We all love Christmas, but it’s a particularly magical time for little ones. Make this year their most special festive season yet by heading to one of the many events, experiences and pop-ups taking place across the UK. From Santa’s Grottos to ice-skating, pantomimes to steam trains and winter light festivals, here’s our family-friendly Christmas activities guide.
Family-Friendly Christmas Activities in the UK For 2023
Santa Steam Express
Hop aboard the Santa Steam Express for a magical steam train journey around London – complete with an appearance from Father Christmas himself. Upon arrival, little ones will be greeted by Santa and his merry helpers, before being given a festive sweet treat; then during the trip Father Christmas will pass through the 1970s-inspired carriages, presenting the children with gifts. Adults, meanwhile, can sit back and relax with a mince pie and a warm drink while soaking up views of the capital.
Details: 15, 18 and 21 December 2023 departing from London Victoria Station. Tickets start from £65 per person. steamdreams.co.uk
Starry Nights Christmas At Dean Castle
Everyone can enjoy the magic of the festive season at Dean Castle’s inclusive Starry Nights Christmas installation, featuring a specially adapted experience on 11 December suitable for those with additional support needs (ASN) including autism and other sensory processing disorders. The glittering trail welcomes visitors throughout December, with the likes of Santa’s Grotto to sound installations – plus the nation’s largest star-shaped Starry Night tunnel installation – making for an exciting festive treat.
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Details: 8–23 December 2023 at Dean Castle Country Park (Dean Rd, Kilmarnock KA3 1XB). The dedicated ASN night is 11 December. Tickets are £10 per adult and £8 per child aged 4–15. Children under 3 and carers go free. christmasatdeancastle.com
The Christmas Dino
Forget Tom Fletcher’s Christmasaurus, little ones will want to feast their eyes on the Natural History Museum’s 2023 Christmas jumper, beautifully modelled by its most ferocious inhabitant, the animatronic T-Rex. Take a look, and then cop your own dinotastic festive jumper: adult jumpers are £40, and childrens’ are £30.
Details: See the T-Rex in his jumper throughout the festive season at the Natural History Museum (Cromwell Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 5BD). Purchase your own at the gift shop or online at nhmshop.co.uk
Hamleys x The Ritz
Could this be the ultimate Santa’s Grotto experience? Hamleys has joined forces with The Ritz on a special partnership, taking place in the hotel’s Deluxe Suite this December. To begin, guests will be greeted by one of Hamleys’ elves, before being escorted to the suite, which has been transformed into a winter wonderland. Here, children can sip on hot chocolate, check if their name is on the Nice List, chat to the elves and play games, ahead of meeting Father Christmas. They’ll also leave with a personalised gift.
Details: 6–10 December 2023 at The Ritz London (150 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1J 9BR). Tickets are priced at £250 for three people, inclusive of at least one adult. Additional adults or children, up to a maximum of six people per ticket, are priced at £75 per person. hamleys.com
Ice Skating At Beaverbrook
Surrey hotel Beaverbrook always makes a lovely staycation, but it’s particularly special come Christmas time. Once again, an ice rink will be popping up there, alongside stalls offering hot chocolate and sweets (and fizz for adults). Afterwards, head for an evening meal at The Garden House restaurant, which is serving up seasonal dishes throughout December.
Details: 20 November 2023–30 January 2024 at Beaverbrook (Reigate Rd, Leatherhead KT22 8QX). Various packages available, with skating included for hotel guests. beaverbrook.co.uk
Elf The Musical
While Will Ferrell sadly doesn’t feature in the stage version of hit Christmas film Elf, it’s still well worth a watch. Coming to London for an eight-week season this November, the musical stars Simon Lipkin as the loveable Buddy, who is raised by Santa’s elves in the North Pole, and one day embarks on a trip to New York City to find his father. A feel-good favourite that all the family will love.
Details: 15 November 2023–6 January 2024 at the Dominion Theatre (268-269 Tottenham Ct Rd, London W1T 7AQ). Tickets from £27.50. elflondon.com
Thursford Christmas Spectacular
The all-singing, all-dancing Thursford Christmas Spectacular returns to Norfolk following a sold-out show last year. The event features an eclectic mix of Christmas songs, carols and year-round favourites. A glittering cast of dancers, singers, musicians and special acts will take part, with comedian Lloyd Hollett hosting. Expect vibrant costumes and circus acts including roller skating acrobats and a professional juggling dup.
