If you’re here from the future, check out my current post, Christmas Days Out in Essex 2018 for up to date listings and links!
Christmas. My absolute favourite time of year. I’m one of those people that can’t wait for summer to be over in August so I can start getting excited for Christmas. I start to plan our Christmas outings in September as things get booked up so quickly. There’s so much to choose from, yet a lot of it can be the same. I’m quite adamant that I only want Alfie to have the experience of meeting Father Christmas once a year – I think it spoils the magic a bit if you go too often, but that means sometimes it’s hard to do things as there is always a Father Christmas around! Some activities it’s fine, as you can clearly explain that it’s not the “real” Father Christmas and just a helper, but it’s nice to have a variety of Christmas things to do during the festive period. With that in mind, I’ve put together 101 Christmas Days Out in Essex 2017. I hope you find this helpful and get to add lots of Christmassy things to your to-do list.
This section is a list of pantomimes and Christmas shows happening around Essex this Christmas period. Tickets to some shows may have already sold out, but check out the links to see what’s available!
The Cliffs Pavilion Pantomime is often top of the list for families to attend over the festive period. The pantomime being run this year is Jack and the Beanstalk.
The Basildon town theatre will be showing a production of Aladdin as their pantomime this year.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will be showing at Chelmsford Civic Theatre this year from 29 November to 2 January.
Queen’s Theatre will be showing Beauty and the Beast this year, from 30 November to 7 January.
For something a little different, this play looks really good! Snow Plays runs from 21 to 30 December and is 55 minutes long, so perfect for little ones. It is recommended for 3+.
Hylands House are showing a special production of Jack and the Beanstalk on 27 December this year – one morning and one afternoon performance. A perfect post Christmas family treat!
Last year during our visit to the Magic of Christmas at Colchester Zoo, we visited the panto and it was brilliant! It’s all part of your ticket, so if you visit the Magic of Christmas experience this year, make sure you check it out. Check the website for more about the specific dates for the Magic of Christmas events.
A magical Christmas story told by the fireplace. Aimed at children aged 3-7, this is a unique experience that will bring the magic alive for young and old alike! Booking is essential.
Christmas Markets and Fayres
Everyone loves to visit a market at Christmas time, and there are plenty to choose from in Essex! Most of them are free to get in to, but some do require a ticket, so check out the links before you go for more information.
The Christmas market in Billericay High Street has attractions and events to appeal to the whole family – starting with a Santa parade at 11am, it also has a market, fairground, music, parades and so much more. Having been a couple of times ourselves, we find this a great place for getting unusual Christmas presents whilst having lots of Christmas fun!
Maldon High STreet will be hosting their annual Vintage Christmas fayre. Starting at 6pm, it includes late night shopping, a street market, choirs, music and entertainment from Saint FM. Santa and his reindeer will also be making an appearance from 6-8pm!
A lovely mini Christmas market, Christmas in Creeksea is held at the Parlour Cafe in Burnham-on-Crouch. There will be a selection of stalls, as well as the chance to visit Father Christmas in his grotto (please note this must be booked in advance). Check out the facebook event in the link above for more details.
Starting at 12pm, there will be everything from market stalls, to children’s crafts, to a rock choir, to Santa and his reindeer. Check out the website for specific timings so you don’t miss out!
A wonderful fayre to showcase the work of artists and makers from the Colchester Area. This is a great opportunity to discover something unique and different for your Christmas gifts this year. Refreshments will be available as well as performances from local musicians throughout the day.
A weekend of Christmas shopping at this craft fayre, including handmade items, local produce and refreshments!
A fun festive family event to get you in the Christmas mood. With stalls selling christmas gifts for all the family, as well as food and drink available, there is lots to see and do! Even the kids can enjoy themselves by watching the Snow Sisters and visiting the Reindeer! Check out the website for ticket prices.
A Christmas fayre showcasing a wide range of homemade items that are perfect for Christmas gifts. Unique, well-designed and handmade, this is the place to be if you fancy something a little different for Christmas this year!
Another event run by the We Are Handmade team – check out all the amazing gifts and items you can treat your family and friends to this Christmas…and maybe pick up something for yourself!
