From treehouse adventures and distillery tours to wildlife drawing and jewellery workshops, your loved one will look back fondly on these experiences for years to come.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably in need of Christmas gift inspiration. And you’re probably also feeling a tiny bit anxious at the prospect of getting someone a present they won’t actually appreciate or remember. Because we’ve all been there: unwrapping a beauty gift sets with two body butters we’re never going to use; pointless gadgets we know we won’t get round to buying batteries for; chocolate boxes we just don’t have the heart to tackle on Christmas Day. Sometimes, Christmas can feel like an exercise in simply accumulating more stuff.
For that reason, the perfect present doesn’t have to be a physical product. Experiential gifts will be remembered long after the season of indulgence has passed, and show that you’ve put time and care into picking something truly personal. And they’re increasingly popular, something that can perhaps be attributed in part to our desire to cut back on unnecessary waste. One in five Brits planned to buy experience-based gifts ahead of Christmas 2018, according to research by Barclaycard, spending an average of £129 each – a rise of 115% on the previous year.
Like all good things, though, tracking down the right experience can be hard work. So this festive season, we’ve taken the detective work out of your Christmas shopping and sought out some of the best experiential gifts the UK has to offer. Whether you’re shopping for an arty type, a serious foodie or an explorer who loves the great outdoors, we’ve found an experience to suit every personality.
Your nearest and dearest will look back fondly on these excursions, classes and subscriptions for years to come. Just remember, your company is a gift too – so why not share the experience?
Best experience gifts for under £30
Sipsmith Distillery Tour
With warm spiced tipples, Yuletide truffles and boozy gift sets all vying for our attention, Christmas is a great time of year for gin. Shopping for someone who loves a G&T? During a tour of Sipsmith’s distillery in Chiswick, west London, you’ll learn about the spirit’s murky history and see how mother’s ruin gets made (all with a drink in hand, of course). They even throw in a complimentary gin tasting session at the end.
Wild Life Drawing Class
At Wild Life Drawing sessions, attendees of all ages and abilities sketch live animals – from owls and sea turtles to parrots and wolf-like dogs – in lovely locations like the London Aquarium, Ace Hotel and the Royal Society of Sculptors. The company works with special animal handlers, sanctuaries and charities, so booking a ticket means you’re supporting conservation, too. Keep an eye on the website for forthcoming 2020 sessions – tickets sell out fast.
Kokedama Making Workshop
January means freezing temperatures, rainy weather and dark evenings – but some lush green foliage can freshen the air, bust the blues and transform our homes. Chelsea Physic Garden’s kokedama workshops are a perfect gift for the green-fingered friend in your life: the horticulture team will be on hand to help them create their very own Japanese hanging basket. While they’re there, they can wander the Snowdrop Trail, too.
Kokedama workshops at Chelsea Physic Garden, £10
Best experience gifts for under £70
The Jamie Oliver Cookery School
Great news for gourmands: The Jamie Oliver Cookery School has a new home in Islington. Whether the food lover in your life is looking to sharpen their basic cookery skills or discover a new cuisine altogether, there’s plenty to choose from on the programme – ranging from speedy 60-minute sessions to all-day courses; Vietnamese street food to handmade pasta and pad thai.
What’s more, every lesson booked helps support local community classes, which teach essential cooking skills to those who need them most. Book a class before the end of November, and Stylist readers will get 30% off their booking with code Stylist30.
London Terrariums Workshop
These workshops are dedicated to the art of gardening under glass, so your giftee can learn to craft and sustain their own beautiful miniature ecosystem. There are different classes based on a range of traditional terrariums: they’ll get to learn about the art form’s Victorian history, before getting their hands dirty themselves.
Petersham Nurseries Pasta Masterclass
Petersham Nurseries’ evening pasta masterclasses at La Goccia – its acclaimed Italian restaurant in Covent Garden – are a great experience to share with a friend or partner. Over the course of an hour and a half, you’ll be introduced to the basics of pasta-making before crafting your own ravioli, garganelli or tagliatelle.
At the end, you can take your pasta home (along with homemade tomato sauce, pasta flour and organic eggs from Petersham’s sister business Haye Farm) – or stay for dinner in the restaurant.
Best experience gifts for under £150
Experimental Perfume Club Apprentice Workshop
Buying perfume for someone else is a risky game, so why not gift them the chance to create their own? Experimental Perfume Club – the magical fragrance house specialising in bespoke scents – are holding weekend workshops throughout January at their east London laboratory. Guests at the small group masterclasses will learn the basics of perfumery and explore a selection of ingredients, before designing their own signature scent with expert help.
Canopy & Stars Gift Card
If your partner/relative/friend’s idea of a perfect weekend involves wood smoke, s’mores and glamping, we’ve got the perfect gift. Holiday site Canopy & Stars’ outdoorsy rentals include treehouses, yurts and gypsy caravans, and you can buy a gift card for any value to put towards the cost of a stay. Plus, a Christmas offer means you’ll get a £50 gift card free if you buy a gift card for £150 or more.
Wolf & Moon Jewellery Workshops
We’ve long loved Wolf & Moon’s playful jewellery, and now the cult London brand is opening its doors to help crafty attendees make their own. Book a friend onto one of the January or February workshops, and they’ll get a behind-the scenes tour of the studio before following an informal step-by-step tutorial to create their own sculptural charm hoop earrings or orange orchard necklace. There’ll be wine, too.
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Main image: Canopy & Stars. Wild Life Drawing image: Spencer Wilton. All other images courtesy of brands
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Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.
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