30 things to do between Christmas and New Year
The days between Xmas and New Year can be a bit of a drag but we've found 30 lovely things for you to do in social limbo land.
I love Christmas with all the enthusiasm of a young child, but I often find the bit between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day a bit of a drag. Not this year though! I know I’m going to be knocking around Bucks & Oxon until my 80s New Year Party (roller skates, crimps and angry blusher here I come) so I’ve done my homework and found 30 lovely things to do in social limbo land. You’re welcome, and yes I accept Visa, Mastercard and magnums of champagne.
Waddesdon Manor – Using the amazing artworks in the Waddesdon collection for inspiration, the house and grounds are a feast for the senses this Christmas. The decorations in the house are inspired by the Venetian carnival and 18th century fancy dress, plus there’s a light show by the Guildhall School, this year projected onto the stables, and featuring Waddesdon’s objects, gardens and architecture, as well as neon-lit trees and tunnels in the grounds. Until Wed 2 Jan (reopens after Christmas on 27 Dec). Read my review here.
Blenheim Palace – Blenheim’s Christmas light shows are spectacular and this year’s trail has even more lasers, projections and thousands of pea-lights. There’s a new Field of Light, the scented Fire Garden, a Canopy of Light and Singing Trees. Santa and his elves will also be popping up along the way too and Cinderella’s carriage is looking mighty pretty in the house itself. Until Tues 1 Jan.
Kew Gardens, London – A spectacular winter trail with over a million twinkling lights and thousands of laser beams, Kew’s light show includes the Fire Garden, moonlit woods and the laser garden. Mulled wine, hot choc and spiced cider will help keep you toasty while the kids can whizz round on vintage fairground rides. Until Sat 5 Jan.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Wycombe Swan – Brendan Cole as the comely Huntsman? Yes indeedy, Strictly’s nemesis to Craig Revel Horwood makes his panto debut alongside Britain’s Got Talent’s comedian Mandy Muden as the evil Queen and panto dame veteran Jason Sutton. It’s a 10 from us for inspired casting, darling! Until Sun 30 Dec.
Peter Pan, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre – AWT will see Holby City and Corrie star John Mitchie don a wig and tights as Captain Hook, drag act La Voixas the dame, Nickelodeon’s Holly Atterton as Tinkerbell and the always awesome Andy Collins. Until Mon 31 Dec.
Robin Hood, Milton Keynes Theatre – EastEnders’ happy chappy Shane Ritchie will be all tights and double entrendres as he becomes Robin Hood at MK’s Theatre alongside a live orchestra. Until Sun 30 Dec.
Dick Whittington and his Cat, Oxford Playhouse- Can’t stand Z-list pantos? The Oxford Playhouse continues its policy of not bothering with the soap star brigade, with its in-house panto. Clearly they’re expecting a good turn out as it’s one of the longest running pantos in town! Until Sun 6 Jan.
Peter Pan, North Wall Theatre – Sword-fights? Check. Songs? Check? Cool venue? You betcha. Muddy favourites North Wall and Creation Theatre combine for their eighth Christmas collaboration and we’re betting it’ll fly. Until Sat 5 Jan.
Dick Whittington, Kenton Theatre – Here puss puss! Immersion Theatre returns to Henley’s Kenton Theatre for Dick Whittington – always a sell out, this year sees the return of James Clifford in the title role. Until Sat 29 Dec.
Tabby McTat, the Stables, Milton Keynes – A new stage adaptation of the book by Julia Donaldson (with illustrations by Axel Scheffler) lands at the Stables on its UK Tour. The story of a cat and his busking owner who get separated, the show is brought to life with puppets and original songs that should make for an ideal Christmas show for littlies. Until Sun 30 Dec.
The Pied Piper, Cornerstone, Didcot – Is that the sound of the Pied Piper I hear? This Christmas reimagining of the German tale has live music, new songs and no real rats! Until Sun 30 Dec.
A Christmas Carol, The Old Vic, London – The smash hit of Dickens’ classic adapted by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and directed by Matthew Warchus returns to the Old Vic and this time Stephen Tompkinson stars as Ebenezer Scrooge. This big-hearted and warm production’s unique staging immerses the audience in the story and there’s music, mince pies and much merriment for a fab festive night out. Until Sat 19 Jan.
