Get us in your inbox

Photograph: Shutterstock

The best places to visit at Christmas in the UK

Planning a Christmas getaway? Look no further than these festive spots, from stately homes to Harry Potter cities

Written by
Richard Franks

Some places are just made for Christmas, and we think the UK is right up there. For a couple of crisp winter months, its leading cities, castles and palaces all spread their own versions of Christmas cheer through light shows, markets, wreath making workshops and traditional fairground rides for the entire family on offer – and then some. 

Spanning Oxfordshire to The Cairngorms and Northern Ireland to Wales, our list has plenty of festive spots to add to your bucket list. For cobbled streets, wintery castles and those all-important Christmas markets, here are ten of the best places in the UK to ramp up that Christmas spirit. 

🎅 The best Christmas shops in the UK
🎄 The most magical Christmas markets in the UK
💡 The most dazzling Christmas light trails in the UK
🏘️ The cosiest winter cottages to stay in the UK

Richard Franks is a travel writer based in Birmingham, specialising in Scotland and the West Midlands. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines. This guide also includes affiliate links, which have no influence on our editorial content. For more information, see our affiliate guidelines

The best places to visit at Christmas

Edinburgh, Scotland
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Edinburgh, Scotland

Best for: A festive city break

Edinburgh’s centuries-old network of spiralling hills, cobbled streets and Hogwarts-like architecture is magical at the best of times – but it’s at Christmas when it truly comes alive. Sprawling along the picturesque East and West Princes Street Gardens, the world-famous Edinburgh Christmas Market enchants visitors from mid-November until early January each year with its local crafts, warming gluhwein and joyous fairground rides, while Scotland’s most popular visitor attraction – Edinburgh Castle – is also lit up as part of the Castle of Light event. The city’s most famous Christmas light display is also over at George Street; more than a million lights also twinkle at Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens.

📍 Check out more of the best things to do in Edinburgh

Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio, Hertfordshire, England
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio, Hertfordshire, England

Best for: Cinephiles

Is actual Hogwarts is on your list this Christmas? Across November and December, the Warner Bros Studio and Hogwarts will be transformed into a wintry wonderland, where real-life flying witches soar above in the Great Hall and a Christmas banquet with all the trimmings is laid out below. Popular sets like the common room and Diagon Alley will also be kitted out for the festivities, and the Forbidden Forest will be under a blanket of snow; on your way round you’ll also learn the filming secrets of the Harry Potter films. Who knows, you may even pick up some of Harry’s famed spells yourself. 

Birmingham, England
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Birmingham, England

Best for: A German experience on UK soil

The UK’s second city welcomes in excess of 5.5 million visitors to its annual Frankfurt Christmas Market – the largest of its kind outside of Germany and Austria. Stretching the length of New Street and spilling through Victoria Square and Centenary Square, the world-famous market in Birmingham is renowned for its ice cold stein litre beers, footlong bratwursts with comical udder-like sauce receptacles and, in more recent years, a pop-up indoor ice rink beside the city’s striking library. Boisterous festive singalongs often occur outside the city’s grand Council House on weekends, and be sure to keep an eye out for Chris the singing Moose while you’re there; he’s stuff of local legend. Prost!

📍 Check out more of the best things to do in Birmingham

London, England
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. London, England

Best for: Shopaholics

Where do we begin with Christmas in England and the UK’s buzzy capital? From the unrivalled Bavarian Village, family-friendly fairground rides and Zippo’s famous festive circus show at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, to some of the world’s most iconic Christmas lights, department stores and Santa’s grottos dotted along Oxford Street, London really is the place to be in the festive season. Throw in a quintessentially British pantomime on the West End, or a Christmas cruise along the River Thames, and you’re on to a winner.

📍 Check out more of the best things to do in London
🏨 Here are the best hotels in London

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England

Best for: History buffs

England’s only non-royal residence to hold a palatial title sits pretty in 2,100 acres of parkland and formal gardens; Sir Winston Churchill was even born here. His family still own the property, which is now a Unesco World Heritage Site, and it remains a popular year-round attraction. Perhaps none more so at Christmas, where dozens of wooden chalets selling crafted wares and tasty treats take over The Great Court, and, new for 2023, an after-dark illuminated light trail with its eight-metre sphere and twinkling tunnels provide perfect photo opportunities. Advance booking for Blenheim Palace is essential.

Cardiff, Wales
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Cardiff, Wales

Best for: Family-friendly fun

Cardiff at Christmas has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Each festive season the Welsh capital hosts its very own Winter Wonderland at the iconic Cardiff Castle, with a weatherproof ice rink, extensive funfair and Santa’s grotto; there’s an alpine ski-lodge bar and an ice bar for the adults too. Meanwhile, the adjoining Bute Park is home to the most popular Christmas light trail outside of London, and the bespoke jewellery, intricate trinkets and glorious street food on offer at Cardiff Christmas Market are certainly worth extending your trip for. Make this Christmas a Welsh one.

Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, County Down, Northern Ireland
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, County Down, Northern Ireland

Best for: Royal Family fans

Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland’s royal residence, boasts 100 acres of beautiful gardens, including the gorgeous Georgian country house where members of the Royal Family regularly visit and stay. At Christmas, Hillsborough turns to festive markets and after dark light shows, including Walking With The Snowman; a celebration of the famed Raymond Briggs animation brings a light trail and a dozen large snowman sculptures for the kids to find. Other events include a Christmas wreath making workshop using natural materials found around the grounds, and a market selling local gifts and delicacies.

Christmas at Castle Howard, York, England
Photograph: Nick Howard

8. Christmas at Castle Howard, York, England

Best for: Those who don’t wish to grow up!

Tinkerbell has sprinkled her fairy dust at Castle Howard this Christmas and brought an enchanting festive Neverland to York! There’s plenty on offer here, including the Peter Pan-themed Main House where projections, installations and a few surprises await, and for afters be sure to sample toasted marshmallows in the twinkly Courtyard? The kids will also love meeting Father Christmas himself. 

Manchester, England
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Manchester, England

Best for: Light display fanatics

Manchester’s varied festive offering gives it the north west’s Christmas crown. From the makers behind Christmas at Kew, Christmas at Heaton Park returns this year with an entrancing after dark strobe and laser light show and funfair, while in the city centre the wooden craft and food huts of the popular Christmas Market return to St Ann’s Square – celebrating its 25th year. Visit on Sundays for free live family-friendly entertainment. The ice rink is also back in Cathedral Square, but for something a little different, why not check out a candlelight concert at The Stoller Hall?

📍 Check out more of the best things to do in Manchester

The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, The Cairngorms, Scotland
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, The Cairngorms, Scotland

Best for: Families and kids 

Did you know there’s a free-ranging reindeer herd in the UK? Introduced to the Scottish hills in 1952 by Mikel Utsi and his wife Dr. Ethel Lindgren from Swedish Lapland, the herd has thrived in what is Britain’s only subarctic wilderness and has now grown to around 150 in size. Guided tours to meet the herd depart near Glenmore in the Cairngorms and are particularly special from October/November onwards when there’s fresh snow to crunch on. It’s a 30-40 minute walk to meet the Cairngorm reindeer, and you'll learn their names and get the opportunity to feed one or two. Tours are weather-permitting and advance booking in the winter months is essential.

    You may also like
    You may also like