Planning a family visit to Father Christmas? Here’s our pick of the best Santa’s grottos and winter wonderlands across the UK
9–24 December (check for details)
Not only can children meet some of the world’s most fascinating creatures at London Zoo, but they can also say hello to Mr and Mrs Claus and their elves, and take home an early Christmas present. Throughout weekends in December and in the week leading up to Christmas Day, there’s an opportunity to make crafts with Mrs Claus and explore the Christmas Village full of pine trees and decorations. Zoo admission fees apply.
11 & 12 November
Take the little ones to meet Father Christmas in the festive atmosphere of Belsay Hall, which combines a Regency mansion, a ruined medieval castle and fascinating gardens on one site. At Belsay’s Festive Gift Fair, you can shop for unique presents, take part in Christmas workshops and enjoy live music performances. Check out the English Heritage website for other opportunities to meet Santa in their properties around the UK.
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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. Visit Santa’s house and see its huge Christmas tree, and write Santa a letter to drop in his talking post box.
Various dates and vanues
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.
17 November–1 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.
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, huskies, reindeer, 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 being awarded ‘honorary elf’ status.
9, 10, & 16–24 December
Fancy something different this Christmas? How about a floating grotto? 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.
Weekends in December, daily from 22 December–2 January
In the heart of the Forest of Dean, families can ride the Whitemead Express train to meet Santa, and at weekends shop at the various craft stalls for Christmas hampers and gifts while sipping hot chocolate. Why not book a cosy cabin and turn it into a festive break?
25 November – 23 December
For 30 years, families have been taking the Brecon Mountain Railway from Pant Station to Santa's Grotto in Pontsticill. On arrival, children will meet Santa and receive a present. Mulled wine and mince pies are served on-board for the adults, accompanied by Christmas music and lots of festive cheer.
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.