Details: 8 November–23 December 2023 at Thursford (Laurel Farm, The St, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 0AS). Tickets from £43. thursford.com
The North Norfolk Pole
There’s another chance to meet Father Christmas at Norfolk’s Pensthorpe. The park is hosting an event called the North Norfolk Pole, where children can meet Santa in the Fakenham nature reserve’s magical courtyard experience. They’ll receive a nature-themed gift and have the chance to reveal their Christmas wishes amid a magical setting filled with twinkling lights and festive music.
Details: 2–23 December 2023 at Pensthorpe (Pensthorpe Rd, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 0LN). Adults £10.95, children £13.95 and under twos £6.95. A separate ticket is required to enter the reserve. pensthorpe.com
Christmas at Kew
Now a firm favourite on the family-friendly Christmas calendar, Kew Gardens’ winter light festival is back and brighter than ever. The trail begins, as is tradition, with a glittering archway: the gateway to your festive voyage. Highlights of the trail include dancing waterside reflections, trees drenched in colour and tunnels of light – plus an appearance from Father Christmas. Little ones will love the mesmerising Palm House Pond finale, where Kew’s famous glasshouse springs to life with criss-crossing laser beams, jumping jets of light and kaleidoscopic projections playing across a giant water screen.
Details: 15 November 2023–7 January 2024 at Kew Gardens, London. Tickets from £19.50 for members and £22.50 for non-members. kew.org
Hansel & Gretel At Shakespeare’s Globe
The Globe is hosting a festive family production of Hansel and Gretel this December, starring Ted Lasso and Midsomer Murders favourite Annette Badland, and based on a new version of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.
Details: 8 December–7 January 2023 at Shakespeare’s Globe (21 New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT). Get your tickets here.
Christmas At Raby Castle
There are a whole host of festive happenings coming to Raby Castle in Durham this season. Expect an Enchanted Christmas Forest trail in the venue’s woodland hideaway playground, as well as Fireside Storytelling with Father Christmas. You can also embark on a winter walk in Raby’s Deer Park, meanwhile and explore a special Christmas market on 3 and 4 December.
Details: Selected dates from 25 November–24 December 2023 at Raby Castle (Darlington DL2 3AF). raby.co.uk
When it comes to family friendly Christmas activities, it’s pretty much impossible for children to get bored at Winter Wonderland, a gigantic Christmas extravaganza which takes over Hyde Park each year. There’s a huge ice rink, Santa’s Grotto, fairground rides, a German Bavarian village, a circus, food stalls and more – all set to the sound of festive music. A failsafe family-friendly Christmas day out.
Details: 17 November 2022–1 January 2023 at Hyde Park, London. Tickets are free during off-peak hours, and start from £5 otherwise. hydeparkwinterwonderland.com
Solstice at Battersea Arts Centre
This interactive light trail is a festive journey through the seasons, filled with magical creatures to meet and hiding places to explore. It marks the first collaboration between Battersea Arts Centre and Wild Rumpus, an award-winning immersive events company that focus on nature connectedness, collective wonder and the power of play. It also operates a pay what you can scheme.
Details: 1–24 December 2023 at Battersea Arts Centre (Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN). Pay what you can. bac.org
Festive Sundays in Manchester
Every Sunday from the end of November, Manchester city centre will bring all the festive vibes, with street performers, musicians, roaming puppets and light-up bands taking over the city’s main shopping streets. The final two Sundays will see an extra-special a Toy Procession arrive at the Christmas Markets, featuring giant stilt-walking acts including Sugar Plum Fairies, Toy Soldiers and Christmas Elves.
Details: Every Sunday from 26 November – 17 December 2023 in Manchester City Centre. Free to visit. Find out more at visitmanchester.com
Magical Winter Nights at Brechin Castle Centre
This festive season, Brechin Castle’s beautiful country park will be transformed into a spectacular Christmas extravaganza, with interactive lighting installations, special effects and visual art pieces.
Details: 1–28 December at Brechin Castle Centre (Haughmuir, Brechin DD9 6RL). From £12, free entry for under twos. brechincastlecentre.co.uk