If you fancy something a little different this year, why not check out the Museum of Power Christmas Fair – packed with stalls and entertainment, you can also visit Father Christmas in his grotto and take a ride on the miniature railway. Check the website for times and ticket prices.
You’ll find a huge variety of stalls selling arts, crafts, food and drink in this quaint little village market. Father Christmas will be there in his grotto, as well as street entertainers and carol singers!
A two day Christmas Fayre at the beautiful Beth Chatto gardens, you can expect to find lots of craft stalls, mince pies and carol singers! A lovely setting for a family day out.
Not only will you find some wonderful crafts and gifts for Christmas, but you can also stock up on some delicious food, including locally reared meat, artisan delicacies, freshly baked bread, and wonderful sweet and savoury pastries.
Freight House is hosting it’s annual craft and gift fayre on Sunday 12 November. It is free of charge and there will be a large number of exhibitors showcasing a variety of unique craft and gift items. Refreshments and free parking available – check out the link for more details and timings.
At this Christmas Fair, you’ll find a fantastic collection of stalls selling a variety of handmade crafts, including jewellery, homeware, soaps, candles, artisan food, and much more. Entry is free.
A Christmas fayre with lots of fun family activites and live entertainment – check out the Facebook event for more information.
A quaint village fair hosting a number of Christmas activities, including decoration making and log decoration. Check out the website for more details of timings and pricing.
There will be lots to see and do at Hopefield Sanctuary this Christmas, including Santa’s Grotto, real reindeers, storytime with the Chicken & Frog Bookshop, a Winter Wonderland festive party with Happy Hatter Parties, party games, a raffle with fantastic prizes, craft and gift stalls and special guests Mickey & Minnie Mouse! Check out the Facebook link for times and prices.
The Dogs Trust in Basildon will be hosting a festive event, including Santa Paws, a raffle and tombola, festive refreshments & games, stocking fillers and Dogs Trust Merchandise. Entry is £1 for adults, kids and dogs go free!
With over 100 market stalls, this is Clacton’s largest Christmas market. There will be lots of different products on offer, as well as plenty of food and drink. Entry is free and plenty of parking is available. Check out the Facebook event page for timings and more information.
A lovely little fayre in the beautiful Leigh-on-Sea with over 55 stalls across the whole of the Community Centre selling crafts, food, gifts and more! Come and browse and buy some delightful Christmas Gifts for family and friends. Face painting and princess appearances available for children!
CBK will be hosting another Christmas event with lots of high quality stalls, perfect for finding those unique Christmas gifts. There will also be mulled wine and lots of festive spirit! Don’t miss out on the raffle either, where you could win £100 prize draw!
Featuring indoor and outdoor craft stalls, festive refreshments, mince pies, festive bbq, childrens crafts activities, Christmas gift ideas, carol singing, and a visit with Father Christmas. Check out the facebook link for more information.
A cute little craft fair with the chance to get hold of some wonderful homemade gifts. Entry is free and the museum is open between 10am and 4pm.
Christmas Light Switch On
Most towns in Essex will have a Christmas Light Switch on of some kind – below I’ve listed as many as I can find, plus the dates. I’ve linked to Facebook invite pages where possible so you can access all the information, or else provided as much detail as I can and will update if I find out any more!
Meeting Father Christmas
There are so many choices for meeting the big man, how do you know where to go?! I think it’s always great to get personal recommendations, but if you’re still undecided here is a list of some of the great places you can visit to meet Father Christmas. So far, we’ve only been to Colchester Zoo, but I’ve heard great things about all these places!
From elves, to Mother Christmas, to a Snow Show and visiting the toy workshop – Marsh Farm have everything covered. Check out their website for a full list of activities, but from the moment you step on to the farm, you are promised to have a magical journey on the way to visit Father Christmas in his grotto. Prices vary.
We had an amazing time at the Colchester Zoo Magic of Christmas event last year. With lots of different events taking place, including meeting reindeers, getting crafty with the Elves, and listening to Christmas stories, there is plenty to keep you occupied – and that’s before you’ve met Father Christmas and seen the rest of the zoo! They also hold special starlight nights, where they light up the sky with a laser light display. Check out the website for more information, including times and prices of each event.
