Top 10 places to spend Christmas in the UK

Christmas, Days out, Destinations

Posted by Courtney Kelly on 21st September 2022

A child at a Christmas market choosing a sweet treat

It’s the most wonderful time of the year; but just where are the best places to spend Christmas in the UK?

Whether you want to stay local, fancy a trip just down the road or are ready for an adventure across the country, there are plenty of locations up and down the UK which come alive at Christmas.

So, without further ado, here are our top ten ideas for where to spend Christmas in the UK. And if you're looking for somewhere cosy to stay after a day filled with festive fun, take a look at our Christmas cottages by clicking the button below.

Christmas cottage breaks


Northern Lights over Duncansby Head, John O'Groats

The Highlands

If it’s a white Christmas you crave, one of the best Christmas destinations is the Scottish Highlands, which is one of the best places to find snow in the festive season. The northern reaches also offer a fantastic chance to spot the Aurora Borealis – or the Northern Lights, as they are commonly known.

Should you wish to see a wider range of what the Highlands have to offer, book yourself a festive train journey and take in the snow-white scenery in style.

After this, retreat to your cosy Highlands cottage, safe in the knowledge that there’s not much better than spending Christmastime watching the snow feathering down outside the window and the Northern Lights illuminating the sky.

  • Must see: Visit the regions of Sutherland and Caithness to witness the Northern Lights
  • Must try: Haggis sausage rolls with a wee dram of whisky
  • Stay nearby: Macleod Chalet, near Lochinver | sleeps 4

Browse our Highlands cottages


BathChristmas fireworks and Whitby's Gothic abbey in the snow

Whitby

You may be looking for places to go at Christmas on the Yorkshire coast. If so, we’ve got a couple of excellent options for you. First up is Whitby, which is often associated with Halloween thanks to its Gothic abbey and links with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, even the Count himself would be swept up in the Christmas celebrations and merriment in this coastal town.

Whitby’s Christmas Market takes place between 17 and 19 November, giving you plenty of time to buy a local gift for that special someone. The stalls are set up in beach huts, giving a coastal nod to the festive proceedings, and after you’ve seen the Christmas lights switched on, there’s a spectacular fireworks display to round off your visit.

If you’re visiting in December, you’ll be well placed to witness the Whitby Krampus Run too, a costumed street parade that infuses local folklore with the legend of Krampus to raise money for local charities.

  • Must see: The Boxing Day dip in the ocean is well worth watching … or even joining
  • Must try: Christmas cake by Stokers of Whitby
  • Stay nearby: Whitsend, Whitby | sleeps 5

Browse our Whitby cottages


A woman wrapped up in winter clothes stands in a Christmas light tunnel

Scarborough

The second Yorkshire coast hotspot on our list of the best places to visit for Christmas, Scarborough is a place that’s usually synonymous with summertime fun. Whilst holidaymakers are correct to flock here during the warmer months, it’s also an excellent destination to visit during the festive season.

Not only are there mesmeric coastal walks to enjoy with your family and friends (walks that take on a renewed beauty during the frost-covered season of winter), but the Scarborough Fair programme sees a number of light shows taking place throughout the town.

Scarborough Lights is the first event and begins with a jaw-dropping drone display over Scarborough Castle. Next is the Peasholm Park Winter Lights Trail, which combines Christmas lights and artwork from the UK and across Europe. There are many more illuminations besides these, including those at the harbour (where Santa is waiting) and at Scarborough Spa.

  • Must see: The Scarborough Lights LED Light Tunnel – 9 metres of festive brilliance that the kids will adore
  • Must try: Cocktails and Candy Canes at Scarborough Spa
  • Stay nearby: Church Beck House, Scalby | sleeps 8

Browse our Scarborough cottages


Close up of a Christmas tree and some Christmas Bakewell tart

Bakewell

Come for the tart, stay for the … well, also the tart, but there’s so much more besides this famous pudding going on in Bakewell around Christmastime. The Christmas market held in mid-November in the town centre boasts over 100 stalls selling local goods that include crafts, plants, jewellery, soaps, clothing and books.

The food and drink on offer might harm your wallet as you’ll find a plethora of cheeses, chutneys and fudges to take home, as well as Yorkshire pudding wraps, crepes and waffles to eat as you stroll along. During the weekend, there’s a grotto for the children to visit and live music to keep their toes tapping.