Spellbound, The Ashmolean, Oxford – Showcasing the history of magic, mysticism and superstition over eight centuries, the Ashmo’s quirky major autumn exhibition draws to a close in the next couple of weeks. It has everything from a unicorn’s horn to a human heart encased in lead (sounds like my ex) so if you haven’t yet gone, now’s your last chance. Until Sun 6 Jan (reopens 27 Dec). Read our review here.
Pop Art in Print, Banbury Museum – Having extended their galleries so they can hold bigger exhibitions, Banbury Museum has reopened with a humdinger – Pop Art in Print – featuring work by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Damien Hirst and more. Organised by London’s V&A, the exhibition displays works of these famous artists of the 60s and 70s alongside contemporary artists so their influence can be seen. There are over 60 works by more than 30 artists so it gives a pretty comprehensive view of the pop art movement from the 1960s to the early 2000s. Until Sun 3 Mar (reopens Dec 27).
Fantastic Cities, Penny Woolcock, Modern Art Oxford – This super-cool exhibition celebrating the work of contemporary artist and director, Penny Woolcock, whose work unpicks social inequality, is a defo on the to-do-list. Argentine-born but Oxford-based for many years, she’s won many awards for her diverse range of work from film, opera, documentaries and art projects. This exhibition includes three brand new moving-image commissions exploring how dramatically different peoples’ lives can be within the same city. A real thought-provoker but don’t take the kids as there’s a bit of what my mother primly calls “language”. Until Sun 3 March (reopens 28 Dec).
A Royal Wedding: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Windsor Castle – Better late than never, but we’ve all been invited to Windsor Castle to get up close and personal with newlyweds Harry and Meghan. OK, so they won’t actually be there but a new exhibition will display Meghan’s Givenchy bridal gown designed by Artistic Director Clare Waight Keller is, her 5m veil embroidered with flora symbolising the 53 Commonwealth countries and the 1932 Queen Mary diamond and platinum tiara loaned to the Duchess by the Queen. It’s not all about the bride (even though we known it is really), Harry’s Blues and Royals frock designed by Dege & Skinner on Savile Row will also be standing to attention. Now until Sat 26 Jan.
HISTORIC HOUSES, GARDENS & WALKS
Rousham Gardens, Oxon – These beautiful landscaped gardens by William Kent (1685-1748) are one of the few from this period not to have been altered, so many of its features are still there including ponds and cascades in Venus’s Vale, the Cold Bath, and seven arched Praeneste, Townsend’s Building, the Temple of the Mill, and a faux ruin known as the ‘Eyecatcher’. There’s also a lovely walled garden with herbacious borders, small parterre, pigeon house and espalier apple trees. No refreshments available on site and no children under 14 allowed so it’s a great place to walk off some of the Christmas excesses in peace! Gardens open every day (house closed).
Stowe, Bucks – One of my favourite places to meander in the UK (and I’ve meandered a lot!). So much to recommend in these stunning Capability Brown grounds from the classical architecture, glistening lakes and beautiful trees. Dog friendly and also great for elderly legs . you can hire buggies meaning multi-generational days out are possible for those less able to walk. Open daily, except Christmas Day.
Botanic Gardens and Arboretum, Oxford – Founded in 1621, the Botanic Garden is the oldest in Britain and the arboretum contains one of the best conifer collections in the UK within 130 acres of beautiful landscape. Head down Rose Lane afterwards to the back of Christchurch College and down to the river. Open daily except 25 & 26 Dec.
Ashridge Estate, Herts – There’s a festive trail for kids round the estate with specially decorated dens as they explore the homes of forest animals with a Christmas gift for every child. It runs every Saturday and Sunday in December, as well as Wed 26, Thurs 27 and Fri 28 Dec, from 10am to 3pm. There’s also a 1.5 mile long self-led seasonal walk – just follow the Christmas puds.
