With frosty mornings, pretty villages decked in twinkling lights, Christmas carol, cosy fires, the smell of pine 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 2021, 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 six local trails to choose from this year.
Walk through illuminated trees while you search for Father Christmas’ missing reindeer at Westonbirt Arboretum’s Enchanted Christmas (26 November– 21 December 2021). Or enjoy the grand backdrops of Blenheim Palace for the Illuminated Light Trail (19 November 2021–2 January 2022) and Sudeley Castle for the Spectacle of Light (26 November–30 December 2021).
The family-focused Enchanted Light Trail at Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park returns for a second year (26 November 2021–1 January 2022). There’s also the new Enchanted Garden of Light at Bath’s American Museum and Gardens (9–31 December 2021) and Christmas at Longleat (6 November 2021–3 January 2022) replaces the safari park’s usual lantern festival.
2. Warm up with a wintery walk
If you’re looking to work off the Christmas pud with a winter walk, here are a few of our favourites. Crickley Hill Country Park just south of Cheltenham has spectacular views over the Cotswolds with a 3-mile circular route around the top. Or you can take a 4-mile route from Bourton-on-the-Water along the River Windrush to Lower Slaughter and on to Stow-on-the-Wold.
From Broadway there’s a 4-mile circular walk 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 3-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. At the National Trust’s Dyrham Park, Newark Park, Upton House, Charlecote Park and Lacock you can follow Percy the Park Keeper’s winter wander trail, featuring artworks of Percy and his animal friends by local artists Ros Ingram and Rachel Harwood. And Batsford Arboretum has a Children’s Christmas Trail (1 December 2021–3 January 2022) through the trees to find Santa and friends.
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, over-the-top sets and audience participation, the Christmas panto is a family tradition. This year the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham (26 November 2021–9 January 2022) and Stratford Playhouse (18–31 December 2021) are both showing Jack and The Beanstalk.
You can also see Cinderella at the Barn Theatre in Cirencester (16 November 2021–2 January 2022), King Arthur: The Panto! at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury (27 November–31 December 2021), Rapunzel at the Chipping Norton Theatre (17 November 2021-9 January 2022) and Beauty and the Beast at The Subscription Rooms in Stroud (22 December 2021–1 January 2022).
6. Get your skates on at Cheltenham’s ice rink
Take a spin on the ice this Christmas at Cheltenham’s new ice rink in Imperial Gardens – site of the town’s original Winter Gardens and skating rink in the late 19th century. The rink is open 18 November 2021–2 January 2022, and is Gloucestershire’s only undercover ice rink so you don’t have to worry about the weather, with hot drinks 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. The 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. And over 30 trees fill St Edward’s Church in Stow-on-the-Wold for their annual Christmas Tree Festival (9–12 December 2021).
8. Sing along to Christmas carols
Listen to local choirs singing Christmas classics – or join in yourself – on the afternoons of 11 and 18 December 2021 at St Peter’s Church on the National Trust Dyrham Park estate. There will also be carols around the Christmas tree in Northleach on 20 December. And carol services in the spectacular setting of Gloucester Cathedral on 22 and 23 December.
9. 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 Ellenborough Park near Cheltenham, Burleigh Court Hotel near Stroud, The Slaughters Manor House and Daylesford Organic farm shop near Kingham.
10. 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).
Enjoy a winter BBQ and Boxing Day quad biking at The Fish Hotel*, breakfast in bed and relaxing spa treatments at Barnsley House*, or go for broke with festive afternoon tea, carol singing and a Boxing Day black-tie dinner and casino night at the Lords of the Manor* in Upper Slaughter.
Festivals and events
11. A Traditional Blenheim Christmas
Grand UNESCO World Heritage Site Blenheim Palace goes all out for Christmas with its Traditional Blenheim Christmas event from 19 November 2021–3 January 2022. This year there’s a Nutcracker theme, with ornately decorated interiors featuring a candy-cane Kingdom of Sweets, giant gingerbread men and frosty Land of Snow. You can also add on a Nutcracker-themed afternoon tea in the Orangery and visit the illuminated light trail and Christmas market.
