Well, the cold snap is upon us and I, for one, am excited! With advent knocking on the door, there’s plenty of Christmas cheer on the way. Spend this very special time of year with us, exploring the UK’s most magical winter wonderlands in the run up to the big day. From shopping trips spent in the afterglow of glühwein to crisp walks through gobsmacking scenery, skiing down freshly powdered slopes and skating across pop-up ice rinks, we bring you nothing but the best when it comes to winter breaks.
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As Christmassy as it gets
Ritzy, glitzy, tinselly London; is there anywhere more marvellous at this time of year? The millions of Christmas lights, the great shopping, the ice rinks, the themed bars, the markets…our Kensington town house hostel makes a convenient base for it all. And with rooms from just £49 per night, you’ll have cash leftover to splash in the capital.
Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is open throughout December and if you love Christmas, Yule love this glittery extravaganza. It boasts the UK’s largest outdoor ice rink, an underwater-themed Magical Ice Kingdom, children’s shows, Santa Land, a fairground and 200 Bavarian-style chalets selling gifts, seasonal eats and glühwein.
Too much? Keep things chic with a stroll down the King’s Road to browse boutique shops and check out the bars and cafes. If you’re planning a family trip, don’t miss the Brick Live exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in Duke of York Square. The UK’s largest Lego exhibition includes a special festive zone until 7th January.
YHA London Earl’s Court is really close to some of London’s best museums, including the Natural History Museum. Of all the pop up ice rinks in London, NHM’s has to be among the most beautiful. Glide, slide, spin or wobble your way over the ice before enjoying a little après skate at the café bar.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Caroline:
1. Become a time explorer and visit Kensington Palace for a very Victorian Christmas (3, 10 and 17 December). Meet Victoria and Albert for storytelling, make your own tree decoration and take a look at the toys Victorian children would have received.
2. Take a tour of the Christmas lights. From the mistletoe chandeliers of Covent Garden to the 750,000 lightbulbs over Oxford Street, there’s plenty to ooh and ahh at when you lift your eyes skyward.
3. The Magical Lantern Festival London takes place in the landscaped grounds of Chiswick House and Gardens from 24th November to New Year’s Day. The lanterns are huge! It’s a true spectacle.
Munch on mince pies, get stuck into stollen, pick up special gifts aplenty and fill up on the spirit of the season with a trip to any one of these cracking Christmas markets.
Winter walks in mid-Wales
If you’re itching to get out into a ruggedly beautiful landscape this season, the glacial cliffs, crags and escarpments of the Brecon Beacons offer an easier alternative to wild Snowdonia and a range of routes to satisfy all abilities. From low level strolls to serious challenges (especially in the snow), there’s a walk for everyone.
Pen y Fan is the highest peak in southern Britain and there’s a route up it from the hostel door. If you’re fully prepared and equipped with skills for the hills, you’re in for a memorable mountain challenge. Alternatively, ask hostel staff for route recommendations around the fascinating Craig Cerrig Gleisiad glacial nature reserve and beyond into waterfall country to traverse the tree-lined gorges of the Fforest Fawr Geopark.
For cyclists, the Taff Trail is open to bike riders as well as walkers. You can follow its traffic-free former tramways and canal towpaths all the way to Cardiff Bay. BikePark Wales is a mere 30 minutes from the hostel; the UK’s first full scale mountain bike park caters for all skill levels from the Badgers Run for beginners to white knuckle rides for expert downhillers. Hire a bike there or bring your own to stow in our secure store.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Richard:
1. Local market towns of Brecon and Abergavenny are rich in local heritage and attractions. Hostel staff will be happy to direct you to rainy day activities such as Big Pit: National Coal Museum or the National Showcaves Centre for Wales.
2. The bus stop at the top of the hostel drive is on the T4 route from Cardiff to Newtown in mid-Wales meaning that you can easily explore the capital or venture north into more areas of fantastic scenery and attractions.
3. Stay in the hostel for a relaxing evening without mobile phone signal or Wi-Fi but with the added benefits of good food, local ales and a real fire. Who needs to be connected when you have all of this plus amazing scenery?
