Christmas and New Year are a great time to take a short break with the kids. But where to go? We’ve rounded up some fantastic events in cities around the UK.
Editor's note: Not updated for Christmas 2023; please check back in due course.
See our feature Top 12 Things to Do in London this Christmas.
What to do: Where to start?! Christmas takes over central Edinburgh for six whole weeks of festive fun, ending 7th January. New this year are the pop-up Festival Square Theatre with its family shows. There's also the Street of Light, a big wheel, the Star Flyer, ice-skating, Santa Land with its Christmas tree maze and grotto, and two festive markets. And then of course there's Hogmanay…
What to do: Take a cruise with the jolly red guy on a YorkBoat, then head for the outdoor ice rink at Yorkshire's Winter Wonderland at the Designer Outlet, where there's also a Santa’s grotto, a vintage funfair and alpine chalet with winter warmers ranging from Glühwein to gingerbread men. And the York Castle Museum is hosting a Victorian Christmas on its mock cobbled streets, a children's festive mystery trail, and two interpretations of A Christmas Carol – a one-man show, and an immersive promenade performance.
What to do: Ogle the Christmas lights, shop at the Christmas markets and skate on the new ice rink in the lovely setting of Cathedral Gardens, where you'll also find a funfair. EventCity near the Trafford Centre is hosting the Winter Wonderland indoor Christmas themepark, while not far away (in Cheshire), Tatton Park welcomes Santa with a Lantern Parade – and he and his reindeer then take up residence at the farm, where family carols are on the agenda.
What to do: Make for the Ice Festival in its new, bigger site – the UNESCO-listed waterfront Pier Head, against the iconic backdrop of the Three Graces. As well as a covered skating rink, it will include the UK's largest real ice slide, festive rides and an ice bar with sculptures and optical illusions. Meanwhile, St George’s Hall is hosting the DreamWorks Lights Lantern Experience, with illuminated versions of some of the company's best-loved characters including Shrek and Kung Fu Panda.
What to do: Feast on waffles, crêpes and mulled wine as you browse the German-inspired Christmas market, then ice-skate beneath the outsize Christmas bauble at the At-Bristol Planetarium, or head to the Cribb’s Causeway mall for its Winter Wonderland, with another ice rink, visits with Santa in his Enchanted Ice Castle, and a Christmas train. And don’t miss a performance of The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic.
What to do: Enjoy Christmas fun at Cadbury World, including the pantomime Cinderella and a Santa stage show. The city centre hosts what it claims as the UK's biggest German market outside Germany itself, with more than 120 stalls. Expect lashings of Glühwein and German beer, piles of Bratwurst, Breze and chocolatey crêpes, plus an adjoining craft market and nearby outdoor ice rink.
What to do: Visit Warwick Castle in all its festive finery, host to Story Time with Santa in the Red Drawing Room on selected dates, A Very Victorian Christmas, a winter birds-of-prey show and a carol concert.
What to do: Get a head start on festive fun at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard's annual Victorian Festival of Christmas (25–27 Nov), with snow-covered Dickensian streets, Victorian characters (including a Santa dressed in green, with reindeers) and street entertainment, Fagin's Real Ale Tavern and a Christmas market. You can get combined tickets with entry to the on-site Mary Rose Museum, National Museum of the Royal Navy, HMS Warrior 1860, HMS Victory and Action Stations.
What to do: Hampshire’s county town may not be big on the tourist radar, but at Christmas the city packs a special punch – it’s home to one of Europe’s best and most stunningly located Christmas markets and outdoor ice rinks, at Winchester Cathedral. Nearby Marwell Zoo offers the chance to meet Santa, Mrs Claus and the elves as well as see the animals, while Paultons Park, home to Peppa Pig World, has a 4D sleigh-ride, musical Christmas tree, seasonal shows and a Santa's grotto, with selected rides also open.
See our hand-picked recommendations for short breaks with kids in the UK and further afield, at any time of year.