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December is on – and we’ve found the hottest tickets in town

Jingle all the way to Christmas Day with illuminations, celebs, skating, panto dames and special appearances from the guy in red

VISIT: Ice skating at The Four Seasons Hampshire, Dogmersfield, daily from 2 December

Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire Ice Skating

The fire’s lit and there’s hot chocolates, mulled wine and mince pies aplenty for guests at the luxe Four Seasons to warm up with after a skate around the hotel’s rink. We’re also contemplating the full princess experience with a ride on a traditional horse drawn carriage around the estate – can’t promise not to drop a shoe in our haste to climb aboard…

FILM: Nightflix Longmoor, East Hants, daily from 2 December

Nightflix Longmoor East Hampshire

Escape the crazy world of 2020 on a magical train to the North Pole as The Polar Express plays on the big screen at the new Nightflix outdoor cinema in Longmoor. Also on the bill this month there’s loads of Christmas classics like Home Alone, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Love Actually and, err, Die Hard? Jury’s still out on that one…

FOOD & DRINK: The Alpine Bar at The Cliff House Barton, Milford on Sea, daily from 2 December

Alpine Bar Cliff House Barton

Layer-up for this seasonal outdoor (heated) apres-ski-style opening at The Cliff House in Milford on Sea near Lymington. On the menu: Hampshire hot dogs, sharing boards, mulled wine, cocktails, mice pies and churros, plus twinkly lights and live music at 6pm every Sunday.

VISIT: Winter at Marwell Zoo, Winchester, 2 – 24 December

Snow Leopard Marwell Zoo

You don’t need to go all the way to the North Pole to find penguins – see them right here in Hampshire, along with beautiful snow leopards (above) and the rest of Marwell’s resident menagerie. The front of Grade 1-listed Hall will be lit up for photo ops a-plenty beside a carriage filled with firefly fairy lights and Santa’s sleigh with flying reindeers. Carrying on the SUPERSIZED extravaganza, 10 tiny brick reindeers are hidden in a festive hide and seek.

CHRISTMAS: Santa’s Present Problem at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Romsey. Daily, 3 Dec – 3 January.

Harold Hillier Garden festive trail

The elves have muddled things up and Santa’s sent out an SOS (sounds a lot like our house this time of year). Find out just how helpful your kids can be as they hunt for Santa’s lost gifts in the gardens and reunite them with their owners using a special spotter’s sheet. Afterwards, do your own hunt for coffee and cake in the Tilia Tree Café, tucked away in the gardens.

FOOD & DRINK: Festive High Tea Experience at the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth, various dates from 3 December.

Spinnaker Tower Portsmouth Afternoon Tea Chritmas

Escape the madding crowds snapping up discount designer wears in Gun Wharf and get a bird’s eye view out to sea as you tuck into a festive sky-high tea at the Spinnaker Tower, with sandwiches, lashings of cake and mince pies, optional prosecco and a cracker or two to start the season. Also this month, look down on the lights below with Evening Festive Teas after dark on the View Deck or take the kids for Breakfast (plus a pressie and photo) with Santa in the Waterfront Café.

VISIT: Steam Illuminations at The Watercress Line, Alton and Arlesford, weekends from 4 December

Steam Illuminations Watercress Line

Don’t panic – you’re not having a flashback to the Haçienda circa 1992. A steam train on the ordinarily genteel Watercress Line has been given a neon makeover – and you quite literally can’t miss it. A world first right here in Hampshire, Steam Illuminations is a light show with 13,174 colour-mixing LED lights and LED wristbands creating different colours and flashing patterns as the train travels up and down the 10-mile line.

CHRISTMAS: A Victorian Christmas at Milestones, Basingstoke, 4 December – 3 January.

Milestones Museum Basingstoke

There’s not a Dickensian orphan in sight at Milestone Museum’s cheerfully historical event. Instead, the Victorian origins of Christmas traditions are laid out along with mulled wine and a mince pie in the café afterwards. For younger kids not quite ready for a history lesson there’s a trail to help Santa find his lost reindeer (careless).

CHRISTMAS: A Celebration of Christmas at Paulton’s Park, New Forest, daily from 5 December

Paultons Park Christmas Peppa Pig

Ready for a bit of cartoon-style festive cheer? Aren’t we all! Find it at Paultons Park, with its giant Christmas trees, magical light show, brightly lit Victorian Carousel and, of course, the happy world of Peppa Pig. This year, everyone’s favourite Christmas porker and her good friend, a certain Mr. Claus, will be at the park for a new Santa’s Special Christmas Show.

THEATRE: Four Dames in Search of a Panto, Winchester, 5 December – 3 January

Theatre Royal Winchester Three Dames

What’s camper than a pantomime dame? Four Dames (in Search of a Panto), obviously. And after a live shows drought this year, theatre-buffs will delight in the return of headliners Julian Eardley, Ed Thorpe, Libby Gore and Tom Attwood as our Four (fabulous) Dames, with songs and gags aplenty.

CHRISTMAS: Magical Christmas at Finkley Down Farm, Andover; various dates from 5 December.

Finkley Down Farm Christmas Santa

The sheep have got their woolies on and even the rabbits are dressed to impressed at Finkley Farm’s Christmas. Mother Christmas is running a gingerbread decorating masterclass, Father Christmas is handing out pressies in the barn and there’s hot chocolates all round.

VISIT: Christmas Sounds Amazing at the Winchester Science Centre, Winchester, Various dates 5 December – 4 January

Winchester Science Centre Christmas

The Winchester Science Centre is back with a bang for the Christmas Holidays. Let’s face it, science is much more fun when edgy experiments are involved – especially explosive live science. Plus there’s two festive Planetarium shows – Santa’s Christmas Countdown (for littlies) and Santa’s Festive Space Flight with a Christmassy take on planets and constellations, a brand new interactive sound exhibition and huge live science demos in Science LIVE. If it all gets to much, chill-out in BIO:SPACE with nature activities or blast off for inter-stellar fun in Explorer:Space.

CHRISTMAS: Christmas at Tapnell Farm, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, 5 – 23 December

Tapnell Farm Isle of Wight Christmas

Get your skates on and join the elves and festive friends down at Tapnell Farm Park for storytelling, interactive puzzles, a spot of Gingerbread decorating and an audience with the big guy. Feel like doing something silly after a pretty serious year? Roller skating around the tree ought to do it.

CHRISTMAS: Santa Specials at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, Havenstreet, 5 – 24 December

Santa Isle of Wight Steam Railway

All aboard the nostalgic Isle of Wight Steam Railway for a 10-mile round trip on the Santa Special in your own (heated) Victorian carriage. Always the VIPs at this time of year, youngsters that stay on the right side of the tracks will get gift from the Santa.

THEATRE: Dick Whittington at The King’s Theatre, Portsmouth, 8 December – 3 January

Kings Theatre Portsmouth Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington is on a quest to find adventure, fame and fortune in London but finds himself facing the villainous rodent Queen Rat to save the city and win the hand of fair Alice. This year’s Pompey Panto stars X Factor finalist Sean Smith with plenty of local talent.

A Peter Rabbit™ winter trail at Mottisfont, 11 Dec – 1 Jan 2021

Lanterns twinkle along garden pathways lighting the way to woodland creatures gathering for Christmas celebrations at this cutest of winter trails at Mottisfont. Peter Rabbit and friends Squirrel Nutkin, Mr. Jeremy Fisher and Jemima Puddleduck are all there – help the littlies solve the clues and they’ll earn a special trail badge and certificate.

CHRISTMAS: POLAR at Robin Hill Country Park, near Newport, Isle of Wight, weekends from 12 December

Polar Robin Hill Isle of Wight

The bear is back as the POLAR story continues this December on the Island. Join star of the show, Pippa, along with friends from Blackgang Chine for outdoor rides, illuminated woodland walks and immersive walk-throughs, live music, a local market, with mulled wine for the big kids and hot chocolate for the littlies. If crafting’s your thing, book ahead for Christmas workshops.

SHOP: White Christmas, Gilbert White’s House, Selbourne, 13 December

Gilbert White Christmas

Book quickly for this outdoor market in the stableyard and gardens at Gilbert White’s – the food here is great and has a big following. Warm up with mulled wine and mince pies then peruse the local wares, from clothing, flowers, jewellery, gifts and eco items, to coffee and fruit liqueurs. Restored in 2020, look in at the brewhouse for a bottle of the museum’s own Christmas craft ale and a quick brewing tutorial.

A Christmas Quest at The Point, Eastleigh, 14 December – 7 January

Thrive on a challenge? Get yourself down to The Point Theatre in Eastleigh to save the day with this Bond-meets-Santa festive quest. The sun has gone missing and Christmas cannot happen if it doesn’t rise. Your socially-distanced family bubble is invited to find it, making your way through six very different rooms in the process.

VISIT: Holly King – An Ancient Midwinter Celebration, Butser Ancient Farm, Petersfield, 18, 20, 22 December

Butser Ancient Hill Farm snow

Long before the Santa came on the scene (let alone got his snazzy red coat) the Holly King was the main man at this time of year. At Butser Ancient Farm he still is. This festival celebrates his vigil standing guard over the forest and its birds and animals and caring for them during the winter. Discover more as you explore the special Holly King trail blazing with fires and decked out with winter solstice displays.

Jimmy Carr’s Terribly Funny, Portsmouth Guildhall, 17 December

Jimmy Carr

Need a good laugh right now? We hear you. One for the grown-ups (and with a political correctness warning attached), go quick for tickets to see Jimmy Carr being Terribly Funny in a Covid-secure performance at the Portsmouth Guildhall.

THEATRE: Sleeping Beauty at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 19 December – 3 January

Sleeping Beauty Mayflower Theatre

Take a (socially-distanced) seat and prepared to be entertained by an all-star cast at the Mayflower including funny-man Joe Pasquale, Birds of a Feather’s Lesley Joseph and cabaret star Ceri Dupree. Beauty might drop off but everyone else will be too busy enjoying the good-old-fashioned gags. Fancy a freebie? Check out our Reader Treats for a chance to win four tickets worth £138.

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