A retreat in the snow-capped peaks of the Pennines
At almost 1,000 feet above sea level, Alston is a town with altitude. England’s highest market town is criss-crossed by the Pennine Way, Isaac’s Tea Trail and the ever-popular Coast-to-Coast cycle route. Long-distancers tend to discover this charming place this way, as a convenient overnight stop on their journey. Linger a little longer though, and you’ll see there’s plenty more to Alston.
Situated in a UNESCO Global Geopark, and surrounded by rolling, unspoilt moorland with miles of lovely quiet roads for cyclists, Alston holds year-round appeal. With the onset of winter, its scenery is even more spectacular. Snow is all but guaranteed here and a white Christmas is a regular occurrence. Alston even has its own ski club at Yad Moss. With a fast button tow and eight runs, it’s a sophisticated set up. If you’re an intermediate or advanced skier or snowboarder with your own kit, you can be on the pistes all day for £20.
For the more sedentary amongst us, Alston is the starting point for the South Tynedale Railway – England’s highest narrow gauge railway. On six dates in December, the vintage attraction celebrates Christmas with its Santa Specials. Visit Santa’s grotto and enjoy seasonal snacks and hot chocolate on the steam locomotive.
Finally, our red squirrels deserve a special mention. There’s a healthy population on Alston Moor and, now the leaves have fallen, this is the best time to see them in the trees from the comfort of the chairs in our cosy dining room.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Linda:
1. Climb to the summit of Cross Fell via the Pennine Way from Garrigill and on a clear day marvel at 360° views of four counties and Scotland.
2. Stand behind Ashgill Force and gaze through the tumbling water as it drops 55 feet from Ashgill Beck above. It can rival High Force after heavy rain but don’t forget your waterproofs.
3. Recreate the 2015 Tour of Britain and challenge yourself to cycle up the famous Hartside Pass. Reward your efforts with coffee and cake at the 1,094ft summit in the Hartside café.
Big climbs and pleasure cruises
A Lakeland escape could be just the thing to blow away the cobwebs before Christmas. This spring, YHA Keswick got a major spruce up and reopened with upgraded facilities plus a brand new café bar and balconies overlooking Fitz Park and the River Greta. When the weather is wetter, it’s the perfect spot to relax with fine views of Latrigg, the most southerly top of the Skiddaw massif.
Whatever the day’s outlook, you’ll find plenty to do around here. Five minutes’ walk brings you to the fantastic Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. Visit soon to catch the special exhibition curated in collaboration with filmmaker Terry Abraham: ‘People’s Mountain’ Blencathra. If you’ve a head for heights and a hankering for winter sports, try your hand at indoor ice climbing. Kong Adventure, Keswick offers a 90-minute taster session with tutelage and equipment from £35. Whatever your ability with axes and crampons, at -7°c you’re guaranteed to look cool on this sheer ice wall.
Back at ground level, Derwentwater is only 10 minutes’ walk from the hostel. Explore its shore with a lake cruise from the Keswick launch. There are eight jetties around the lake and you can hop on and off to your heart’s content with a day ticket. The south west shore is great for walking with an accessible route beginning from Hawse End. Alternatively, disembark at beautiful Brandlehow Wood. Cat Bells is one of the most popular fells in the Lake District and lies just beyond this charming tangle of semi-ancient trees and 150-year-old Douglas Firs.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Rachael:
1. When you’re ready to warm your cockles, hop on the X5 or X4 bus from Keswick out to Bassenthwaite Lake to take a tour of the award-winning Lake Distillery and enjoy a dram or three of their whisky.
2. Keswick’s Victorian Fayre takes place on 3rd December. There’ll be live entertainment from local choirs and musicians, charity stalls, festive food and a visit from Santa Claus.
3. Get acquainted with two Keswick curiosities. The Puzzling Place is dedicated to the display of optical illusions and the Derwent Pencil Museum tells the history of the region’s centuries-old graphite industry.