Ready or not, the big C is here. We’re talking about Christmas. Yet no matter how early we start preparing, there are always a million things to do at Christmas in Bristol that we somehow manage to miss. Every year we forget to buy at least one family member a present and are scrambling around shopping on Christmas Eve. That’s before we even remember to put up our decorations! So you have one less thing to worry about, we’ve put together this guide to some of the best things to do in Bristol this Christmas.
1. Pick the perfect Christmas tree from a local farm
Before the festivities can begin you have to sort out a Christmas tree. If you’re thinking of dusting off your old artificial tree currently sitting in the attic again this year, we won’t judge. But nothing beats the sight and smell of the real thing. Especially if you’ve picked one out yourself from one of the wonderful forests and garden centres near Bristol, like Frenchay Forestry and Ali & Joe’s.
Kickstart the festive spirit in your household with a family day-out deciding on the perfect Christmas tree. Whether you’re after a freshly-cut fir or a sustainable and locally sourced tree, check out our guide for best places to buy Christmas trees in Bristol.
If you ask us, Christmas is nothing without the music; it just wouldn’t be the same without traditional Christmas carols and modern Christmas songs. Mariah Carey is synonymous with the season these days. So how about listening to a classical rendition of All I Want For Christmas at The Mount Without on December 23? Plus, everything from The Little Drummer Boy to Let It Snow.
More of a fan of Silent Night than Last Christmas? See a string quartet perform Christmas carolsat St Mary Redcliffe Church on December 29. Playing the likes of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, O Holy Night and more. Oh, and did we mention all these concerts were performed under the gentle glow of candlelight? To get your tickets to these Candlelight Christmas Concerts head here.
3. Glide into Christmas by going ice skating
We’ll all be indulging more than our fair share of mulled wine, mince pies and turkey slices this Christmas in Bristol. So some exercise is going to be needed. What better festive activity to burn some calories than ice skating? No one expects you to become the next Torvill or Dean overnight, but these brilliant ice skating rinks around Bristol will be open all of Christmas. If you get knocked down, to paraphrase Chumbawamba, just get up again!
4. Hit up one of the Christmas markets
Everyone knows about Bristol Christmas Market. It’s among the best Christmas markets in the country – brimming with dazzling lights, tasty festive treats, handmade gifts and plenty of activities. Christmas in Bristol cannot begin without it. But it’s not the only festive market happening in Bristol in 2023, while a trip to Bath Christmas Market shouldn’t be off the cards either. See here for the best Christmas markets around Bristol.
5. Play hide-and-seek with a 15ft ‘Elf On The Shelf’
Have you been good this Christmas? The giant Elf on the Shelf knows all as it pops up on the city’s highest vantage points. Between December 1 and 24, an enormous 15 ft tall Scout Elf – wearing the iconic red suit and hat with white trim, white collar and mittens – will appear atop several of Bristol’s tallest buildings. Turning the city into a larger-than-life game of hide and seek. Daily clues will be shared on the Redcliffe & Temple BID’s social media channels. While eagle-eyed fans might witness some classic Scout Elf mischief, as the elf unravels toilet rolls or eats festive treats.
6. Boogie down at this winter roller disco
Propyard is adding an ’80s twist to its Winterland celebrations this year. Returning November 25 to December 23, the star attraction is a winter roller disco. Not only is it providing 45-minute skate sessions for all the family but will host Propyard’s adults-only Winter Social events – when the lights drop down low and some awesome DJs pop along. It’s not the only retro activity at Winterland 2023, with wall-to-wall classic arcade machines and cosy ski lodges. To learn more head here.
7. Wander through a wintery Westonbirt
Spectacular at any time of year, Westonbirt Arboretum transforms into an enchanted forest this Christmas 2023. Take a walk through a breathtaking Christmas light trail, featuring interactive displays amongst its magnificent trees. The mile-long trail, Enchanted Christmas, starts on November 24 and runs every Friday and Saturday until Christmas. You can also visit the Christmas Village to enjoy festive food and drink stalls and traditional fairground rides.
8. Head down to Vintage Winter Wonderland
Taking over Millennium Square until January 2, the Bristol’s Vintage Winter Wonderland brings plenty of entertainment in the form of a helter-skelter, dodgems and other vintage funfair games. You’ll also find an après chalet-style bar, food stalls and plenty of festive cheer on the Harbourside.
9. Engage your senses with this winter light trail ‘with a twist’
Combining art and technology for an immersive winter trail suitable for all ages, The Lumosphere features 10 unique installations that you can see, hear, smell and touch. Taking place across two weekends (December 9, 10, 16 and 17), the winter illumination “walk with a twist” will set up alongside Leigh Court, in and around The Stables. Each installation is centred around a different theme – like fluid, sharp, soft or spectrum – but combines to create one flowing narrative. You’ll also be able to interact and play with each one! Head here to learn more.
10. Book your Christmas party with a twist
Christmas parties, boring right? Not at Spiegeltent. Having been on the harbourside for the past two years, these cabaret-themed Christmas parties return this December. Alongside a three-course dinner and endless fizz, your Christmas party will include incredible performances – anything from acrobatics to contortionists, cabaret to magic.
