Beyond London – The spirit of Christmas

Children shriek with delight as they navigate mazes, peacocks strut across manicured lawns and grand halls dazzle at castles and palaces over the festive season.

Once inside, enthusiastic curators bring history to life with their expert knowledge and often funny insights into the lives, loves and artefacts of generations of inhabitants. You might even bump into the present owner of a castle, as many still live in wings of the properties – just don’t forget to retrieve your children from that maze before you head home…

If you have limited time and can’t decide which historical venue to visit, use our guide to find the right one for you.

Best for: Couples

Visit Highclere Castle in Hampshire for Champagne and canapés while enjoying a tour around its rooms. If they look familiar, that’s because you might have spotted them on TV’s Downton Abbey. The evening will help raise funds and awareness for a children’s ward at University Hospital, Southhampton. 18 Dec. 

Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee as you mix seasonal materials to create a personalised festive wreath fit for a King and Queen at Thornbury Castle near Bristol, followed by a two-course festive lunch and glass of wine. 5 Dec. 

Alternately, if you’d like to make Victorian floral decorations, Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland is the place to get creative. Join a workshop led by a professional florist, using materials found in the castle grounds. 2 Dec. 

The Formal Gardens at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire will light up once again for an unforgettable after-dark treat. Follow a trail of lights along winding paths and tranquil waters and you’ll come to a Fire Garden set against the backdrop of ancient woodland outlined in festive colours. To 1 Jan. 

Best for: Families

‘Tis the season to be jolly, so attend a Santa Sleepover with the whole family at Warwick Castle in Warwickshire. An elf wake up call and special morning gifts for kids makes waking up early worth it. 17-23 Dec. 

Ever wondered what the stories behind your favourite Christmas carols are all about? Hever Castle in Kent will reveal all as you walk through beautifully adorned rooms and welcoming log fires. Don’t miss its Twelve Days of Christmas trail. Wed-Sun to 10 Dec; daily 11-24 Dec. 

Listen to carols and festive tunes as you learn the basics of making traditional Christmas wreaths using natural materials from around the Grand Hall at Penrhyn Castle in north Wales. 2-17 Dec. 

Eat, drink and be merry at a Christmas Market at Glamis Castle in Scotland. While you’re there, you can enjoy a themed castle tour and discover Santa’s Grotto, too. 8-10 Dec. 

Families are invited to a Christmas Festive Day at Palace of Holyroodehouse in Edinburgh, Scotland, where you can listen to stories about royal feasts by the fireplace in the Great Gallery. Kids can dress up and have their face painted by Fantoosh Face Art, take part in a family ceilidh by Ceilidh Kids, enjoy short talks and make Christmas decorations in the family room to take home. Along the way children can collect hidden Christmas presents from a festive trail and exchange them for a special treat at the end of your visit. 17 Dec. 

Best for: Groups

Join a lantern parade at Harlech Castle in Wales for a fun-filled night of music, local crafts, late night shopping and a special peek into Santa Claus’s grotto. 2 Dec. 

This winter, experience an immersive Christmas performance in the State Apartments at Windsor Castle in Berkshire for the first time. Enter the magical world of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and follow Ebenezer Scrooge from the castle gates to the Waterloo Chamber where his haunting dreams of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come are summoned by his old friend Jacob Marley. After a seated performance, Scrooge will lead you to St George’s Hall to celebrate the true spirit of Christmas beneath a tree twinkling with fairylights. 16-30 Dec. 

For a more dramatic celebration, why not try the Murder Under The Mistletoe House Party at Leeds Castle in Kent? Immerse yourself in a theatrical dinner as you help Sir Oswald and Lady Cecilia investigate the death of Lady Hortense Thornley-Cruttock. Whether you are a detective or a suspect, you’ll enjoy delicious food and wine throughout. Attend in costume and you’ll be given hints and tips! 2 & 8-9 Dec. 

Head over to Edinburgh Castle and see how Mary Queen of Scots celebrates the Twelve Days of Christmas with her courtiers in A Very Mary Christmas. 23-24 & 27-29 Dec. 

Celebrate tradition medieval style at Tretower Castle with holly, ivy, mistletoe, mulled wine and Yule log. Meet Santa (a green one) and sing along to traditional carols. 23 Dec. 

Skate back in time on a courtyard rink at Hampton Court Palace, King Henry VIII’s historic home on the outskirts of London. Meanwhile, Elizabethen Christmas will entertain groups of all ages. The pressure is on for Queen Elizabeth I’s Master of Revels, Edmund Tilney, to arrange a festive celebration to remember, but when disaster strikes he must turn to an unlikely place for a solution to put on a Christmas to remember. The story unfolds throughout the day and is performed with music and dance from courtiers and jesters around the palace, from the Tudor Kitchens and Great Hall to the palace courtyards. Elizabethan Christmas 22-23 Dec & 27 Dec-1 Jan; skating to 7 Jan. 

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