Later in November, the Bakewell Agricultural Business Centre will host the Bakewell Christmas Sparkle. This is a fantastic family-friendly event where the kids can handle small animals, get their faces painted and visit Santa in a tipi grotto. Fear not, the grown-ups are well catered for as well with over 50 stalls to peruse, a heated tipi bar, a street food court and live musical performances. If you’re still in Bakewell in December, head to All Saints Church which hosts a Christmas Tree Festival.

  • Must see: Christmas carols from Peak Performance Choir at the Bakewell Christmas Sparkle will certainly get you in the spirit of things
  • Must try: Everywhere will be selling festive Bakewell tarts … it’d be rude not to sample them
  • Stay nearby: Beech Cottage, Bakewell | sleeps 4 + 2 dogs

Browse our Bakewell cottages


Southwold beach huts with sand dunes in the foreground all covered in snow. The ocean is in the background.

Southwold

When thinking of the best places to spend Christmas in the UK, Southwold on the Suffolk Heritage Coast might not immediately spring to mind. This seaside town is a quintessential summer mainstay that sees visitors in their throngs heading to the coast to enjoy the beach and the pier amongst other things. However, during winter and in the lead-up to Christmas, Southwold sees fewer tourists than in the warmer months, creating a sense of peace and quiet which, when coupled with serene coastal walks, is hard to beat.

That’s not to say that the Southwold festive scene is a sleepy affair – far from it. There’s a Christmas market for every weekend day during December along the Suffolk coast (including one in Southwold’s town square) so head out and buy your gifts before returning to the picturesque sight of Southwold’s iconic pier and lighthouse amid tumbling snow. Book your tickets at the Southwold Art Centre for Santa's Christmas Show, a festive Santamime for all the family where the kids can join in the fun and watch the elves, Rudolph and the big man himself get themselves into a comical Christmas muddle.

And if you need help waking up on Christmas morning, head to Gun Hill Beach for the annual Southwold Christmas Day swim!

Browse our Southwold cottages


A lady reads a book in the warmth of a glowing fire by a Christmas tree. Hay Castle where much of the Hay Festival Winter Weekend takes place

Hay-on-wye

Representing Wales on our list of best places to go at Christmas, Hay-on-Wye attracts the literary crowds from far and wide thanks to its moniker as the town of books. You may be able to pick up an aged copy of a Christmas classic such as A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker as you explore over 20 bookshops.

Books are not the only offering though; with a 700-year-old market providing gift ideas every Thursday, you’re bound to pick up something wonderful and merry for a loved one or friend.

During November, the Hay Festival Winter Weekend takes place, a smaller version of the Hay Festival which occurs every spring. The historic market square comes alive during this four-day event, transforming the town into a winter wonderland. Much of the weekend’s festivities take place on the grounds of Hay Castle in a huge 350-seater marquee. Enjoy writing workshops, craft sessions, storytelling, comedy, music and family-friendly workshops.

  • Must see: This year (2023), Matt Lucas will be introducing his new children’s book The Boy Who Slept Through Christmas
  • Must try: A brownie from Dugan’s Patisserie, a Hay-based, award-winning artisan baker
  • Stay nearby: The Old Cider House, Hay-on-Wye | sleeps 6

Browse our Hay-on-Wye cottages


The beautiful village of Clovelly illuminated by Christmas lightsImage credit: RNLI

Clovelly

The gorgeous cliff-side village in North Devon is stunning all year round – but it’s Christmas when a medley of events truly showcases its unique spirit and location. Clovelly's cobbled streets provide a multi-coloured path, with Christmas lights – put up in aid of the local RNLI – illuminating your walk down the hill to the harbour.

There’s also an annual Boxing Day BBQ with live music, mulled wine and a treasure hunt, while the fancy dress New Year’s Eve celebrations are also worth a visit.

Recently, the village was dubbed the UK’s most Instagrammable place as well as one of the most Christmassy places in the land. Go during the day for the incredible coastal views and stay late into the evening for the lights, the singing, the live brass band and some warming mulled wine. We'd say this is one of the best places to stay at Christmas for a truly magical getaway. 