Enjoy a delicious breakfast with Santa at the zoo after a tour of the Santa experience with the elves. Take home a photo souvenir of your morning and then spend the rest of the day at the zoo enjoying all the other activities.
With three different packages available (Snowman, Elf and Reindeer), the Party Kingdom offer a magical experience whichever package you go for. Ranging from a pop in meeting with Santa, to a show put on by the elves, arts and crafts, a snowball fight and other magical experiences! If you choose the top package, you will also have a personal elf to guide you through the experience. Check out the link above for details of the individual packages, times, dates and prices.
Visit Cressing Temple Barns for a wonderful elf-led tour around Santa’s busy Christmas base. You will be guided through various interactive rooms, and get to sit on Santa’s full size sleigh for a photo! Your elf guide will lead you on to meet Father Christmas himself in his Grotto, complete with magical fireplace and real Christmas trees. After this, children will be invited into the elf toyshop, where they will be able to choose their very own gift as a memento of this special day. Check out the website for price and dates to book – be quick and this event is known to be a sell out!
From meeting Mother Christmas, to arts and crafts, to picking your own toy after you’ve met the big man himself, Advenutre Wonderland offer so much to do during your visit to meet Father Christmas. There are discounts for annual pass holders, but do check out the link for details of all prices and timings.
Come and meet Santa at this cute little venue – includes Christmas crafts with the Elves, a visit to Santa and a gift for every child. £12 per child, includes entry to the play barn. Follow the link for more details.
Celebrate the magical festive season with an enchanting Christmas story, get creative and make your very own decorations, and you then meet Santa and his elf! Use the link above for further details and how to book.
A festive visit on the farm, check out Barleylands Christmas Grotto where you’ll get to meet Father Christmas in his cosy grotto and choose a lovely gift. As an added extra for those with a golden ticket, you can take your photo in the brilliant snow globe! check out the website for details of the two different packages and how to book your tickets.
Based around an interactive story, An Elf’s Wish is truly something different to your usual Grotto visit. With so much to do that I can’t list it all here, please do check out the link above to find out about the amazing event – with elves, Mrs Clause, a snow queen, reindeers and Father Christmas himself, this promises to be a Christmas experience like no other. Be quick – dates are selling out fast!
What better way to visit Santa than via a train ride down the longest pier in the world! Meet Santa and his reindeer at the end of the pier, where you can also have your face painted and take in some light refreshments. Check out the link for prices – tickets must be booked in advance.
Meet Father Christmas as he tells tales of Christmas past at Audley End House. Lucky visitors will even get a festive treat! Check out the website for details of prices and what’s included.
Promising to bring a little bit of the North Pole, this December, the Grotto will be themed around a walk through experience which takes you into a magical Gingerbread house. You will get to experience a children’s activity, some private time with Father Christmas, a gift and a bonus surprise. There is also an ice rink nearby.
Santa needs some extra help in spreading Christmas cheer this year, so bring your little helpers to craft with Santa’s elves and they will get to meet him for themselves! Every child will meet Santa and receive an early Christmas present!
Santa is back this year at Lakeside, Thurrock. There’s lots going on, so make sure you pre-book your tickets. Check out the website for more information.
Garden Centre Events
If you want a fun but cheap day out, visiting a garden centre this Christmas can be the perfect activity for a chilled afternoon. The kids will love looking at all the amazing decorations, and lots of garden centre now also put on their own grottos and events. Visiting Father Christmas at the garden centre can also be an ideal choice for babies and young children who are not quite aware what is going on yet, but you would still like to have that experience with them. Have a look at the selection below to see what they have to offer!
Visit Father Christmas in his grotto from Saturday 18th November. You can meet his animals first, and then walk through to talk to Father Christmas himself. No booking necessary, but there may be queues at busy times. Check out the website for times and prices.
You can also have Breakfast with Father Christmas at Woody’s Restaurant – this MUST be booked in advance either in store or online.
Santa’s Grotto opens on Saturday 11th November where you can meet Santa in a wonderful little grotto and receive a special gift. This is perfect for babies and younger children. Details of times and prices, and how to book are on their website.
Billed as an authentic German market set in a local garden centre, the Medowcroft German Market is open daily from 10th November, including some late night openings too!
