Monsters, magic and merriment: 'tis the season of fun and games

You don't have to chain yourself to the telly this Christmas - there's plenty going on across the UK to suit all tastes. Sophie Lam and Beena Nadeem pick 50 of the best events

Kids will love it

1 Neverland in the West End

Celebrate Peter Pan's 100th birthday. Tonight at the Albery Theatre in London there will be a gala performance of J M Barrie's enduring play, given by the Chicken Shed Company in aid of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. And at the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden, you can hear the story of the Indian Peter Pan, Yama, see photographs charting the history of theatrical productions of the story, and take part in costume workshops and make-up demonstrations.

Book tickets for the gala performance on 020-7916 5678. Entrance to the museum is free, and free workshops take place daily at 2pm until 31 January. The museum opens Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-6pm, closed 25-27 December and 1-3 January.

Theatre Museum (020-7943 4700; www.theatremuseum.org.uk), Russell Street, London WC2.

2 London's baffled boffins

Discover the secrets of the Science Museum's fascinating storerooms at Don't Tell The Curators. Children aged seven and over can scrutinise an amazing array of objects not usually on display to the public and try to figure out what each one is for.

Admission free. Don't Tell The Curators takes place at 11.45am, 1.15pm and 2.30pm from 27 December-4 January (except 1 January) .

Science Museum (0870-870 4868; www.sciencemuseum.org.uk), Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7.

3 Father Christmas in Sussex

Come and see the new arrival at Drusillas Park - Father Christmas. He will be visiting the zoo with his elves to help children enjoy a host of seasonal activities, including decoration workshops and face painting. And, of course, he'll also be giving out presents.

Admission £9.99 adults, £9.49 children aged two to 12 years. Concessions. Admission to Santa's Grotto costs £3. Santa's Christmas Cottage is open until 23 December. Drusillas opens daily from 10am-4pm.

Drusillas Park (01323 874100; www.drusillas.co.uk), Alfriston, East Sussex.

4 Edinburgh's little readers

Tiny bookworms, aged under four years, can have festive fun at the Bookstart Christmas Party, part of the national books-for-babies programme. Children can join in Christmas songs and art activities and they'll get a free book from Santa.

Admission free. The Bookstart Christmas Party takes place at 10.30am on 24 December. Booking essential.

Bookstart (0131-529 5571; www.bookstart.co.uk), Sighthill Library, 6 Sighthill Wynd, Edinburgh EH11.

5 Santa docks in Bristol

Take to the water with Santa in Bristol harbour. Board his specially decorated ferry and you'll be treated to gifts, mince pies and festive entertainment.

Sail with Santa costs £6. Departures hourly between 12.30pm-3.30pm on 20 and 22 December. Booking essential.

Bristol Ferry Boat Company (0117-927 3416; www.bristolferryboat.co.uk), City Centre, Bristol BS1.

6 Wembley says, hello Noddy!

Whisk the kids off to Toyland to meet Noddy and friends who will be performing their first stage show.

Tickets cost between £13-£19, no charge for children under one. Family tickets. Shows take place between 27-29 December at 10.30am and 1.30pm on Monday and Wednesday and at 1.30pm and 4.30pm on Tuesday.

Noddy Live! Wembley Arena (0870- 060 0870; www.whatsonwembley.com), Empire Way, Wembley, Middlesex.

7 An underground grotto in Wales

Visit Santa in his underground grotto in the spectacular setting of the National Showcaves in Wales. And don't miss the dinosaur park and shire horse centre.

Admission £3 adults and £5.50 children. The grotto opens daily until 24 December from 11am-2pm.

National Showcaves Centre for Wales (01639 730801; www.showcaves.co.uk), Glyntawe, Upper Swansea Valley.

Hands-on

8 Gosport's ration book revelry

Find out what Christmas was like during the Second World War by creating a festive atmosphere from scarce resources. Try your hand at baking gingerbread men, making paper decorations and sewing stockings.

Admission £5.50 adults, £3.50 children aged five-16 years. Concessions and family tickets. A Wartime Christmas takes place from 10am- 12 noon on 22 December.

Explosion! - The Museum of Naval Firepower (02392 505600; www.explosion.org.uk), Priddy's Hard, Gosport, Hampshire.

9 Made in Manchester

Get touchy-feely at Textile Touch, a hands-on decorative textile workshop at Manchester Art Gallery. Interpret the techniques used in the museum's Under My Skin exhibition, which displays clothes and accessories created by six people with learning difficulties.

