100 festive days out

Simone Kane unwraps the best family breaks in Britain over Christmas and the New Year

Sunday 26 December 2010 01:00

South and South-East: Holidays on ice – see the South's historic houses sparkle

Every day this week, you can experience the traditions of Christmas past at the (1) Weald & Downland Museum near Chichester.

In "A Sussex Christmas", the houses on site will be decorated true to the period in which they were built, and there will be contemporary festive fare served, too (01243 811348; wealddown.co.uk). You can meet more ghosts of Christmas past at (2) Beaulieu Palace House in Hampshire, where the Victorian servants will guide you through life below stairs in a grand house (01590 612345; beaulieu.co.uk).

As if it isn't exciting enough to spend Christmas with Henry VIII and his new wife, Catherine Howard, you can also take a lesson in Tudor cookery at (3) Hampton Court Palace in Surrey, where the royal kitchens come to life this week. Daily, from tomorrow (0844 482 7777; hrp.org.uk). And you can go even further back in time at (4) Dover Castle, in Kent, from tomorrow until Friday. "Medieval Myths and Legends" offers the chance to join King Henry II at court and hear stories of brave knights and their heroic deeds (01304 211067; english-heritage.org.uk). Meanwhile, at the (5) Churchill War Rooms in London, visitors can hear first-hand accounts of life and conditions in Churchill's bunker (020-7930 6961; cwr.iwm.org.uk).

The sky's the limit at the (6) South Downs Planetarium this week, where you can choose from a selection of star-studded daily shows, such as "Hubble's Glorious Universe" and the "New Year Night Sky" (01243 774400; south downs.org.uk). Red Funnel ferries is running a (7) Hangover Special this Saturday – including day return travel to and from the Isle of Wight and a 10-mile round trip on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway (0844 844 9988; redfunnel.co.uk).

And there's more family fun to be had at the (8) Chipping Norton Theatre, in Oxfordshire, where performances of panto Beauty and the Beast take place all week (01608 642350; chipping nortontheatre .com).

From tomorrow until Saturday, children can join a "Bauble Blitz" craft workshop at the (9) London Transport Museum – use old newspapers, magazines and leftover wrapping paper to create giant baubles and paper chains (020-7379 6344; lt- museum.co.uk). And while you're in the capital pop into the (10) Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park, home to London's largest outdoor ice rink, a toboggan run and a 50 metre-high big wheel (hydepark- winterwonderland.com). Further south, families can follow the "Hunt the Slipper" trail aboard HMS Warrior at (11) Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in Hampshire, where they can also join in with Tudor games and pastimes at the Mary Rose Museum (023-9283 9766; historic dockyard .co.uk).

Also in Portsmouth, the Festive Wonderland at (12) Gunwharf Quays includes one of the largest open-air ice rinks in the region (visit portsmouth.co.uk). But Brighton's seasonal outdoor ice rink must win hands down for atmosphere – set up on the lawns of the (13) Royal Pavilion, it also features a crèche and a rinkside pop-up restaurant (visitbrighton.com).

And there's music in the air on the Sussex coast this week, thanks to a free Boxing Day concert at (14) Eastbourne Bandstand, from 11am-12.30pm today, and another on New Year's Day (eastbournebandstand .co.uk). Also on Saturday, (15) The Musical Museum in London is putting on a gala New Year's Day concert, where the original Wurlitzer organ rises up from beneath the stage (020-8560 8108; musicalmuseum.co.uk).

Football looms large in the festive period, but what about getting behind the scenes? (16) Chelsea FC's Stadium Tours and Museum is an award-winner and includes access to the tunnel and dressing rooms, while the museum charts the history of the club. Tours today, Friday and Saturday (0871 984 1955; chelseafctours.com).

