Christmas ideas: shake up your social life with these alternative Christmas activities

Posted by
Alix Walker
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From twinkling light trails to cosy rooftop cabins, this December is all about embracing the great outdoors.

Are you ready to get in the Christmas spirit? Look no further. 

From mulled everything, to ski-chalet karaoke and feel-good films, we’ve picked out our absolute favourite festive activities for you to try – and categorised them, too.

Just consider it out Christmas gift to you.

Perfect pop-ups

Because there really is a Christmas pop-up to suit everyone this year.

Christmas cocktails and karaoke

Liverpool and Manchester: Bar Hütte; until 31 December. 

Chalet chic in bar hütte in Manchester and Liverpool.

With pop-up ski chalets, or ‘hüttes’, in both Manchester’s Spinningfields Square and Liverpool’s Paradise Street, the Bar Hütte pop-up is doing its best to bring après-ski vibes to the north. Each hütte is decked out like an Aspen cabin with plenty of comfy blankets and cushions to relax on while you drink warm eggnog topped with whipped cream or hot gin and gingerbread. The best part? They each have karaoke machines so you can belt out Wham!’s Last Christmas to a select audience.

Price: Each hütte costs from £40 for 1 hour 45 minutes;

Soak up the season

London: Winterland Alpine Club, Fulham; until 29 February.

For a Christmas meet-up with a difference, book a Nordic hot tub for six guests at Fulham’s Winterland, overlooking the Thames (£150 for 45 minutes). Alternatively head to the Moose Bar for cocktails, drink mulled wine round a fire pit, or reserve an igloo, ski bubble or feasting table for supper: choose from a fondue and charcuterie platter, macaroni cheese topped with toasted breadcrumbs and Aspen fries sprinkled with parmesan and truffle oil. 

Price: £5 entry;

The goldstar of pop-ups

London: The Berkeley Rooftop Winter Cinema, Knightsbridge; until 5 January 2020.

There are only eight seats at this intimate annual screening of festive favourites on the rooftop of swanky hotel The Berkeley in Knightsbridge. If you can bag a ticket (be warned, they sell out fast), you’ll lounge in cosy wooden booths with sheepskin blankets and a heated canopy, London glistening below. The gold marker? Being served champagne, hot chocolate, gratinated truffle macaroni cheese, confit duck croquettes and a plethora of other treats as you watch either Home Alone or The Holiday. This really is next level Christmas indulgence. 

Price: £95;

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Festive flicks riverside

London: Southbank Centre Winter Pop-Up Cinema; until 29 December

The Holiday? Check. Home Alone? Check. Dirty Dancing? Well, it doesn’t scream Christmas but that doesn’t mean it won’t when accompanied by a large glass of red, some mince pie popcorn (yes, it’s a thing), a comfy beanbag and plenty of twinkling lights at this pop-up winter cinema. Afterwards explore the rest of the Southbank Centre’s festive offering of Christmas markets, food vans, live comedy and cabaret.

Price: £15 plus £3 booking fee for non-members;

Festive foodie haunts

Everyone knows the real spirit of Christmas is to be found in a glass of hot gin or a vat of raclette.

Festive cheers

London: Christmas Under The Canopy, King’s Cross; until 22 December.

Canopy Market at King’s Cross is going fully festive this season with an impressive roster of events, including the Mexican Christmas Market (6-8 December) serving traditional sweet bread and hot chocolate from restaurants such as Casa and Plaza Pastor, the Winter Craft Beer Festival (6-8 December), and Crafty Fox Market (13-15 December) for beautiful artisan gifts. Expect carol singers, live jazz and seasonal workshops, from wrapping paper printing to wreath-making with Nikki Tibbles.

Price: free;

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Riverside feast

London: Winter Village at Battersea Power Station; every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Christmas Day.

Venture south of the river this Christmas to Battersea Power Station’s Winter Village. First, work up an appetite on the mini ice rink along the Grade II-listed Coaling Jetty and then have a go on the curling lanes. Afterwards, feast at the River Walk Christmas Market on artisan panettone, spiced cider and seasonal cheese. There will also be arts and crafts stalls – pick up a Log Cabin home fragrance for that difficult-to-buy-for relative.

Price: free; battersea

Into the woods

London: The Winter Forest at Broadgate Circle, London; until 20 December.