Admission free to the gallery and workshop. Textile Touch takes place on 28 and 29 December between 1pm-3pm. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Manchester Art Gallery (0161-235 8888; www.manchestergalleries.org), Mosley Street, Manchester M2.

12 Paper-making in Sale

Cheap, environmentally friendly, messy and fun - learn how to recycle unwanted Christmas wrapping into new handmade paper incorporating oddments such as leaves and beads.

The event is free and takes place from 1pm-3pm on 28 December. Under-15s must be accompanied by an adult.

Mersey Valley Visitors Centre (0161- 905 1100; www.manchester.gov.uk), Rifle Road, Sale Water Park, Sale.

13 Create cards

Design some last-minute Christmas cards at the Imperial War Museum, taking inspiration from the museum's collections to create a unique design.

Admission to the museum and the event is free. The event takes place between 11am and 4pm until 22 December .

Imperial War Museum London (020-7416 5000; www.iwm.org.uk), Lambeth Road, London SE1.

Seasonal spectaculars

14 Brighton lights up

Celebrate 10 years of Brighton's annual giant lantern parade, marking the winter solstice. The climax is a huge bonfire on the beach of thousands of clock-shaped lanterns piled around a 20-feet high "winter king".

The event is free and takes place at 6pm on 21 December.

For Burning the Clocks (01273 571106; www.samesky.co.uk), gather at the city centre (exact location will be announced on the day), Brighton.

15 Cardiff's big freeze

See the ice sculptures at Cardiff's Winter Wonderland, where street entertainers and carol singers will also perform. And take a turn on the rink.

Most entertainment is free. Admission to the ice rink costs adults £5 and children aged three-12 years £4.50. Children under eight must be accompanied by an adult and children under three are not permitted on the ice.

The events run until 9 January 2005 (closed 25 December). Ice sculptures from 12.30pm-4.30pm on 26 and 28 December. Street entertainers from 12pm-5pm between 20 and 24 December. Welsh choirs sing beside the ice rink at 7.30pm and 8.30pm on 20 December .

Cardiff's Winter Wonderland (02920 230130; www.cardiffswinterwonderland.com) takes place around City Hall, Cardiff.

16 Loch Lomond's winter festival

Wrap up warm for the Loch Lomond Winter Festival on the shores of one of Scotland's most famous stretches of water. Events include a family funfair with a mini roller-coaster and a covered ice rink. A Christmas market and concert also take place today.

Admission to the funfair is free although there are charges for individual attractions. Admission to the ice rink is £4 per hour for all ages. The ice rink and funfair are both open until 9 January 2005 (closed 25 December and 1 January 2005), from 11am-5.30pm.

Loch Lomond Shores (0845 345 4978; www.lochlomondshores.com), Loch Lomond, Balloch, Dunbartonshire.

17 Sparklers in Liverpool

Liverpool will throw a spectacular fireworks display this New Year's Eve to get in training for its stint as European Capital of Culture in 2008 and next year's Sea Liverpool (celebrating the city's maritime heritage).

Admission free. The event begins at 5pm on 31 December, but get there early to ensure a good view.

Liverpool New Year's Eve (0151-233 2008; www.liverpool08.com), Metropolitan Cathedral, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3.

18 The circus comes to Wales

Don't expect to see lions, tigers and ringmasters at the thoroughly modern Cirque Eloize. Instead, marvel at the Canadian artistes as they perform acrobatics, drama and music.

Tickets cost between £5-£35. Concessions. The show takes place at 1pm and 7.30pm until 8 January (closed 25-26 December, 2 January).

Wales Millennium Centre (0870-040 2000; www.wmc.org.uk), Bute Place, Cardiff CF10.

19 A Derbyshire raft race

All aboard for the Boxing Day Raft Race at Matlock Bath. Homemade crafts, in the shape of everything from Thomas the Tank Engine to the Titanic, are the preferred mode of transport. Watch them wind their way through a four and a half mile course - dodging egg and flour bombs from some onlookers.

The race is free to watch and starts at 10am, but get there early to ensure a good place.

Boxing Day Raft Race (01332-343 216; www.derbyshire-thepeakdistrict.co.uk) Matlock Bath, Derbyshire.