North & North-East: Head north for festive events that embrace all elements

Take a Boxing Day breather with a stroll around the 18th-century forest, landscape garden and nature reserve at (17) Gibside in Gateshead. Follow the Family Scramble Trail through the woodland playscape or take the ropes challenge (01207 541823; national trust.org .uk/gibside). Watch 1,000 fundraisers make a splash in the North Sea at the annual Boxing Day Dip on (18) Seaburn Beach, Sunderland (0191-522 5305; visit sunderland.com). This Saturday is the day for a dip in (19) Whitley Bay, which will be the location of the New Year's Day Swim in Tyne & Wear, from 11am (pana maswimmingclub.co.uk).

English Heritage property (20) Belsay Hall, in Northumberland, is the spectacular setting for a staging of The Snow Queen, with two performances a day from tomorrow until Wednesday (0870 3331181; english-heritage.org.uk). Otherwise, there's a clutch of classic pantos to pick from around the region. At (21) Whitley Bay Playhouse, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – starring some local comic talent – is on every day until Friday (0844 277 2771; playhouse whitleybay.co.uk). Meanwhile, in Durham, the (22) Gala Theatre is putting on daily performances of Cinderella, a hilarious romp through the traditional fairy tale (0191-332 4041; galadurham.co.uk). Jack and the Beanstalk is being performed at the (23) Middlesbrough Theatre with shows every day until Friday (01642 815181; visitmiddlesbrough.com).

Catch the travelling exhibition, Northern Soul, at (24) Woodhorn Museum, Northumberland. The work of photojournalist John Bulmer, this collection from the early 1960s focuses on life in the North and, unusually for the time, was shot in colour (01670 528080; experiencewoodhorn.com).

Make your descent at (25) The Deep – the world's only submarium – in Hull. Children are kept amused at the daily craft sessions, and there's also Europe's deepest viewing tunnel and a glass lift ride through a 10m tank (01482 381000; thedeep.co.uk). Warm up at (26) the MAGNA Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham, where one of the most impressive features is The Big Melt – a pyrotechnic and audio extravaganza centring on one of the original furnaces from this converted steelworks. Open Wednesday and Thursday (01709 720002; visitmagna.co.uk).

(27) Newcastle/Gateshead sees 2011 in style with its New Year's Eve Winter Carnival. The city's Ice Queen will lead a street parade, ending with a spectacular display of fireworks. Events start at 2.30pm and finish at 6pm (newcastlegateshead.com). Or, for something more traditional, see the (28) Tar Bar'l Ceremony in Allendale, Northumberland. There's a midnight procession of "guysers" – local men in fancy dress – who parade the village with barrels of burning tar which they throw on to a bonfire to welcome the New Year (northern-pennines.co.uk).

Spend a day at (29) Stockeld Park's Christmas Adventure, in Yorkshire, which is open all week. Explore the Enchanted Forest and the Snowflake Maze, take to the ice rink or give Nordic skiing a try (01937 586333; thechristmas adventure.com).

An addition to the (30) Beamish Museum in Durham means you can get your skates on today and on Saturday on its Edwardian-styled outdoor rink (0191-370 400; beamish.org.uk). Or slow the pace with a stroll around (31) Sewerby Hall's 50 acres of 19th-century parkland, open from today. Its dramatic clifftop position offers stunning views of Yorkshire coast and there's a children's zoo and pitch 'n' putt (01262 673769; eastriding.gov.uk/sewerby). Celebrate the tenth anniversary of Durham's (32) Heritage Coast designation with a scenic stroll. A 10-year "Turning the Tide" programme has transformed this once-blackened, coal-scarred stretch (durham heritagecoast.org).

North-West: Live it up, from The Lakes to Liverpool

Wintry weather permitting, take a cruise any day this week on (33) Lake Windermere in Cumbria – stay on for the whole ride or hop on and off at the scenic ports of Brockhole, Fell Foot, Bowness and Lakeside (015394 43360; windermere-lakecruises.co.uk). Witness the "Swan Spectacular" every day this week at the Wildlife & Wetlands Trust's (34) Martin Mere centre in Lancashire. From 3pm (01704 895181; wwt.org.uk).