They are also running a Breakfast with the Elves workshop, where you will be taken through the German Market with the Elves to see Father Christmas, as well as partake in some craft activities. This will finish with a bite to eat in the restaurant. Check out the website for details of how to book.
As well as their usual lovely tea room and brilliant petting farm and soft play barn, White Elm Farm will be hosting Santa in his grotto this year. Check out their facebook page for more details. Open from Saturday 25th November.
There are various Wyevale Garden Centres across Essex, and each will be hosting their own Christmas events. Your little one can enjoy breakfast or tea with SAnta, which includes biscuit decorating and a special gift to take home.
As well as an amazing Christmas display, there is a Christmas grotto, supper with Santa, breakfast with Santa and a miniature railway to explore on your visit. Please note some activities require pre-booking so please check the website for details.
Perrywoods Christmas displays are not one to be missed – they have a huge selection of Christmas decorations and gifts. Why not visit Santa in his grotto while you are there! Check out the website for more details.
Visit Barnplants for a unique meet and greet with Santa in his winter wonderland! Take a ride on the brilliant train and have fun discovering Santa’s wonderful home. Booking available in advance, check the website for details.
Not only will you get to meet Santa, but you can also meet Elsa at this lovely event at the Coffee Shop. Have a look at the Facebook event for all the details on how to book and what to do on the day.
Christmas in the Woods
There are lots of fantastic wood trails around Essex, so what better way to visit Father Christmas than through a magical winter wonderland in the woods.
A trail will guide you through the woods to find Santa in his woodland grotto! You will then complete a christmas craft activity in the Visitor Centre. There are allotted time slots so booking is essential.
A drop in Christmas craft session, open to all! £4 per child but they must be accompanied by an adult. No need to book, and session will last approx. 1 hour.
Langdon Visitor Centre will be putting on a variety of Christmas events, including Santa at the Haven and Christmas crafts from 2nd December
Perhaps something to enjoy with older children, why not try some Christmas wreath making!
Meet Father Christmas who is taking a break from his busy schedule to visit all the good children in Essex! You can also take part in some Christmas crafts while you’re there. Booking in advance is essential so check out the link above for more details.
Check out this free Christmas Market at Thurrock Thameside Nature Park. Stalls will include; face painting, traditional sweets, Usbourne books and Hawke optics. You can also meet Father Christmas in his grotto and make a Christmas craft but booking is essential for this.
Christmas on the Train
If you have a train loving child, what better way to visit Father Christmas than whilst riding the tracks!
If your little ones love trains, then they’ll love this Santa Express deep in the woods of the Audley End estate. You will arrive at Father Christmas’s winter Wonderland and meet the big man himself! You will also meet his elves, watch a crazy Christmas show and receive a special gift. You can also visit the craft area and write a letter to Father Christmas, as well as enjoy craft making, face painting and story telling. You will have a truly magical time. Tickets must be booked in advance, so get in quick
Have a festive family fun day with Thomas and Friends. Ride on the trains and meet the Fat Controller. Check out the website for more details.
What better way to meeting Father Christmas than aboard an old fashioned steam train! You will get the chance to get in the spirit of Christmas with something from one of the festive food stalls whilst you listen to the live brass band! You may meet Scrooge, Mother Christmas or perhaps the Grinch whilst you wait for the train, all of whom will be walking around the crowds looking for the nice children to make sure that Santa will find them later. Naughty children will not be allowed to board the train! All children will receive a present from Santa, and adults can enjoy a free drink and christmas treat. With lots to do, this is a full family day out. Check out the website for timings and prices.
A steam train ride to Santa’s grotto station, gifts for the children, festive fare and plenty of old-fashioned Christmas atmosphere, plus of course the famous Mangapps Museum collection – what more could you want from a train Santa special! Call the Railway on 01621 784 for more information on dates and prices.
Take a ride on this special steam train and meet Santa along the way! Each child will receive a special gift and adults will get a free hot drink! Check the website for dates, prices and how to book.
Family Festive Days Out
If you’re looking for a fun, festive day out with the family, check out these fantastic options below.
For something a bit different, why not visit Father Christmas at Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome. Start by feeding Santa’s Reindeers and have your picture taken in his sleigh. You can decorate a gingerbread man and make a snow globe, then go on to meet Father Christmas and choose your own gift from his shop!