20 Poles apart in Llanwrtyd Wells

See in the New Year with a bracing torch-lit walk around Llanwrtyd Wells in mid-Wales and watch the "Mari Llwyd", an old Welsh tradition where the "Mari" - a horse skull on a long pole - is carried from house to house.

The event, which is free, starts at 10.30pm from the square in Llanwrtyd Wells and returns for New Year's celebrations at midnight in the square.

For more details contact Llanwrtyd Wells Tourist Office (01591 610666; http://llanwrtyd-wells.powys.org.uk).

Scenes for teens

21 Capital illusions

Eyes playing trick on you? They will be after seeing the Hayward's Eyes, Lies and Illusions exhibition, which includes Christian Boltanski's shadow puppets of angels and devils and the surreal works of Marcel Duchamp.

Admission £9 adults, £3 children aged 12-16 years. Concessions. All tickets are half price on Mondays. Eyes, Lies and Illusions opens daily from 10am-6pm and until 8pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays until 3 January (closed 24-26 December and 1 January) and .

Hayward Gallery (020-7960 5226; www.hayward.org.uk), Belvedere Road, London SE1.

22 Jimi at the Marquee

Explore the musical years of rock giant Jimi Hendrix, who died 35 years ago. The interactive exhibition includes more than 500 items of original memorabilia including unseen images.

Admission £9.50 adults and £4.80 children aged under 12. The Jimi Hendrix Exhibition opens Monday-Friday from 12pm-4.30pm, weekends 11am-7pm, until 16 February (closed 25 December).

The Marquee (0870-444 6277; www.themarqueeclub.co.uk), 1 Leicester Square, London WC2.

25 Tamworth's slippery slope

Get down to Tamworth for some real snow action on indoor slopes. Try skiing and snowboarding and have a go at adrenalin tubing - which involves careering down the slopes in a huge inflatable tube. Over-17s can also have a go at mastering the country's very first snowmobile track.

Costs vary. A recreational pass costs £22 per hour adults and £16 under-17s. Booking essential. The Snowdome is open daily from 8.30am-11.15pm (closed 25 December).

The Snowdome (08705 000011; www.snowdome.co.uk), Leisure Island, River Drive, Tamworth, Staffordshire.

26 London bakes in winter

Mix, bake, create and decorate your own fairytale gingerbread houses under the expert eye of Carola Weymouth, a French-trained chef.

The two-day course costs £75 per child, including lunch. Make, Bake and Decorate your Own Gingerbread House is for youngsters up to 15. It takes place from 11am-2pm on 20 and 21 December.

Divertimenti (020-8876 9912; www.cookiecrumbles.net), 34 Marylebone High Street, London W1.

27 York's nasty Noel

Never mind Santa, welcome to Satan's Grotto at the York dungeon. Expect frights galore from demonic elves and a Father Christmas who will be encouraging naughty behaviour in return for a present.

Admission £8.95 adults, £10 children aged 10-14 years and £5.95 children aged five-nine years. Family tickets. Satan's Grotto is open from 11am-4pm until 2 January (closed 25 December). Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult and will be asked for proof of age.

York Dungeon (01904 632599; www.thedungeons.com), 12 Clifford Street, York.

28 Get your skates on in Warwick

Get out on the ice at Warwick Castle's rink. Take a look at the Frost Fair too, which this year takes on a medieval theme with fire-eaters, birds of prey and Christmas myths.

Admission £13.50 adults (plus £5 for skating), £8.25 children aged four-16 years (plus £4 for skating). Family tickets. The Frost Fair takes place between 10am and 5pm until 3 January (closed 25 December). The ice rink remains open until 10pm. Evening admission costs £9 adults and £6 children. Family ticket. Book ahead.

Warwick Castle (0870-442 2375; www.warwick-castle.co.uk), Warwick, Warwickshire.

29 A capital conjuring trip

Take a Magic Flight on the London Eye, where magicians, free gifts and competitions for children will compete for attention with the panoramic views.

Magic flights cost £15 adults, £7.50 children aged three-15 years. They run from from 11am-3pm from 18 December-5 January (closed 25 December). Booking is advised.

The London Eye (0870-500 0600; www.londoneye.co.uk), County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1.

Grown-ups unwind

30 Cool off in Sunderland

Fancy dress, a sense of humour and a thick layer of goose fat - they're all essential for the 800 or so mad fools who will be hurling themselves into the freezing winter water off Seaburn to raise money for local charities.

Entry forms are available from Sunderland Lions Club. The event is free to watch and starts at 11am on 26 December.