"Who Put That There?" Find out on this guided walk through the leafy heart of (35) Liverpool, part of the Discover Parks and Green Spaces programme of events being run by the city's Ranger Interpretation Service. Thursday, 1pm (0151-233 3007; visitliverpool.com). Across the river, in Cheshire, you can take in the colours and scents of the seven-acre garden at the National Trust property (36) Dunham Massey (0161 941 1025; nationaltrust.org.uk).

Families can discover the hidden history of (37) Carlisle Castle in Cumbria on a "Victorian Lantern Tour", held four times a day from tomorrow until Wednesday (01228 591922; english-heritage.org.uk). Meanwhile, at another Cumbrian fortress, visitors to (38) Muncaster Castle can experience the delights of "Darkest Muncaster" – see the castle transformed with lights, music and special effects (01229 717 614; muncaster.co.uk).

Ever wondered what sound would look like if it were a drawing? The (39) Tate Liverpool is running daily family "Sonic Shaper Capers" workshops from tomorrow, where you can create liquid pictures and dynamic doodles using your own brushbot (0151-702 7400; tate.org.uk/liverpool).

In Crewe, Aladdin is taking centre stage at (40) The Lyceum theatre in this year's panto, with shows every day this week (01270 537333; lyceumtheatre.net). And there's more traditional fun on offer daily at the (41) Piccadilly Gardens Family Fair in Manchester. A helter skelter, chair-o-planes and carousel are among the old-fashioned rides set up in the heart of the city (visit manchester.com).

Also in Manchester, "virtual archaeology" is put to use in the major exhibition "Tutankhamun: His Tomb and Treasures", at the (42) Museum of Museums. Across the gallery space, cutting-edge technology brings to life the ancient Egyptian world of the Pharoahs (0844 249 1000; museumofmuseums.org.uk).

Fancy a final flutter of the year to turn your fortunes around for 2011? Then head to (43) Haydock Park Racecourse in St Helens on Thursday for the Final Fling Meeting and place your bets (01942 725 963; haydock-park.co.uk).

South-West: Wildlife and walks across the West Country

Head for the (44) promenade in Teignmouth, Devon, today for some fancy dress frolics at the RNLI Boxing Day Walk-in-the-Sea, taking place from 11am (01626 774124; rnli.org.uk). Or travel back in time on the (45) Neolithic New Year Walk around Stonehenge in Wiltshire on Saturday. The six-mile ramble will take in Stonehenge Down and ancient enigmas such as the Durrington Walls. From 11am (01980 664780; visitwiltshire.co.uk). Also in Wiltshire on Saturday, you could walk in the gardens of the (46) National Trust's Stourhead Estate in the company of the head gardener, which finishes up with mulled wine and mince pies. From 11am to 3pm (01747 841152; nationaltrust.org.uk).

Spring might be far from your mind, but the (47) Dorset County Museum has it covered with a Seeds for Spring Make and Do Morning on Wednesday (01305 262735; dorsetcountymuseum.org). Want to know how to catch a duck with a dog? Head to the (48) Wildfowl & Wetlands' Trust Slimbridge centre in Gloucestershire on Saturday for a Decoy Demonstration to see its resident canine catch and ring birds in the decoy nets. From 2pm (01453 891900; wwt.org.uk).

From tomorrow, (49) At-Bristol's huge range of activities will keep children occupied: from Christmas Animation, to the Little Stars Planetarium Show, and Rudolph's Mission (0845 345 1235; at-bristol.org.uk). Families can also enjoy the Winter Steam Festival on the (50) West Somerset Railway on Wednesday and Thursday, where they can take a ride on a train hauled by one of five special locomotives. Book ahead (01643 704996; west-somerset-railway.co.uk).

