10 alternative things to do at Christmas
From burlesque in Bath to visiting a Buddhist retreat
resents, pudding, turkey, tree, crackers, TV – yawn. Didn’t we do that last year? Try one of these alternative Christmas activities and break free of festive clichés.
Hugely popular in Europe, cross-country skiing returns to Yorkshire this year at the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park, close to Wetherby, Harrogate, York and Leeds. Don a pair of Nordic skis and take off along their cross-country skiing trail. The 1.2km trail, which winds through woodland and around a lake, is designed to give novices an introduction to the sport, using authentic Nordic ski equipment on the gently undulating trail. And because the track is artificial, there's no reliance on the white stuff.
From Mum’s roast turkey to throwing yourself out of an aeroplane: it’s quite a leap (pun intended). Langar Airfield in Nottingham is home to the British Parachute School, open every day of the year except Christmas Day. A sky dive will really get your heart racing, and you can turn some heads at the inevitable “how was your Christmas” routine back at work. It’s definitely better than board games.
Kick off Christmas Day with a frosty morning walk through London. You’ll see the city like you’ve never seen it before: all but empty of people, the shops closed, and its churches ringing their bells for Christmas Day services. Famous 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys certainly loved London’s atmosphere, and you can walk in his footsteps on this festive tour through the city’s age-old secrets. Walks leave Trafalgar Square at 11am and 2pm.
One 30 November and 21 December, Christmas is given a markedly different flavour at the Ministry of Burlesque’s seasonal special at the Komedia in Bath. All the joys of cabaret are on offer, from costume to comedy, showgirls to songs and a healthy dose of double entendre. It’s the bare underbelly of Victoriana at its best, and an excellent alternative Christmas night out. The Auditorium Meal Deal includes a delectable three course meal sourced from the very best top quality local produce.
A natural wonderland all year round, Westonbirt Arboretum at Christmas is an enchanted haven of festive goodies and fun. From late November to mid-December, when it gets dark, trails through the Grade I-listed woodland are illuminated with atmospheric lighting, transforming them into magical Christmas scenes. Learn about the history of trees at Christmas, and hear Christmas choirs echoing between the branches.
If the stress and materialism of Christmas is getting to you, head off to a Buddhist retreat this Christmas and spend some time in quiet meditation. The London Buddhist Centre offers group retreats throughout the year. You can also book one of its solitary retreat huts to get away from it all and reconnect with the cosmos. Christmas retreats take place in Suffolk, Sussex, Shropshire and Norfolk.
Experience Christmas like the kings of old with a medieval Christmas banquet in one of England’s favourite castles. Every December, Warwick Castle throws open the doors of its Great Hall and hosts sumptuous medieval feasts, complete with medieval music, dancing, entertainers and tasty fare. You can’t book on Christmas day itself, so you’ll still have to face the paper crowns and bad jokes, but that feeling of grandeur will see you through.
The distant sound of a whistle peeling out through the crisp air, a steam train chugs and hisses into Paignton ready to whisk you away for an entrancing festive experience. Rolling through jaw-dropping coastal and country scenery, the beautiful engine hauls its elegant carriages through to the quaint little seaside village of Kingswear. Sip a glass or two of spiced mulled wine and enjoy a mince pie along the way as you travel in style through a wonderful winter scene. The trips depart at 11am, 1pm and 2.45pm and last 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Surf’s up Santa! Make a Christmas splash and take to the waves with a spot of seasonal surfing. You’ll find plenty of operators open at this time of year, and in December conditions are often spot on for a great day’s wave-riding. In fact, fate has conspired to give surfers a great Christmas gift with an 8ft swell predicted to hit from around 25. Chilly? Well yes, but it’s the perfect antidote to that Christmas TV-induced stupor. Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay offers special Christmas breaks, complete with seasonal menus, top lodging and free surf lessons. Or just grab your own board and run into the sea at your leisure. Up to you.
Rediscover the real meaning of Christmas and give up your time to help those less fortunate in a Crisis centre in London. Crisis is the national charity for single homeless people and they need volunteers to lend their time and expertise to ensuring that everyone gets to share in the warm glow of Christmas. Hairdressers, doctors are in demand, but so is everyone compassionate enough to think of others during what can be a very lonely time to be out in the cold.
A Historical Christmas
A Dickensian Festival and Candlelit Shakespearean Tour...Historic experiences