How to get outdoors this Christmas: best activities, walks and experiences

After a day of indulgence, venture outside for lungfuls of fresh air. From stargazing to roasting chestnuts over a bonfire, here is a selection of the best outdoor activities to enjoy in the British countryside over the festive season. 

Snow-capped mountains

The festive season is a joyous time, a chance to celebrate with family and friends. But we can find ourselves feeling stressed by Christmas shopping and the endless sessions of cooking, baking and entertaining. Even the hours spent on the sofa with a box of chocolates, watching a glut of television, are exhausting. When the indoor indulgences become too much, it’s time to simplify life and head into the great outdoors.

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From stargazing to roasting chestnuts over a bonfire, here is a selection of the best outdoor activities to enjoy in the British countryside over the festive season. 

Embrace the snow

Snow is never guaranteed in December, but if it falls, abandon the car and step out on foot. This is the time to relinquish all duties and make the most of a British rarity. Go sledging, build a snowman, create a snow angel or have a snowball fight. Take long walks and enjoy the crunch of snow underfoot. Admire frosted trees, branches lined in white and caught with buds of snow. If there is no fall where you are, take public transport to higher land and climb the hills until you reach the snowline, such as along a snow-shrouded Corn Du and Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons.

"A very cold winter morning begins at St Oswalds bay on the world heritage coastline of Dorset/Credit: Getty Images

Help those in need

Christmas is a time for giving and a time to extend goodwill to others. Offer to take a housebound neighbour’s dog for a walk. Accompany an elderly relative on a short stroll in the countryside. Help infirm members of your community by offering to clear their paths and driveways of snow and ice. Borrow the children of busy parents and teach
them how to identify animal tracks or build dens in the woods – and find your inner child. In providing these services that take you out into the countryside, you will rediscover the simpler joys of the season and the mental-health benefits that come with being out in the fresh air.

Dog walker in sunrise
Help others out in need over Christmas, such as walking a neighbour’s dog/Credit: Getty Images

Learn more about helping neighbours from the Royal Voluntary Service: royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk

Build a bonfire and roast chestnuts

Christmas markets are filled with the smoky smell of roasting chestnuts. The scent of charred shell and soft bite of the steaming nut inside belong to the festive season, but they taste even better in the countryside. Find a river or lakeside beach and gather fallen wood to build a bonfire. Once the flames have died down, wash the chestnuts in river water, score each one, then place in a roasting pan or wrap in tin foil and cook over the fire. When the shells begin to split and the insides are soft, they’re ready to eat. Enjoy with spicy sausage and crusty bread.

Roasting chestnuts
Embrace the smokey scent of chestnuts in the festive season/Credit: Getty Images

Learn how to roast chestnuts at bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/how-roast-chestnuts

Watch waterfowl

The RSPB has a host of wetland sites across the country where you can watch non-migratory or overwintering waterfowl and waders. Find a sheltering hide on a coastal marsh or beach and look out for winter waders: oystercatchers, dunlins and plovers or waterfowl such as wigeons, teal, mallards and shelducks. Spot lapwings and curlews (pictured) on the edge of wetlands, keeping warm with a hot toddy in your hideaway. Alternatively, head for the peaceful solitude of the woods to watch finches, tits and other native woodland birds.

Wading bird on ground
Spot curlews at one of the RSPB’s wetlands/Credit: RSPB Images

Find out where to watch winter birdlife at wwt.org.uk or rspb.org.uk

See our guide to wading birds

Hike the coast

Blow the cobwebs away with a windswept coastal walk. At the northern reaches of Britain, where the wild Atlantic hits the wall of the North Sea at Duncansby Head, beacons strung across the mainland and the Orkneys flash warning in the haar. This cold sea fog is sure to dash the festive fug away. At the other end of the country, in northern Cornwall, Atlantic waves crash against rocky headlands, while in between, the atmospheric whip of wing and harsh honk of goose fill the chilled air of coastal wetlands. Head to the sea to cast off seasonal stupor and to feel alive again.

