Festive Fun to find your Christmas Spirit
Ice rink Visit Bruges | © Jan Darthet
With only a few weeks left before that most magical time of the year, there are plenty of seasonal activities to enjoy by ferry that will get you into the festive spirit. From themed mini cruises to theatrical experiences and Christmas markets we’ve chosen the best escapes on board and ferry near. When travelling by ferry you can bring as much luggage (or shopping) as you can carry or will fit in the car. And don’t forget, when coming back from the EU and Channel Islands there is also the chance to stock up on gifts and Duty Free on board, and in the port, with significant savings on high-street prices.
Christmas Themed Mini-Cruise, P&O Ferries, 13-15 December
The Classic Christmas themed mini-cruise from Hull is bound to get you in the Christmas spirit, offering two nights of festive fun, a day trip to Amsterdam or Rotterdam with coach transfers included for a spot of Christmas shopping, plus, two nights’ accommodation in an en suite cabin.
Festive Cruise & Dine to Saint Malo, Brittany Ferries, 6 Nov- 21 December
Departing from Portsmouth, this two-night mini cruise includes return overnight crossings for 2 people and a car, a 3-course meal in one of the onboard restaurants and a day to explore the walled-city of Saint Malo. Complete with its medieval castle and traditional Christmas market, the city is transformed into a festive fairytale. Departures available on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
New Year’s Mini Cruise to Amsterdam, DFDS, 30 December – 1 January 2024
Enjoy two-nights in your own en-suite cabin and all the festivities of New Year’s Eve on board a mini-cruise to Amsterdam. Set sail from Newcastle on 30 December, enjoy a day in Amsterdam before the party starts on board the ship, with a delicious dinner, choice of bars and a complimentary glass of fizz at midnight.
During the festive season this picturesque medieval town, with its canals and cobbled streets transforms into a winter wonderland, with thousands of sparkling lights and decorations. The traditional Christmas Market is in the Grote Markt, the market square which is overlooked by the 83m high Belfry, one of the city’s main sights. Simon Stevinplein market has a different atmosphere and focuses more on arts and crafts. To see some of the city’s more hidden and surprising locations follow the ‘Winter Glow,’ a 2.5km light experience trail featuring 10 unique light installations. On the Minnewater (Lake of Love) you’ll find a floating ice-skating rink and alongside the Vorst (frost) Winter Bar where you can sample Belgian beer or warm up with a mug of hot chocolate or mulled wine. Bruges Christmas Markets and Winter Glow are open from 24 November 2023 to 7 January 2024.
With over 2km of market chalets, Amiens Le Marché de Noël offers an array of handmade crafts, gifts and food and drink stalls from 25 November – 30 December 2023. The young and the young-at-heart can ride on the merry-go-round and skate on the ice rink then indulge in French treats: tartiflette, crepes and mulled wine or even locally made mulled beer. At 7pm every evening, you can enjoy the amazing light show at the Notre-Dame Cathedral. And the best thing? You can stock up on French goodies to indulge in during your own Christmas celebrations.
Originating in Germany the Christkindlmarkt (Christ Child’s Market) or Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) is now a mainstay of European Christmas events. However, no one does a Christmas market quite like the Germans. Within a 4-hour drive from Dunkirk or just over 3 hours from Rotterdam and Hook of Holland you can see an original Weihnachtsmarkt in one of Germany’s biggest and most vibrant cities – Cologne.
Cologne hosts several Christmas markets around the city, each with their own special atmosphere, from 23 November to 23 December. The most striking has its famous Gothic cathedral as the backdrop and boasts the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland. Heinzel’s Winter Fairyland is the kids’ favourite in the Old Town, complete with house elves, a workshop to forge a horseshoe bearing your name, an ice rink, and a Christmas Post Office directing wishes straight to the Christmas Angel or Father Christmas.
Make sure you try the Reibekuchen, fried potato pancakes, and the handmade Lebkuchen.
