Planning a family visit to Father Christmas? Here’s our pick of the best Santa’s grottos and winter wonderlands across the UK
We've gathered the best places to meet Santa in 2018, with steam trains, boats, caves and recreations of the North Pole.
1- 2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 December
Take the little ones to meet Father Christmas as he tells tales of Christmas past in the festive atmosphere of Bolsover Castle, which combines a fairytale Stuart mansion full of sumptuous rooms with stately ruins and a beautiful Fountain Garden in its grounds. English Heritage has lots more chances to meet Santa in their properties around the UK too.
17 November – 31 December (closed Christmas Day)
Even if we don’t have a white Christmas this year, at Santa's Winter Wonderland at the SnowDome, children can play in real snow and explore Santa’s Christmas snow trail with snow slides. There’s snowball fights, sledging and an opportunity to meet Santa’s reindeer in the animal village. Enjoy watching Santa in his own Winter Wonderland stage show, too.
1-16 December weekends only, then daily 19-24 December
While Santa’s sleigh is in the air, his pixies serve mulled wine and mince pies to the grown-ups and festive cookies to the children on board the Vintage Broadsman, in between organising a seasonal quiz and Christmas singalong. Before you know it, Santa has landed on the roof of the boat and appears to greet the children and give them a present before the hour-long cruise is over.
Various dates and venues from 1 December
Take the children to meet Father Christmas amid the historic and grand surroundings of National Trust properties – he’ll be stopping off at locations around the UK. There are mince pies, festive stories, glasses of mulled wine for the grown-ups and family-friendly trails to explore.
22 November – 6 January (closed Christmas Day)
Kensington’s grand Royal Park is transformed for the festive season, and a visit to the park’s Santa Land will be top of children’s wishlists. Discover Santa’s Toy Factory (where the elves are hard at work), enjoy the fairground and train rides, and of course meet the jolly fellow himself. (Entry and meeting Santa is free but tokens must be purchased for rides.) Also in the park are festive theatre experiences, Christmas markets, a giant Ferris wheel and the UK’s largest open air ice rink. Good children get a present from Santa.
17 November – 24 December
For a completely immersive festive experience, take a sleigh ride to Lapland UK in Ascot's Whitmoor Forest. This award-winning attraction recreates the Father Christmas story with an elaborate enchanted forest, theatrical performances, an elf workshop, ice skating and of course a chance to meet Santa himself. The four-hour experience starts with a personalised postal invitation to your children, and finishes with them making their way through the Elven forest to visit Father Christmas in his log cabin and receive a gift worth £25.
30 November – 24 December
The magic of the season is in an Underground Christmas Fantasy Spectacular at Clearwell Caves in Gloucestershire, where the festive story, Cora and Bloobious Bright, is told through imaginative displays and enchanting lights as you follow the path through a series of caves. On the way, you'll meet Father Christmas and come across Christmas stalls selling all sorts of festive trinkets.
8-9, 15-24 December
Fancy something different this Christmas? How about a floating grotto in Poole Harbour? Parents and grandparents can enjoy a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie while little ones are entertained by a magic show, munch on biscuits and receive a present from Santa.
7-9, 14-16, 21 December
Where else would you find a grotto than in a colliery – once one of Scotland’s biggest, in fact. This year’s theme at Santa’s Grotto in the National Mining Museum Scotland is All That Sparkles. Everywhere shimmers and glimmers. As well as the chance to meet Santa, have their photo taken with him and receive a gift, children can also take part in some arts and crafts and follow the clues on the Christmas trail.
Various dates 17 November – 24 December
The Audley End Miniature Railway turns into the Santa Express and transports you deep into the woods of the estate, where you'll find Santa's Winter Wonderland. Children will delight in the cheeky elves, a crazy Christmas dance, and meeting Father Christmas himself. Back outside the woods, there's an activity area with plenty of festive activities.
Weekends in December, daily from 22 December – 2 January
In the heart of the Forest of Dean, families can enjoy a tasty hot chocolate and watch the Whitemead Express Train on the way to meet Santa, and kids can join craft sessions including making their own festive teddy bear and hand-painting Christmas mugs and money boxes. Why not book a cosy cabin and turn it into a festive break?
17 November – 23 December, weekends only plus 21 December
You can make a whole day of it at Kielder Park's Winter Wonderland, with the children joining Mrs Claus as she treks through the woods to her forest kitchen, learning tricks of the trade from the elves, who will help them make their own wooden toy, meeting the reindeer and searching out Santa's cosy cabin in the woods.
Weekends 17 November – 9 December, then daily from 10-24 December
Santa's Magical Grotto at Loch Lomond Shores includes Christmas movies, storytelling by elves, a chance to make reindeer food, a train journey to see the jolly man of the moment and a free funfair ride. That's one fun-filled festive visit.
Deep in a Welsh mountain down twisting, turning passageways is Santa's magical underground world in Dan-yr-Ogof, complete with Christmas decorations and elves, where Santa himself is waiting to meet and greet children. After the festivities, there are life-size dinosaur models and a farm to visit.
Children solve enchanting festive clues with the help of seasonal characters, sprinkle magic dust and send a letter up the chimney to Santa, before solving the mystery of his whereabouts in the Black Country Living Museum, meeting him and finding out if he received their note (spoiler alert: yes, he has!).