See Britain’s best coastal walks

winter beach
A cold winter morning at St Oswalds bay on the world heritage coastline of Dorset (Getty)
Greek butter bean and tomato soup

Wrap up for a frosty morning stroll

A frosted landscape on a sub-zero winter morning is extraordinarily beautiful. Feel the crunch of ice underfoot and watch your breath smoke the air. Stroll along riverbanks, lakesides or ponds, their surfaces steaming in the early morning light. Walk along a frozen canal and smile at waterfowl slipping and sliding on the frozen surface. Climb above a valley to experience an inversion mist, the valley floor shrouded in fog while the sun shines brightly on top. Rising early to walk through the winter silvers of frost
and mist is an invigorating start to the day.

Frosty lake
Cold winter mornings can be incredibly beautiful. Take a morning stroll and set yourself up for the day ahead/Credit: Getty Images

Stargaze

On long December nights, explore the northern hemisphere skies. Find a local Dark Sky Site – where light pollution is minimal – or travel to an International Dark Site Place, then download an app to help you identify winter constellations such as Orion, Taurus and Gemini. From the Isle of Coll, Galloway Forest Park and Moffat in Scotland, and Kielder Water & Forest Park in Northumberland (pictured at Freya’s Cabin), you have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights, too. In England and Wales search out the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia and Exmoor, or Sark on the Channel Islands, for star-studded skies and thrilling meteor showers on clear nights.

Milky Way stargazing at Kielder Observatory
(Photo by: Christianto Soning / EyeEm via Getty Images)

For more information, visit darkskydiscovery.org.uk

See our guide to stargazing in the UK, including how to stargaze and best places to go

Sing carols by candlelight

Many of our villages look enchanting at Christmas, decorated with traditional fir trees and fairylights. Stroll through the villages of Scotland’s Royal Deeside, surrounded by the snow-capped Cairngorms. Enjoy the softer honey-hued cottages of the Cotswold villages, tucked into rolling hills. Find a bijou village church of colourful stained glass and carved pews and join in a candlelight carol service. For something different, explore the brightly decorated Derbyshire village of Castleton beneath Mam Tor and sing with a brass band in Peak Cavern, or join a festive concert at Treak Cliff Cavern with its semi-precious Blue John. 

Carol singers
Singing with others has been proven to be good for our mental health/Credit Getty Images

Create natural Christmas decorations

Old traditions are sometimes lost in the commercialisation of Christmas, so there’s something deeply satisfying about creating simple decorations from nature’s bounty. Head for a mixed woodland to gather materials to make a Christmas wreath, or find greenery to hang from mantlepieces or picture rails. Look for pine cones on the forest floor and wind-lopped fir branches. Pick rosehips and wizened seed heads, ivy and holly bright with red berries. Wander down paths carpeted with pine needles, breathe in the scent of evergreens and enjoy the shafts of light that fall in clearings.

Woman gathering foliage
Gather foliage on a winter walk to bring nature into your home/Credit: Getty Images

Savour a winter picnic

The days may be chilly but there’s no reason to forgo the delights of a winter picnic. Pack flasks of homemade soup, hot chocolate or mulled wine for your winter walk. Revel in a favourite seasonal activity, such as storm-watching on the coast or spotting snowy-white mountain hares on Britain’s uplands. Photograph winter landscapes for homemade Christmas cards, or brave a December swim if you feel daring, before settling down on a picnic rug for warming food and drink, wrapped in
a fleecy blanket. 

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People sitting and having a winter picnic
Wrap up warm and savour a winter picnic/Credit: Getty Images

Watch the Winter Solstice

The hibernal solstice marks midwinter and the shortest day of the year, 21 December. To catch the full extent of daylight, rise at night to see the sunrise. There’s something magical about striding out in the pre-dawn, torch in hand. Your sense of hearing and smell is heightened in the dark: the snap of twig, rustle of wildlife and smell of mulched vegetation intensified. As the sky lightens, watch the land take on colour and definition, then wait for the sunrise to reveal the landscape at your feet. If you feel ambitious, journey to the ancient site of Stonehenge (pictured) to mark this special time of year. 

Stonehenge in winter
Watch the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge/Credit: Getty Images

When is the Winter Solstice and best places to see