25 free things to do in December

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Days out UK December 2017

From shooting stars and carol singing to dressing up as Santa and free ice-skating: our monthly bumper round-up of things to do and days out


Free things to do uk December 2017

1. Christmas Jumper Day

Friday 15 December 2017

Save The Children urges you to make the world better with a sweater by sporting your Christmas woolly at school, home or in the office. Everyone who takes part is encouraged to donate at least £2 (or £1 if you’re at school) and there are plenty of events across the country that you can get involved in.

2. Santa Dashes

Throughout December

Santa Dashes are, suddenly, ‘a thing’. All over the country, thousands of people dressed as Father Christmas are running through the streets, raising money. There are over 30 Santa Dashes in the UK on Sunday 3 December alone. Check the full list for your nearest one: dress up yourself or just go along and watch.

3. National Tree Dressing Day

3 December

At the end of National Tree Week, the grand finale. Tree ‘dressing’? It’s more tree decoration. Anyway, this modern celebration of trees, bringing together various ancient mid-winter traditions, began in 1990. Look out for decorated trees near you – or go and decorate one yourself.

4. See some shooting stars

The night sky, 13 – 14 December

If the weather’s clear on 13 December, there should be 150 meteors per hour visible in the night sky, with the shooting star count peaking between 2–3am. It’s all thanks to the asteroid Phaethon passing a mere 10.3 million kilometres from Earth. Look in the north-eastern sky, towards Orion. If you don’t know where to find it, look here first.

5. Watch Jeremy Clarkson in action

Various dates and locations

Tickets to attend the recordings of the second season of Jeremy Clarkson and co’s megabucks Amazon show are now available for free at locations around the UK. And if that doesn’t appeal, then The X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Sing and plenty of other big shows are also looking for audiences at the same link. The new series of The Grand Tour starts on Amazon on 8 December.


Free things to do in London December 2017

6. Christmas carols in Trafalgar Square

11 – 22 December (excluding 12 and 16 December)

Since 1947, the people of Norway have sent a Christmas tree to London (as well as Grimsby, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Sunderland and Aberdeen) in thanks for Britain’s help in the Second World War.

The switching-on ceremony is on 1 December; the carol-singing starts 10 days later, with a solid roster of professional and amateur choirs singing beneath the tree for an hour each throughout the day.

7. Santacon

London, 19 December

Less a Santa Dash and more of a Santa pub crawl, Santacon features gift-giving, carol-singing and general japery all in a surreal flash-mob spirit: join one of three groups roaming London before everyone gets together for a grand finale. Free to join – but you do need to dress as Father Christmas (obvs).  

8. Family shows of A Christmas Carol

Museum of London, 16 – 17 December

Hour-long performances of Dickens’ Christmassy classic, suitable for children aged five-plus.

9. Burning of The Clocks

Brighton 21 Dec, 6.30 – 8.30pm

Brighton celebrates the shortest day of the year with a family lantern parade, followed by a spectacular firework display and bonfire on Brighton beach.


Free things to do in Birmingham and the Midlands December 2017

10. Lincoln Lantern Parade and late-night shopping

14 December, from 5pm

Lanterns, marching bands, a light show, roast chestnuts and late-night shopping in Lincoln to put you in the Christmas mood.

11. Go to the world’s best-known carol service

Kings College Chapel, Cambridge. 24 December, 3pm

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. (BBC 1 shows it around midnight, just as Father Christmas is putting his boots on.) There’s only 600 available seats. Start queueing at 9am if you want to be sure of getting in (although some people start the previous day).

12. Ice-skating

Talisman Square, Kenilworth, 1 – 3 December

There are pop-up ice rinks everywhere this Christmas, but, to our knowledge, Kenilworth is one of only two towns offering free skating and free skate hire. It only lasts a weekend, though… (If you’re near Basildon, you can skate for free for the whole month.)

