THE UK’S TOP 16 SANTA GROTTOS 2023
Meet Father Christmas on boats, trains, biomes, caves and secret woodland worlds
Although his job mostly involves sitting in a chair and being jolly until The Big Night, Santa does have to park that juicy, red behind into a lot of grottos each December.
And if you’re overwhelmed by the choice of Santa tête-à-têtes, Time Well Spent’s elves have rounded up the UK's best Santa experiences for you, from meetings in extraordinary, elven worlds to magical portals to follow festive wishes and meet the Big Guy, snowy, three-day experiences, trains, boats, underground caves, pods 450 ft above beaches and tropical biomes. It's all below-ho-ho.
Pure Christmas magic, which leaves visitors of all ages in no doubt that Father Christmas exists and resides within the ancient elven civilisation at Lapland UK. This extraordinary, immersive experience starts when your child opens the icy cold, wax-sealed invitation from the Big Guy, inviting them to Lapland to help the elves make their toys. Deep in Ascot's snow-covered, Enchanted Forest, the elf folk present the Small People with special elven passports, enabling entry through the secret doorway to Lapland, where they will discover a jaw-dropping world full of elven characters, the toy factory, real reindeer and huskies, Mother Christmas’s Kitchen, The Elven Village complete with ice rink, elf emporium, restaurant and Elva’s Post Office for a magical, four-hour experience in an astonishingly detailed and sprawling world. Finally, deeper in the forest, past the magical sleigh, they head to Father Christmas’s wooden cabin and see their own names handwritten on the Good List, before meeting St Nick himself, in front of a roaring fire - he knows plenty about each child and will present them with a toy and a special bell, only awarded to his best elves. Lapland UK, Whitmoor Forest, Swinley Rd, Winkfield Row, Ascot SL5 8BD. Tickets from £59 pp in November and from £89 pp in December. Opens on 11 November until 24 December
Wishmas: A Fantastical Christmas Adventure
This event is made by immersive entertainment juggernauts, Secret Cinema and directed by Punchdrunk’s former, acclaimed director Elgiva Field, so expectations and excitement are as high as Santa’s sleigh.
The experience will transform the huge space beneath Waterloo Station into The Old Bauble Factory, where visitors will enter a magical portal into an enchanted world to discover where all of the Christmas wishes take flight. Visitors will board the Wishmas Train and meet Wishkeepers, Robins and Father Christmas himself as they explore magical rooms and ensure that no wish is ever forgotten, before enjoying Christmas crafts and cheer in the Wishmas Fair.
The Old Bauble Factory, 1 Launcelot Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 7AD. 14 November - 31 December. Tickets from £29pp. Meet and Greet Santa experience from £69
Santa Breaks at Aviemore Resort
Three days brimming with Christmas magic, including the UK’s only free-range reindeer herd, Santa’s grand arrival, real snow, plus a visit to his woodland grotto and elves’ workshop.
There is also a Christmas panto, festive family movie pass, a gaggle of daytime and evening Christmas entertainment. And on top of that, there’s a hearty Scottish breakfast each morning, special, festive dining experiences every day and splash fun in the indoor pool with flume and wave machine. Magical Santa Weekends, Macdonald Aviemore Resort, Highland Resort, Aviemore, Inverness-shire, PH22 1PN. Select dates between 4-15 Dec
Father Christmas at The Eden Project
There are few places as other-worldly and exciting as the Eden Project, so it’s no surprise that Father Christmas has set up camp there this December.
Little ones can meet him and his newest helper Elfie, who is fresh out of Elf Training Camp. Elfie is keen to help, but accidentally causes havoc. Children discover how he learns to be brave and teams up with Father Christmas to deliver a Christmas miracle. During each 40-minute session, kids will check out Santa’s Eden camp, including elf bunk beds, bedside stories and letters from children before meeting Father Christmas himself, leaving with a storybook of Elfie's adventures, plus a chocolate treat. Eden Project. Bodelva, Cornwall, PL24 2SG. Dates TBC. From £10 for a child with one adult.
Take Europe's Steepest Cable Railway to Santa's Zipmas Grotto
For a grotto experience with a difference, head to Zipmas at Zip World, North Wales, which can only be accessed via Europe’s steepest cable railway.
Santa’s grotto is so special and secret, it can’t be reached by foot, so you must descend deep below ground on a special cable car, surrounded by twinkling lights.
On arrival, you will encounter three magical chambers, housing a light maze, Santa’s Workshop and beautifully lit tunnels to the final chamber, where the Big Man will be awaiting you in his cost cabin, warmed with his log burner.
You can also meet the elves, create slate baubles, or have a go at Zipmas’s Grotto Golf experience – the world’s only adventure golf set in a cave.
Zipmas, Llechwedd, Blaenau Ffestiniog LL41 3NB. 24 November - 24 December. From £20 per adult, £22 per child
Santa in the Sky at Brighton i360
Father Christmas is very at home in the sky - after all, he spends most of Christmas Eve up there on his sleigh.
So he’s inviting families to visit him and his elves 450ft above Brighton beach inside the Brighton i360 glass pod.
It includes a 25 minute pod journey, meeting with Santa and a gift for every child.
Afterwards, you can also enjoy a festive themed cream tea in their beachfront building.