Seaburn Seafront (0191-528 1507; www.sunderland.gov.uk), Sunderland.

31 Carlisle Castle uncovered

One for the history boffins. Take a four-hour tour of 11th-century Carlisle Castle with a costumed guide, who will aim to give you a taste of life there in Victorian times. This medieval fortress has presided over the city for nine centuries. Key characters in its history include William Rufus, Mary, Queen of Scotts, and Bonnie Prince Charlie. It is now an English Heritage property, and home to the Border Regiment Museum. A festive glass of mulled wine and some nibbles await you at the end of this historical marathon.

The castle tours take place daily at 11 am between 27-30 December. Adults £6.60, children aged five to 15 years £4.30, both including admission to the castle. Concessions. Book in advance.

Carlisle Castle (01228 591922; www.english-heritage.org.uk), Arnhem Block, Carlisle.

32 Carols in Cambridge

Join the (very long) queue for this celebrated Christmas Eve service which first took place in 1918. You could be waiting for some time to hear this popular service, put together by the then dean of King's, Eric Milner-White, who compiled the now traditional sequence of lessons and prayers. New carols and old favourites are sung by the choir, directed by Stephen Cleobury, and by the congregation.

The act of worship begins at 3pm. Tickets are free and are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, so expect lengthy queues from around 10am. The service is not suitable for small children.

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (01223 331212; www.kings.cam.ac.uk/chapel/ninelessons), King's College Chapel, Cambridge.

33 And they're off at Lisburn

One of the year's most popular events, Down Royal Racecourse's Boxing Day meeting (this year being held on 27 December despite the change in law permitting racing on Sundays) will draw the crowds with its three steeplechases and seven races.

Admission £10 and packages are also available. Booking advised. Races take place on 27 December starting at 12.30pm.

Down Royal Racecourse (028-92 621256; www.downroyal.com), Maze, Lisburn, County Antrim. Other traditional Boxing Day meetings include the King George VI Stakes at Kempton Park in Surrey.

34 Art and faith in Liverpool

Liverpool's theme for 2005 is "Faith in one city", and so the Tate is staging Seeing is Believing: Faith in the Tate Collection, exploring its collectionfrom a spiritual point of view. Artists include Bridget Riley and Sonia Bryce.

Admission free. The event runs until 2 May (closed 24-26 December and 1 January). The museum opens daily from 10am-5.30pm.

Tate Liverpool (0151-702 7400; www.tate.org.uk/liverpool), Albert Dock, Liverpool L3.

36 A Dorset ramble

Shed those extra pounds this Christmas on one of the National Trust's festive walks. A Christmas ramble through Pamphill village in Dorset is one of the more leisurely strolls on offer. Walkers should gather at 2pm on 29 December at Kingston Lacy mansion. Adults £3 and children £1. No need to book. Call 01202 883402 for more details.

National Trust walks (01793 462800; www.nationaltrust.org.uk) take place across the country.

37 The South Bank rocks

Have a Cool Yule listening to Balkan Gypsy group Szapora, Yiddish folk tale The Golem, jazz numbers from Romeo Levani, Welsh rock from Circus Normal and taking part in an audience participation play, The White Reindeer.

Tickets range from £8-£16. Concessions. Performances begin at 10am, 12.30pm, 7.15pm, 7.30pm or 7.30pm. until 2 January (closed 25 December).

Royal Festival Hall (0870-401 8181; www.rfh.org.uk), Belvedere Road, London SE1.

38 A Cornish jungle

Discover the Lost Gardens of Heligan, home to an amazing array of exotic plants planted during Victorian times.

Admission free on 26 December and 1 January, although charitable donations are invited. The gardens open from 10am-5pm, depending on the weather. Last admission is 3.30pm.

Lost Gardens of Heligan (01726 845100; www.heligan.com), Pentewan, St Austell, Cornwall.

39 Go Forth and take the plunge

Are you brave enough to dip more than just a toe into the icy waters of the Forth? The midday plunge is guaranteed to cure a hangover. And the hardy folk who take part are welcomed on to dry land with a hot toddy.

For sponsorship forms or more details, call 0131-331 2555; registration costs £5 per person. Children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult.

The Loony Dook takes place at 12 noon on 1 January.

Loony Dook (0845-22 55 121; www.visitscotland.com), The Moorings Lounge, River Forth, Queensferry.

