With Santa and his elves hard at work, the nine counties making up South East England have been equally busy putting the final touches to its exciting events calendar for Christmas 2011. So why not escape to South East England this winter and make the most of a huge array of events, days out and short breaks with your loved one?
Couples visiting Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire can see how Queen Victoria liked to spend Christmas at Osborne House, take a ride with Santa on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, skate against the backdrop of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, shop for stocking fillers at one of the UK’s largest Christmas markets, and much more.
Get your skates on at the Royal Pavilion Ice Rink
East Sussex; 12th November 2011 to 22nd January 2012
Following the enormous success of its inaugural year in 2010, the Royal Pavilion’s Eastern Lawn is set to return as the quintessential festive skating experience in Brighton. The real-ice rink will be set against the backdrop of King George IV’s historic royal palace and will offer lessons, group skating packages, and one of the most romantic and beautiful settings for skating couples this Christmas. Hour-long sessions will be available daily between 12th November 2011 and 22nd January 2012, except Christmas Day. Adult tickets booked via Ticketmaster cost £13 per person for a one-hour session including skate hire.
A Victorian Christmas at Osborne House
Isle of Wight; 19th & 20th November 2011
If you ever wondered how the Victorians used to celebrate Christmas then there’s no better place to find out than Osborne House, the former home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 1800s. On 19th and 20th November 2011, the spectacular stately home will be converted into a festive 19th-century scene with Christmas trees, traditional Victorian fairground stalls, entertainment from a bygone era, and Dickensian characters including the cheeky chimney sweeps. The sumptuous ground floor rooms will be adorned with festive decorations as they would have been when Queen Victoria celebrated at her family home, with colourful trees bedecked in the style favoured by Prince Albert. Adult tickets cost £13.50 for non-members, or £2.10 for members, and include entry to Osborne House.
Victorian Festival of Christmas
Portsmouth; 25th-27th November 2011
It’s nearly time to step back in time… at the Victorian Festival of Christmas. The magical three-day event will see Portsmouth Historic Dockyard transformed into a Dickensian-style bygone era of snowy white streets with seasonal carols, the ever-eventful Fagin’s Tavern, and the largest Christmas market on the South Coast with over 140 stalls! Visitors can meet real-life baby reindeer, take part in Victorian dancing with piping pipers, learn how to cook traditional recipes, enjoy the visually stunning Victorian Magic Lantern show, indulge in roasted chestnuts and steaming mulled wine, and meet a whole host of colourful characters from the 19th-century as they ride by on their Penny Farthings. Adult tickets cost £14.50 and include entry to the attractions of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Dickens Christmas Market and Festive Food Fayre
Kent; 30th November – 18th December 2011
Christmas is coming and there’s no better place to get in the seasonal spirit than the Dickens Christmas Market and Festive Food Fayre. Set in the beautiful grounds of Kent’s Rochester Castle, overlooking the River Medway, the event will kick off with the “Big Christmas Lights Switch-On” with legendary American rapper Vanilla Ice, followed by an enchanting Lantern Procession led by the local choir and a host of quirky characters from the Dickensian era. A truly festive atmosphere awaits at the Castle where visitors will find one of the largest German-style Christmas markets in the UK, complete with Christmas chalets selling a variety of Christmas gifts, hand-crafted goods and festive treats. Live street entertainers, Dickensian characters, musical bands and carol singers will further add to the excitement of festivities. This is a free event open to all.
Light Night throughout Oxford
Oxfordshire; 2nd December 2011
Celebrate the arrival of the Christmas season in Oxford as the city comes alive with a buzzing evening of extravagant illuminations, dance, art, live music and performance, all thrown together with a generous helping of festive cheer. During the evening of Friday 2nd December 2011, Oxford’s museums, Castle, Town Hall, theatres and galleries will throw open their doors to the public for one-off late night viewings of their exhibitions and displays, which will be enhanced by special performances. There will also be parades of people holding lanterns through the street to add a bit of extra sparkle, in addition to festive choirs singing carols, brass bands playing amidst the opening of Oxford Christmas Market and mesmerising street performances. This is a free event open to all.
Christmas Market at Oxford Castle
Oxfordshire; 2nd-18th December 2011
Roasted chestnuts and Glühwein will fill the air at Oxford’s star tourist attraction, Oxford Castle, as the ever-popular Christmas Market returns for another year. Over the course of 17 Christmassy days, the Norman medieval castle will be transformed into a winter wonderland with beautifully-decorated wooden stalls offering an array of Christmas gifts and seasonal treats. The market will feature local choirs and brass bands performing a varied selection of festive carols and spreading seasonal cheer, while a Victorian carousel and Father Christmas will provide additional entertainment. Admission is free and open to all.
