Festive steam trains, Victorian markets, charming light displays, and Santa Claus, are just some of the things that make towns in England magical at Christmastime. These small communities go all out to make their market squares and shop-lined streets feel as festive as any big city, perhaps even more so. They can’t guarantee you snow, but they can promise a warm cozy pub with a real fire and some genuine Christmas cheer. To get you in the festive spirit, here are 6 towns in England that are magical places to visit at Christmas.
A small town near the East Sussex coast, Rye is picturesque at any time of year, but even more so at Christmas. The most perfectly preserved medieval citadel in England, the town is packed with independent shops and eateries. With whispered tales of ghosts and smuggling, the historic town of Rye is even more atmospheric in the darker winter months and without the high-season crowds of the summer. Perched high on a hill with distant views across the Romney Marsh, the town is a labyrinth of winding cobblestone streets, mysterious passageways, and hidden nooks and crannies, which look stunning when all lit up for Christmas. To really blow away the cobwebs take a brisk stroll around the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve where the beaches, grassland, saltmarsh, and lakes host a vast array of wildlife. Stay at the newly rebranded and refurbished The Lookout Rye — sister hotel to the George in Rye, which is currently undergoing refurbishment after fire damage 2 years ago. Rye is well known for its fantastic boutique B&Bs, which all bring a small town Christmassy atmosphere to your stay.
Have a go at a festive cookery course at Webbe’s Cookery School, starting in early December. Bring a guest for lunch, which is included in the price of the class. Then amble off to A Rye Window Wanderland and late night shopping in the town center.
Embrace tradition in both history and style this Christmas by celebrating at the iconic Queens Hotel in Cheltenham. Queens Hotel Cheltenham is offering a sumptuous three-course Christmas Eve dinner, followed by a five-course Christmas Day dining experience in Victoria’s restaurant. The menu includes a duck parfait and hazelnut bonbon, with langoustine and smoked trout terrine to start. This will be followed by a silicon lemon sorbet to cleanse the palette, before the traditional roast turkey with festive stuffing. For dessert, guests can enjoy a delicious traditional Christmas pudding, mince pies, and coffee. The next day you can party away that post-Christmas overindulgence, at the Queens Hotel’s Boxing Day Gala Dinner where guests dress up for a Black Tie event with a three-course dinner followed by dancing and entertainment in the Regency Suite. The festive menus can be enjoyed throughout the winter season, from a private party to a festive meal for the family. The dishes provide a taste of the local area, with fresh, quality produce sourced from local farms and recognized artisans. Guests can also indulge in Queens Hotels’ Tiffin Afternoon Tea served in the Duke’s Tea Room, which will be offering a special seasonal twist this winter. Christmas attractions in town include the Christmas markets, Panto at Everyman Theatre, Christmassy steam train rides around Cheltenham and the Cotswolds, and the amazing Spectacle of Light at Sudeley Castle with a brand new illuminated light trail.
This year Cheltenham is embracing the Christmas spirit with the introduction of an ice rink at the Imperial Gardens for the first time.
3. Chipping Campden
The picture-perfect town of Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds hosts its annual Christmas Market and festive lights switch-on at the beginning of December. Stalls featuring local produce and Christmas food and drink will be in attendance for unique gifts alongside local entertainment and choir performances. The tree is lit up at 4.30 p.m., and the town’s lights are switched on 30 minutes later. After the festive fun, head to The Pudding Club at The Three Ways House Hotel in Mickleton. Every Friday evening, visitors are offered a choice of three modest main courses but the main business of the evening begins when seven traditional puddings are served, including favorites such as Sticky Toffee as well as more unusual desserts such as Sussex Pond and Lord Randall’s Pudding. It might even offer a Christmas pudding!
Just outside Chipping Campden, Goose Green Cottage offers everything you could wish for in a festive retreat — a wood-burning stove, freestanding bath, and cozy rooms to curl up in and drink mulled wine. With its period features of charming wooden beams, flagstone floors, and thatched roof, the property oozes the same rural bliss that captivates viewers of The Holiday and is perfectly located in the middle of the rolling Cotswolds countryside. The cottage sleeps two people in a large king size bedroom and offers guests use of a beautiful garden with well-kept flower beds and a vegetable patch full of produce they’re welcome to help themselves to.
The royal town of Windsor is a magical place to be at Christmas time. The castle looks like something from a fairy tale, lit up with Christmas decorations and images of Christmas gifts and angels projected onto its outer walls. The quaint streets and small shops all have lots of Christmas cheer on offer and you can pick up some mince pies and mulled wine as you wander around. Castle Hotel Windsor, established as one of Windsor’s finest boutique hotels, is the perfect setting for anyone looking to experience Christmas-like royalty. Guests visiting Castle Hotel Windsor this Christmas can be sure to expect a truly traditional festive season. Guests can enjoy a multitude of festive occasions, including Festive Afternoon Tea at the hotel with live carols to sing along to. Christmas lunches and dinners will be served daily in the hotel’s new restaurant Leaf. With a strong botanical theme throughout and radiating laid-back luxury, the restaurant will transform into a magical winter wonderland.
For Christmas day itself, the restaurant will serve an extra special five-course meal with all the trimmings, including a blood orange palette cleanser and traditional Christmas plum pudding. With 108-rooms and offering a prime location at the heart of Windsor, the hotel is just a short distance from the famous Long Walk, Windsor Great Park, Savill Garden, and the River Thames, all of which are beautiful when glistening with wintery frost — there really is no better place to dream of a white Christmas. For more to do in Windsor, take a look at 8 Things To Explore In Windsor After You’ve Seen The Castle.
5. Kirkby Lonsdale
The market town of Kirkby Lonsdale is on the fringe of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. This beautiful ancient town is home to a magical Christmas Market each year. The town twinkles with myriad lights and plays host to a German-style market in the square, with stalls selling gifts, hot food, mulled wine, and more. The Christmas Fair takes place in early December and is a great opportunity to mingle with locals and really feel like you’re part of the community. There’s a lot of history in this charming old town and you get the feeling that Christmas here is done just as it’s been done for hundreds of years.
Stay over at Absolute Suites and you can have a luxurious Christmas break in these town center apartments. For a real small-town Christmas experience, spend the festive period right here. Bring all your Christmas treats with you, or nip out to the shops and you’ll get everything you need right there in the town.
In the town of Ashford in Kent you can experience a community Christmas parade unlike any other you’ll ever see. This town does something every year that’s completely unique — The Carnival of the Baubles. It’s held in mid-December to get everyone into the festive spirit and in the run-up to this unusual event, the town’s schoolchildren get busy designing their own lanterns and baubles. The town’s locals then carry these decorated illuminated lanterns and baubles through the streets. Everyone is welcome to make their own lantern and bring it along and there are workshops held a few weeks before the event if anyone needs some inspiration. When the parade reaches its end, there’s a local makers market where you can do a little Christmas shopping.
Head to nearby Frasers, an eco-farm with a restaurant and luxury rooms. In December, Frasers will be running two-hour wreath-making workshops that include afternoon tea or for the evening sessions, grazing boards. It has recently launched its new menus and a feasting option for group dining and is open over Christmas. The accommodation comprises a choice of oak-beamed rooms in The Oast or Pond Cottage and stylish, contemporary rooms in Stag’s Barn, all of which provide stunning views of the surrounding landscape crisscrossed by 6 miles of walks across the countryside.
Consider visiting these other England towns when you vacation: