25 alternative ways to spend Christmas Day

Can't face the relatives? That bickering over the last mince pie? Or yet another dose of 'EastEnders'? Then leave the house, and do something more interesting instead. Jonathan Brown offers his favourite options

Saturday 23 December 2006 01:00 GMT

1 Go surfing

Hundreds of people will be waxing their sticks on the beaches of north Cornwall and Devon, where 8ft waves are expected to start rolling in off the Atlantic around the 25th, according to David Foster of the British Surfing Association. An area of low pressure in the Atlantic and the high hovering over the UK will give light offshore winds and near perfect conditions. "Christmas Day has become a bit of a tradition in recent years," said Mr Foster. "A lot of people like to go and work off the extra pounds they have been piling on. And this year the conditions could be perfect." Best beaches: Croyde and Fistral.

2 Go back in time

The booming interest in Britain's heritage goes into overdrive during the festive period. At 11am London Walks will be holding a Samuel Pepys' tour, transporting people back to 1660 when the diarist worked as Chief Secretary to the Admiralty. At 2pm it will lead a Charles Dickens walk, taking in such sights as the blacking factory where the author worked on the Strand. Both walks start at the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.

3 See some sculpture

Antony Gormley's evocative installation Another Place on Crosby beach near Liverpool was nearly taken down in October when Sefton Council deemed it a hazard to health and safety. Vociferous protests ensued, sparking a national debate on risk culture. The 100 iron men which are due to transfer to New York were eventually saved, at least for the time being. Meanwhile, the statues themselves continue to be as popular ever, drawing thousands of visitors to the beach each week.

4 Lend a hand

Crisis, the homeless charity, will be opening seven centres in London this Christmas and is seeking volunteers for all of them - particularly at night. Anyone looking to help must be aged over 16 and prepared to work two eight-hour shifts over the holiday period to make vulnerable people feel at home. Those with skills such as hairdressing, dentistry, chiropody and medical training are all on hand, while others are needed to help in the kitchen, distribute clothing and make tea and coffee. For more information see www.crisis.org.uk.

5 Retreat

Should the material pressures of the season become too much, the London Buddhist Centre organises a day retreat at its Bethnal Green headquarters on Christmas Day. There will be four meditation sessions, a group vegetarian lunch and a discussion. There will also be a glass of non-alcoholic wine thrown in. A longer winter retreat starts this weekend and goes on to 1 January, avoiding New Year's Eve too.

6 Take a walk

The great British countryside remains resolutely open over Christmas and the National Trust is promoting its 700 miles of coastal walks. The two-mile hike along Arnside Knott on the Lancashire/Cumbria border affords stunning views over Morecambe Bay, while the four-and-a-half-mile trek on the White Cliffs of Dover guarantees great views and refreshing airs. Ramblers in Liverpool are urged to meet at noon at Mansion House in Calderstones Park for a five-mile "mystery" ramble. See www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

7 Cycle

The Greenwich cycle ride is becoming something of a Christmas tradition in itself. Billed as a "gentle" pedal, cyclists set off from the Cutty Sark in south-east London at 10am before heading out towards Putney along the Thames via the South Bank. The route goes through Battersea Park, ending in an affordable lunch in Edgware Road. Latecomers can join the ride from London Bridge at 11am.

8 Swim

What better way to celebrate than strip off and plunge into icy water? The most famous Christmas Day swim remains the one at the Serpentine in Hyde Parke where members of the local club have been competing for the Peter Pan Cup since 1904. A few miles away at Hampstead, two Christmas Day races are being held - the second of that is open to all comers, provided they are habituated to the cold. A crowd also gathers on Brighton beach from 11.30am while 500 normally take the plunge at Coney Beach at Porthcawl and 200 at Tenby in Pembrokeshire.

9 Stay in a hotel

Many hotels offer a Christmas Day package but few come grander than spending the big day at the Ritz. Festivities kick off with a full English breakfast at 7.30am, with the traditional six-course luncheon served in the restaurant at 12.30pm. The hotel will be putting on light entertainment and Father Christmas will deliver presents at 2.30pm, after which guests will retire to the Rivoli bar where the Queen's message will be shown. Anyone still hungry can tuck into a four-course meal that evening. A three-night stay for a person sharing is £1,690.