13. Convict art

Ikon Gallery, Birmingham B1 2HS. 6 December – 11 March 2018

See picture above. An exhibition tracing the remarkable life story of 19th-century Birmingham artist Thomas Bock: transported as a convict to Australia, he resumed his work in Tasmania, where he was commissioned to engrave bank notes and to paint official portraits of condemned men, as well as personal projects that capture the new world of 19th-century Australia.


Free things to do in south west england and wales December 2017

14. Gloucester Road Street Party

Bristol, 7 December, 5 – 8pm

Music, food, drink and general advent merriment along the Bristol street that claims to be Europe’s longest street of independent traders, from cafes, galleries and furniture makers to shops selling gifts, homewares and bikes.

15. Tenby Boxing Day swim

Tenby, West Wales, 26 December

Clean out the Christmas cobwebs by taking a dip in the sea at Tenby along with hundreds of other hardy souls in this crackers annual tradition. Or just go along and watch. It’s for charity.

16. Winter Festival

Tate St Ives, Cornwall. 2 December, 3.30 – 7pm

See picture above. A range of free entertainments within the gallery, including everything from talks and crafts activities to St Ives Combined Chapels Choir singing traditional Cornish carols to screenings of a series of short films about the night skies and readings from Craig Green’s book A Christmas in Cornwall.

17.  Hospital workers’ art

RUH Central Gallery, Royal United Hospital, Bath. Until 18 January 2018

The 4800 staff of the Hospital Trust (plus many associated volunteers) have been invited to submit photography, painting and mixed-media art and this exhibition is the result. A third of the revenue from sales will go to the RUH Arts Fund, to maintain the broad range of award-winning arts projects on offer at the hospital.


Free things to do in Liverpool and the North December 2017

18. Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition

Leeds Central Library, 3 December – 29 January 2018

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, an exhibition exploring the background to the folklore traditions and magic at the heart of the Potter stories – with a series of accompanying events and workshops, too.

19. Lightwaves 2017

Salford Quays, 8 – 17 December

The UK’s biggest digital light art festival comes to Salford Quays for 10 magical days, with displays by local, national and international artists designed to light up the depths of winter.

20. Cosgrove Hall Films exhibition

Waterside Arts Centre, Sale. Until 17 February 2018

The great Cosgrove Hall studios in Manchester have produced a string of well-loved children’s animations over the last 40 years, from Dangermouse to Postman Pat, Count Duckula to Jamie and the Magic Torch. This exhibition celebrates their work, with displays of puppets, props and original storyboards as well as the story of the cartoon’s creators.

21. 1950s fashion exhibition

Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight. Until 15 April 2018

See picture above. Journey into a lost world of elegance in this photographic exhibition telling the story of June Duncan, the Liverpool-born child actor who went on to become a regular on the catwalks of London and Paris and in the pages of Vogue in the 1950s.


Free things to do in Scotland December 2017

22. Edinburgh’s giant advent calendar

General Register House, Edinburgh, 1 – 25 December

A building-sized advent calendar projected onto the front of General Register House, featuring archive photos of Edinburgh winters of yesteryear, with a new picture every day. Appearing daily at varying times between 5.30pm and 10pm.

23. Irvine Festival of Light

Irvine Harbour, near Scottish Maritime Museum, Ayrshire. 30 November – 3 December

Irvine’s historic harbour is lit up with fireworks and digital light art for four nights, with plenty of (mostly also free) accompanying events and activities. It all starts starting on St Andrew’s Day, 30 November.

24. Try out a rock/pop choir

Glasgow Contemporary Choir, Renfield St Stephens. 12 December

Belt out pop classics and 2017’s classics-in-waiting with a huge gang of like-minded new pals, at this free pop/rock choir taster sing. There’s a session at 6pm and one at 7.30pm. (If you love it, you can join for £25 a month.)

25. Weeping window

Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast. Until 3 December

Last chance to see the spectacular installation of thousands of ceramic poppies, seeming to tumble from a high window to the ground below. Designed by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, the men behind the iconic 2014 poppy installation at the Tower of London, it is part of the 14 – 18 Now programme of arts to mark the various centenaries of the First World War.

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