Waterford is home to Ireland’s largest Christmas festival Winterval, with a programme of over 40 free and ticketed events on offer between 17 November – 23 December 2023. Enjoy the festive light show in Arundel Square, ice skating at Winterval on Ice, and a visit to Santa with the little ones in his Gingerbread House. Browse the Christmas market and craft fair and check the calendar for concerts, cinema to live orchestral music and storytelling.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Open from 18 November to 22 December, the Christmas Market is set in front of Belfast’s spectacular City Hall. As well as traditional Gluhwein, visitors can indulge in an authentic feast of Christmas cuisine from across the world. Children can visit Santa in his magical grotto, ride the vintage carousel and get a bird’s eye view of the market from the top of the helter skelter.
London pulls out all the stops to provide a magical Christmas atmosphere: from the sparkling Christmas lights and dramatic shop windows that turn Oxford Street, Regents Street and Covent Garden into a Christmas extravaganza, to the atmospheric open-air ice-rinks that pop up over the city at locations such as Somerset House, Battersea Power Station, Canary Wharf and Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, to name a few.
Southbank Centre Winter Festival, running until 7 January, features a Thames-side Winter Market as well as an exciting family arts programme. Experience the festive classic Nutcracker reimagined, or follow Marinka, a young girl trying to find her feet in The House with Chicken Legs, blending puppets, projection, and live music.
For a different take on Christmas illuminations book an Uber Boat by Thames Clippers Illuminated River tour and see the ambitious public art commission which is transforming the capital at night, lighting up 9 bridges along the Thames.
Uber Boat by Thames Clippers River Bus operates services along the river so you can soak up the atmosphere and see the sights as your travel around.
Festive Family Fun
Jersey, Channel Islands
Along with the Christmas lights and ice-skating rink, Jersey has some unique activities to get you in the Christmas spirit. At the Enchanted Christmas Tree Maze Experience the young and young-at-heart will embark on an elf-hunt quest, solve riddles, and follow clues to find Santa’s mischievous helpers. (Howard Davies Park, St Helier, 8-21 December)
See the classic Dickens tale of A Christmas Carol unlike you’ve seen it before. Step into Ebenezer Scrooge’s secret parlour for an unforgettable immersive dining experience. Matinees are available for families with children aged 8+ on selected dates. (Freedom Centre, St Helier, 6-24 December)
If you’re in Jersey over Christmas don’t miss the Christmas Day Dip at Havre des Pas run by the Jersey Swimming Club.
Condor Ferries operates services from Portsmouth to Jersey.
Isle of Man
A great family event and a sight to be seen at the home of the TT is the annual Santa’s on a Bike ride, in aid of Rebecca House Children’s Hospice. A stream of red Santas head off in a cavalcade from Douglas to Peel and back, with supporters lining the streets. (9 December 2023)
Perfect for the little ones, THE POLAR EXPRESSTM train ride is a fun filled theatrical adventure on its way to the North Pole from Douglas train station. Pop on your PJs and hop aboard, where you’ll get to meet the characters from the film including the conductor, the singing chefs, the hobo and of course Father Christmas. (Isle of Man Steam Railway: 9th 10th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd December).
Isle of Man Steam Packet Company sail from Heysham to Douglas, Isle of Man in 3h 45min.
Isle of Wight, UK
There’s fun for all the family on the Isle of Wight this festive season, from festive stories with Santa at Osborne, to Christmas markets and events at the Donkey Sanctuary and The Quay (23-24 November). Santa Specials at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway (weekends from 2 December) welcome visitors with festive music, a seasonal Christmas market, and lots of entertainment and magic shows just for children, before going to see the big man himself. Then the family can relax in a steam-heated compartment a 10-mile round trip through the Island’s winter landscape.
Isle of Islay, Scotland, UK
Unforgettable festive experiences don’t get more authentic than Hogmanay in the Scottish Hebrides. Forget the crowds in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stonehaven and celebrate the new year with the islanders on the Isle of Islay. Book yourself a cosy room in Port Charlotte, try a dram of one (or two) of the famous peaty single malts while cosying next to the wood-burner in the pub and head out to watch the fireworks at midnight. To clear your head the next day you can take part in the New Year’s Day Dook (a dip in the refreshing coastal waters) from the beach, before lacing up your hiking boots and heading out for a bracing walk.
Port Charlotte is a 25 min drive from the ferry terminal at Port Askaig, total journey time from Tarbert including the ferry with Caledonian MacBrayne is 3 hours.