Plans are still in the making, but the fantastic team at Outdoor Cinema are working on a special Christmas showing! Follow the facebook page for more details of times, dates and the films they will be showing.
My Gym are having a family festive day! Your little ones can have a great time playing in the gym, and then the parents can pop next door and enjoy a Christmas afternoon tea.
The fun kicks off at 12 noon in Eastgate as Santa arrives to take up his place in his magical Grotto. There will be plenty of family fun provided by the Magical Snow Lion, two Bouncy Elves, a Victorian Christmas Comedy show, festive stilt walkers, La Luna Trapeze artists, inflateable snowmen and ice princesses. Outside in the Town Square there will be festive stalls and real reindeer, plus the launch of the town’s first ever FREE ice rink. At 5pm the town gathers to see the lights switch on accompanied by some festive fireworks!
If you fancy something a bit historic this year, why not go along to Paydock’s House and Garden to discover the Christmas that Thomas Paycocke might have enjoyed it in 1517. You’ll join the servants in dressing the house for the festivities.
Christmas fun for children at Champions Manor Hall. Tickets cost £5 per child and will include food and drink for the children plus a gift from Santa! Skittleman will be there to entertain. Tickets will be available from the Town Council office at Champions Manor Hall. For more information, please check out the Facebook event page.
If you fancy something a bit different, why not experience this interactive Nativity where the audience become part of the story. Just turn up and take part – no rehearsals, no pressure, just lots of fun for the children as they learn about the story behind Christmas. Arrive for 4pm to be given your part
Something a little different…
For those of you who want spread a little joy whilst celebrating Christmas, why not check out these charity events!
What better way to celebrate the festive season than with a 5 mile run to raise money for Action for Children. Come dressed in Christmas fancy dress and enjoy a festive goodie along the way! Medals and a mince pie will be waiting for you at the finish line. There is also a Rudolph scurry for children and adults alike.
Test your head for heights and dare to dangle for The J’s as you abseil 40ft in the indoor atrium of the Essex County Hall building. It is a double line abseil, take part on your own, with your family, friends or colleagues and abseil together! Get into the festive spirit with optional fancy dress! Become an abseiling Santa, Elf or Reindeer, the choice is yours! Every penny you raise will help The J’s Hospice care for young adults aged 16 – 40 years with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions in Essex.
Get excited for a day of festive fun and sign up to this Run Santa Run event! Offering both a 5k fun run, and a 2.5k route for those with little legs! There will be a variety of attractions to help you really get in to the festive spirit, including Santa’s Grotto, toy sale and other festive activities! Well-deserved medals will be awarded to all finishers. The entry price includes a Santa outfit for adults, and Christmassy headgear for children.
Join the #FarleighSantas as hundreds of runners dash, dance and prance 5k to raise funds for Farleigh Hospice. Adult runners get a free Santa suit, and there’s a free Santa hat for the kids. Dogs (on leads) are invited to be Santa’s little helpers at this family-friendly event! There will be a marching band, Christmas stalls and refreshments.
Take part in this Santa Fun Run to raise money for local charity. Terms and conditions of entry are up on the website, as well as details of how to register.
The Elves 11 Trail is a narative trail race (there are no marshals or arrows, you follow written instructions) following a circular route of 11 Elvish miles, between Maldon and Mundon. The route is 95% off road on a variety of terrain. The race starts and finishes at The Maldon Saints FC Club House. There will be a well stocked checkpoint at approximately 7 miles. When you reach the finish you will receive a well earned medal, hot snack and a cuppa. Festive fancy dress encourage!
With Christmas just around the corner, why not join this Dagenham Santa fun run. Get into the Christmas spirit and take your position on Sunday 10th December 2017 at Dagenham and Redbridge football ground. You can run, walk or stroll the 5km course. You’ll get a free Santa suit, have lots of fun and raise money in the process!
So there you have it. 101 fun, festive activities for you and your family to explore and discover in Essex this Christmas season. Lots of these activities will need booking in advance, but be quick because people will already be organising their Christmas schedules so events may be sold out on certain days already.
Please do let me know if you visit any of these places, and what you think of them!
Special thanks to Mrs Lighty of All Things Spliced for all the help putting this post together.