Things to do in December – festive days out & country events

From Christmas markets to carol services and bracing winter walks, make the most of the festive season with our pick of days out and country events to enjoy in December


Best Christmas markets to visit

Bath Christmas Market – 23 November – 10 December 2017
BATH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 24:  Christmas shoppers browse stalls at the traditional Christmas market that has opened close to the historic Roman Baths and Bath Abbey on November 24, 2016 in Bath, England. Originating in Germany, Christmas markets have become increasingly popular in British towns and cities in recent years as a way of boosting festive sales and visitor numbers.  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
At Christmas, more than 200 stalls lining the pretty streets of Bath ©Getty

Soak up the Christmas atmosphere at the bustling Bath market. With more than 200 stalls lining the pretty streets of Bath, selling traditional handmade goods and crafts, plus festive food and drink. Once you’re done shopping, Bath is a lovely place to explore, visit the Roman Baths, Abbey or walk along the riverside.


See our round-up of Christmas markets

Sparkling Christmas lights and gardens to visit

Dunster by Candlelight, Somerset – 1-2 December
Christmas illuminations– every winter, the village of Dunster and its 11th-century castle remembers its medieval past, lighting up its streets and houses with lanterns and candlelight ©Alamy

High on a hill in north-east Exmoor, medieval Dunster Castle glows above lantern-lit houses, music-filled streets and bustling gift shops. It’s a magical scene best enjoyed after a winter

Christmas Eve Torchlight Procession, Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire – 24 December 
Goring-on-Thames is the meeting point of two national trails: the Ridgeway and the Thames Path ©Alamy

Every year, the village of Goring-on-Thames hosts the Christmas Eve Torchlight Procession, a long-established annual event, attracting winter-loving visitors from miles around. Light a torch and join the parade at Streatley or Goring, meeting at a large bonfire for an evening of warm firelight and carols.

Feeling like burning off the indulgence of Christmas? Try this frosty walk from Goring to Pangbourne.

Blenheim Palace illuminated winter wonderland – 24 November 2017 -1 January 2018
Enjoy the lights of the majestic Blenheim Palace/Credit: Blenheim Palace

Take a stroll along the Christmas Trail in the stunning gardens of Blenheim Palace. The trail has been transformed into an illuminated festive wonderland. Gather the family to explore the trail, hear stories and festive yarns, all set in the backdrop of this magnificent location. 

Kew at Christmas – 22 November to 1 January 
Palm House and trees surrounding lake are illuminated by different colour lights for Christmas
For those in need of a warming drink, there’s spiced cider, mulled wine and hot chocolate, the perfect addition to a toasted marshmallow on Kew’s roaring fire ©Getty

There’s magic in the air at Kew this winter. From the end of November to the beginning of January, London’s Royal Botanic Gardens invite guests to an enchanting evening of lights, food and vintage fairground rides. Walk the one-mile sparkling trail – illuminated by more than a million lights – past kaleidoscopic projections, giant baubles and singing trees, before joining Santa and his elves at the North Pole village.

lluminated Boat Festival at Foxton Locks – 16 & 17 December 2017
Foxton Illumination/Credit: Canal and River Trust

Illuminated boats, festively lit historic locks, a fountain and music create a magical atmosphere reflected by the waters of the Grand Union Canal. The Canal & River Trust’s Foxton Illuminated Boat Festival at Foxton Locks, Leicestershire, takes place on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 December, 2pm-7pm. This Christmas they’ll be a parade of boats, miles of twinkling fairy lights, carol singing, jazz & blues, rock and festive music from across the world. They’ll also be Christmas stalls and a selection of food and refreshments. For further information, a full programme of entertainment and to book tickets visit

Christmas Carol Concerts & live music

Hacienda Club Classics Under the Stars – 2 & 3 December 2017

Lock 91 on the Rochdale Canal, in the heart of Manchester, will be opened for one night only to celebrate the city’s musical heritage, by playing a set of Hacienda club classics. Visitors can dance the evening away under the star lit sky and sway their glow sticks to music by local DJ ‘Just Jane’ all 14ft down inside a drained lock chamber. Throughout the weekend visitors will be able to walk in the drained lock chambers and canal, look around a pop-up museum, visit the ‘virtual hubs’ and an exhibition of historic images. And to carry on the weekend’s music theme, visitors on Saturday will be entertained by a local choir singing Christmas carols in the lock.

Peak Cavern Carols, Castleton – 9-25 December
Throughout December, the sound of carols echoes from Peak Cavern ©Paul Deakin

The good folk of fortress-crowned Castleton, at the head of the Peak District’s Hope Valley, like to celebrate the Christmas period underground. And with an abundance of show caverns honeycombing the limestone in and around the village, there’s plenty of opportunity to do just that. Step into the darkness of Peak Cavern this December for mince pies, wine and music.

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge – 24 December 
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11:  The Choir of King's College Cambridge conduct a rehearsal of their Christmas Eve service of 'A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols' in King's College Chapel on December 11, 2010 in Cambridge, England. The Choir was founded by King Henry VI in 1441 and is regarded as one of the world's finest choral groups. It comprises of the Conductor Stephen Cleobury, 16 choristers, who are educated on scholarships at King's College School, as well as 14 choral scholars and two organ scholars, who study a variety of subjects in the College. The choir's performance of 'A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols', traditionally held on Christmas Eve in King's College Chapel, was introduced in 1918 and is broadcast to millions of people around the world.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
In 2018, the concert will celebrate its centenary year ©Getty

Perhaps the most famous carol concert of them all – broadcast around the world on BBC Radio 4 – is the Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. About 600 members of the public can attend the event, but beware, you’ll need to get there early – the queue to get in starts to form a day or so before the service.

Christmas Concert National Waterways Museum – 9 December

Join the Wirral Singers and Ringers as they take us through some classic carols and favourite Christmas songs. This annual event takes place at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port on Saturday 9th December 2017, 9-10pm. To book or for further information visit

Carols by Candlelight, National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire – 16 December
The concert takes place on Saturday 16 December – it is a free event, though parking charges apply and donations are appreciated ©National Memorial Arboretum 

Heroes’ Square in the National Memorial Arboretum is illuminated by hundreds of candles and thousands of tree lights for the annual Christmas carol concert. This traditional carol service, suitable for all ages, features a variety of festive music, with carol books, candles and refreshments provided.

Carols by Candlelight, Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire – 10 December
Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire UK
The event itself is free, although normal National Trust admission fees do apply, so arrive early if you’d like a seat ©Getty

The flickering glow of 1,000 candles lights up the vaulted arches of Fountain Abbey’s celebrated cellarium during the annual carol concert, held this year on Sunday 10 December. Pick up a candle and a mulled wine or hot chocolate on
your way in before enjoying a sing-a-long to all your favourite carols.

Festive winter walks

Ramblers Festival of winter walks: 23 December 2017 – 07 January 2018
Wrap up warm and join the Ramblers on a festive walk this Christmas and New Year/Credit: Getty

Take part in fun festive-themed walks suitable for ages and abilities with the Ramblers over the Christmas break. 

Walks take place across England, Scotland and Wales, from cities to the coast and from parkland to country fields. All our walks are led by experienced volunteers.

BBC Countryfile Magazine’s top Boxing Day walks
Scots Pine above Loch Affric provides the foreground to the great Peaks of Mam Sodhail and Carn Eige in the North West Highlands of Scotland.
Walk through the meadows and mountains of Glen Affric, Highland ©Getty

There’s nothing better than a long winter walk after a day of Christmas indulgence – from the mountains of northern Scotland to the canals of southern England, here are some of our favourite Boxing Day walks:


Main image ©Getty