The Best Christmas Spots In Oxford And Cardiff
Oxford - Great For A Date
If you’re the type to leave all your Christmas shopping until the last minute, then you need to visit Oxford Christmas Market (8-18 Dec), where you can buy everything from wreaths made from dried fruit to sauce from The Upton Cheyney Chilli Company, antique teacup candles and alpaca knitwear. Follow your nose as the scent of cinnamon will guide you to the market on Broad Street, near St Mary Magdalen. Now in its seventh year, the market is made up of a series of wooden chalets lit up with fairylights. As you browse, sip mulled wine from Winter Warmers and listen to a choir sing carols.
While you’re in the area, don’t miss Sir Winston Churchill’s birthplace, Blenheim Palace, which has grounds designed by ‘Capability’ Brown. This year, the gardens will be open to the public after dark for the first time for Christmas at Blenheim (to 2 Jan). Highlights include a scented fire garden, a carpet of dancing flames and a tunnel of light, while lanterns and fairylights will make hedgerows and lawns sparkle. Once you’ve warmed up with spiced cider and roasted chestnuts, you can toast your own marshmallows, then ride on a vintage carousel. Just make sure you save time to visit the lake. Brightly lit boats filled with snowflakes will bob along the water while the lakeside boathouse will become Santa’s grotto.
Don't miss: To see treasures, from mummies to modern art, head to the world’s first university museum, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. Bookworms will love the 400-year-old Bodleian Library, which houses every book ever published in the country. And visit Pitts River Museum to see archaeological objects; there are many family activities. No trip is complete without a visit to a college; Harry Potter fans will love Christ Church’s hall, which was used as a film location for the Great Hall scenes.
Where to stay : Old Bank Hotel is a beautiful boutique residence opposite Bodleian Library. A standard room with breakfast at the weekend is £315, based on two people sharing (two-night minimum).
T: 01865 799599, www.oldbank-hotel.co.uk
How to get there : London Paddington to Oxford takes about an hour. nationalrail.co.uk
Cardiff - Family Fun
The Cardiff Christmas Market (to 23 Dec) has more than 200 exhibitors stretched out along St John, Working, Hills and Trinity Streets and the Hayes. The majority of stalls are run by small businesses selling Welsh produce, so go hungry, as there will be plenty of samples to try. Once night falls, stay warm indoors as you watch A Christmas Carol: The Musical at New Theatre (to 3 Dec); The Snow Queen circus at Wales Millennium Centre (1-3 Dec) or a screening of The Snowman with a live orchestra at the new concert hall at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (4-6 Dec). Little ones will love Peter Pan at the New Theatre (from 10 Dec), which stars David Hasselhoff as Captain Hook!
Good For friends
St David’s Hall rivals the North Pole for its Christmas offerings. Pick from The Sixteen (4 Dec), a Christmas nativity concert; carols and a singalong by the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Festive Brass (9 Dec); or a Christmas concert of seasonal music and carols (14 Dec).
Don't miss: Top sights include the Principality Stadium, home of the Welsh national rugby union team; Wales Millennium Centre for musicals, operas, ballets and more; and the Mermaid Quay for its shops, restaurants and bars and The Cardiff Story, which is about Cardiff’s history. Wrap up warm for St Fagans National History Museum, an outdoor museum in the grounds of a castle where you can learn about Wales from Celtic times to the present day.
Where to stay: Lincoln House Hotel is close to Cardiff Castle. A standard room with breakfast at the weekend is £99, based on two people sharing (two-night minimum). T: 029 2039 5558. www.lincolnhotel.co.uk
How to get there: London Paddington to Cardiff Central takes from 2 hours. Book online and in advance for the best possible rates. Prices are correct at the time of writing. nationalrail.co.uk
Christmas Events At Historic Houses
Built as a family home, Tyntesfield has Victorian gothic architecture. Visit this month and you can attend its Christmas house opening (to 3 Jan), during which you can meet Victorian characters, make Christmas decorations and sing in the grand hall.
At Waddesdon Manor, you can see 66 chalets with festive food and gifts at the Christmas Fair (to 11 Dec) or take a Christmas-themed tour with lunch (15 Dec). Meanwhile, nurse Florence Nightingale regularly visited Claydon, a grand country home built in the 1750s.
The Victorian mansion inside Dyffryn Gardens will be lit up for the festive season. Make Christmas-themed crafts and attend a choir concert (4 Dec) in the Great Hall. Little ones can meet Father Christmas (5-6 & 12-13 Dec). Don’t miss the 55-acre grounds, too. nationaltrust.org.uk