Kew Gardens is pretty spectacular at the best of times but nothing can touch it at Christmas when it comes alive with a trail of lights (pictured above), fire installations and a funfair, all set against those beautiful outsize glasshouses. Mind you, if beautiful and outsize float your boat, what could be better than Cornwall’s Eden Project, where the Shadows And Light after-dark experience includes playful light sculptures, a magical rainforest and music bringing the place to life. And don’t forget the magical Lanterns at Chester Zoo where you enter into an alternate universe made up of Cloud Cuckoo Land, the Garden of Delight and a Moonlit Meadow.
You would have to have a heart of ice not to feel a little Christmassy while skating around to seasonal hits, and there’s really no shortage of opportunities. London is spoilt for choice, with the capital’s Natural History Museum, Tower of London and Somerset House just some of the splendid locations for a little double toe loop action, but the rest of the country is putting on quite a skate show as well.
How about the beautiful architecture of Winchester Cathedral as your backdrop? Or Brighton in front of the fantastical Royal Pavilion, maybe? Or perhaps Liverpool’s Christmas Ice Festival? If mulled wine helps with the heart-melting process, then so be it.
Extravagant winter wonderland experiences now dot the country, from the humdinger in London’s Hyde Park (pictured) to Cardiff’s undercover ice rink by City Hall. In Edinburgh, they have Christmas At The Botanics just to make full seasonal use of their beautiful Botanical Gardens, while Lapland UK in Berkshire delivers an immersive world where Santa and his elves go about their Christmas business, and don’t seem to mind us joining in. If you’re wondering how winter wonderlands are going to evolve, head to Winterville — billed as London’s alternative Christmas experience — where its Spiegeltent, Street Feasts and Backyard Cinemas keep the capital’s hipsters ho-ho-ho-ing.
The Palladium’s spectacular Snow White — starring Dawn French, Julian Clary (pictured) and Nigel Havers — is one of the biggest shows in London’s West End right now. But it’s not having it all its own way as Berwick Kaler, a pantomime dame of some 40 years standing, is bowing out with his final performance (and deadly wagon wheels) as The Grand Old Dame of York at (fittingly) York’s Theatre Royal. And Lee Ryan’s Strictly stint might have been short-lived but you can catch him in Jack And The Beanstalk at Hayes’ Beck theatre.
At the Barbican in London, they don’t just have carols and candlelight, they have full 18th-century costume, too, as well as seasonal readings from the Bible and Charles Dickens, and a programme that includes Handel, Cullen and Willcocks (Sunday). But you can’t beat a church setting for this sort of thing. Salisbury Cathedral (tomorrow) will light all the candles they can lay their hands on for their traditional service (pictured), while Durham Cathedral will be ringing out to the sound of young voices in their special Carols For Children (Sunday), a short half-hour concert especially suited for little ones.
Still stumped for a knock-out Christmas gift? How about some pop art that’s as uplifting as it is stylish? If that sounds good then check out the work from Mark Petty and Simon Freeborough, two London-based artists who have joined forces for a new Wonder Walls exhibition in Hackney, east London. The work is online or can be seen up close at the (new) Old Bank Vault gallery but be quick — the exhibition ends this Sunday. Pieces priced from £50 to £1,200 — theoldbankvault.com