Last year I wrote a post called 101 Christmas Days Out in Essex 2017 and it was VERY popular. So this year I’ve done the same and hunted out 101 Christmas Days Out in Essex 2018 for you all to enjoy!
I absolutely love Christmas, and I think the lead up to the big day is just as exciting as the day itself. Last year wasn’t the best Christmas for us – I was heavily pregnant and not enjoying it, so this year I am determined to make up for it. Alfie will be more understanding of what’s going on, and of course it is Henry’s first Christmas, so even more special!
I love having a jam packed schedule of days out in December, but you have to be quick to book them up! It may only be November, and Halloween has only just finished, but lots of places are already selling out tickets, so you need to get in quick.
Last year we went to the Marsh Farm Christmas experience and it was amazing! We were so, so impressed and if I wasn’t so keen on trying new things every year, we’d definitely be going back. The year before, we went to Colchester Zoo and that was also fabulous. We will go here every year to experience all the Christmas events because it’s separate from the grotto which is brilliant.
I usually 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 the children 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 2018. 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 Aladdin.
The Basildon town theatre will be showing a production of Snow White as their pantomime this year.
Cinderella will be showing at Chelmsford Civic Theatre this year from 30 November to 6 January, including a special signed performance and a relaxed performance.
Queen’s Theatre will be showing Jack and the Beanstalk this year, from 28 November to 6 January. They will be putting on a number of special performances, including a relaxed, dementia-friendly, signed and audio-described performance.
Thameside Theatre will be showing Aladdin this year, from 30 November to 6 January, including special celebrity guest Dan Osborne.
Hylands House are showing a special production of Rapunzel on 27 and 28 December this year – one morning and one afternoon performance on each day. A perfect post Christmas family treat! We went to this last and it’s the perfect panto for younger children. The price also means its doesn’t matter too much if they get restless and you have to take them out for a bit!
For the past two years, 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. Please note under 3s are not permitted to this performance.
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, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison live tributes and an 80 person flash . There’s also a Santa’s grotto!
Set in the grounds of lovely Cressing Temple Barns, you can enjoy a huge range of stalls set within the historic barns themselves as well as within marquees and outside stands. You can enjoy browsing, sampling and buying in time for the upcoming Festive Season throughout the weekend.
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.
The Christmas Gift and Food Fair at Chelmsford City Racecourse is on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th November 2018! The fair will be showcasing independent retailers who will stock a variety of items including gifts, homeware, jewellery, art, books, toys, gourmet delights and much more. The fair will be supporting Helen Rollason Cancer Charity.
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!
A festive Christmas Craft Fair with a variety of arts and crafts items, and beautiful decorations for your home is being held at Barleylands Craft Village. The event takes place from 10am until 4pm and there is free parking.
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.
A very special eco friendly Christmas fair! There will be many vegan, ethical traders with everyday essentials, Christmas gifts and plenty of food! There will be a number of teaching opportunities, including Homemade Tofurkey Demos, Furoshiki wrapping, Toy Swap and hacks for low waste trees, advent calendars, cracker alternatives and decorations.
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.
Visit the beautiful Hylands House for a visit with Father Christmas and plenty of festive fun, this fair is a great way to get Christmas started!
Freight House is hosting it’s annual craft and gift fayre on Sunday 11th 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.
The town of Stock will be holding a traditional Christmas market in the picturesque village, with over 40 festive stalls, refreshments, entertainment & Santa’s grotto. Being held from 2pm-8pm, check out the facebook event for more details.
A quaint village fair hosting a number of Christmas activities. Check out the website for more details of timings and pricing.
There will be lots to see and do at Hopefield Sanctuary this Christmas, with more information to come soon! Check out the link for updates.
A fantastic festive market, filled with tons of local independent businesses, plus live music from Shakster Recordsuk and Bassment. You can find Bratwurst, Gluhwein, Hot Toddies, Yummy Food, as well as the big man himself! This event will also be raising money for local charity City of Chelmsford Mencap.
