There’s no denying that December is one of the most magical times of the year. The days may be dark and cold – but golden lights twinkle on trees and in windows, the scent of mulled wine and mince pies fills the air, and the excitement of different cultural holidays is all around.
Plus, whether you’re looking for fun activities to do with children or are just looking for a unique day out yourself or with friends, there are plenty of ideas.
From Christmas-themed activities to events that can take your mind off the often-overwhelming festive fuss, here are 13 magical things to do in the UK in December.
1. Feel the festive cheer at a Christmas market, UK-wide
If you’re looking to get into the spirit of Christmas, there are few things more festive than Christmas markets.
From the mouthwatering aroma of mulled wine and hot chocolate to the cheery sound of classic carols, it’s almost impossible not to be filled with festive cheer at one of these markets. And the great news is that no matter where you’re located, you won’t be too far from a Christmas market.
The Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market is the biggest German market outside Germany and Austria, and the Manchester Christmas Markets combine over 300 stalls for one festive fiesta. Meanwhile, Cardiff’s Christmas Market has been going for over two decades, and the Belfast Christmas Market brings seasonal joy to the Northern Irish capital.
To find out more about some of the best festive markets, check out our article; 8 of the best UK Christmas markets.
2. Switch off with a trip to Pembrokeshire, Wales
Located on the South Western tip of Wales, Pembrokeshire is famous for its miles of stunning coastline, which makes it a popular spot for a summer holiday.
But a winter break here can be just as enjoyable – and if you like to get away from the crowds, it’s the perfect time to visit. In December, the pristine beaches and historic castles can feel almost deserted, and are ideal for peaceful walks.
Unlike other parts of Wales, like Snowdonia, the climate here never really gets too extreme, so even on the coldest days you can still enjoy bracing winter walks, strolls on the beach, or wanders through charming villages.
Plus, if you visit in early December, you can check out the award-winning Llys-y-Frân Lake Visitor Centre’s Christmas Fair, where you can pick up lovely homemade Christmas presents and nibble on festive treats.
3. Visit Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, Northern Ireland
Not far from Belfast, in County Down, you’ll find the historic royal palace of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens.
Lovely to visit at any time of year, Hillsborough comes into its own in December.
This year, you can experience the magic of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman at Hillsborough Castle, where a light trail around the beautiful gardens will bring the beloved Snowman to life.
But this is far more than just a light show. As you walk around the grounds, you can admire 12 giant Snowman sculptures, each hand-painted by a different artist and inspired by the timeless Christmas classic ‘12 Days of Christmas’.
On select days, Hillsborough will also host special screenings of The Snowman – and if you’re lucky enough to visit on a snowy day, you could have a go at making your own!
4. Celebrate Hanukkah in London, England
While Christmas undeniably dominates winter activities in the UK, it’s not the only celebration that falls in December.
This year, the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah will run from 7th to the 15th December, and while there are many places you can celebrate this historic festival, North London definitely has the most going on, so be sure to check out local events.
The Annual Islington Menorah Lighting takes place on Sunday 10th December at Islington Green, and this free event is in its 12th year. There’ll be music, singing, candle lighting, and hundreds of free latkes, doughnuts, and hot cocoa to stave off the chill!
Or why not head to Trafalgar Square to see the lighting of a giant Hanukkah menorah? Here, you can listen to school choirs and acapella singers, watch live music and dancing, and feast upon the obligatory free doughnuts!
5. Meet reindeer in the Cairngorms, Scotland
The Cairngorms National Park is the UK’s largest national park – and arguably the most dramatically beautiful.
Boasting vast, craggy mountains, thundering rivers, ancient forests, gleaming lochs, and views that will quite literally take your breath away, it’s the perfect place to get away from it all. Embracing this gloriously wild landscape is also the ideal way to escape the chaos of Christmas!
Having said that, there’s plenty of festive cheer to be found here too! Not only are the pretty villages even lovelier in winter when snow’s on the ground and the pub windows are glowing, but the park is also home to the UK’s only free-ranging reindeer.
Around 150 reindeer live at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and, in December, you can meet these friendly animals – as well as Santa himself! You can also see polar bears, reindeer, arctic foxes, and snow leopards at the Highland Wildlife Park.
Alternatively, if the Cairngorms is too far for you, why not meet the Cotswold reindeer herd instead? Hidden away in the beautiful rolling hills, you’ll find a herd of reindeer playing in their paddock and snoozing in between meals.
6. Step into Swansea Bay's Waterfront Winterland, Wales
For the whole month of December, Swansea’s Waterfront Winterland returns to Museum Park, and if you’re looking to really get into the Christmas spirit, you can definitely do that here.
In the Alpine Village, you can browse the food and drinks stalls, which serve everything from mulled cider to German sausages and festive sweet treats.
There’s also a wide variety of funfair attractions, from gentle rides for little ones to exhilarating rides for thrill-seeking adults. No visit to Waterfront Winterland would be complete without a ride on The Giant Wheel, where you can breathe in the sights of Swansea at a gentler pace.
If you enjoy ice skating, there’s a sleek rink, which is made accessible to everyone.
Admission to Swansea Waterfront Winterland is free – you’ll just need to pay for the attractions you want to do. Ice skating tickets will need to be purchased in advance.
7. Celebrate Kwanzaa, UK-wide
It might only have been celebrated since 1966, but Kwanzaa is fast becoming more observed in the UK, as well as in the US, where it originated.
Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration of African heritage and identity, and it’s usually celebrated between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
Each day focuses on one of the seven key principles of the holiday: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
If you’d like to celebrate Kwanzaa, you can check out events in your local area, decorate your home with colourful African fabrics, cook up a feast, invite all your friends, and buy gifts – ideally from black businesses.
