There’s no denying it: 2020 has been difficult for all of us. And while you might not be able to enjoy Christmas holidays in the Big Apple or Paris this year, why not plan a magical celebration closer to home? There are plenty of inspirational UK destinations and attractions that are sure to bring out your Christmas spirit, whether that’s with mulled wine at a cosy pub or over views of the city skyline.
Before booking a festive trip, ensure you check out the latest government advice on travel to England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland – and take a look at our interactive map to find out where you can go. It’s also important to check any advice on local lockdowns or travel restrictions for the area you’re visiting, and ensure you stick to guidelines.
We’d also recommend choosing flexible bookings, as you never know when your plans might need to change – and if you’re planning on using pool or spa facilities at your hotel, it’s best to check that these are currently open.
Where can I go on Christmas holidays in 2020?
While London‘s annual Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park won’t be happening this year, there’s still plenty to get you in festive spirits in the UK capital. With social distancing the ‘new normal’, there’s no time like this winter to enjoy a mulled wine or seasonal cocktail in London’s cosy winter igloos, which pop up outside bars across the city, from Coppa Club to The Aviary.
Outdoor attractions are very much in favour this winter, and London Walking Tours are running a range of Dickens Christmas Carol Walks and Christmas Ghost Walks throughout December, starting on Saturday 12 December. Not only can you walk off the excesses of the season, but you’ll be guided by an expert on London history, dressed in Victorian finery, as you explore the city’s history.
Where to stay
Make your festive celebrations magical with a stay at one of London’s best hotels. Book a room at the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard from £429 a night and you’ll have the most amazing views of the city from your room’s floor-to-ceiling windows. If your budget can handle it you could even book the “Dining in the Sky” experience in Ting restaurant on the 35th floor, where you and up to six guests can enjoy a glass of welcome champagne followed by a delicious three-course menu.
If you’d rather save on your hotel room and splurge on shopping and dining, a room at the Z Hotel Piccadilly will set you back from £55 a night. Plus, it’s within walking distance of the British Museum and The National Gallery, not to mention the foodie delights of Chinatown.
Edinburgh’s Christmas Market has been cancelled this year, but Auld Reekie still has plenty to recommend it as a festive destination. One of the UK’s most beautiful cities, you can while away hours exploring the Old Town’s characterful jumble of cobbled streets and closes, or find yourself in a wine bar in the New Town chatting to locals about the ever-changing weather.
Head for Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens for the Winter Light Trail, a magical event taking place after dark. Stroll around the illuminated gardens with a mulled wine or hot chocolate in hand, with trees wrapped in fairy lights, a laser garden, and giant, luminescent sculptures – don’t miss the Tunnel of Light. You can book your tickets online for £19 per adult or £13 for a child, or pick up a family ticket for two adults and two children for £60.
An Edinburgh Christmas tradition is to enjoy a glass of fizz at The Dome on George Street. Thankfully that’s one tradition that isn’t going anywhere this year. The building’s Christmas decorations are the best in town (or so some say), so if you’re looking for a place to get into the spirit of the season, we can’t think of a much more perfect Christmas holiday destination.
Where to stay
The Radisson Collection Hotel on the Royal Mile lets you bed down footsteps away from the cobbled closes of the magical Old Town from £106 a night, or why not book a room at Hotel Indigo on York Place, from £52 a night? It’s a stone’s throw from Princes Street for shopping, with The Dome around the corner, and Calton Hill nearby for magnificent views over the city.
What could be more festive than snow-covered peaks, rustic pine lodges, and mulled wine around a roaring, open fire? In Scotland‘s Highlands, you’ll find the small town of Aviemore, situated in the Cairngorms National Park – an ideal place to hole up away from the world for a Christmas holiday. You can ski or snowboard in the Cairngorm Mountains without even having to queue for the ski lift. There are plenty of off-the-beaten-track back country trails and ski touring expeditions available, as well as lessons for beginners of all ages. You could bring your own sledge, or hire one from the Glenmore Shop.
