Join a treasure hunt, Cornwall
When the tide is in, you can trundle across to St Michael’s Mount across the causeway in the “amphicraft” – an amphibious vehicle that looks like a Clarkson creation. The castle atop this tiny Cornish island has been home to the St Aubyn family for more than 400 years. Children can learn about its history and legends on a treasure hunt (27-30 December). Warm yourself in front of the fire in the Great Hall, check out the Christmas tree in the Blue Drawing Room, and tuck into homemade cakes in the Sail Loft.
Castle entrance: adults £9, children £4.50
Set off on a reindeer safari, Cairngorms
Where do reindeer go after Christmas? You can visit them all year round at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, just outside Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands. There are daily hill trips at 11am, trekking up onto the mountainside to feed the main herd by hand and stroking their velvety noses. You can also visit a handful of reindeer in the paddock at the centre if you don’t fancy the moorland schlep.
Adults £14, children £8
Go bird-watching, Carmarthenshire
Huddle together in the Heron’s Wing Hide looking out over the reserve at the Wetland Centre in Llanelli, scouring the saltmarsh for pintails and pochards, Canada geese and tufted ducks. Then climb up into the (heated!) viewing tower to gaze through the telescope over the lagoon and estuary. Kids can also pop along to winter craft workshops – every afternoon until 3 January – to make bird feeders, bird nesting stockings and lanterns.
Adults £9, children £5
Have some shipshape fun, Portsmouth
Take the helm of HMS Victory, HMS Warrior 1860 and the Mary Rose, three of the world’s most iconic ships – or at least a virtual image of them, as they’re projected on to the wall of a 170-year-old listed warehouse over Christmas (until 3 January) at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The interactive “I Saw Three Ships” illuminations, which look like they are floating, are set to traditional Christmas music. There are also a host of other activities at the site, including a festive family fun trail.
Adults £23, children £16
Experience Nutcracker magic, Derbyshire
Glorious Chatsworth House, set within rolling Derbyshire parkland, has been decked out as the world of The Nutcracker for Christmas. Until 3 January, visitors wandering through the grand apartments will stumble upon tableaux featuring characters from the ballet dressed in sumptuous costumes, from dancing snowflakes to the Sugar Plum Fairy, Nutcracker soldiers and the Mouse King.
House and garden tickets: adults £19, children £12
Enjoy sky-high views, Brighton
For a bird’s eye view of Brighton soar 450ft up into the sky in the new British Airways i360, a vertical cable car, launched in August and already in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s tallest moving observation tower. The glass viewing pod gives you 360-degree views across the South Downs and the Sussex coast, with “flights” departing every 30 minutes.
Adults £15, children £7.50; discounts available when booked together with Sea Life Brighton and the Royal Pavilion
Immerse yourself in living history, Shropshire
Six of Shropshire’s Ironbridge Gorge museums will be open from 26 to 31 December. This World Heritage Site has plenty to entertain kids including Blists Hill Victorian town, where they can meet the inhabitants in the recreated cottages and shops, check out original remedies in the pharmacy and sample traditional favourites in the sweet shop. Budding scientists should head to the Enginuity design and technology centre to become an engineer for the day, learning how to control a river to generate electricity and build an earthquake-proof tower.
Annual ticket to all attractions: adults £25, children £15
Skate in a Winter Wonderland, Yorkshire
Enrol your kids in skate school – book a half-hour private lesson on Sunday mornings (priced £20). Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland is open until 2 January and is home to the largest outdoor ice rink in the north of England, The Ice Factor (the rink is open until 8 January). There’s also a 30ft Christmas tree, a Narnia-themed Christmas village and a funfair of vintage rides. Clamber into the Brooklands Dodgems built in 1937, the 1950s Ghost Train, the Speedway from 1936 and Muffin the Mule Aerodrome created in 1947.
One-hour skating sessions: adults £10.45, children £9.45
Visit the Poles, Edinburgh
You can touch part of a real iceberg in the Polar Extremes gallery at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh, which takes visitors on a journey through the evolution of the planet. Just remember to wrap up warm. A film of simulated flight over glaciers, coupled with the freezing temperatures, catapults visitors to the Poles while interactive exhibits show how climate change is threatening the indigenous animals and other wildlife. From 27-30 December, Penguin Days – a series of polar-themed drop-in activities – will be taking place, with children able can make their own penguin-themed crafts and learn about the different species.
Adults £12, children £8
Walk among giant flowers, Surrey
Giant illuminated botanical blooms have been scattered around the gardens at RHS Wisley in Surrey to create magical walkways after dark, while the Glasshouse has been transformed with a rainbow of light. Inside there’s a magical Gingerbread House and garden filled with poinsettias as well as an exhibit featuring 10 Christmas trees from around the world. The 45-minute stroll along the the gardens’ trail is a good way to start burning off those extra calories. Until 2 January.
Adults £14.50, children £7