Brighton i360, Lower Kings Road, Brighton, BN1 2LN. Tickets £6.85 - £12.95 per child. £19.95 per adult
Santaland at Winter Wonderland
The capital’s annual, Christmas mecca returns for its 16th year on 17 November with an entire land dedicated to the big guy himself. Santaland has kid-friendly rides, the Santa Express Train and the chance to meet the Father Christmas, as well as firepits for marshmallow toasting, the apline, Explorer’s Rest and a Santaland Chill Out area for little ones.The event includes a Magical Ice Kingdom made from more than 500 tonnes of ice and snow, plus an apres ski ice bar; ice rink, a real ice slide; wintry Cirque Berserk circus show; Zippos Christmas Circus Show, ice sculpting workshop; open air Christmas markets and a Bavarian Village. There are rides for all ages, from Ice Mountain to a ride around a Christmas tree in giant baubles.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London. 17 November - 1 January. Off peak tickets are free and peak tickets are £7.50
Santa's Winter Wonderland at Snowdome
Play and slide in a real snow wonderland, complete with sledges, snow slides, snow tubes and proper, falling snow. Then join Santa and friends for their all new, Santa in Wonderland stage show. Explore Santa’s Village, meeting his real, furry animal friends before finally visiting the Big Man’s home and leaving him a letter in the magical, talking post box. SnowDome, Leisure Island, River Drive, Tamworth, Staffordshire, B79 7ND. Until 1 January
Santa's Special Trains - Epping Ongar Railway
For turbo-Polar Express vibes (in Essex) head to the glorious Epping Ongar Railway to board Santa’s Special Train.
Grab some festive drinks and nibbles and listen to the brass band while awaiting the magical train, then head over the footbridge for photos with the man in red and a view of the steam train’s grand arrival.
Once onboard, children can write their letters to Santa and will be entertained by his elf friends, while waiting for Father Christmas to waddle through each carriage, meeting the children and giving them presents. Epping Ongar Railway, Station Approach, Chipping Ongar, Ongar, Essex, CM5 9BN.
Select dates from 24 November to 24 Dec.
The Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm
Marsh Farm never disappoints in the Santa stakes. Small People must first head to the Elf Academy, where they will learn the crucial magic required to be inducted as honorary elves.
Once they’ve received their elf passports, they stop off at Mother Christmas’ kitchen, for treats to fuel them through the adventure, which includes an audience with the Mr FC himself, a trip to the Teddy Bear market and a visit to Elfville’s Toy Shop, where they can exchange their Magical Snowy (elf dosh) for any toy on the shelves. This year, they have added rides, a Santa train and ice rink.
Marsh Farm, Marsh Farm Road, South Woodham Ferrers, CM3 5WP. From 18 November to 24 Dec. Tickets from £30pp
Christmas with Shrek
For a swampy twist on the traditional grotto, head to Shrek’s Adventure, where the Big Green Ogre dons the famous red suit to take children on a festive, fairytale adventure from Far Far Away on a flying bus, guided by Donkey. They’ll encounter Puss in Boots, Pinocchio, Princess Fiona, Cinderella and the Muffin Man along the way, before their happily ever after, culminating in an audience with Santa Shrek for photos and sweet treats.Check out our Shrek’s Adventure review to find out more.
Shrek’s Adventure tickets. Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1. Dates TBC
Chelsea Christmas Grotto
Sloane Square’s Chelsea Christmas Grotto launches a new Christmas experience, in partnership with festival events juggernauts, Underbelly. Follow the Christmas trees to Santa’s fancy grotto - scented by luxury fragrance maison, Diptyque.The Big FC will read them a story in a 25 minute session and each child will receive a gift from his elves.Afterwards, the family can explore the winter wonderland, featuring festive food and drink, twinkling winter terrace and a Bavarian Curling Rink.
Chelsea Christmas Grotto. Sloane Square, London SW1W 8EG. 19 November - 24 December excluding 18 and 24 December. Tickets £15pp.
Noir Kringle - The Black Santa's Grotto Experience
Amazingly, Noir Kringle is London’s only diverse Santa experience, launched in 2018 to give children and parents the opportunity to visit a magical Christmas grotto where Father Christmas and all of his elves are Black.
Noir Kringle events have been sell out hits every year since, for families who value the importance of positive Black representation, inclusion, and diversity.
Mr Kringle loves rum coke and sorrel for Christmas Eve and his cosy workshop is full of the sounds, smells, and spirit of Christmas that encapsulate Black British culture.
Noir Kringle, Crooked Billet Yard, Shoreditch, London, E2 8AF. 16 - 19 December.
Set Sail with Santa
If a Santa rendezvous on dry land doesn’t float your boat, perhaps a Santa boat will?
Santa’s embracing some self care away from the North Pole on a cruise around Poole, and you can join him for some mulled wine, mince pies and carols while you sail around Brownsea Island, Sandbanks Peninsula, Studland Bay and more.
Santa meanders around the boat, meeting the little ones and dishing out gifts. After leaving your 1.15 hour Christmas cruise, you can wander around the Quay and admire the Christmas tree and festive shops.
Santa Cruise, The Quay, Poole BH15 1BQ. Until 2-24 December. Tickets from £15pp
Winter's Tail at Chessington World of Adventures
Follow the jolly elves as they guide you through a snowy wonderland with real falling snow, to Santa’s cosy cabin for an audience with the Big Guy. Afterwards, children head to his Toy Workshop top explore where he builds his gifts and can choose their own present to take home. Kids can also help the elves make (and eat) festive treats in the Magical Cookie Kitchen as well as enjoying The Wild Christmas Panto and a host of live entertainment to get them in the Christmas spirit, from carols to audiences with Mrs Christmas to real reindeer. And on top of that, they can enjoy some family favourite rides, like Room on the Broom and Adventure Tree, as well as lions, gorillas, sharks and rays at the zoo and Sea Life aquarium.
Chessington World of Adventures.Leatherhead Rd, Chessington KT9 2NE. Until 25 November - 31 December