Santa Specials on Isle of Wight Steam Railway
Isle of Wight; 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th, 17th, 18th & 21st-24th December 2011
It’s “all aboard” as Santa lets off steam on a magical 50-minute journey on the award-winning Isle of Wight Steam Railway. The Santa Special service will run on selected dates from 3rd-24th December and will allow passengers to enjoy festive drinks, visit Santa’s grotto, or stock up on last-minute gifts at the Railway Museum at Havenstreet. The festive fun will continue after Christmas with the railway’s “Mince Pie Special” service on 26th and 27th December, where passengers can settle back in a warm and comfortable Victorian or Edwardian carriage and experience the Isle of Wight’s unspoiled winter landscape. Adult tickets cost £22.50* and include return Wightlink catamaran tickets from Portsmouth Harbour, a 10-mile steam train journey, and seasonal refreshments. *Adult prices increase to £23.50 between 18th-24th December 2011.
Denbies Late Night Shopping & Craft Fair
Surrey; 5th & 19th December 2011
This year, why not get into the festive spirit and do a spot of last-minute shopping at the UK’s largest winery? There will be free mulled wine, mince pies a-plenty, Christmas carolling with live music – not to mention a wonderful opportunity to stock up on an award-winning range of wine and local artisan crafts – at Denbies Vineyard. What’s more, on selected days leading up to Christmas, visitors can enjoy a ride through the gently falling snow on the indoor train to Santa’s Grotto. Set in 265 acres of Vines in Dorking, Denbies is an all-weather destination and the UK’s largest single estate vineyard. Admission is free.
A Victorian Christmas on board HMS Warrior 1860
Portsmouth; 16th December 2011
This December, step on board HMS Warrior 1860 and enter the world of a Christmassy Victorian sailor. From 7pm to midnight, visitors can enjoy a traditional Victorian Christmas celebration complete with carol singers, mulled wine and Christmas fare. The beautifully-restored ship will be festively dressed and each guest will receive mulled wine, dinner, entertainment and a lively disco to dance the night away and celebrate the approaching arrival of Santa. Tickets cost £65 per person and can be purchased individually or for tables of 10.
Southampton City Art Gallery Eco Christmas Workshop
Southampton; 17th December 2011
Budding artists and those with a creative leaning can learn how to make festive decorations from wire, beads and other recycled materials, as part of an Eco Christmas workshop at Southampton’s City Art Gallery. The day is designed to help visitors reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfill and discover ways in which we can better support our environment this Christmas. Among the exhibitions that participants in the Eco Christmas workshop will be able to see are recent works by Boo Ritson, who is known for her unique style, merging painting, sculpture, performance and photography. The one-off workshop is open to anyone aged 13 years or over and will take place between 11am and 1pm. This is a free event but pre-booking is essential by calling 023 8083 4536.
Creative Christmas Crafts at St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery
Hampshire; 20th & 21st December 2011
Ever since Kirstie Allsopp hit our screens with her Homemade Home programme, artistic souls around the country have been putting their creative skills to the test by making things for the home or adding a personal touch to gifts for friends and relatives. Now the St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery in Lymington is running a Creative Christmas Crafts event for those who want to design and create their own Christmas cards, gifts and decorations for friends and family. The drop-in workshop, which will take place between 10am-1pm and 2pm-4pm, is included in the price of admission to St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery. Tickets to the museum cost £4 for adults.
Burning the Clocks – Winter Solstice Parade
East Sussex; 21st December 2011
Celebrating the winter solstice’s longest night of the year, Brighton’s annual Burning the Clocks – Winter Solstice Parade sees thousands of people gather to make paper and willow lanterns to carry through the city and illuminate the darkness of winter. This spectacular event attracts over 20,000 spectators who flock to watch many of the paper lanterns being burnt on the beach as a token for the end of the year. Visitors can also join free lantern-making workshops held from late October onwards.
Cosy Christmas retreats for couples
Isle of Wight; from 24th December 2011
Couples visiting the Isle of Wight this Christmas can take advantage of half price ferry travel once they’ve booked their cosy Christmas escape. When booking their car crossings online with ferry operator, Red Funnel, customers will receive 50% off their ferry transfers. Discounted stays are available at various charming retreats, including The Bernay in Sandown. This four-star B&B makes for a wonderful get-away for couples with easy access to sloping sandy beaches for winter walks. Whether looking for a romantic festive holiday, or an idyllic base to chill-out away from life’s busy schedule, The Bernay is sure to add an extra special sparkle this winter. Prices start from £612 per room for a four-night escape.
Christmas at a Great Country Pub
Kent; 25th December 2011
Christmas is the one of time of year when hearty food, tip top hospitality, great company, and a bucket full of laughs are an absolute must. Visitors are guaranteed to find all of the above at one of the region’s great country pubs this winter. An ideal choice is The Grove Ferry, situated near Canterbury in Kent and dating back to 1831, which offers the finest local produce from a gorgeous riverside setting. The team that transformed The Wiremill into one of the finest pubs in the land have teamed up with the oldest brewer in the UK, Shepherd Neame, to return The Grove Ferry to the traditional coaching inn it once was. It’s the perfect location to enjoy a Christmas feast with all the trimmings before retiring, with a rounded Santa-esque belly, to one of the six beautifully-furnished en-suite rooms. An overnight stay starts from £64 per night for a double room.