If you fancy something a little more energetic, learn to harness the power of the wind with a Traction Kite Lesson at (51) Cornwall's Watergate Bay with specialist techniques from the Extreme Academy. Over-12s only (01637 860543; water-gatebay.co.uk). Or head to (52) Wimbleball Lake in Exmoor National Park, Devon, to the new Outdoor & Active Centre for all types of watersports tuition (01398 371460; swlakestrust.org.uk). And, at (53) Lucknam Park, in Wiltshire, the newly refurbished equestrian centre is offering a Historic Village Horse Ride – for over-16s only – a three-and-half-hour trek through the picturesque villages around Castle Combe. You can even book a reviving spa treatment to soothe saddle-soreness (01225 740556; lucknampark.co.uk).

Start 2011 with a gallop and head for the New Year's Day race meeting on Saturday at (54) Cheltenham Racecourse (0844 579 3003; chelten ham.co.uk). And relax ... with a (55) Dartmouth to Totnes River Cruise along the River Dart, Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday (01803 555872; dartmouthrailriver.co.uk).

Eastern England: Punting, painting and panto: Festivities from Norfolk to the Fens

Watch the birdie at (56) Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Welney, in Norfolk, which is home to thousands of Whooper and Bewick's swans, ducks and other waterbirds in winter. Catch a midday swan feed by the wardens – every day this week (01353 860711; wwt.org.uk). On Tuesday you can observe our feathered friends from the water on a "Birds by Barge" tour on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (57) Stour Estuary Reserve in Essex. The four-hour cruise sets off at 8.30am and includes on-board bird-expertise and light refreshments (01206 391153; rspb.org.uk).

And you can get up close to furry friends on the Foot Safari at (58) Woburn Safari Park, Bedfordshire, which is open daily from tomorrow until Saturday. Even better – adults get in for the price of a child (01525 290407; woburn.co.uk).

Take a punt on a special evening trip taking place every day this week. The "Punting and Walking Ghost Tour", complete with rugs and hot water bottles, combines a lantern-lit float along (59) Cambridge's College Backs with a spooky walk through the city's haunted heart (01223 359750; scudamores.com).

Work off Christmas excess on a 15-mile guided "Pedal off the Pud" cycle through (60) Lee Valley Regional Park on Wednesday. Book ahead and meet in Pindar car park for 10am (08456 770600; leevalley park.org.uk). Or, if you prefer your exercise on two legs, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust is organising a family-friendly "Amble on the Fen" guided walk on (61) Redgrave and Lopham Fen on Saturday, from 11am-12.30pm. Christmas folklore and tree mythology will be the themes (01379 688333; suffolk wildlifetrust.org).

Visit one of the National Trust's top winter gardens at (62) Anglesey Abbey, Garden and Lode Mill, in Cambridgeshire – measure up to Corinthian columns on the Temple Lawn and stroll the Emperors' Walk to spot spying statuary (01223 810080; nationaltrust.org.uk). Or head to (63) Oliver Cromwell's House in Ely tomorrow for a "Haunted Happenings" tour of this atmospheric property. Over-eights only, from 3pm (01353 662062; visitely.org.uk).

Until Thursday, catch some panto action in Skegness, Lincolnshire, where the (64) Embassy Theatre is putting on Peter Pan (0845 674 0505; embassytheatre .co.uk). Or get behind the scenes at a "Thumbelina Character Puppet Workshop" at the (65) Norwich Puppet Theatre on Wednesday, where you can create a character to take home. Booking advised (01603 629921; puppettheatre.co.uk).

And one for the adults – last chance to see the exhibition on loan from London's Saatchi Gallery at the new (66) Ipswich Art School before it closes later this month. The IAS has hosted the works since it opened in July (01473 433681; ipswich.gov.uk).

Wales: Welsh walruses and weird New Year rites

Hundreds of people will take to the water in fancy dress for the annual Boxing Day Walrus Dip at (67) Cefn Sidan Beach at Llanelli's Pembrey Country Park – from 11am (visit.carmarthenshire.gov.uk). You can even join in, if you're brave enough. If that's too energetic, take the family on a round trip through the wintry landscape of Gwynedd on the (68) Rheilffordd Talyllyn Railway, which is still running its Mince Pie Specials from today until Saturday (01654 710472; talyllyn.co.uk).