The mountains surrounding Aviemore are the perfect place to hone your mountaineering skills. Book a guide for your own expedition and explore the best of the Cairngorms with Scotch on the Rocks Guiding or Active Outdoor Pursuits, who can organise hiking, biking, and a range of adventure mountain sports for all abilities and ages. Or take off on a sleddog experience at Cairngorm Sleddog Centre, where you’ll meet the dogs and join them for a sledge trek along stunning snow-covered forest trails.
Where to stay
You’ll want somewhere to cosy up after your snow-filled adventures, and where better than a wigwam or rustic cabin at Badaguish Outdoor Centre, located between the town centre and the ski slopes? You can book a lodge for the Christmas week from £315 a night, or a wigwam to sleep up to four guests from £58 a night. Or, stay near the Aviemore Snow Sports School at the Colyumbridge Hotel, with rooms from £82 a night, including breakfast.
Home to some of the UK’s grandest Georgian buildings in Royal Crescent and the Circus, as well as one of the best-preserved Roman bathhouses in the world, Bath‘s mix of ancient and modern draws visitors throughout the year. This year its Christmas market has been cancelled, although organisers are promising a Christmas event on a smaller scale in the weeks leading up to 25 December.
Bath is also known as the home of the writer, Jane Austen, who lived here from 1801 to 1806, and set two of her novels in the city. At the Jane Austen Centre you can enjoy a guided immersive tour with staff in Regency costumes, taking in memorabilia relating to the author’s life, or even dine on Mr Darcy’s Afternoon Tea in the Regency Tea Room – a must for Pride and Prejudice fans. Tickets cost £12 for adults, £5.20 for children, or £28 for a family ticket (which admits two adults and up to four children). The tea room is open Saturdays and Sundays, 10am to 4pm.
If you prefer to stay outdoors and enjoy the crisp winter weather during your Christmas holidays, wrap up for a private walking tour (£100 for 90 minutes) with Bath Walking Tours. Meeting outside Bath Abbey, you’ll learn about the history of this beautiful city and its inhabitants while taking in sights such as Royal Crescent, the Circus, and Pulteney Bridge. Your guide may even recommend some of the best places in the city for dinner.
Where to stay
Harington’s Hotel, a few steps from Bath Abbey, offers beautifully furnished (and dog friendly) rooms from £88 a night. But if you’re really looking to treat yourselves this Christmas, nab a room at The Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa. Set in an elegant Georgian townhouse on Royal Crescent, this five-star hotel is surrounded by beautiful gardens where you can enjoy a stroll or take afternoon tea. Rooms start at £312 a night in December.
You may not be able to enjoy the roasted chestnuts and elaborate costumes of the annual Dickens Christmas Festival in Rochester this year, but you can still follow in the footsteps of Dickens during your Christmas holidays here. Head for Restoration House, home to Estella and Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Unfortunately it’s closed to the public this year, but it’s still a great spot for a Christmas selfie. Eastgate House is another Grade I-listed building which featured in Dickens’ work. In the gardens is his chalet, relocated from his home in Higham. Again, the house is currently closed but makes for an excellent photo opportunity for Dickens fans.
If you fancy escaping the city, you can head for the nearby village of Cooling, where you’ll find St James’ Church, the inspiration for the opening chapter of Great Expectations by Dickens. In the graveyard, you may recognise ‘Pip’s Graves’, the rather eerie gravestones of 13 babies, described by Dickens in the novel as “little stone lozenges each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their [parents’] graves”. Too morbid? Take a day trip to Lullingstone Roman Villa, around 40 minutes from Rochester. It’s one of the best-preserved Roman villas in the country, dating back to around 100 AD.
Where to stay
Book a room at The Gordon House Hotel from £75 a night and you’ll be within easy walking distance of Rochester Cathedral and the Guildhall Museum, as well as the city’s bars and restaurants. If you’d rather rent an apartment, 33 New Road sleeps up to seven guests from £119 a night; the city centre is just a 15-minute walk away.
