Let’s Get Festive
From meeting Father Christmas to gawping at some fantastic light shows, we've dug out the absolute best of the best Christmassy events for you and the brood. Jingle all the way!
Best places to meet Father Christmas
So, the big man himself is probably run ragged up in the North Pole but there’s nothing quite as magical as taking the kids to meet Santa.
There are lots of places you can hand over your wishlist to St Nick in the run-up to Christmas, but these are some of the best in town.
Marwell Zoo, until Sat 22 Dec
If you want to go for the double whammy of Christmas and general fun then take the kids down to Marwell for their fantastic Christmas celebrations. You’re first greeted into the impressive Marwell Hall by Santa’s helpers (including a pirate who insists he’s a well behaved one, mmmhmm) who also know all the children’s names.
After a few light refreshments, you’re then taken to have a story with Mrs Christmas, which comes with full pelt Disney singing. Then there’s a bit of bag crafting (lots of stickers for maximum effect) before you head to meet Father Christmas. Following that you have full run of the zoo afterwards. My two kids were absolutely enchanted and I thought the attention to detail with names was particularly impressive.
Gunwharf Quays, until Mon 24 Dec
All aboard, the Gunwharf Express is pulling into Portsmouth for this immersive Christmas event. The place is covered in snow and involves jumping aboard a train to festive wonderland. Everybody gets a ticket to see Santa and your treated to an audio-visual experience that won’t result in any motion sickness. After you’ve met the bloke in red you can then head for a spot of retail therapy in the Quays.
Paultons Park, until Sun 23 Dec
Santa has set up shop with a magical grotto in Paulton’s Park, complete with a full-on menagerie en-route. The team have put together a spectacular walk complete with animations and magical stories while you wait. Then after you get a professional snap with SC, you can head over to Peppa Pig World to see him fly off on his sleigh and get all festive with the park in full Christmas-mode.
Watercress Line, Alton/Alresford, until Mon 24 Dec
Take your train-mad children for a very special ride on the Watercress Line this Christmas with the Santa Special. Not content with his reindeer, Father Christmas has taken over a whole steam train and, along with a Christmas singalong (best get practising my scales then), mince pies and mulled wine for the grown-ups, he’ll come and visit each child with a gift as they watch the countryside fly by out the window.
Tapnell Farm, Isle of Wight, Sat 15 – Sun 16 Dec and Fri 21 – Sun 23 Dec
Head over to the south of the island for Tapnell Farm’s Christmas spectacular which comes complete with real-life reindeer on selected days. Alternatively, for those who are a tad averse to the holiday season, you can also get a chance to meet The Grinch and get a few tips about how to get rid of all that merriment. Bah, humbug!
I’m fond of a twinkly light or two and with the darker nights and snuggly clothes it’s the perfect conditions for some fantastic festive illuminations. Check out the top places in the two counties to spot some fantastic light spectaculars.
Beaulieu, until Mon 24 Dec
With over a mile of stunning light displays and soundscapes adorning the Abbey and Palace, Beaulieu has upped its game this year to offer this amazing experience.
Follow the trail to spot Santa riding on a London bus (Rudolph *may* have done a runner), stop off for some gourmet S’mores at the Marshmallowist and generally get into the spirit with roasted chestnuts and retro Victorian rides.
Some people take decorating for Christmas VERY seriously and although we don’t live in the States, it’s still possible to see some people who take their light shows to the max. If you want to experience it for yourself (and generally be a bit nosey) then make sure you head down to Byron Road in New Milton from Sun 2 December.
What started off as a bit of a hobby and charity fundraiser for Ged Hollyoake has become one of the most spectacular light shows on the south coast. It’s very full on but we like it!
Southern Vectis Light Tour, Sat 8 – Sun 23 Dec
If you fancy checking out all the best light shows on the Island but can’t be bothered to go hunting around in the dark, then hop aboard the Southern Vectis Light Tour.
This nightly service runs between Sat 8 and Sun 23 December and takes a three-hour tour of the Island showing off the biggest and best Christmas lights around.
The bus is decked out to the max with tinsel, Christmas tunes and is driven by none other than Father Christmas himself. Take blankets and a flask of something special (they suggest hot chocolate, but I’ll leave that up to you) and get all festive and twinkly in the run-up to the big day.
The Beer Festival has always been a popular point in the Portsmouth calendar and with the introduction of the Xmas Sessions, it merges the joy of Christmas with the chance to drink lots of fancy-pants real ales and ciders. Not only can you drink and be merry with the range of entertainment, but they’ve also got the team from Need Street Food serving up some festive loaded fries and vegan eats.
Osborne House Victorian Christmas Fayre, Sat 1 – Sun 2 Dec
Taking it back to the Victorian era is the Osborne House Christmas Fayre. Here you can pretend to be royalty at the spot Queen Victoria loved the most. As well as Father Christmas doing the rounds, Queen Vic has popped back to show us how to celebrate 19th Century-style. And if you can’t get over to the Island, then make sure you check out the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s Victorian Christmas (Fri 30 Nov – Sun 2 Dec), perfectly placed in Charles Dicken’s birthplace.
Brighstone Christmas Tree Festival, Isle of Wight, Sat 8 – Sun 9 Dec
If you’re looking for a bit of tree decorating inspo, then head over to the Isle of Wight’s Christmas Tree Festival. Set over seven locations, this event has been running for 22 years and features a range of trees decorated with different themes and colour schemes. There’s also a range of activities such as lace making, carol singing and a good slog of traditional Christmas food and drink. Definitely a bit twee, but it’s the good kind.