Cliveden, Berks – A gorgeous walk down by the river and up to Cliveden is an absolute must – prepare for the climb at the end! There are over 300 acres of natural woodlands with dog-friendly paths and great views over the Berks/Oxon countryside. The Cliveden rangers have also created an oversized den called Clive’s Den with picnic tables should you want to eat outside at this time of year (I’ll be heading to the café – it’s open!).
Hughenden Manor, Bucks – A Very Royal Christmas: a visit from the Faery is the theme for Christmas at Hughenden. The manor will be decorated in traditional Victorian splendour to celebrate the visit of Queen Victoria and her daughter Princess Beatrice who came to lunch with Benjamin Disraeli in 1877. There’s a treasure hunt round the house for little ones – they have to find 10 gold crowns – plus miniature scenes to discover in the gardens. Until Wed 2 Jan.
Grey’s Court, Henley, Oxon – The house will be decorated for a Swiss Christmas, exploring the links the Brunner family had to Switzerland, and they’ll be different Christmas recipes baked in the kitchen with tasters available. Until Sun 6 Jan (closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).
Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London – Go big or go home when it comes to festive fun, London’s Winter Wonderland is huuuuge. Free to enter but once inside, prepare to sell a kidney. The costs can get out of control – particularly if you hit the glühwein a little too hard. What to expect? Winter markets, fairground rides and ice skating. Major attractions this year include the Magical Ice Kingdom Secret Forest, an immersive showcase of woodland animals and mythical creatures created from ice and snow; a Bavarian village offering an authentic Oktoberfest experience; karaoke cabins, ice sculpting workshops, the Winter Wonderland Comedy Club, immersive screenings of The Snowman and plus Peter Pan on Ice. Until Sun 6 Jan.
Harry Potter Studios, Watford – Hogwarts in the Snow – as regular as Christmas! The festive makeover will see Christmas trees line the Great Hall, the Gryffindor common room dressed for the season and a blanket of filmmaking snow covering the majestic Hogwarts castle model. Visitors will even be able to touch samples of the different types of ‘snow’ used during production, each selected for its ability to float like falling snow, crunch under foot or glisten in the light like ice. Trust me, your kids will love it. Until Sun 27 Jan (closed 25 & 26 Dec).
Bletchley Park, Bletchley, Milton Keynes – Not a theme park in the true sense of the term, but it is themed in that the house is decorated for a 1940s Christmas and it’s in a park! Explore the code-breakers huts, marvel at the Bombe machines which broke the Enigma code and visit the Veterans’ Exhibition. (Closed 25 & 26 Dec).
Millets Farm Centre, near Abingdon – Oxford’s only outdoor, undercover ice rink returns this year with a new addition, the Moose Lodge Ice Café, serving up festive food and drinks. The rink is open seven days a week, snow or shine (but closed Christmas Day) until Sun 6 Jan.
Windsor on Ice, Alexandra Gardens – Windsor On Ice is back for the winter and whether you’re Olympic standard or a ‘cling on’ like me, they’re great for a family day out, or a fun slippy-slidey Christmas party. There are two rinks here. The main one is under cover and there’s a smaller open-air rink. There’s also food and other attractions including an ice bar and grill. Sessions are for 45 mins. See you in A&E, I mean on the ice. Until Sat 6 Jan (closed Christmas Day).
Natural History Museum, London – Triple salchows first, triceratopses after? The Natural History Museum’s ice rink has a 30ft Christmas tree centrepiece, fairy lights and an alpine style cafe/bar that overlooks the rink. Sessions run for 50 mins and kids can get lessons with The Penguin Skate Club on Saturday mornings. Opening times vary but core hours are 10am-9pm every day except for Christmas Day. Until Sun 20 Jan.
Somerset House, London – The classic London rink experience – and there’s way more than just skating at Somerset House this Yuletide. Alongside the huge ice rink in the fountain courtyard, Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas Arcade returns with loads of pop-up shops offering food, tea, gifts and decorations, as well as Fortnum Lodge that’ll be serving all sorts of Christmas nibbles and tipple from mulled wine and champagne to boozy hot chocolate and cocktails. Sessions are one hour, core opening hours are 11.15am – 10.15pm, closed Christmas Day. Until Sun 13 Jan.
Compiled by Nicky Richardson