Go down to the woods today at Broadgate circle's winter forest.

With a snow-covered forest, a pop-up Fever Tree Winter Lodge, gin masterclasses, whisky tastings, quiz nights and live music from the Herbert Smith Choir, there’s a veritable feast of festive happenings at The Winter Forest near Liverpool Street. And the food offering? The pop-up carvery serving Yorkshire pudding wraps in a giant tipi, cosy private dining area aptly named The Hideaway and a charity supperclub offering woodfired lobster should cover all bases.

Price: free entry;

Tipi village banquet

Leeds: Hinterland; until 14 December.

Hinterland is a pop-up winter village complete with drag shows, ice bar, live music and private tipis with open fires and a sound system. But it’s the food options that are really impressive with a menu that sounds like it was designed by Chrissy Teigen. Kick-off with pretzel chunks, gooey mustard cheese dip and crispy onions, followed by cauliflower steak and truffle butter. With mini clementine tarts and festive brownies for dessert, it’s a good job elasticated waistbands are in for a/w 2019.

Price: entry £10.50; tipis £55 per person;

Christmas on ice

Nothing screams festive like ice skating under the stars followed by boozy hot chocolate and cheese fondue.

Skating and festive tipis

London: City Island Ice Rink; 12-22 December.

Dubbed ‘Mini Manhattan’, London City Island (the manmade peninsula between the River Lea and the Thames) is the capital’s buzziest destination right now. And on 12 December the English National Ballet orchestra will be opening the island’s first ever open-air ice skating rink with music from The Nutcracker. If you visit between 12 and 15 December you’ll also find an artisan Christmas Market with festive tipis selling gifts, food stalls and workshops such as bauble-making and Christmas cracker sessions.

Price: £8 for 45-minutes’ skating;

Winter rainforest

Cornwall: Festival of Christmas at the Eden Project; until 30 December (ice skating until 23 February 2020).

Perfect your double axel at The Eden Project's ice rink in Cornwall.

The Eden Project, normally famous for its dramatic tropical plants housed in domes known as biomes, is fully dedicated to all things Christmas from now until the end of the year. Glide around an ice rink canopied by brightly coloured snowflakes then check out the Avenue of Lights display, which sees the surrounding gardens illuminated by huge willow lanterns modelled on the world’s most precious creatures. Plus, in the Mediterranean Biome you’ll be serenaded by festive tunes from local musicians as you ponder Luke Jerram’s eerily beautiful work Gaia Earth.

Price: £7 per ice skating session plus £26 entrance to the Eden Project;

Supersize ice-rink

Cardiff: Alpine Ice Trail; until 5 January 2020.

If you have Torvill-and-Dean aspirations there’s really only one place to ice skate this Christmas: Cardiff’s annual Winter Wonderland. They’ve set the bar high for December 2019 with the unveiling of the Alpine Ice Trail, a 250 metre-long open-air ice skating experience. You’ll be able to skate and spin the entire length of the Wonderland, past the Big Wheel, the ski gondolas and the huge Christmas tree decorated by local primary school children. It’s the only ice trail of its size in the UK.

Price: £11 per skate session;

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Skate among the stars

London: Winter at Skylight, Wapping; until 25 January.

Every year an otherwise grey multi-storey carpark in Wapping is transformed into a twinkling winter wonderland, complete with Europe’s only real-ice rooftop rink. This Christmas also sees the launch of The Fentimans Pink Gingerbread House installation, complete with sweet-adorned walls (the actual dream), candy canes and pink ginger cocktails. There are also cosy igloos and mountains huts available to hire and several heated après-skate bars serving restorative cocktails. Downstairs, you’ll find street food stalls serving winter warmers such as lamb koftas and halloumi fries.

Price: skate sessions £12 (tickets sold on-site only), tables from £10;

Rooftop cabin

Drink hot toddies draped in warm fluffy blankets while soaking up the winter skyline.

Whisky with a view

Edinburgh: Cold Town House; open all year.

If you haven’t got that Christmassy feeling yet head straight to the rooftop bar at the Cold Town House on the Grassmarket. Grab yourself a dram of whisky from the vintage Nissan van bar, wrap yourself in a fluffy blanket, order some beer-battered king prawns and warm your hands by one of the giant firepits while gazing up at Edinburgh castle. Has Mariah Carey started singing in your head yet? Just give it a minute…

Price: free;

Make a wish

Leeds: Issho; open now.