Ride the West Highland Line
There’s nothing quite as romantic as cosying up onboard a train travelling across Scotland, so why not set off on one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys during your Christmas holidays this year? The West Highland Line starts in Glasgow and runs to the West Coast and Oban, or north-west to Fort William and Mallaig (our pick). Along the way you’ll have plenty to ooh and ahh at, including the Glenfinnan Viaduct from the Harry Potter movies, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, plus The Road to the Isles, the most spectacular section of the route. Visit Scotland has put together a handy four-day itinerary which should help inspire you to plan your own adventure.
Start your trip with a stay in Glasgow and get in the festive spirit with a socially distanced Santa and Elf Experience (solely for the little ones) at various destinations across the city. Head for a spot of shopping on Buchanan Street, or go vintage shopping in the west end, then cosy up in front of a roaring fire at The Finnieston on Argyle Street. Serving over 60 kinds of gin, this place is as renowned for its gin cocktails as it is its delectable oyster bar.
Where to stay
Your adventure starts in Glasgow, so book a room close to the train station and stay at the Jurys Inn from £48 a night, with free cancellation. Or treat yourself to a room at the five-star Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel, just a short walk from the station, with doubles from £107 a night.
The New Forest
Roaring log fires, cosy mugs of hot chocolate, snow-covered woodland trails… the New Forest has all these festive delights and more, and it’s just over an hour and a half from London. Taking the kids for a Christmas holiday? Don’t miss Paultons Park, where there are not only the usual rides to keep them entertained, but also special Christmas shows and the chance to meet Frosty the Snowman, Santa and his elves. Book your tickets online for £29.50 – children under 1 metre tall go free.
The New Forest is all about getting back to nature and enjoying the great outdoors, so why not combine that with some festive fun on a Christmas Canoe Paddle? You’ll float up the Beaulieu River, taking in the nature reserve’s flora and fauna as you go on this 90-minute tour. There’s hot chocolate to keep you nice and toasty, and presents for the kids from Santa. This event runs from 19-23 December and can be booked online at New Forest Activities.
Festive offerings aside, the New Forest is packed with activities, from archery and axe throwing to walking and cycling – or just strolling around pretty villages like Beaulieu and Brockenhurst (where you’ll also find the region’s main train station).
Where to stay
The Forest Park Country Hotel lies around half a mile from the centre of Brockenhurst and makes a great base for exploring the New Forest, with rooms from £118 a night. If you’re taking your pup along, Leygreen Farmhouse B&B offers dog-friendly accommodation just minutes from Beaulieu. Previous guests have commented on the owner’s delightful festive decor during the Christmas season. Rooms start at £120 a night.
We hope some of these destinations have inspired you to plan your own Covid-safe Christmas trip this winter. Don’t forget to check the latest news and travel advice before planning or setting off on your festive adventure.
Discover where you can go
Making plans to get back out there? Find out whose borders are open with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.
You should always check the latest government advice for the area you’re planning to visit, to ensure there are no local lockdowns in place. While you’re travelling, adhere to social distancing guidelines and other regulations in place for the area you’re visiting, and ensure you wear a face mask where required to do so, to ensure your safety and the safety of others.
Right now we’d recommend booking accommodation that offers free cancellation should your plans need to change. Most hotels are happy to do this, but you may pay a little more for your room as a result.
Most cities have recently announced the cancellation of their Christmas markets and festivals, although some are planning smaller-scale events. It’s always best to check with the local tourist board before planning your trip, to avoid disappointment.
You should not go on holiday in England with people you do not live with (or who are not in your support bubble) in a group larger than six people. In fact, right now it’s against the law to do so. You should also try not to share a vehicle with those outside your household or social bubble, unless you can practice social distancing. Different rules may apply for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Want to read more?
- Coronavirus travel advice – our daily updated travel advice in the age of COVID-19, detailing which countries are open for travel, their entry requirements and airline updates
- When can I travel again? We run through the latest updates and predictions for travel in 2020 and beyond
- This quiz will tell you where you should visit in 2021 Get ready to book ahead.