With frosty mornings, pretty villages decked in twinkling lights, Christmas carol, cosy fires, the smell of pine trees and maybe even a snow flurry or two, Christmas is a great time to visit the Cotswolds. Whether you’re planning a Christmas break in the region this year or live locally and want to get into the spirit of the season, here are 25 of our top things to do at Christmas in the Cotswolds in 2023, from light trails and ice skating to Christmas markets and festive events.
25 things to do at Christmas in the Cotswolds
The great outdoors
1. Follow a sparkling Christmas light trail
Grab a hot chocolate or spiced apple and explore a magical illuminated light trail this Christmas. With sparkling light displays set to music, these trails through the Cotswolds’ gardens and outdoor spaces are more popular than ever, with five local trails to choose from this year.
Enjoy the grand backdrops of Blenheim Palace for the Christmas Light Trail (17 November 2023–1 January 2024) and Sudeley Castle for the Spectacle of Light (24 November–30 December 2023). Or walk through illuminated trees while you help Father Christmas’ elves decorate Westonbirt Arboretum ready for an Enchanted Christmas (24 November–23 December 2023).
There’s the family-focused Enchanted Light Trail at Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park (24 November–31 December 2023). And new this year is The Enchanted Garden By Night sculpture trail at Painswick Rococo Garden (7 December 2023–6 January 2024). And if you don’t mind travelling a bit further afield, there’s also Longleat’s Festival of Light and Malvern Winter Glow.
2. Warm up with a wintery walk
If you’re looking to work off the Christmas indulgence with a winter walk, here are a few of our favourites. Leckhampton Hill south of Cheltenham has spectacular views from the top, with a 3-mile loop across its rare limestone grassland. Or you can follow a 5.4-mile circular route from Bourton-on-the-Water along the Rivers Windrush and Eye to Upper and Lower Slaughter.
From Broadway there’s a 4.4-mile circular walk which climbs up to the fairytale Broadway Tower and through the deer park before descending back down to the village. You can also follow the start of the Cotswold Way from Chipping Campden for the 4.1-mile circular walk to the viewpoint at Dover’s Hill, where you can see as far as the Black Mountains in Wales on a clear day.
3. Take the kids on an outdoor adventure
Get the kids outside this winter with an adventure activity trail. Several National Trust properties have winter walking trails, including Lacock’s reindeer trail and the present discovery trail at Dyrham Park. There’s also an advent trail at Prior Park with 24 doors hidden in logs around the grounds that reveal clues to unlock a festive message (2 December 2023–1 January 2024).
Batsford Arboretum hosts the Big Batsford Elf Hunt (1 December 2023–7 January 2024), where you can win a prize for tracking down the missing elves among the trees. And there’s also both a Christmas Elf Trail and a Christmas Lights Trail around the streets of Cheltenham.
4. Go sledging
If we’re lucky enough to see the snow this Christmas in the Cotswolds, wrap up warm, grab your sledges (or tea tray if you’re improvising) and speed downhill. Some of the best places for sledging in the Cotswolds include Cleeve, Crickley and Leckhampton Hills near Cheltenham, Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons, Broadway Tower and Cirencester Amphitheatre.
‘Tis the season
5. Spend a night at the panto
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a trip to the panto (oh no it wouldn’t…). With its colourful mix of singing, dancing and audience participation, the Christmas panto is a family tradition. This year the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham is showing Mother Goose (24 November 2023–7 January 2024) and the Chipping Norton Theatre Cinderella (15 November 2023–14 January 2024).
You can also see a sea shanty Treasure Island at the Barn Theatre in Cirencester (20 November 2023–6 January 2024), Aladdin at the Stratford Playhouse (15–31 December 2023), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at The Subscription Rooms in Stroud (20 December 2023–6 January 2024), and Beauty and the Beast at Tewkesbury’s Roses Theatre (2 December 2023–6 January 2024).
6. Get your skates on
After a year’s absence, the Cheltenham Ice Rink returns to Imperial Gardens in 2023 – site of the town’s original Winter Gardens and skating rink in the late 19th century. The rink is open from 17 November 2023–1 January 2024 and is undercover so you don’t have to worry about the weather, with hot drinks and tasty treats available at the Imperial Gardens bar afterwards.
7. Admire decorated Christmas trees
Many of the Cotswolds’ towns and villages go all out for Christmas with beautifully decorated trees. But there’s something a bit unusual about Bourton-on-the-Water’s. Their tree is set in the middle of the River Windrush, with lights reflecting in the water and ducks swimming by.