12. Christmas at Cirencester Park
Visit Father Christmas’ toy workshop, see the elves at work and meet the man himself at the new Christmas at Cirencester Park event at the park’s Old Kennels from 20 November–23 December 2021. There are lots of festive photo opportunities including a ride on Father Christmas’ sleigh, meeting Rudolph’s best friend Bruno and getting inside a giant snow globe.
13. BBC Countryfile Christmas in the Park
Another new event for Christmas 2021 is Christmas in the Park, held in the arboretum at Charlton Park Estate near Malmesbury from 10–12 December. It’s a family-friendly celebration of all things festive, with activities like winter woodland walks, carol singing, craft and cookery displays, musicians and Countryfile presenters on stage, and a Christmas shopping village.
14. Christmas Concert at Berkeley Castle
Celebrate Christmas in the Cotswolds with a concert at Berkeley Castle on 12 December 2021. The evening starts with mince pies and mulled wine by the fire in the Long Drawing Room, 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. Festive film screenings in Gloucester
The Alfresco Film Company is bringing the outdoor cinema indoors for winter at Gloucester Brewery’s Warehouse 4 Taproom, a waterside bar and brewery in the city’s docks. There will be deckchairs and cosy blankets, popcorn and hot chocolate to keep you warm during showings of two festive favourite films – Elf and Love Actually – on 5 and 12 December 2021.
16. New Year’s Day Racing at Cheltenham
The New Year’s Day race meeting at Cheltenham Racecourse is an annual tradition for 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 there’s also extra entertainment on the day, including music from the Bootleg Beatles and face-painting and bouncy castles in the Family Fun Zone.
17. Visit the Christmas markets
Christmas markets have become an annual 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. This year there are a host of Christmas markets to choose from around the Cotswolds.
Cheltenham Christmas market on the Promenade runs from 20 November–19 December 2021, and there are several markets in Cirencester, including an Arts and Crafts market. Although Bath isn’t holding its usual Christmas market this year, the Bath Artisan Market from 20 November–19 December 2021 features artists and designers, vintage sellers and local food producers.
There are also one-off festive market events around the region in Kingham (20 November), Moreton-in-Marsh (27 November), Tetbury (3 December), Stroud (3–4 December), Chipping Campden (4 December), Nailsworth (10 December) and Stow-on-the-Wold (10 December).
18. Go late-night shopping in Broadway
Soak up the festive atmosphere while you shop at Broadway’s annual late-night shopping event on Friday 26 November and 3 December 2021. The town’s streets are beautifully decorated, with a Tree of Light on the Village Green to remember those lost this year, and there’s mulled wine and mince pies available while you browse the independent shops for unique gifts.
19. Celebrate Christmas all year long 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 trip back in time to the golden age of rail travel. This volunteer-run rail route runs through the Cotswold Hills, with vintage carriages hauled by an original steam locomotive – the sounds and smells on board transport you back to the days when train travel was a lot more glamorous.
This year they have two festive experiences departing from Toddington on 27 November–24 December 2021 – Ride with Santa, where Santa and his elves are on board the train with you, and The Santa Express, which visits Santa at his North Pole (aka Winchcombe) winter wonderland.
21. Have a vintage Christmas at Holst Victorian House
Take a trip back in time to Christmas past at Holst Victorian House in Cheltenham. This museum recreates life in the Victorian era at the birthplace of composer Gustav Holst. This winter there’s a series of festive events, including a Victorian Christmas Day (11 December), Christmas music played on Holst’s piano (14 December) and a candlelit tour and carols (22 December).
22. Experience a country house Christmas
You can also see how Christmas was celebrated through the ages at historic houses around the Cotswolds. Experience a Jacobean Christmas at Chastleton House, with rooms decorated with flowers and greenery from the garden, lute music and preparations for a festive feast. Or see how the Fox-Talbot family would’ve spent Christmas in the Great Hall at Lacock Abbey.
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 and restaurants. You can enjoy turkey and cranberry sandwiches, mince pie toasties and salted caramel yule logs at Cowley Manor near Cheltenham. Or swap tea for mulled wine by the fire at the Lygon Arms in Broadway.
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 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 The Cotswold Curer’s charcuterie.
25. Drink a local toast
Toast the festive season or welcome in 2022 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.
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