Kids can spend their Christmas money on diecast toys and model trains at (69) the Llandudno Toy and Train Fair, which takes place tomorrow at Venue Cymru in Llandudno (01492 879771; visitllandudno.org.uk). And from tomorrow until Friday, (70) the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea aims to keep children busy with Get Sparkly workshops from 1pm to 4pm daily. They can recycle leftover wrapping paper and cards into creations to take home (01792 638950; museumwales.ac.uk).

Bring in the New Year at a re-enactment of Mari Llwyd in (71) Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys, on Friday. Locals carry the Mari (a horse skull on a pole) from house to house, reciting rhymes and songs, until invited in (01591 610236; green- events.co.uk). On a grander scale, the (72) New Year's Eve Family Fire Show, in Cardiff, has music, fire sculpture and flame machines all in the grounds of Cardiff Castle (029 2023 0130; cardiffcastle.com).

Clear your head with a 10-mile New Year's Day Walk around the Cemlyn Lagoon at the National Trust property (73) Plas Newydd Country House and Gardens on the isle of Anglesey. From 1pm to 5pm (01248 714795; nationaltrust.org .uk). Meanwhile, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust invites you to see how many birds you can spot during a (74) Tick and Twitch session at the Llanelli centre in Carmarthenshire on Saturday. There are prizes to be had, too (01554 741087; wwt.org.uk).

Midlands: Fun with a historic focus, indoors and out

Little ones will love to see one of their favourite stories – We're Going on a Bear Hunt – brought to life on stage in a vivid, noisy production at (75) Birmingham's Town Hall. From tomorrow until Friday (0121-780 3333; thsh.co.uk). Head to the (76) Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Shropshire for a family day out – explore the recreated Victorian town, interactive exhibits, Coalport China Museum and more. Seven of the 10 museums are open daily this week (01952 884391; ironbridge.org.uk).

Outdoor family attraction (77) Conkers, in the heart of the National Forest, Derbyshire, is counting down to New Year, so as well as the usual diversions, you get two free pantomime performances with your entrance ticket. It's open every day from tomorrow (01283 216633; visitconkers.com). Or why not brush up on your medieval history by taking the Battle of Bosworth Walk, which sets off today, at both 11am and 2pm, from the (78) Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre, near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire (01455 290429; bosworthbattlefield.com). Stick with history and take the family to explore (79) Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire on Thursday and Friday. This fairytale fortress includes an indoor riding school and a Discovery Centre (0870 3331181; english-heritage .org.uk/bolsover).

Take a walk around one of the National Trust's top winter gardens. (80) Croome Park, in Worcestershire, was Capability Brown's first complete landscape – tour the parkland, including the lakeside garden, with the help of the parks guide (01905 371006; nationaltrust.org.uk). The lakeside (81) Trentham Estate Ice Rink, near Stoke-on-Trent, is open every day this week. After your session, there's the Italian Gardens and adventure playground to explore. Booking advised for skating (trentham.co.uk; 01782 646646).

Grown-ups should grab the chance to catch the (82) British Art Show 7, in Nottingham, before it moves on next week. This ambitious exhibition of contemporary British art, which only comes around once every five years, is spread across three city galleries (britishartshow.co.uk).

Scotland: Hogmanay highlights from Glasgow to the Highlands

Catch Scotland's favourite actress, Elaine C Smith, as the Wicked Fairy in Sleeping Beauty – a performance complete with 3D special effects – every day this week at (83) His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen (01224 641122; boxoffice aberdeen.com). Adults only can limber up livers ready for Hogmanay at the Whisky Distillers' Fair at the (84) Scotch Whisky Experience, Edinburgh, on Tuesday and Wednesday – entrance includes a tour, mini-masterclass and access to the fair (0131-220 0441; scotch whiskyexperience.co.uk).