10 Go naked

Cast off that unwanted Christmas jumper at Pevors luxury naturist resort. The four-star, self-catering cottages are set among 400 acres of farmland in Essex. Weather permitting, guests can enjoy rambles and picnics, although the hot tub and heated swimming pool may prove more alluring. The owner, Margaret Lewis, says most guests enjoy escaping from the rest of the world. Prices range from £180-495 per cottage, depending on length of stay.

11 Hire an island

Billed as a vision of Eden on earth, Sir Richard Branson's Caribbean retreat, Necker Island, must count as one of the most luxurious places to spend Christmas. Its sugar-white beaches, elegant single residence and services of 31 staff could be yours for £24,000 a night. Sadly, it is too late to get there this year, but a seven-night stay is available on an island in the Turks and Caicos for £10,000.

12 Go vegetarian

Not traditionally an easy time for non-meat eaters, the Vegetarian Society offers advice to its members on how to get through Christmas unscathed. One solution is to visit a vegetarian restaurant. Sibila's in Browning Street, Birmingham, serves a fusion of Croatian, Italian and Indian food. Advance booking is advised.

13 Take a cruise

City Cruises is offering a boat trip down the river Thames departing from Westminster Pier at 12.30pm, sailing past historic Greenwich, thetowers of Docklands to the Thames flood barrier. During the 165-minute journey time, a three-course Christmas lunch will be served. Tickets cost £87.50.

14 Go to church

A recent survey suggests that less than half of British children relate Christmas Day to the birth of Jesus. What better way to remake the connection than join the four million worshippers who will be attending a service? All churches will be open for what is traditionally the busiest day of the year. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams will be preaching at Canterbury Cathedral at 11am. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor will lead midnight mass at Westminster Cathedral.

15 Go to a stone circle

There are 16 major neolithic stone circles in Britain. To its admirers, Avebury in Wiltshire is more spectacular than Stonehenge, and is available for visits on Christmas Day. Dating to 2800BC, it is one of Europe's largest stone circles and was voted the country's third most spiritual place.

16 Dance

Revellers will have to wait until the rest of the world is tucking into the first of the turkey sandwiches but clubland will be cranking up the sounds on Christmas night. Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh is hosting an escape Christmas party while DJ Oggie will be playing classic disco at Churchill's in Manchester. The Fridge in Brixton, south London, will be playing house and electro, while Bamboo in Glasgow will also be open for rock and pop tunes.

17 Take a trip

Golden Tours has been operating its Christmas Day itinerary for 20 years. The most popular destinations are Canterbury and Dover. Evan Evans tours also offers day trips to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. Coaches leave from Victoria.

18 Sing

The Plygain carol services held each Christmas morning in parts of Wales date back centuries. Plygain means "cock crow", because singers rise between 3am and 6am. The carols are unaccompanied.

19 Go for a drink

Most pubs open at Christmas lunchtime but why not head for the best. The Swan Public House in Little Totham by the river Blackwater in Essex was voted pub of the year in 2006 by the Campaign for Real Ale.

20 Ski

A chronic shortage of snow in Scotland and an even more chronic shortage of ski lifts in France means the nearest place to ski on Christmas Day is Zermatt in Switzerland. Nearest airport Sion or take the train.

21 Go to a concert

The bandstand at Eastbourne has become the traditional Christmas Day meeting point on the south coast since 1935. This year 4,000 people are expected to gather as the Eastbourne Silver Band performs classic Christmas carols. It starts at 10.45am.

22 Heritage

Britain has 27 world heritage sites. Some, such as the Tower of London, will be closed on Christmas Day. Others never shut. You can stroll along Liverpool's waterfront, take in the industrial landscape of Blaenavon in south Wales or visit Titus Salt's utopian workers' village near Bradford.

23 Wildlife spotting

December affords some of the most impressive scenes in the wildlife calendar, with visitors such as the Icelandic pink-footed geese flying in to feed on the Norfolk sugar beet harvest.

24 Plane spotting

Heathrow is expected to be back to normal for Christmas. Anoraks can take spot at Hatton Cross tube station while the end of runway 23 has the best views at Stansted.

25 Go to work

Spare a thought for those for whom 25 December is just another working day. Police, ambulance and firefighters are all on duty, while doctors, nurses and other staff must keep the nation's hospitals going. Farmers, chefs, waiting staff and even journalists must toil on Christmas Day.

Additional reporting by Camilla Groom & Sam Gheiace

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