Other events worth checking out at the pop-up event space include: Once Upon a Time in Bristol, fusing high-energy circus acts, comedy and live music, on December 21 to 23; and the Funky Festive Throwdown, with The Allergies performing live and DJ Yoda with his 50th Anniversary of hip-hop show on December 22. Plus, there are also plenty of family-friendly performances to enjoy this year, from cabaret to circus, family raves and more
11. Head for some after-hours festivities at Wake The Tiger
The world’s first ‘Amazement Park’ is bringing the weird and wonderful to Christmas with its Festive After Hours events. Wake The Tiger is hosting five adult-only evenings in the alternate world of Meridia on December 5, 6, 7, 13 and 15. Besides a unique exploration of the 30-room multi-sensory art walk-through experience, you’ll also receive access to festive drinks and some of the most unique Christmas photos in Bristol. To learn more head here.
12. See some festive theatre
Don’t ask us why, but there’s something so Christmassy about heading to the theatre in December. Get a taste of pantomime by seeing Peter Pan at Bristol Hippodrome (December 2 to 31) – starring Poirot’s David Suchet as Captain Hook. After a bit more more madness and mayhem than a traditional panto? The Good, the Bad & The Coyote Ugly (November 24 to January 20) is a brand-new alternative comedy mash heading to the Wild West at The Wardrobe Theatre. Other theatre shows this Christmas include Bristol Old Vic Theatre presents Arabian Nights (November 23 to January 6), and Oliver Twist at Tobacco Factory Theatre (December 1 to January 21).
13. Make your own mulled wine
Most recipes just require you to warm up red wine, oranges, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and a touch of sugar or honey to taste – and it’s as easy as popping it all in a saucepan together and simmering on low (with a pan cover) for just 15 minutes. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try these great places to buy mulled wine in Bristol.
14. Meet the big man himself
BS3 Santa returns to Bristol from November 26 to December 23 with a newly reworked
production. Created by Stewart Wright during the height of the COVID pandemic, the show was originally performed on people’s doorsteps. But this 50-minute interactive show for all ages will be performed at venues across Bristol this Christmas. See BS3 Santa at Zion Community Art Space (November 26), Emersons Green Library (December 4), Wardrobe Theatre (December 10 & 11), Yeo Valley HQ Canteen (December 12) and The Hen and Chicken (December 16 to 23).
15. Take an enchanting trip to Narnia
The Festival of Light returns with more life-size lanterns than ever (November 11 to January 7), exploring a world where it is “always winter and never Christmas”. We’re talking about Narnia of course. Step through the wardrobe and discover a world of illuminated characters, from the mighty Aslan to the bewitching White Witch. You’ll also discover show-stopping worlds of treasured Children’s tales like Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and Winnie the Pooh.
But everywhere you go at Longleat, you’ll discover Christmassy surprises. From Britain’s biggest singing Christmas tree – lit up with over 88,000 twinkling lights – to the Santa Train, which will journey to the North Pole where Father Christmas is waiting in his grotto. Meanwhile, the phenomenal light show at Longleat House will bring the historic facade to life each evening, synchronised to festive music, as well as an all-new 60m fountain display on Half Mile Pond.
16. Step into Santa’s Enchanted Woodland
You’ll always have a wild and wonderful time at the Bristol Zoo Project. But joining the wolves, lynxes, wolverines, zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, geladas and meerkats this Christmas is none other than (a traditionally green-robed) Santa himself. Step into the charmingly Festive Woodland on weekends from December 2 to January 7, then every day from December 16 to 23, where he and his forest friends will be hosting drop-in story sessions for festive folklore and fables.
17. Tuck into Christmas lunch on ‘Britain’s most luxurious train’
Described as Britain’s most luxurious train, the Northern Belle will be departing from Bristol Temple Meads on December 16. Probably the poshest train journey you’ll likely ever experience, the round-trip will include a seven-course festive lunch, flowing champagne, and the stunning sights of the English countryside. It’s not all about wine and dining, onboard entertainment will sprinkle a little extra bit of Christmas magic, with the likes of a table magician and strolling musicians.
18. Go ‘Twilight Tobogganing’ by thousands of fairy lights
Turning tobogganing into a magical experience for all, Twilight Tobogganing is running until January 3, 2024, at the Mendip Activity Centre. The slope has been decked out with 10,000 fairy lights, coloured flood lights and lasers, as well as festive music and a snow machine. Afterwards, relax by wandering through an ancient woodland illuminated by Christmas lights. This will lead to the woodland campfire, where worn-out tobogganers can toast marshmallows, make s’mores and light sparklers.
19. Cosy up with a Christmas film
After all these exciting activities, you’re going to be worn out! It’s time to wrap on the sofa and fall in love with our favourite Christmas films all over again. Take your pick of some of the newest Christmas film releases such as Spirited and Falling for Christmas, as well as Christmas classics such as Elf and Miracle On 34th Street.
There’s even a whole TV channel dedicated to Christmas to get you feeling festive. So get cosy on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate or something stronger because, baby it’s cold outside! Also, check out our guide to the Christmas films here.