40 A West End souk

Spice up Christmas at Momo, one of London's best Moroccan restaurants, which has created a souk and filled it with potential stocking-fillers and unusual presents.

Admission free. The souk is open from 12 noon-8pm until 24 December.

Momo Souk (020-7434 4040; www.momoresto.com), Momo Restaurant, 25 Heddon Street, London W1.

Leisurely pursuits

41 The sound of East End music

Catch the closing bars of the Spitalfields Winter Festival, which ends this week with two concerts and two festive events, including church music from England and France spanning the 13th to the 16th centuries. Tomorrow's concert at 7pm features Emma Kirkby and The Rose Consort of Viols; Tuesday's is by the Dufay Collective

The festival runs until 22 December. Concerts tickets range from £5 to £20 and selected events are free. Children aged eight to 16 years receive a 50 per cent discount. Concessions. Booking is advised. The Spitalfields Winter Festival (020-7377 1362; www.spitalfieldsfestival.org.uk) takes place at venues around Spitalfields in East London.

43 Twitching in Guernsey

The humble wren may be our smallest bird but malicious ...? So they say in much of Europe, because it gave away St Stephen to his captors with its call, a misdemeanour commemorated by some rather violent antics. Its story and those of many others are revealed in the two-hour RSPB Boxing Day Bash walk though Guernsey's bird-spotting conservation areas.

The free walk takes place at 10am on 26 December. Meet at Home Farm, Saumarez Park.

RSPB Guernsey (01481 255524; www.rspbguernsey.co.uk).

45 Dinner on the Orient Express

Feast on a festive five-course dinner aboard one of the world's most luxurious trains, with entertainment to boot. Cream of Jerusalem artichoke and fennel soup and roasted quail will be washed down with wine and liqueurs.

The next available departure aboard the British Pullman leaves London Victoria at 11.55am on 21 December, returning at around 4pm. Tickets (including lunch) cost £255 per person.

The Orient Express British Pullman (0845-077 2222; www.orient-express.com) departs from Victoria Station, London SW1.

46 Gateshead gospel

Fans of the Channel 4 series Howard Goodall's 20th Century Greats will enjoy his seasonal look at Christmas favourites, from folk carols to gospel, with the help of a BBC Radio 2 2004 Young Chorister of the Year, Waterson:Carthy, the Northern Spirit Singers and others.

The concert takes place at 7.30pm on 22 December. Adult tickets range from £6-£21. Children's tickets are half price. Concessions. Booking essential.

The Sage Gateshead (0870-703 4555; www.thesagegateshead.org), Old Town Hall, Gateshead.

47 Gavotte at Hampton Court

Experience Christmas at the court of King James I and Anne of Denmark, dancing to music in the halls and chambers, while downstairs the cooks prepare a royal feast.

The event runs from 27 December- 2 January. Hampton Court opens Tuesday-Sunday 9.30am-4.30pm and from 10.30am on Mondays. Admission £11.80 adults, £7.70 children aged five-16. Family ticket. Concessions.

Hampton Court (0870-752 7777; www.hrp.org.uk), East Molesey, Surrey.

48 Chatsworth opens the hamper

The Duke of Devonshire's country seat, Chatsworth House, may be closed for winter, but the farm shop has opened a Christmas marquee filled with local produce - a great place for some last-minute seasonal shopping.

Open from 9am-5.30pm until 24 December.

Farm Shop, Chatsworth House (01246 565300; www.chatsworth-house.co.uk), Chatsworth, Bakewell, Derbyshire.

49 Home-cooking Cornwall

More shopping opportunities at Lanhydrock House where a celebration of fine fare called This Tastes Good! features beer, cheese, chocolate and pickle. Carol singing at the weekend too.

Admission free. The event takes place from 11am-4pm until 31 December. The house is closed 23-27 December.

Lanhydrock House (01208 265950; www.nationaltrust.org.uk), Bodmin, Cornwall.

50 Whisky in Edinburgh

Try a drop of the hard stuff at the annual whisky distillers fair, where more than 240 varieties will be on sale to discerning visitors. And take a tour of the centre to learn about the tippleÿs long history, from the origins of malt whisky distilling to the creation of a fine single malt. Tours £8.50 adults. Concessions. The fair takes place from 12pm-4pm on 30 December. Tours depart roughly every 15 minutes.

The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre (0131 220 0441; www.whisky-heritage.co.uk), 354 Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh EN1.

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