This year has certainly put a number of obstacles in our way.
Don’t despair though: in the depths of Winter, there are still opportunities to explore the UK and Europe and make the most of your downtime.
At any time of year, Jane Austen’s hometown of Bath is hard to beat. Its Georgian terraces and historic street scenes are always picturesque and atmospheric, and the Roman Baths are always worth a visit. In the run up to Christmas the streets are transformed with seasonal glittering lights, the scent of roasted chestnuts and sound of cheerful carol singers.
“Oh! Who can be ever tired of Bath?” – Jane Austen
The city is always open and invites visitors to enjoy all it has to offer – whether that’s the Alpine goodies served at the Abbey hotel’s Aprés Ski Bar, or the Christmas Tavern’s mouth-watering mince pies, stollen or festive afternoon tea, there’s sure to be something for everyone.
If you’re in the south west during November or December, you should consider a visit to Longleat’s Land of Light festival which runs from 7 November to 10 January. The magnificent estate incorporates an Elizabethan mansion and its Capability Brown landscaped grounds as well as a safari park complete with lions, tigers and monkeys. The Land of Light festival will certainly get you into a Christmassy frame of mind. Magical light installations will emerge across Longleat in seven unique zones using colour, movement and sound to transform the surroundings.
In the north west of England, you’ll be able to step back in time as you board a splendid steam train at Bury Bolton Street Station all dressed up in its Christmas finery.
With one of the highly sought after tickets of the season, you’ll puff along the track from Bury to Rawtenstall and back through the historic Irwell Valley – a journey that takes around 80 minutes. Younger passengers will be delighted with an activity pack and a present from Santa himself, and adults will enjoy a mince pie and a festive tipple on board. This year, social distancing means that space on the train is limited. Booking is essential, so don’t miss out!
We wouldn’t like to say which Christmas lights we think are the most spectacular, but the illuminations in London streets tend to be pretty impressive. Any time from mid-November, we recommend wrapping up warm and setting out on an evening’s walking tour. Starting in Bond Street and moving east towards Covent Garden, you’ll be able to take in some amazing illuminations within a mile or so. Make sure your route includes Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Covent Garden and Seven Dials.
If you’d rather blow away the cobwebs, why not head east to Greenwich? From central London, you can get there in around 10 minutes by train, but if you go by river, you’ll be able to take in a whole host of stunning landmarks on the way.
There’s lots to see when you arrive in Greenwich, too. If you’re into wildlife, you can drop into the Wildlife Centre at Greenwich Park on the last Saturday of every month.
If you’d rather focus on the area’s maritime heritage, royal history, and World Heritage Site, the Pier at Greenwich is a great starting point. From there, take in the Cutty Sark and carry on to atmospheric town centre. It’s then a short stroll to Greenwich Park and up to the Royal Observatory.
From the Royal Observatory, you can head out of Greenwich Park, across the heath to pretty Blackheath Village. Great for an afternoon saunter, this lovely neighbourhood features independent shops and restaurants and an array of traditional pubs.
Pop-up ice rinks start appearing in the city from the middle of November in some truly iconic locations. Somerset House is a beautiful setting and you can skate around the enormous Christmas tree in front of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. As ever, we recommend you check they're open and make advance reservations. These venues are working hard to ensure that everyone stays safe.
“A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself” – George Bernard Shaw
Half an hour from central London, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is world-famous for its science and conservation work. In the winter (18 November – 2 January), its pathways are transformed into a winter wonderland as lights twinkle among the plants and fungi. In 2020, additional safety measures will be in place, there will be street food, mulled wine and hot chocolate available to keep visitors going as they wend their way through the Rose Garden, under a canopy of stars and throughout the light show at the Treetop Walkway.
Located on the south bank of the Thames, the Southbank Centre is the base for a packed programme of free and ticketed events and activities. If you’d rather stroll along the river and take in the sights by foot, you’ll be lit by Christmas lights and enjoy the decorations, as well as festive entertainment.
We’re not sure if reindeer and polar bears feature at ZSL London Zoo this year, but from 28 November - 24 December, Santa and Mrs Claus will be available, along with a Festive Family Trail and a Sensory Sweet Shop. The animals get to join in too, with their own Christmas treats. All activities will comply with coronavirus safety guidelines.
Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens is a mainstay of the Christmas celebrations in the Danish capital. The park will be dressed to impress from 13 November – 3 January when Santa takes the main stage and the stalls and restaurants feature Denmark’s signature gløgg (Danish mulled wine) and æbleskiver (sugar-dusted apple doughnuts). Elsewhere in the city, its cobbled streets and picturesque squares could have been designed to be strung with fairy lights, it it’s the perfect setting for a little Christmas shopping.
No trip to Copenhagen would be complete without a visit to see the famous Little Mermaid. The bronze statue by based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen is perched on a rock by the waterside at the Langelinie promenade. Equally suited to the drama of the Danish winter Kronborg castle. It’s a truly impressive Renaissance castles and was immortalised as Elsinore in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. Best viewed with a fresh, atmospheric dusting of December snow.
With its snow-covered roofs and fairy tale castles, and only around two hours from London airports, Austria is a great place to visit in the run up to Christmas. Salzburg is the perfect base for romantic walks in the surrounding hills, followed by a restorative mooch around the Christmas markets which run from 20 November – 26 December. The streets will be filled with the sounds and scents of the season, with mulled wine, toasted almonds and freshly baked apple all on sale. Music is a big deal in Saltzburg and there are free outdoor concerts in front of the cathedral and carol singing in the evenings. If you haven’t finished your present shopping, Alpine stalls groan under the weight of goods such as gingerbread, toys and decorations, and you’ll be sure to find something for everyone on your Christmas shopping list.
Tallinn offers a truly Estonian answer to the Christmas experience. It takes less than three hours to fly to Tallinn from the UK, but you’ll be one of only a handful of tourists at the picture-perfect market which stays open well into the New Year. Best of all, it’s located in the most beautiful square in the old town which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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