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News & Advice

'Tis the season: Christmas activities

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, with festive activities taking place up and down the country. Lucy Gillmore gets into the spirit

What's the attraction?

This year there's a festive feast of Christmas markets, open-air ice rinks and yuletide events. At Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland, 20 sculptors have created a Magical Ice Kingdom from over 200 tons of ice and snow (until 6 January; hydeparkwinterwonderland.com). It is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of A Christmas Carol author Charles Dickens in Portsmouth and the Historic Dockyard is joining in the celebrations with its Victorian Festival of Christmas from this Friday to Sunday (0844 880 5419; christmasfestival.co.uk). Sup frothy eggnog in Fagin's Tavern before wandering the snowy streets.

Rocking Around the Christmas Trees

At Thetford Forest in Suffolk, the Electric Forest (left) is a night-time adventure taking visitors on a journey through the darkness, emerging from the trees to discover illuminated landscapes and visual art and sound installations. There are also cosy spot where you can eat, drink and soak up the atmosphere of the forest at night (1, 2, 6-9 and 13-16 December; 01665 833751; theelectricforest.co.uk). And Alnwick Garden, is hosting the Northumberland Lights winter festival. Visitors wander the spectacularly illuminated Ornamental Garden (18-23 and 26-30 December; 01665 511350; www.alnwickgarden.com/festivaloffools).

All the trimmings

At the School of Wok (020 7240 8818; schoolofwok.co.uk) a new Oriental cookery school in Covent Garden, there's the opportunity to join two-hour "Wok around the Christmas tree" lessons to spice up your Christmas dinner (£95; 14 and 21 December). Think Christmas parcel crispy wontons, roast poussin with lemongrass stuffing, festive fried rice and five-spice chocolate fondant. Further east, at London's ExCel Centre, Taste of Christmas (6-9 December; tasteofchristmas.com) brings together top chefs including Jamie Oliver, Mary Berry and Michel Roux Jnr, alongside food stalls, master classes and inspiration at the Festive Flavours of the World showcase.

Homemade Christmas

For Christmas without the bling head to the WWT Wetland Centre in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire (01554 741087; wwt.org.uk/christmas) where there are wreath-making workshops on 8 and 9 December using materials gathered in the wetlands. At Brockholes nature reserve in Lancashire, the UK's only floating visitor centre, the Christmas Festival on 22 and 23 December includes a Christmas Trail around the reserve and the chance to make your own Christmas cards, decorations and wreaths with natural materials (bottom right) before meeting Father Christmas and his reindeer (01772 872 000; brockholes.org).

Ghosts of Christmas Past

In Chester on 20 December the city celebrates its Roman heritage with an atmospheric torch-lit procession of Roman soldiers through the historic streets to mark the traditional Roman winter festival of Saturnalia (visitchester.com/christmas). In Conwy on 7 December there will be a procession of medieval knights through the town led by a jester, followed by knights in armour and their ladies carrying blazing torches. There will also be a hog roast and late-night shopping (gonorthwales.co.uk). Christmas was banned in Scotland in 1575 and not officially celebrated until 1958. At the Real Mary King's Close, beneath Edinburgh's Royal Mile, A Christmas at the Close Tour explains the capital's historic seasonal traditions, such as the mischief making of the "daft days" from Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night (0845 070 6244; realmarykingsclose.com). A Victorian Christmas at Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire (01282 771004; nationaltrust.org.uk/gawthorpe-hall) takes place on 15 and 16 December. Visitors can check out the dining room decked out for a typical Victorian Christmas.

Who said that?

"Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind," – Kris Kringle in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." – Charles Dickens

"One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books." – J K Rowling Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Shop till you drop

New Christmas markets include Exeter (until 16 December; heartofdevon.com/whats-on), in front of the cathedral; and Salisbury (29 November to 16 December), where wooden chalets will huddle around the 18th-century Guildhall Square (visitwiltshire.co.uk). A new addition in Brighton is the German Christmas Market outside the Churchill Shopping Centre (visitbrighton.com), or for an alternative shopping experience, you can nose around 100 local artists' houses during Christmas Artists Open Houses (1, 2, 8, 9, 15 and 16 December; aoh.org.uk).

Get your skates on

Today, Cornwall's first open-air ice rink opens in Truro beside the cathedral (until 6 January; 01872 262466; iceskatetruro.co.uk), while in Bath (left) you can also whirl around against the backdrop of the Georgian Royal Crescent (until 6 January; 07583 258688; bathonice.com). In Brighton, Jamie Oliver's Fabulous Feasts is this year's pop-up restaurant at the Royal Pavilion ice rink (until 20 January; royalpavilionicerink.co.uk). And at Somerset House in London, the ice rink goes up tempo with club nights: tonight until Friday it's the Vintage Festival, followed by the Ministry of Sound and Ibiza Rocks (until 4 January; somersethouse.org.uk/ice-rink).

insider information

"At York's Chocolate Story we're inviting people to get into the spirit of overindulgence with some special yuletide demonstrations. Having said 'bah humbug' to boring selection boxes and tins of toffees, those who come to our chocolate visitor attraction in December will be shown how to make eggnog, winter spice and plum pudding". Andrew Thwaite, Head Chocolatier at York's Chocolate Story (0845 498 9411; yorkschocolatestory.com).