May all your Christmas wishes come true on Issho's wishing tree terrace.

The cocktail menu at Japanese rooftop restaurant Issho’s new Wishing Tree Terrace is so good it’s worth planning your Christmas calendar around. Concoctions such as Arekisanda (that’s marshmallow-infused Roku gin, crème de cacao and cinnamon) put the standard bellini to shame. In the middle of the terrace overlooking Leeds you’ll find a wishing tree inspired by the Japanese Festival, Tanabata. Write your Christmas wish onto a paper tag and tie it to the twinkling branches.

Price: free;


London: Lodge d’Argent; until 29 February.

Ski chalets are a recurring theme for Christmas 2019 and Coq d’Argent’s rooftop numbers are the pick of the bunch. Each chalet – decked out with the requisite hygge vibes – fits up to eight people and boasts an impressive menu. Drinks-wise the Choco Chalet (cognac, Martini Rosso, crème de cacao and dark chocolate) is the cocktail to warm your cockles and cheese-lovers will be in heaven with whole baked Vacherin and croutons.

Price: minimum spend of £250 per chalet;

Cocktails in the clouds

London: Christmas at Lost in Brixton; open all winter.

The downside of most rooftops is their size – not so at Lost in Brixton which has room for 440 revellers, all under a heated canopy roof. Gingerbread espresso martinis and hot negronis will be flowing as DJs play festive tracks, and if you get peckish you can simply order food from the Brixton Market traders below, via your smartphone – think Fish Wings & Tings, Honest Burger, Seven at Brixton tapas, and Champagne & Fromage who do an excellent baked camembert with truffle.

Price: free entry; drinks packages available; 

Add some sparkle

Light trails created by award-winning artists illuminate stately homes, rainforests and skyscrapers.

Light up

Sussex: Glow Wild 2019, Wakehurst, West Sussex; until 22 December.

Who needs Kew when you have Wakehurst in Sussex?

Kew Gardens’ annual light trail might win the headlines but sister site Wakehurst’s offering is the Solange to Kew’s Beyoncé. With installations from over 10 artists, as well as lanterns, fire torches, projections and soundscapes across the stunning grounds, it also has the UK’s tallest living Christmas tree. Warm up post-trail by toasting marshmallows over giant fire pits, with glasses of mulled cider and roasted chestnuts.

Price: £15 per adult;

Sparkling installation

Birmingham: Once Upon A Time In Christmas; until 23 December.

The sparkliest spot in the UK this Christmas goes to Bompas & Parr’s festive pop-up at the Bullring & Grand Central. The installation reflects life inside a giant Christmas fairylight, with 88,000 twinkly bulbs and mirrors. Wander down a pulsating electric cable to a cocktail bar for a Hot Bourbon Christmas Tree or Winter Spiced Champagne. Hungry? Book the Festive Tea for mince pies topped with meringue and edible gold.

Price: free; queue jump plus cocktail ticket, £8.50; Festive Tea, £12.50;

Instagram magic

Oxfordshire: Blenheim Palace; until 1 January.

Searching for your winning Christmas Instagram shot? Look no further than Blenheim Palace’s Tunnel of Light, lit up by over 100,000 pea-lights as part of the spectacular Illuminated Light Trail. If that’s not enough wow factor, seeing the Grade I-listed castle drowned in fuchsia pink light should be. There’s also a Christmas market with beautiful ceramics, textiles, food and toys. And 20 minutes away you’ll find Bicester Village, with its lantern-lit walkways and late-night shopping should you want to combine both.

Price: £18;

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Light power

London: Chromotherapy Christmas, Victoria; until 11 January.

Digital artists Squidsoup are making a name for themselves with their creative light installations. This Christmas their ‘Wave’ installation in Eccleston Yard, Victoria, has got people talking. Each of the 500 suspended colourful orbs produces a different ‘vibration’ (orange should energise, yellow should stimulate happiness, blue should calm) to soothe you as you explore.

Price: free; 

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Digital artwork: Justin Metz

Photography: Getty


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Alix Walker

Alix Walker is editor-at-large at Stylist magazine. She works across print, digital and video and could give Mary Berry a run for her money with her baking skills. 

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