Winter wonderlands: 10 family activity days and adventures in the UK | United Kingdom holidays

Ice skating at Brighton Royal Pavilion

With the majestic domes of the Royal Pavilion as its backdrop – lit in magical neon colours if you go after dark – this real ice rink is a popular highlight of Brighton’s yuletide offering, and the only one in the UK powered by renewable energy. Families are warmly welcomed, with penguin skate aids available for £5 and a beginners’ rink where young skaters can safely build confidence on the ice. Rinkside, a covered bar and café and outdoor terraced areas offer mulled wine, mince pies, cakes, snacks and a decent children’s menu – and a great place to sit and watch if you don’t want to risk the ice yourself.
Adults and children aged 12 and over £18, concessions £15, 12 and under £14, royalpavilionicerink.co.uk; family room, B&B, from £179, queenshotelbrighton.com

Walking with the Snowman at Hillsborough Castle, County Down

Lighting the way: walk with The Snowman at Hillsborough Castle. Photograph: Brian Morrison/PR

Raymond Briggs’s heartwarming classic picture book is celebrated at Northern Ireland’s royal residence with a daytime trail through its stunning gardens. Families will discover 12 Snowman sculptures, each decorated by a different artist, inspired by The Twelve Days of Christmas. Screenings of the Bafta-winning film adaptation will also be shown at weekends in December and warming hot chocolate will soothe chilly hands in the Weston Pavilion café onsite.
Adults £10, concessions £8, children 5-15 £5, children under 5 free, hrp.org.uk; family room, B&B, from £175, arthurshillsborough.com

The Snowflake Maze at Stockeld Park, North Yorkshire

Ski fun: the Snowflake Maze at Stockeld Park, in North Yorkshire.
Ski fun: the Snowflake Maze at Stockeld Park, in North Yorkshire

Decorated with twinkling lights that lead the way to the revolving globe sculpture at its heart, this snowflake-shaped giant maze – made of 2,000 yew trees all grown in the park – is a focal point of the estate’s Christmas celebrations. The festive adventure continues through the Enchanted Forest playgrounds with Russell the talking tree, a giant teapot slide and an impressive light show around its lake. Children are well catered for in the welcoming Playhive Pizzeria, offering freshly cooked pizza, pasta and jacket potatoes.
Tickets from £15pp, children under 2 free, stockeldpark.co.uk; family room, B&B, from £99, bayhorseinn.co.uk

Lantern-making workshops and installation at Heligan Night Garden, Cornwall

Heligan Night Garden in Cornwall.
Creature feature: Heligan Night Garden in Cornwall

Heligan reopened its intriguing “lost” gardens to the public in 1990 after decades of neglect, restoring them to a paradise for nature-lovers young and old. Throughout the festive period, stunning lantern installations and a wildlife trail hold a nocturnal magnifying glass to indigenous species from badgers to butterflies, bees, and a joyful family of Tamworth pigs. Workshops where children can create their own handheld lanterns are available to pre-book, and the Heligan shop has a seasonal tasting counter of local produce.
Adults £16.50, concessions from £12.50, children £8.50, children under 5 free; lantern-making workshops £6, heligan.com; family room, B&B, from £190, theshipinnmeva.co.uk

Twilight tobogganing in the Mendip Hills, Somerset

Twilight Tobogganing in the Mendip Hills, Somerset.
On a run: twilight tobogganing in the Mendip Hills, Somerset

Accompanied by Christmas music, a Hollywood-style snow machine and glittering fairy lights, families and groups of up to eight people can hop on a Zibob toboggan and slide down an outdoor slope in this popular south-west activity centre. After the 30-minute session a campfire awaits where guests are invited to toast marshmallows, make s’mores and light sparklers. For a more substantial meal, head to the Alpine Lounge, a roof-top diner with burgers, loaded fries and pizza.
Tickets from £80 for up to 8 people, mendip.co.uk; family room, B&B, from £139, woodborough-inn.co.uk

Woodland walk at Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire

Wicken Fen is the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve, supporting an abundance of wildlife from plants and birds to Highland cattle and European Konik ponies. Discovering its flora and fauna is the theme of this wintery trail, a reimagining of The Twelve Days of Christmas, replacing French hens and turtle doves with the creatures that call the historic wetlands home. Once your wellies have wandered enough, Docky Hut Cafe offers homemade bakes and refreshments.
From 2 December; adults £8.50, children £4.25, nationaltrust.org.uk; family apartment, self-catering, from £120, kendall-lodge.thecambridgeshire.com

Reindeer hill trips in the Cairngorms

A reindeer
Mountain air: walk with reindeer in the Cairngorms. Photograph: Paul Quayle/Alamy

Reindeer have roamed semi-wild in the Cairngorm mountains since 1952, when a Swedish Sami herder emigrated to the Highlands with some of his own domestic herd. Now, their devoted carers run there are guided daily Hill Trips for adults and children – including a short hand-feeding session – with the tame and friendly animals. Weekends in December include visits from Santa and Christmas-themed crafting. Suitable clothing and footwear for rough terrain and all weather conditions is essential. A flask of something warm and plentiful snacks are highly advisable.
Christmas walks from 2 December; adults £22, concessions £18.50, children 3-16 £15, children 2 and under free, cairngormreindeer.co.uk; cottage sleeps 7, self-catering from £175, wildfarming.co.uk

Christmas at Clearwell Caves, Forest of Dean

This natural cave system has been open for exploration by the public since 1968. One of the nine caverns hosts a family-focused Christmas interactive experience based on a story of a young boy who finds a baby polar bear floating on an iceberg and decides to take it home. The underground café is available for hot drinks and delicious cakes, and stalls sell gifts and decorations. Pathways may be wet, so wear sensible shoes.
From 1 December; adults £18, children 2-12 £18, and under 2 £10 (includes a gift from Father Christmas), clearwellcaves.com; family room, B&B, from £146, thespeechhouse.co.uk

Elf Academy at Carmarthenshire Wetland Centre

Children on a tour around Carmarthenshire Wetland Centre, accompanied by an elf.
Elf yourself: take a tour around Carmarthenshire Wetland Centre

Knowledgable Christmas elves invite visitors on a tour through Llanelli’s wetlands, a mosaic of lakes, scrapes and reedbeds that form precious habitats for winter birds and wildlife. Afterwards, the Observatory workshop hosts an afternoon of nature-themed crafts, stories, and wrapping donated presents for Threshold, a local charity supporting families affected by domestic violence. Kingfisher Kitchen onsite has a great range of sandwiches, hot meals and tempting sweet treats.
From 2 December; family £29.25, adults £10.50, concessions £9.45, children 4-17 £6.75, children under 4 free, wwt.org.uk; family room, B&B, from £70.40, sessileoakpubllanelli.co.uk

Enchanted Christmas at Westonbirt Arboretum, the Cotswolds

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum
Branch out: explore Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire

Westonbirt is popular for its extensive plant and tree collections from all over the world, including the California incense cedar and Japanese maple cultivars. This captivating landscape transforms into a winter wonderland of colourful lights, an immersive light tunnel and installations for adults and children to explore after the sun goes down. The adjacent Christmas Village offers seasonal cheer in the form of local food and drink stalls, and traditional fairground rides.
From 24 November; adults from £19, concessions from £17, children 3-16 from £12, children 2 and under free, forestryengland.uk; family room, B&B, from £285, cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk

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