8. Experience the magic of Christmas at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, is said to be one of the most magical places in the UK to visit in December – and it’s absolutely worthy of that praise.
Outside, you can stroll through picture-perfect gardens that glow with over a million lights and flickering flames of the magical Christmas light trail – and take some time to admire the dancing lakeside reflections.
Inside, things are just as spectacular. This year, the palace has been re-imagined to retell the classic fairytale of Sleeping Beauty with a contemporary twist. Each room tells a different chapter in the princess’ story – and, on the way to Aurora’s candle-lit bed chamber, you’ll pass by spinning wheels, fluttering fairies, and a castle frozen in time.
There are also plenty of festive decorations, including The Great Hall’s iconic Christmas tree and a Christmas Market in the Great Court. Here, foodies and shoppers will find a paradise of festive goodies – including an exceptional range of artisan products and tempting food stalls.
9. Take a Christmas cocktail masterclass at Bombay Sapphire Distillery, Shropshire
If you fancy yourself a bit of a mixologist or would like a special recipe to take home this Christmas, why not join a cocktail making masterclass at Bombay Sapphire Distillery this December?
Hosted by the distillery’s gin experts, you’ll begin your experience with a complimentary arrival drink before heading into a fun, lively, and immersive mixology session.
Light bites will be served as you learn how to make impressive gin cocktails, sample three of Bombay Sapphire’s favourite gins, and end at the onsite bar for a final cocktail and mince pie.
10. Celebrate the Winter Solstice, UK-wide
The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night in the Northern Hemisphere, and this ancient Pagan tradition has been celebrated for thousands of years.
The winter solstice – also called Yule – was originally celebrated for 12 days and is where traditions like carolling and Yule logs originally came from (though the logs used to be real wooden logs, rather than chocolate cakes!).
Many people still celebrate the winter solstice each year, and one of the most popular and magical places to do so is Stonehenge. This prehistoric, sacred site was used as a place of worship for the winter solstice for millennia, and, this year, the Stonehenge solstice falls on 22nd December. Admission is free and entry is allowed from 7.45am until 10am.
If you don’t fancy heading to Stonehenge, Brighton is another popular destination to mark the winter solstice. At the city’s Burning the Clocks event expect a sea of luminous paper lanterns, parades, and plenty of community cheer.
Or, there are many ways you can celebrate the winter solstice at home, from making your own chocolate log to some warming wassail. Have a read of this article by Mother Mag to discover the cosy ways you can celebrate this special December day.
11. Get tickets to The Winter Circus, Belfast
For something totally different, why not head to Belfast’s Winter Circus between 15th December and 2nd January?
Brought to you by the award-winning Tumble Circus – Ireland’s only non-traditional Big Top touring circus – this is a show like nothing you’ve seen before. As Bono himself put it, the Tumble Circus is “the Irish Cirque du Soleil if Cirque du Soleil was hit by a bus”.
Featuring world-class circus performers, acrobats, comedians, and magicians, this is a show that’s designed to make you laugh and gasp in equal measure.
You’ll be amazed by the agility, strength, skill, and bravery of each risk-taking performance – and if you’re looking to be inspired to push your own limits and see what you could be capable of too, this is the show for you.
12. Stay in a festive castle, Scotland
If you’re looking to enjoy a mini-break this December, then what about heading to Scotland to stay in a castle?
Few things can feel more magical than staying in a grand and historic castle. And whether you’re looking for a romantic break with your partner, a group holiday with friends or family, or a solo retreat, there are plenty of inviting castles across Scotland that offer discounted festive packages.
Surrounded by Ben Vrackie and Loch Faskally, Fonab Castle in Perthshire boasts gorgeous views of the highlands. Dalhousie Castle, just a short drive from Edinburgh, also offers luxurious accommodation, fine dining, and indulgent spa treatments.
Another option is Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire, a luxury 5-star Hotel with 17 bedrooms and an award-winning restaurant; while Inverlochy Castle near Fort William was beloved by Queen Victoria, who wrote, “I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot”.
Plus, if you’re looking to treat a loved one to a super special Christmas present, you can’t get more magical than this!
13. Explore Winter Wonderland, London
There are Christmas markets – and then there’s the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. The sheer size of this winter wonderland is dazzling, and there’s so much to see and do that you could spend all day here and not get bored.
Everything is scaled up, from the UK’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink to the 70-metre Giant Wheel, which is the tallest transportable wheel in the world.
In the Bavarian Village, there are stretches of wooden chalets where you can sip drinks, enjoy snacks and meals, pick up traditional Christmas decorations or unique gifts, or relax on one of the traditional benches. And, in the Magical Ice Kingdom you can admire 500 tonnes of glistening ice sculptures – or why not try ice sculpting yourself at one of the workshops?
Kids will also love visiting Santa’s grotto, and adults will enjoy the comedy acts and live music.
Whether you’re someone who gets excited about the winter festivities each year or you find the seasonal fuss all a bit much, the good news is that there are plenty of diverse activities for everyone to enjoy this December.
Visit historic homes and gardens; admire glittering light displays and installations; stay in cosy castles; connect with nature during the winter solstice; or embrace other cultural celebrations like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
Whether with friends, family, or as a solo retreat, we hope that your December is as magical as it is memorable. For more UK day-out inspiration, head over to the travel section of our website.
What are some of your favourite UK activities in December? Do you have any of our own suggestions of magical days out you’d like to share with our readers? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.