While the big UK cities offer ice rinks and sprawling Christmas markets you can get lost in, there’s something cozier, more intimate, about villages in the UK at Christmas. Cozy village pubs have a real fire burning in the grate and Christmas trees that fill the old rooms with the scent of pine.
Villagers get together to organize carol singing and lantern parades, and the village green sports a large fern tree that’s decorated with lights and tinsel. UK villages at Christmas are magical winter wonderland places to be. There are so many villages up and down the UK that are great places to be at Christmas, but here’s my pick of the best ones.
The coastal village of Mousehole in Cornwall is beautiful all year round, but it really becomes something special at Christmas. The harbor lights are famous throughout the UK for being spectacular and unusual. The lights at Mousehole began in 1963 and have become bigger and more impressive year after year. The entire harbor is lit in the shapes of whales and serpents, Christmas trees, and stars.
Lanterns hang from boat to boat, bobbing on the winter sea, and the cottages by the water all join in and trim up their houses in cozy Christmas style. The switch-on of the lights takes place in mid-December and is accompanied by the local male choir singing Christmas carols along with the local brass band. As a backdrop to this wonderful display of Christmas cheer, a 150-foot sign on the hillside welcomes everyone into Mousehole with a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Where To Stay
Mariner’s Cottage is a traditional old fisherman’s cottage that has perfect views over the harbor and out to sea. You can watch the lights from the windows of the cottage and stroll along to see them at the harbor. Then head back to the cottage for a cozy evening.
The switch-on of the lights is very popular and it gets very busy. If you’re driving into Mousehole for this event, it’s unlikely you’ll find anywhere to park. Instead, drive to nearby Penzance and get the park-and-ride bus from there.
The village of Clearwell has something a little more unusual in store for visitors at Christmas. For more than 4,500 years, the caves at Clearwell have been mined for ore and stone, and though the village’s “freeminers” are still entitled to mine here, the caves are now more of a tourist attraction. If you visit the caves at Christmastime, you’ll find they are transformed into a kind of grotto.
As you go underground, you can enjoy the fairy lights strewn around the cavern, and children can meet Santa. This is a large series of caves and there’s even a small Christmas market inside, and a café serving hot chocolate and Christmassy treats. This is a real underground mine, and some of the steps are uneven and can be slippery. There are handrails to guide you down, but this isn’t accessible to wheelchairs and isn’t suitable for anyone with walking difficulties.
Where To Stay
A stay at Tudor Farmhouse delivers a traditional Christmas full of mince pies, mulled wine, and a local brass band. Visitors can stay over the entire Christmas period and enjoy Christmas dinner at the hotel, a festive winter walk, and champagne with a Christmassy taster menu the next day.
The village of Shere in Surrey is so Christmassy it was used as the location for the movie The Holiday. This is where Cameron Diaz spent the holidays in “that” cottage when she house-swapped with Kate Winslet. And this is also where she met up with Jude Law in the pub, The White Horse. But Shere is much more than a movie set.
Visitors can join Christmas carols in the village square, where the trees are strewn with fairy lights and the small shops are transformed into grottos. You can have Christmas dinner at The White Horse and imagine you’re in a Christmas movie, and nearby is the start of the cycling and walking route, Christmas Pie Trail, which begins with a Christmas pie motif on the starting post.
Craster is a small fishing village on the coast of Northumberland, mostly unspoiled and still retaining its old-world charm. A visit to Craster at Christmastime is a real “get away from it all” trip. This is a quiet and quite remote place, with the waves crashing against the rocks, a sea breeze, and old lanes and cottages. If you like your Christmas quiet and private, this is the place to go.
A walk along to the ruined Dunstanburgh Castle is dramatic in wintertime, and if you’re lucky enough to get a dusting of snow it’s very atmospheric. The cottages along the harbor are trimmed with Christmas lights, and the pubs offer a warm fire and real ale. This is definitely one for those people who like their Christmas traditional, cozy, and quiet.
Where To Stay
Middlerigg is a traditional Craster cottage with three bedrooms, so it easily caters to your family or friends over the festive period. It’s perfectly positioned to look out over the harbor, while being set on the hill a little way up, so not too close to the waves.
Tarporley in Cheshire is picture-perfect all year round, but at Christmas, its old streets and narrow lanes turn into a wonderland of traditional Christmas activities with an array of lights and decorations. The village has a Victorian Christmas feel to it with a small Christmas market and trees adorned with lights and ornaments.
You can meet real reindeer in nearby woodland, brass bands play in the village, and there’s a gingerbread house where children can post letters to Santa, who’ll be along nearer to Christmas day to meet children and hand out presents. The community comes together to make all this happen, and everyone joins in with carol singing.
Where To Stay
At the historic coaching inn, The Swan, you can take part in their festive “Swanderland,” a program of Christmassy events through November and December that includes quizzes, lunches, wreath making, and a Christmas market. This is a classic village inn that’s been offering a welcome stay to visitors for over 400 years.
6. Bray On Thames
The village of Bray on Thames, located just 40 minutes outside of London, makes for a wonderful, cozy Christmas destination. With a 3-mile-long frontage on the Thames, visitors can stroll the streets of Bray by foot to see the riverbank cottages decorated with twinkling lights and garlands, browse through Christmas markets and shops, and ice skate at Alexandra Gardens.
Where To Stay
Monkey Island Estate has a history dating back 800 years and has seen monks, royalty, aristocrats, and a host of famous writers visit and stay. Monkey Island is surrounded by seven acres of land and is accessible only by footbridge, boat, or helicopter, giving it a real Christmas escape feel. If you have a large group with you, you can hire out the Marlborough Ballroom for a private festive party.
A place of Christmas pilgrimage for those in the area and for people from further afield, Castleton is a village well known for how Christmassy it is come November. The lights are switched on this month, and the village becomes a place of cozy streets with the small traditional shops all trimming their windows with lights and decorations. Along the street outside, every cottage, shop, and pub has a Christmas tree lit with brightly colored fairy lights outside its door. There’s also Santa’s grotto in the village and a horse-drawn cart that Santa rides through the streets, inviting visitors to hop on board and take a ride on his sleigh.
Castleton is so famous for its Christmas lights and cozy Christmas feel that it does get very busy. If you want to be sure you can park and wander the streets without the crowds, come early in November when the lights have just been switched on.
For a truly traditional English Christmas, visit the village of Dunster in Somerset at the beginning of December and experience “Dunster by Candlelight.” This is when the entire village — it seems — parades through the streets, holding paper lanterns and carrying rows of glass-lit lanterns, each holding a lit candle inside, that are hooked onto the old lantern posts around the village.
The parade ends in a fairground festival gathering where amusements, drinks stalls, and hot food are all laid out for everyone to enjoy. Circus performers juggle with fire, and puppet shows spring up around the square. Choirs sing carols and Santa arrives with gifts for the children. If I had to pick, I’d say Dunster is just about the most Christmassy village in the whole of the UK!
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