25 free things to do in the UK in December

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You'll find Christmas and New Year events to enjoy around the UK in the next few weeks, from carols and crafts to massive celebrations, fireworks and illuminations

Welcome winter and discover something different to do; we have something for everyone in our bumper monthly round-up of free days out around Britain.



1. Christmas winter wonderlands

Across the country, throughout December

Offering an alternative to the high street, the various Christmas fairs springing up around Britain have rides and a Christmas atmosphere as well as hot drinks and food to keep you warm no matter the weather.

Whether it's the huge Hyde Park Winter Wonderland in London, the bright lights of Cardiff's Winter Wonderland or the spectacle of Nottingham's Winter Wonderland make sure you see what's taking place near you.

2. Christmas carols and songs

Across the country, 1 December-24 December

All the Christmas shopping and frolicking can really take its toll, so it's always best to take a step back, grab a hot drink and get back into the true spirit of the season with some heart-warming Christmas carols in concerts that are free to attend across the country.

Check what's happening near you and you could catch a treat such as carols at Liverpool Cathedral, the more intimate Christmas concert at Manchester Library or the Christmas Carol Concert at the National Museum Cardiff, which is also currently hosting Dippy the Dinosaur.

Feeling festive? Don't miss our guide to the best Christmas markets in the UK and Europe

Browse the best Christmas gifts, and save money with your Boundless discount

3. New Year's fireworks

Across the country, 31 December

After Bonfire Night the best time of the year to look to the sky and see it lit up by New Year's fireworks. Lots of towns and cities in the UK bring a full-on party, from the seaside fancy-dress fireworks at St Ives, the torch-bearing Flambeaux Procession at Comrie in Perthshire and the huge displays on the Thames, fireworks in Newcastle’s city centre and Gateshead Quayside and elsewhere, make sure you get the best spot for seeing out 2019.

4. Boxing Day swims

Across the UK, 26 December

What better way to get over the turkey sandwiches of Christmas Day than with a refreshing, albeit chilly swim in the sea? There are plenty of Boxing Day swims going on across the country, with the Ryde Boxing Day Swim and Pembrey Country Park Walrus Dip just two of the events going on. You can even pop out to see the swimmers in the Peter Pan Cup in London on Christmas Day.

London and south-east England

Free things to do in London December 2017

5. Trafalgar Square tree and carols

Trafalgar Square, 5-24 December

See the lights switched on the world's most famous festive spruce at the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. A present from the people of Norway every year since 1947 in thanks for Britain’s help in World War II, the tree is always a spectacular giant and the annual celebration kicks off the Christmas season with carols and poetry aplenty. Get there early on 5 December for a good spot.

Then from the 9th December, carol-singing groups will perform each day from 4-9pm on weekdays and 2-7pm on weekends.

6. Burning of the Clocks

Brighton, 21 December

A unique opportunity to gather and carry lanterns through Brighton on the winter solstice, to welcome the lengthening days. The Burning Of The Clocks culminates in a spectacular pyrotechnic firework display and bonfire on Brighton beach. Wrap up warm and enjoy the spectacle.

7. Carnaby Christmas Lights

Soho, London, until 1 January

Not only have this year's Carnaby Christmas Lights been given a nautical theme, but all the lights are made from recycled ocean waste including plastic bottles and fishing nets. As well as being a stunning sight they aim to convey a green message this Christmas.

8. A Christmas Carol performance 

Museum of London Docklands, 7-15 December

Enjoy hour-long performances of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol suitable for children aged five-plus. See Scrooge find redemption thanks to a talented cast and the input of the audience. There are performances throughout the day but make sure you get there early as tickets are limited.

Midlands and eastern England


9. Christmas Craft Day

RSPB Sandwell Valley, West Midlands, 1 December

Head to the visitor centre to make festive crafts, cards and decorations as part of the RSPB Sandwell Valley Christmas Fayre. There will also be gifts to buy and food to enjoy between bird-spotting at the reserve.

10. Boxing Day Morris dancing 

The Swan Inn, South Wootton, 26 December

Rather than sit around finishing off the Christmas chocolates or getting stuck in the sales, why not get out of the malaise and enjoy Morris Dancing on Boxing Day from the Kings Morris? Set in the lovely South Wootton, you can partake in a walk before heading to the Swan Inn for some entertainment.

11. Battle of the Choirs

Merry Hill Centre, Dudley, 9-13 December

Students from 20 schools will do their best to be crowned number one in the Christmas Choir Competition. With the heats throughout the week, the final will be held in the shopping centre on Friday 7 December. It’s the perfect break from your shopping.

12. Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, 24 December

Kings College Chapel’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve has become world-renowned, since it was first broadcast by the BBC in 1928. Aired live on BBC Radio 4 at 3pm on 24 December, it is played out on other networks over the following 24 hours.  There’s only 600 available seats and you'll have to start queueing at 9am if you want to be sure of getting in.

South-west England and Wales


13. Medieval Christmas Parade

Conwy, North Wales, 14 December

Slightly different from the usual Christmas events, the Conwy Medieval Christmas Parade, which begins at 5.45pm, traverses through the town centre by torchlight. The torches are held aloft by townsfolk, many dressed in medieval costumes such as knights and their ladies, in celebration of the town's history. Those in the area looking for a more traditional parade can visit a week earlier for the Llandudno Christmas Parade.

14. Padstow Christmas Festival

Padstow, Cornwall, 5-8 December

Rick Stein and his pals turn Padstow Christmas Festival into a hub of festive food and drink. Though some of the events are paid for you can enjoy the market selling art, food and drink, and even watch a Santa fun run on the Saturday.

15. Elves Workshop

The Galleries, Bristol, 7-22 December

Pop along to the Galleries every day from 11am-5pm to join in an Elves Workshop to distract you from the hordes of shoppers. Learn what it takes to be one of Santa's elves with free lessons on gift-making and present-wrapping.

16. Montol Festival

Penzance, Cornwall, 21 December

The Montol Festival celebrates the Winter Solstice in Penzance with costumes, fire-lit processions and much merriment across the town. The burning of the sun effigy is the centrepiece but there is plenty to keep you warm and entertained throughout the day.

Northern England


17. Lightwaves 2019

Salford Quays, 6-15 December

Featuring unique displays that will dazzle and amaze you, Lightwaves in Salford Quays will light up the area for 10 days in December. Previous displays have seen incredible interactive exhibits so make sure you head down to see what the international artists behind the display have come up with in 2019.

18. Christmas Tree Festival

Chester Cathedral, 1 December – 6 January

Back for a seventh year, Chester Cathedral cloisters will be filled with more than 50 majestic trees. The Christmas Tree Festival is the perfect way to prepare for the season. Lose yourself in the tree-lined winter walkways and vote for your favourite.

19. Allendale Tar Bar'l

Allendale, 31 December

This annual tradition may stretch back to the Middle Ages, so it's always special to be part of the Allendale Tar Bar'l in Northumberland. Head to the streets as the New Year is summoned in with burning barrels of tar being carried though the town by costumed participants. It makes for a spectacular display.

20. Light up a Life Christmas Celebration

Utilita Arena, Newcastle, 11 December

The Metro Radio Arena hosts an evening of song, readings and reflection as those no longer with us are remembered at St Oswald's Light up a Life Christmas Celebration. You can make a donation to hang a light on the tree, children can join in a choir on stage and you can pick up some gifts, with all proceeds going to the St Oswald's Hospice.

Scotland & Northern Ireland

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21. Bauhaus West (and North)

V&A Dundee, 18 December

Bauhaus West (and North) is another excellent lunchtime lecture from V&A Dundee. Author Alan Powers looks at the famous German art movement and also the British innovations that preceded it.

22. Christmas Carol Celebration

James Watt Centre, Edinburgh, 20 December

Students, staff and members of the public are invited along to listen and join in the Heriot-Watt Christmas Carol Celebration at the University campus. Not only will your favourite carols fill the room but there'll be mince pies and mulled wine available when it kicks off at 6.30pm.

23. Edinburgh Hogmanay

Edinburgh, 30-31 December

The Scottish know how to throw a New Year's Eve party and Edinburgh Hogmanay in the capital is the centre of it all. There are lots of events, some of which are pricey but others are free, and you can soak up the atmosphere in the streets by watching the processions. It culminates with fireworks that will light up the city skyline as the clocks strike midnight.

24. Richard Hayward's East Antrim 

Larne Museum & Art Centre, Co Antrim, 6 December

The Richard Hayward's East Antrim Exhibition looks at the County Antrim native and how he helped promote and promote tourism in the county in the mid 20th century. Tickets should be booked and an exhibition about Richard will be on display until the end of the month.

25. Turkey Run Rally

Shackleton Ballykelly, County Londonderry, 28 December

The Ballykelly Turkey Run Rally provides an adrenaline kick to help all the food of the previous few days go down. Witness one of Ireland's most popular rally events as drivers from all over the country take part in the high-speed motoring festivities.