You can also admire the trees in Lacock, where Christmas trees decorated by local community groups, charities and schools are on display in the cloister – this year’s theme is ‘Light Struck’ (25 November–24 December 2023). And there are Christmas tree festivals at St Edward’s Church in Stow-on-the-Wold (7–10 December) and St Saviour’s in Tetbury (1 December–1 January).
8. Sing along to Christmas carols
Listen to local choirs singing Christmas classics – or join in yourself – either outdoors or in the Cotswolds’ beautiful churches. Carol concerts take place at St Mary’s Church in Painswick on 1 December 2023, in St Saviour’s Tetbury on 2 December, in Northleach Market Place on 11 December and at weekends in the estate church at National Trust site Dyrham Park.
There’s also a candlelit carol concert with the Flowers Brass Band at Christ Church Cheltenham on 12 December in aid of the charity Maggies. And carol concerts on 23 and 24 December at Gloucester Cathedral, as well as their ‘Carols on the hour’ between 11am and 4pm on 9 December.
9. Treat yourself to a night away
Why not escape for a night or two to one of the Cotswolds’ historic hotels? Many of them are beautifully done up for Christmas with lavishly decorated trees and roaring log fires. If you want to get away for the big day, there are some high-end Christmas packages available with all the trimmings (or if Santa’s not that generous, look out for bargain deals after New Year).
Go for broke at New Year break with a casino night, black tie dinner and live music at the Lords of the Manor* in Upper Slaughter. Celebrate Christmas in gourmet style at the Manor House Hotel* in Castle Combe, or relax with spa treatments and breakfast in bed at Barnsley House.*
10. Make your own Christmas wreath
Decorate your front door with a beautiful handmade Christmas wreath this year, with tuition from expert florists. Wreath-making classes are available on various dates through November and December at Newark Park, Westonbirt Arboretum, Ellenborough Park hotel near Cheltenham, The Slaughters Manor House in Lower Slaughter and Daylesford Organic near Kingham.
Festivals and events
11. Christmas at Blenheim
Grand UNESCO World Heritage Site Blenheim Palace goes all out for the festive season with its Christmas at Blenheim event from 17 November 2023–1 January 2024. This year’s theme is Sleeping Beauty, with the ornate rooms each telling a different chapter of the story. You can also add on afternoon tea in the Orangery, an illuminated light trail and Christmas craft market.
12. Malvern Winter Glow
Located just outside the Cotswolds, Malvern Winter Glow at the Three Counties Showground is a four-in-one Christmas extravaganza that’s worth travelling for. It takes place from 24 November 2023–6 January 2024, with the chance to meet Santa and his elves, a Golden Snowflake light trail, ice rink, fairground rides and a Christmas market with festive food and drink stalls.
13. Royal Marines Christmas Spectacular
The world-famous Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines comes to Cheltenham Town Hall on 7 December 2023 as part of their Christmas tour around the UK. On the programme is a mix of seasonal music, military marches, big band hits and popular showstoppers, featuring the precision skills of the Corps of Drums as well as the band’s talented singers and musicians.
14. Christmas Concert at Berkeley Castle
Celebrate Christmas in the Cotswolds with a concert at Berkeley Castle on 10 December 2023. The evening starts with mince pies and mulled wine by the fire in the Long Drawing Room, which is decorated with Christmas trees and glittering lights, then moves into the Great Hall where the Orchestra Pro Anima string group will play classical pieces from the last 200 years.
15. The Flight Before Christmas
For a Santa’s Grotto with a difference, head to the Cotswold Airport in Kemble for The Flight Before Christmas. From 25 November–24 December 2023, kids can meet Santa on board a British Airways Jumbo Jet. After a naughty or nice security check-in there are activities like decorating gingerbread men and assembling toys, as well as the chance for photos with the man himself.
16. New Year’s Day Racing at Cheltenham
The New Year’s Day race meeting at Cheltenham Racecourse is an annual ritual for horse racing fans, who shake off the New Year’s Eve cobwebs with a flutter and a pint or two in the Guinness Village. As well as a full day of racing action on the track there’s also extra entertainment on the day, including live music and face-painting and bouncy castles in the Family Fun Zone.
17. Visit the Christmas markets
Christmas markets have become an festive tradition, with Christmas music and stalls draped with colourful lights selling artisan gifts and crafts, tree decorations, local food and drink – not to mention all the tasty treats like mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and spiced biscuits.
