Our pick of places to visit this Christmas
Art, enchantment, illusion and the man in red… it all adds up to make the season truly special, says Nifa Mclaughlin
Imagine the excitement when your little ones receive a personal invitation from Santa to help in his Arctic wonderland. Well, that’s how they’ll discover you’ve booked tickets to Lapland UK at Whitmore Forest, Ascot. On arrival, they can explore the snowy woodland and help the elves get toys ready for Christmas Eve; lend Mother Christmas a hand preparing gingerbread biscuits; meet the resident huskies and reindeer; try skating on the ice rink and, of course, meet Father Christmas himself – who’ll give them a present to say thanks. The visit takes three and a half hours, and is a magical experience for all the family.
Until 24 December
Experience an alternative white Christmas at Leeds Castle, Kent, where the state rooms will be decorated with 3D paper works of art created by artist Helen Musselwhite. There’ll also be a Christmas market each weekend, with live music and rides for the kids.
It’s not ideal to take toddlers anywhere they’re supposed to be quiet, so we love the idea of theatre just for them. The Paper Dolls for Toddlers is based on Julia Donaldson’s book about a little girl who makes a string of paper dolls and sends them on a journey. See them fly through the air dodging toy dinosaurs, oven-glove crocodiles and – worst of all – scissors. The usual production is suitable for three-to-sevens, but Wimbledon’s Polka Theatre is staging a season of performances especially for children aged one to two.
8 January-13 March
At the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, Bucks, you can celebrate the writer’s Norwegian heritage by hearing a traditional folk tale from his homeland. There’s also a range of activities throughout December, including Chiddlers’ Hours, where tots can enjoy songs and play based on his stories.
Santa is coming to town
Take a trip to Santa Land in Edinburgh for a truly child-friendly experience. Visit the Children’s Market for face-painting and shopping, whizz around on the helter skelter, and try one of the themed rides, such as the reindeer merry-go-round. There’s also a Christmas tree maze, where you can find the elves’ workshop and collect a small treat. And, of course, there’s Santa’s Grotto, where the kids can meet the man himself.
Until 4 January
The time-travelling Victorian magic duo Morgan & West’s kids’ stage show is full of mind-boggling illusions, old-fashioned silliness and – of course – a little bit of magic. It’s suitable for children aged four upwards which, luckily for us, includes any grown-ups who are just big kids, really... It’s touring the UK, so for dates near you visit morganandwest.co.uk.
Instead of covering the kitchen in glue, take the tots to see a real masterpiece. Matisse’s The Snail is on show at Tate Liverpool as part of a new exhibition, and a fun station stocked with bright paper has been designed so families can make their own smaller versions.
Works to Know by Heart: Matisse in Focus, until 2 May
Blast from the past
Discover how Christmas has been celebrated over the past 400 years at the Geffrye Museum in London. See decorations, lighting, dancing, greenery and parlour games, and learn about the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. Children can join a crown-making workshop, too – a nostalgic way to be inspired to decorate your own home, maybe?
Christmas Past, until 3 January
Meet Little Bee: the bee who just wants to be different. Kids can join him in a special bee dance, search for flowers in the museum, and follow his adventure to find out how he becomes the hero of Victorian Manchester. Beeing Special at Little People’s History Museum, Manchester, is an interactive story session with puppets, song, dance and a craft activity, suitable for under-fives and their grown-ups.
Living the sky life
What makes a rainbow? Do naughty monsters in the sky scribble on it with crayons? And why does the moon change shape? Perhaps they take bites out of it when we’re not looking... Discover Naughty Monsters in the Sky at Life Science Centre, Newcastle, in a planetarium show designed especially for under-sevens.
30 Jan-8 Apr
Head to the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, where little sailors can make Christmas decorations inspired by the cargoes that the famous ship carried around the world, or create a bouncy, fluffy sheep from wool, like the freight the vessel used to carry home all the way from Australia.
5-6 December; 29-30 December
If pantos aren’t your thing but you still fancy treating the tots to some live theatre, why not take them to the musical of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Watch the lovable characters Caractacus Potts, Truly Scrumptious and the children escape from the evil Child Catcher, with the help of everyone’s favourite car, and songs you’ll be humming for weeks after.
Until 30 January, West Yorkshire Playhouse, then touring the UK