The holidays are upon us and there are plenty of ways to find some festive cheer up and down the country. From a Winter Wonderland in the Big Smoke to a night of Welsh festive tradition, Rough Guides editor Jacqui Agate picks the top accessible things to do this Christmas.
The bright lights of Winter Wonderland
Explore London’s magical Winter Wonderland
22nd November 2018 – 6th January 2019
The capital’s mammoth Christmas event, Winter Wonderland kicks off at the start of the season. The festive site is filled with gingerbread house-style market stalls doling out mulled wine and bratwurst, and family-focused rides from Ferris wheels to carousels. A perennial favourite is The Magical Ice Kingdom, a maze of ice and snow sculptures, and Zippo’s Christmas Circus, home to acrobats, comedians and clowns.
The site is fully accessible and all the pre-bookable events (including the sculpture house and the circus) are wheelchair friendly. Carers are granted a free ticket too.
The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway with all its vintage charms
Take a ride on Cumbria’s Santa Express
Selected dates 2nd November – 22nd December 2018
The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway winds out from the seaside village of Ravenglass, slicing through a particularly scenic swathe of the Cumbrian countryside – and its historic steam train has a special festive guest in its sights this season. You’ll journey northeast to Dalegarth where you can disembark and meet Santa Claus in his grotto. If you fancy a festive feast, book the Christmas lunch option: you’ll get a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings at the quaint Turntable Café on Platform 1.
The main railway platforms are accessible and there are train carriages specially adapted for wheelchair users. Wheelchairs are available to borrow from the origin platform if needed.
Santa Land and the Christmas Tree Maze in Edinburgh
Get lost in Edinburgh’s Christmas Tree Maze
17th November 2018 – 5th January 2019
Part of the Scottish capital’s annual festive event, the Christmas Tree Maze is exactly what it sounds like: a glittering labyrinth of spruces in Edinburgh’s city centre. Those who work their way to the centre will discover Santa’s elves’ workshop and earn themselves a special Christmas gift. It’s guaranteed to be a hit with the kids.
The festive maze, and indeed the whole of “Santa Land” where the attraction is based, is suitable for wheelchair users – the paths are flat or ramped, and there’s disabled parking nearby.
Sing Christmas carols at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall
23rd December 2018
What better way to get into the festive spirit than an afternoon spent singing carols? Held at Glasgow’s grand Royal Concert Hall, “A Christmas Cracker” is the work of the talented City of Glasgow Chorus and Orchestra. The show includes Yuletide classics and modern festive hits, including a lively rendition of the well-loved 12 Days of Christmas. Best of all is the chance to pull Christmas crackers with the hundreds of other show-goers.
The venue’s north entrance on Killermont Street is suitable for wheelchair users; lifts travel to all floors, and there are disabled toilet facilities too. A Sennheiser infrared assisted audio system is in use for those with hearing difficulties and guides are available in braille and large print.
Powis Castle grounds carpeted in snow
Discover the magical grounds of Powis Castle
30th November 2018 – 16th December 2018
The manicured grounds of National Trust gem Powis Castle are a delight year round – but they have an added charm in winter. The elegant terraces are laced with lights, the trees hung with baubles, and a towering spruce stands proud before the entryway. The castle’s grand state rooms are also bedecked for the season. If you’ve little ones in tow, it’s worth booking a breakfast with Santa: feast on a delicious breakfast in the Courtyard Restaurant, before joining Father Christmas in the bookshop to hear a festive tale.
A wheelchair-friendly route around the grounds is detailed in your free welcome guide, and there are also sensory tours of the site available. There’s step-free access to the castle’s lower floors, the shop and the restaurant, and carers are granted free admission.
Experience Christmas Nights at St Fagans National Museum of History
6th – 8th December 2018
For an insightful glimpse into Welsh festive folklore, attend “Christmas Nights” at Cardiff’s lauded history museum. The event includes a version of the historic folk tradition of Mari Lwyd: a decorated model horse’s head is carried on a pole by an individual disguised by a cloak, who jigs to traditional music. You can also get hands on with craft workshops, listen to Plygain singers (who belt traditional Welsh carols) and hear costumed guides telling folk tales.
Most parts of the site are wheelchair accessible – the map (available from the entrance) signals the best way around the venue for those with limited mobility, and you can borrow a wheelchair if necessary. There’s also a Disabled Tour Vehicle on site to transport those less physically able around the site.
Beautifully presented afternoon tea at Titanic Belfast
Enjoy a festive afternoon tea at Titanic Belfast
25th November; Sundays throughout December 2018; 1st January 2019
The sumptuous afternoon tea served at Belfast’s revered Titanic museum gets a Christmas twist for the season. You’ll be seated in the Titanic Suite, decorated with garlands and light-covered trees, and serenaded by jazz musicians. For the menu, expect the usual scones with jam and clotted cream, plus mince pies, ginger cake, sandwiches laden with festive fillings and a glass of fizz. Afterwards, you can visit Santa in the Magical Workshop on site – here kids can write a Christmas letter, get stuck into some crafts and take away a Christmas gift from the man himself.
The museum is accessible throughout, with multiple disabled toilets, handrails, level entrances and lifts. If you’re planning to explore the exhibitions after your feast, you can reserve a wheelchair – there are also audio-described guides, plus ear defenders or other sensory aids for those with ASD.
Have a day of festive family fun at The Jungle in Magherafelt, Londonderry
Selected dates throughout December 2018
This woodland adventure park is transformed into a Christmas Wonderland for the season.
The Jungle is an adrenaline junkie’s paradise for the rest of the year, with paintballing, tree-top ropes course and more – but the park’s festive event is suitable for the whole family. Highlights include visiting Father Christmas in his grotto, which is nestled in the forest, stopping by the Woodland Petting Zoo and toasting marshmallows with Santa’s elves.
Most of the site is wheelchair accessible, with trained and friendly staff on hand to help those with learning difficulties or mobility issues – it’s advised that you make the venue aware of your needs before arrival.
Rough Guides would like to thank the following individuals, companies and picture libraries for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs (in order of appearance on the web page):
Header image: © Iain Cameron
Winter Wonderland: © IMG
Santa Express: © Mark Fielding
Santa Land, Edinburgh: © Iain Cameron
Powis Castle: © National Trust Images/John Mill
Titanic Belfast: © Elaine Hill Photography