Alternatively, stretch your limbs with a bracing two-hour guided Hogmanay Walk in (85) Dalbeattie Forest in Dumfries and Galloway on Friday. Meet in Town Wood Car Park at 1.30pm (01387 860247; forestry.gov.uk).

If you doubt that there's no better place to be for New Year than Scotland, you're sure to be convinced by two of the biggest parties in the country, in (86) Edinburgh and (87) Glasgow. From Thursday, the capital will put on a four-day programme of events spanning music, art, literature, dance and sport, as well as the "Hogmanay Street Party" (0844 8942011; edinburghshogmanay.com). Meanwhile, on Friday, Glasgow's George Square will be jumping to a ceilidh, as well as live music acts (0141 5644220; glasgowloves christmas.com). Both ticket-only.

Great balls of ... Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire is holding a (88) Fireball Festival on Friday, where the old year will be seen off by townspeople swinging burning spheres around their heads (stonehavenfireballs.co.uk).

And to clear those New Year's Day cobwebs enjoy a daytime – or night-time – Sleddog Experience at the (89) Cairngorm Sleddog Centre near Aviemore. Greet the hounds before heading off on an exhilarating ride through remote forest. Open daily, but ring ahead (07767 270526; sled-dogs.co.uk). Or visit the UK's only pair of polar bears, which are setting up home in a four-acre enclosure in the (90) Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie, which has two special areas and drive-through access for viewing (01540 651270; highlandwildlifepark.org).

(91) The traditional New Year Turner exhibition (Edinburgh's National Gallery, 1-31 January) unveils 38 watercolours from key periods in the artist's career (0131 624 6200; nationalgalleries.org).

Northern Ireland: It's out of this world in Ireland's north this festive season

Descend to the deep at (92) Exploris, County Down. Here, families can learn about the marine species native to Strangford Lough and the local coastline, and explore the recreated marine communities and the seal sanctuary (028- 4272 8062; exploris.org .uk). Alternatively, reach for the stars at the (93) Armagh Planetarium – Ireland's leading centre for astronomy – which runs hourly shows from noon, from Tuesday to Saturday. Booking essential (028-3752 3689; armaghplanet.com). While you're in Armagh, it's the last chance for some magical outdoor (94) Skating on the Square, from 10am-10pm until 2 January (armagh.co.uk).

(95) W5 – Belfast's interactive discovery centre – has reintroduced its popular Christmas curling sessions, from 2.30pm-4.30pm every day this week. So puck-er up and see what happens when the Penguins face out the Snowmen (028-9046 7700; W5online .co.uk). Stay active by taking a "Try Canoeing" session with (96) Action Outdoors on Wednesday, at 1pm or 3pm, and enjoy an afternoon of peaceful paddling on the River Quoile. Booking essential (07789 754 565; actionoutdoors.info).

Further gentle pursuits can be found at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at (97) Castle Espie on Thursday, from 10.30am, on a birdwatching morning. Get twitching in a landscape of restored lagoons, woodland walks, grassland, salt marshes and reed beds (028-9187 4146; wwt.org.uk). Meanwhile, at the National Trust's (98) Mount Stewart House, Garden and Temple of the Winds, in County Down, you can step out on a refreshing "Winter Woodland Walk" on Saturday at 2pm (028-4278 8387; nationaltrust .org.uk).

See Sleeping Beauty at Londonderry's (99) Millennium Forum Theatre any day this week. Its cast is drawn from the county and across Northern Ireland (028-7126 4455; millenniumforum.co.uk). You might be tempted to part with yet more cash at the (100) Christmas Trilogy crafts exhibition – craft, applied art and design in three seasonal themes at the Space CRAFT centre, Belfast, open from tomorrow until Saturday (028-9032 9342; craftanddesigncollective.com).

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