  • Must see: The lobster pot Christmas tree is possibly one of the most unique Christmas trees you’re likely to find
  • Must try: Order a hog roast on the night of the Christmas light switch on as you await the fireworks display
  • Stay nearby: Tall Tree Cottage, Clovelly | sleeps 6

Browse our Clovelly cottages


Christmas tree and Newport Minster church at St Thomas Square on the Isle of Wight. Shanklin covered in snow.

Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is one of the spots that gets the most sun and daylight hours anywhere in the UK. There’s something about the cool winter sunshine that’s intoxicating, whether it’s rising above the pier at Bembridge Beach or setting beyond the Needles and its lighthouse. If you want to see this latter landmark in style, wrap up warm and treat yourself to a trip on the chairlift from the Alum Bay cliffs down to the beach – there is truly no better way to see this magnificent collection of rocks.

Further inland, you’ll find thatched cottages and traditional taverns that will start to fill you with Christmas anticipation ... especially if you’re lucky enough to visit when the snow is falling (also known as a Wight Christmas!)

There’s a host of festive goings-on on the island: Santa and his mobile grotto visit numerous locations including the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary, and the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary; the Shanklin Theatre puts on the ever-indispensable pantomime; and Ventnor Botanic Gardens show off their artistry with a family-friendly illuminated sleighbell stroll. Failing all this, a winter amble along the Isle of Wight’s numerous beaches will set you up for having a merry little Christmas.

Don’t forget, you can save money on your ferry crossing when you book with holidaycottages.co.uk.

  • Must see: The Garlic Farm’s pop-up Christmas shop sells gorgeous Isle of Wight-made gifts in the warmth of a roaring log fire
  • Must try: Christmas dinner deliveries straight to your cottage from The Hungry Bear
  • Stay nearby: The Hayloft Cottage, Godshill | sleeps 3 + 2 dogs

Browse our Isle of Wight cottages


The harbour illuminations of Mousehole

Mousehole

If you’re still thinking about where to go for Christmas and you want to stay coastal, you need to consider this charming seaside location. One of the best places to see Christmas lights in the UK, the Cornish village of Mousehole comes alive with kaleidoscopic light midway through December. The switch-on event is quite the occasion too, with an open-air service leading revellers in a sing-song before the lights illuminate the harbour.

The Christmas light tradition began in 1963 when a local artist placed a string of lights along the quay at Christmas to make the village more welcoming and attractive. This ritual has grown year on year and now the spectacular showing of lights displays local foodie delicacies, sea serpents and sailboats to name just a few of the installations. The lights stay on from 5pm to 10pm and only get turned off on the 19th in memory of the Solomon Browne disaster.

When the big event is over, you can sit by the water and bathe in the glow of the twinkling lights, making this one of the best places to go at Christmas for a festive break by the sea. 

  • Must see: Catch a showing of the puppet and live-action production of The Mousehole Cat at the Solomon Browne Memorial Hall during December
  • Must try: A warming portion of Stargazy Pie, a local fish and pastry delicacy (just wait until you see it!)
  • Stay nearby: Seahorse Cottage, Mousehole | sleeps 4

Browse our Mousehole cottages


Father Christmas reading his list amongst festive decorations

Lapland…

Yes, there is an attraction named Lapland UK, and it can be found in Ascot, Berkshire. It’s a 4-hour immersive experience of the Father Christmas story, recreating the North Pole for a month-long celebration of children’s beliefs.

In the attraction, kids can help elves in the Toy Factory, decorate gingerbread houses with Mother Christmas, meet Father Christmas and his reindeer, go ice skating and more. It takes place from mid-November up to and including Christmas Eve.

  • Must see: Father Christmas House – this enchanting wooden cabin amid snow-covered trees will fill your children’s hearts with Christmas magic
  • Must try: Popping your most secret wish into one of the Lapland wish jars (purchasable from the gift shop)
  • Stay nearby: Lynchets Cottage, Wantage | sleeps 10 + 1 dog

Browse our Berkshire cottages


Find more inspiration this Christmas

Feeling in the festive spirit? Check out more of our Christmas blogs dedicated to the most wonderful time of the year, including a stress-free Christmas dinner timeline, top Christmas markets and more.

Find the perfect place to stay for the big day by browsing our collection of Christmas cottages. 

Christmas breaks

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.