Holiday markets, parades and lights: Britain’s most festive places

Visit Britain

From Christmas markets and festivals to New Years parties and more, the joy of the holidays is felt in every corner of Great Britain. With an abundance of things to do in the major cities like London and Edinburgh, it can be easy to overlook the smaller cities and towns, but they have their own traditions that are well worth checking out. Below is a list of just a few highlights to get you going.

Christmas light and tree displays are a mainstay of a London Christmas and you’d be hard pressed to go anywhere without coming across some truly beautiful displays. Two very worth checking out are the Christmas tree at Claridge’s Hotel and the lights on Carnaby Street.

The tree at Claridge’s is an immaculately designed work of art and has been a tradition for more than 100 years. This year, famed floral designer Kally Ellis has delivered another truly spectacular version of the seasonal arbor. (If you’re on the hunt for a more traditional tree, check out Trafalgar Square.)

While it’s a departure from the traditional beauty of the Covent Garden or Bond Street light displays, Carnaby Street’s display is special this year as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones alongside the history of fashion and rock that is so tied to Carnaby Street. With iconic lips logos and a pop-up shop selling limited-edition merchandise, a trip to Carnaby is an off-the-beaten-path holiday trip worth taking.

Lastly for London, be sure to check out the lively Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. Featuring a Bavarian village, the House of St. Nicholas, a fire pit, a tavern and more, the Winter Wonderland is an all-in-one Christmas spectacular.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly Christmas, look no farther than Cardiff. The outdoor skating rink at their Winter Wonderland is always a hit, with multiple lively pantomime shows to keep the kiddies entertained.

This year, the highlight is a Welsh language version of Cinderella called Sinderela. While in Cardiff, don’t miss out on the Victorian Christmas tours of the castle or the Santa Claus tours at Millenium Stadium. It’s all family friendly, fun and festive.

Just north of Cardiff in Caerphilly is the River of Light Parade on December 20. People line the streets to watch this striking display, and when the fireworks go off at Caerphilly Castle, you’ll be glad you made the trip.

For the Christmas-market minded (and aren’t we all?), there are a host of options. Whether you want to be wowed by the beauty and luxury of the market in Bath or you’re looking for the more folksy and charming setting of medieval Lincoln, a Christmas market can be the perfect way to get in the spirit of the holidays. They feature handcrafted items perfect for stuffing into stockings as well as locally produced delicacies to sate and slake your cravings.

For a really festive market, check out the one in Birmingham. A sister city to Frankfurt, Birmingham takes on a festive German spirit, serving Gluwhein (German mulled wine) and gingerbread to give patrons the energy to enjoy traditional touches in the heart of the bustling center.

From feeding reindeer in St Andrew Square to ice skating in the stunning central gardens, Edinburgh is a delight for the holidays. The German Christmas Market is a lively time, and the kiddies will love The Lost Elves of Rose Street, a magical, interactive walking trail that has you searching for Santa’s lost elves and includes a prize at the end. Edinburgh is indeed one of the best places in the UK, if not the world, to spend Christmas.

On top of Christmas, Edinburgh touts itself as having “the original and best New Year celebrations in the world.” The annual Hogmanay (New Years in Scotland) festival is like Times Square times about a thousand.

Choose to join the street party with 80,000 other all-night revelers listening to DJs at outdoor bars, looking at giant screens, or checking out a concert in the gardens set beneath the stunning Edinburgh Castle. But the most interesting way to ring in the New Year might be with a traditional Keilidh dance celebration.

Everyone’s take on traditional Hogmanay cuisine (including deep-fried, whiskey-laced haggis balls) is on display, as are midnight fireworks at venues all over the city — making Edinburgh the place to be when the clock strikes twelve.

by Leigh Bryant

Top: Trafalgar Square is home to a traditional holiday display each winter. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)

Right: Covent Garden always has lots of interesting things going on during the holidays. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)

Left: Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, is surrounded by a winter wonderland. (Photo by David Angel/Visit Britain)

Lower right: A traditional Keilidh is a family-friendly way to take in Hogmanay, Edinburgh's New Year celebration. (Photo by Gareth Easton/Visit Britain)

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