Christmas fairy, snowmen, penguins, trees and presents. London (again at Chiswick) has a Houses of Parliament lantern and a Silk Road theme. Leeds is home to Santa’s grotto and a funfair, London has an ice rink and ice bar, and all three have Chinese food stalls and global street food.
• Leeds and Birmingham from £12.50 adult/£8.50 child/£38 family/under-fours free, until 2 January, London from £16.50/£10.50/£50/under-fours three, 19 January to 26 February, magicallantern.uk
Tunnel of Light, Norwich
Norwich has created the UK’s first tunnel of light this Christmas. The 45-metre passage on Hay Hill is made from 50,000 pulsating LEDs, designed to echo the colours and patterns of the northern lights. The city is also projecting Christmas films set to music on to the castle and town hall each night. There are lights all over the city, a eight-metre Christmas tree on the corner of Bethel Street and events from a Christmas tree festival at St Peter Mancroft church to craft markets.
• Free, until 6 Jan, norwichbid.co.uk
Celebration of Light, Penzance, Cornwall
Penzance has pushed the boat out this Christmas. Landmarks including St Michael’s Mount and St Mary’s church are lit up, and there is a competition for the brightest light-themed shop window display. On 17 December, there is a lantern parade to celebrate local scientist Humphry Davy, who invented the miner’s safety lamp. The Montol festival marks the winter solstice on 21 December, with fire performers, processions and a huge midwinter bonfire. Nearby Newlyn and Mousehole, meanwhile, have spectacular displays of Christmas lights.
• Free, until 6 January, lovepenzance.co.uk
The best of the rest
Lots of National Trust properties are lit up at Christmas, including Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and Corfe Castle in Dorset. Edinburgh’s Street of Light is back in a new location at the west end of George Street, and features 60,000 light bulbs with live music. Chester Zoo has an enchanted forest with animal lanterns. St George’s Hall in Liverpool has a DreamWorks lantern show, with 100 characters and scenes from Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard has an illuminations show where HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose are projected on to the Action Stations’ building. Eastbourne has a light show, Neon Noel, at the town hall clock tower). Boats in Ramsgate harbour are festooned with lights, creating dazzling reflections in the water.
Best Value Tours U.K, London
It’s that time of year when thoughts turn to travel plans and exciting new adventures. Tudor cottages where Shakespeare lived, resplendent English gardens, and hilltop Welsh castles could all be on your travel horizon. Get the low-down on what you can’t miss in Britain in 2016:
Discover Shakespeare Lives
With 2016 marking the 400th anniversary of the great Bard’s death, get into the Tudor spirit and experience Shakespeare in Britain this year. In the pretty town of Stratford-upon-Avon you can visit remarkable sights like his birthplace, while in London you can see his plays how they were meant to be seen – in the Globe Theatre.
We’re offering you the chance to win an amazing trip to Britain taking in key Shakespeare sights in London and Stratford-upon-Avon.
Coming up roses
There can be no other country in the world that boasts so many beautiful gardens open to visitors and so 2016 celebrates the Year of the Garden in Britain. From vast, landscaped grounds at the likes of Stowe or Blenheim Palace, to cute cottage gardens like Great Dixter and Sissinghurst, come smell the flowers in Britain.
Embark on an adventure into the past
Wales is Britain’s land of adventure – with fairytale castles, chapels carved into rugged coastline, and mountains laced with legends and folklore all waiting to be explored.
Find out more about Wales.
Celebrating our children’s book authors
This year also sees key anniversaries of 2 of our most beloved children’s book creators – the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter and the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl. Discover the places in Britain where these talented writers found their inspiration for their enduring characters.
Written by Rachel Ricks (Visit Britain Blog)
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Discover your England in 2015
See England in all its glory in our Rugby World Cup 2015 film and find out how to make the most of your own tour of the country.
It’s not long until the Rugby World Cup 2015 will be kicking off here in England. And as our new film shows, it’s a great opportunity to visit some of the country’s highlights. Here’s our guide to what you can see.
With matches set to be played at St James’ Park, Newcastle is a great base for exploring England’s greatest Roman monument. Hadrian’s Wall stretches 73-miles through the open countryside of Northumberland and Cumbria, and is surrounded by dramatic views of green fields and rocky crags. Walk along the coast-to-coast path following the wall that Roman soldiers built and patrolled in a bid to keep out invading Barbarians. Or hire a bike and cycle between the forts and museums that mark the route.
Hop on a train from London to the south coast and you’ll find the seaside gem of Brighton. The Regency town made famous by scooter-riding Mods in the 60s is still a hub for vintage shopping. Head to The Lanes for clothes and jewellery boutiques or try North Laine for quirky cafés and retro stores. Visit the Royal Pavilion to admire the exotic architecture and dominating chandeliers before heading to the pier for some fish and chips and a ride around the fairground.
From Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire you can see all things that make this county so full of character. The industrial heritage of the former weaving mills and rural market towns, surrounded by the beauty of the rolling Yorkshire Dales. The historic towns of Ripon and Skipton are excellent bases for exploring this part of the country where you can enjoy great home-grown food and the humour and friendliness of the locals. After a morning in the fresh air, head to Harrogate to follow in the footsteps of Georgian gentry, admiring regency architecture before stopping off at Bettys for indulgent desserts and a Yorkshire brew.
Twickenham and London
If you want to really soak up the sporting atmosphere there’s no better place than the home of England rugby, Twickenham. Head to the World Rugby Museum which houses the finest collection of rugby memorabilia in the world and Twickenham stadium, the fourth largest sports stadium in Europe and the largest venue in the world dedicated solely to rugby. From there you can easily head to central London and take in the sights and sounds of the capital city as you stroll down the South Bank where you’ll find all kinds of cultural landmarks including the British Film Institute and Shakespeare’s Globe.
After the excitement of any rugby game or the stress of any long journey there’s nowhere better to relax than Bath. Stroll along The Royal Crescent, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The sweeping row of 30 Grade I Listed terrace houses is one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture anywhere in the UK. Then head for a reenergizing spa day. The therapeutic waters of Bath have been washing people’s troubles away for centuries and still today you can enjoy the benefits of the UK’s only natural thermal springs. Take a dip in the steamy rooftop pool at Thermae Bath Spa and relax as you gaze out over the city’s picturesque skyline.
Winter’s lovely but it can really put a chill in your bones. Luckily, we’ve gathered together some places where you can warm up and restore that rosy-cheeked good cheer.
Warming whisky tastings, a hot soak in a steamy spa or settling down around an open fire in a cosy pub: we’ve plenty of ideas to keep you feeling toasty.
Get out of the cold and into the wonderful warmth of a nice hot spa. Some of Britain’s best known include Thermae Bath Spa — the only natural hot spring in the UK — where you can enjoy a hot soak and look out over Bath’s historic buildings. Alternatively, grab a towel and admire the decorated Turkish-style tiles of Harrogate’s Victorian bath house beneath your bare feet as you make for the sauna.
If tropical plants are growing there, chances are it’s nice and warm: the Eden Project in Cornwall is one such hotspot. It houses the largest rainforest in captivity and it’s a green maze of jungle, crashing waterfalls and spectacular plants all growing beneath its giant geodesic domes. Most certainly a warm, tropical place to explore in the depths of winter. Up in London, you can linger among the palms in Kew Garden’s steamy Victorian Palm House, or get cosy in its rainforest area.
Winter dance festivals
Get your dancing shoes on and head to a winter festival. If you like the sound of ceilidhs (traditional Scottish dance parties pronounced “kaylees”) and traditional music, head to Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival in early January for some lively dancing, duelling fiddles and the thump of hands on drums.
Provided it hasn’t been taken by a resident dog or cat, you should be able to find some premium space by the fireside in one of Britain’s traditional pubs. The Kirkstile Inn up in The Lake District is a classic country pub with log fires, old oak beams, hearty food and tasty beers, with plenty of rooms if you want to make a weekend of it. Down in Rye, the 12th-century Mermaid Inn — once popular among smugglers — has two huge lounges warmed by roaring fires, centuries of history and plenty of delicious food and drink.
While winter food markets do tend to be outside, they also tend to sell plenty of hot mulled wine, warmed country cider and lots of delicious hot snacks to keep you warm. Borough Market in London in one of the best known, while Christkindelmarkt up in Leeds is an authentic German Christmas market – be sure to try some stollen.
While we don’t recommend getting too close to anything that’s actually on fire, for obvious reasons, there are a number of fire-based winter events across Britain that might throw some stray warmth your way. Up in the Shetland Isles in January, Up Helly Aa is a great fiery Viking celebration with torch-lit processions that culminates in the burning of a Viking longship. Or, down in Northumberland, stand back as brave townsfolk run past carrying burning barrels of tar on their backs to see in the New Year.
If you ever needed an excuse to go for curry, keeping warm could be it. Britain has some of the best South Asian food in the world. Tuck into delicious spicy food at some of the UK’s premier curry hotspots, from Brick Lane and Tayyabs in London to the neon-lit eateries of Manchester’s Curry Mile.
Hole up in a kitchen this winter and indulge in a seasonal cookery course, from masterclasses on the perfect Christmas dinner to hand making chocolates. Ashburton Cookery school in Devon is one of the best known, with Pudding Pie in Banbury another tasty-sounding spot to learn kitchen-based wisdom.
A dram of whisky can’t fail to restore some much needed warmth on a chilly evening. If you’d like to discover the many different types available – to research which is the most warming, naturally – you’ll find plenty of distilleries in Scotland. Try the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh to get a range of tastes, or head for your favourite single malt’s headquarters. Glen Moray and Glen Morangie are two of our favourites.
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