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!
The festive market will have a variety of authentic street foods and unique not-on-the-high-street stocking fillers in the grand surroundings of the Braxted Park Walled Garden. There will be a complimentary glass of mulled wine for every pre-registered visitor. Entry is free, with a discretionary donation bucket for The Country Food Trust at the exit.
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 visited this event last year and it was MAGICAL!
We had an amazing time at the Colchester Zoo Magic of Christmas event the last few years. 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. We’ve booked to visit here this year and are very excited about it!
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.
Come and meet the REAL Father Christmas at Romford Shopping Hall! Only £6 a child which includes a gift and you are able to take photos on your own phones.
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 17th 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 Wednesday 14th 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 9th 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 24th 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, free Elf workshop on 17th November, 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.
Santa has come to visit Mr Toad! Follow a trail through the wintery woods before returning to find Santa in Toad’s Caravan with a Christmas gift for you! Includes Christmas craft activity in the visitor centre. There will be allocated time slots.
A drop in Christmas craft session, wreath making and a visit to Father Christmas! There’s lots going on at Abberton Reservoir Centre this festive season.
Langdon Visitor Centre will be putting on a variety of Christmas events, including Santa at the Haven and Christmas crafts from 2nd December.
Pop along and browse the gift shop for some wonderful nature themed gifts to kick start your Christmas shopping at Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve and cosy up by the fire to enjoy a festive punch and a mince pie. There will be some craft stalls featuring wooden and woollen items made by volunteers. Relax and soak up the festive spirit with some carols and festive favourites as Rowhedge Community choir who will entertain you between 2pm-3pm.
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.
Join Crafty Carol for a Festive Button Craft Workshop She’ll be loaded with ideas, buttons and crafty knowhow! suitable for children and adults £5 donation for a limited number – 1 hour workshop! Call 01375 643342 to book
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!
This amazing soft play is throwing a family Christmas pj party! Entry to the soft play, a disco, food and unlimited squash, meet Mr and Mrs Claus, plus a mince pie and glass of prosecco for the adults! All for just £13.
My Gym Christmas camp is a fun filled adventure with lots of Christmassy games, gymnastics, swings and zip wire! You will get creative to make your own decorations too! Don’t forget snacks and drinks are provided. Check out the link for more information on times and prices.
Check out this event for a fun, festive day out. You will arrive and write your very own letter to Santa and then be taken to meet Santa himself. Once you have had your one to one time with Santa and received your small personalised gift you will then be free to visit his helpers and take part in activities and crafts, see the miniature fairy village as well as have a ride through the forest on The Santa express land train.
Enjoy afternoon tea whilst meeting Mickey and his pals, Queen Elsa & Princess Ana plus a few superheroes too. £20 per adult and £22.50 per child.
Christmas fun for children under 12 at Champions Manor Hall. Tickets cost £7 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 story where the audience become part of the story and are encouraged to join in and get involved. Includes crafts and Christmas box to
Big Fish Little Fish Family is back at Cliffs Pavilion this Christmas! World renowned old school legend DJ Trax will be playing grown up dance music for the family ravers. There will be themed crafts, giant balloons, glitter cannons, bubble machine, club lighting (no strobes), face painting and the BFLF famous parachute dance. The event is aimed at families with younger children (8s and under) but older siblings are welcome. Adults are not admitted unless accompanied by a child. Music is monitored an played at a safe level for younger ears. Festive fancy dress is optional (but encouraged!).
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 Havens Hospice. 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.
Get excited for a day of festive fun and sign up to this Run Santa Run event for Havens Hospice! 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!
Come and run or walk 5k, get into the festive spirit whilst raising money for the homeless for Hope House Essex.
Suitable for all ages! Santa costumes will be provided and included in your ticket price. Registration opens at 12 midday. Run starts at 1pm. Check out the link to book your place.
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!