Bath Christmas market is back from 23 November–10 December 2023, with over 170 wooden chalets selling crafts and festive food and drink in the streets around the Abbey. Cheltenham’s Christmas market on the Promenade also returns from 14–23 December 2023.
There are several food and craft markets taking place in Cirencester and Stroud, and one-off festive markets including in Painswick (24 November), Moreton-in-Marsh (25 November), Tetbury (1 December), Chipping Campden (2 December) and Winchcombe (8–9 December).
18. Go late-night shopping
Soak up the festive atmosphere and pick up some unique gifts from the Cotswolds’ independent shops at a late-night shopping event. Broadway is hosting theirs on 24 November and 1 December 2023, with beautifully decorated streets and mulled wine and mince pies while you browse. And they’re also being held in Malmesbury (1 December) and Winchcombe (8–9 December).
19. Celebrate Christmas all year at a Christmas shop
Tinsel and tree decorations aren’t just for Christmas, you can buy them all through the year at one of the Cotswolds’ Christmas shops. The Cotswold Christmas Shop in Lechlade sells lovely carved wooden nutcrackers and tree decorations, glass baubles and tree toppers. And the Victorian Christmas Shop in Bourton-on-the-Water specialises in traditional ornaments.
History and heritage
20. Take a ride on a steam train
A ride on board the Gloucestershire–Warwickshire Steam Railway is a journey back in time to the golden age of rail travel. This volunteer-run rail route runs from Cheltenham to Broadway through the Cotswold Hills, with vintage carriages hauled by an original steam locomotive – the sounds and smells on board transport you to the days when train travel was a lot more glamorous.
This year they have a couple of festive events planned. The Santa Express family trip departs from Cheltenham Racecourse Station on selected dates from 25 November–23 December 2023 and visits Santa and his elves at his North Pole winter wonderland (aka Winchcombe). Or you can take a Mince Pie Special steam train day trip between 27 December 2023–2 January 2024.
21. Have a vintage Christmas at Holst Victorian House
Take a trip back in time to Christmas past with a series of festive events at Holst Victorian House in Cheltenham. This museum recreates life in the Victorian era at the birthplace of composer Gustav Holst. This Christmas there’s a Victorian Christmas Day (9 December 2023), talk and recital of In the Bleak Midwinter (11 December) and a candlelit museum tour (21 December).
22. Experience a country house Christmas
You can also see how Christmas was celebrated through the ages at historic houses around the Cotswolds. At Dyrham Park the house will be dressed in the style of five different eras, from Tudor times right up until the 20th century (1 December 2023–7 January 2024).
You can see how the Fox-Talbot family spent Christmas in the Great Hall at Lacock Abbey, with traditional decorations and an impressive tree (25 November– 24 December). Upton House and Gardens features festive displays inspired by Aesops Fables (11 November–24 December) and there’s a nostalgic 1960s-style Christmas at Chastleton House (29 November–17 December).
Food and drink
23. Indulge in a festive afternoon tea
Afternoon tea is an English institution, and it gets a little extra sparkle this Christmas in the Cotswolds with festive afternoon teas at the region’s hotels. You can enjoy seasonal delights like turkey and cranberry sandwiches, spiced scones and mince pies at Ellenborough Park, The Slaughters Manor House, Lygon Arms, Charingworth Manor and Stratton House in Cirencester.
24. Create a Cotswolds Christmas hamper
The Cotswolds is bursting with fantastic artisan food and drink suppliers, and a Cotswolds Christmas hamper makes a great gift – whether that’s for yourself or someone else. Stock up on local favourites from the Cotswold Cheese Company, Cotswold Gold oils, Tubby Tom’s sauces, Costello and Hellerstein chocolates and charcuterie from Saltpig and The Cotswold Curer.
25. Drink a local toast
Toast the festive season or welcome in 2024 on New Year’ Eve with a glass of local bubbly from one of the Cotswolds’ vineyards. There’s a selection of white and rosé sparkling wines available, including Poulton Hill Estate’s Bulari White and Rosé, Woodchester Valley Vineyard’s Cotswold Classic, and the award-winning Classic Cuvee from Three Choirs Vineyards.
There’s also the Cheltenham Christmas Wine Festival, which takes place at Pip & Jim’s church on 24 November 2023. They have over 150 still and sparkling wines available to taste, so it’s a good opportunity to fill up your cellars for Christmas ready for the festivities to start.
Save for later
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