Christmas is when hotels come into their own, when foyers are dressed in colourful wreaths and choirs sing around a beautifully decorated tree; when friends and family forget daily life and mingle over creative cocktails in wintry pop-ups or enjoy festive afternoon teas by an open fire. Extending far beyond the realms of Christmas week, the season is full of exciting activities and events, such as the unveiling of tree installations created by world-renowned designers, card-making workshops, Christmas cookery courses and even live ballet and panto shows.
But most of all, when the evenings have darkened but the air still has that delicious frosty nip and people are dashing around for those last-minute items in the glow of twinkling window displays, the atmosphere of festive hotels is heartwarming. If you stay at a hotel during this time, perhaps in the city with your lover or the countryside with your parents and children, you know that from the moment the white-gloved concierge welcomes you in, to the time you leave as full as a bag of tinsel and glowing with memories, you’ll have truly indulged. Our pick of 12 festive hotels, a play on the song adapted by English composer Frederic Austin in 1909, rounds up some of the UK’s best places to stay for unforgettable Yuletide magic.
Twelve drummers drumming
Chintzy Christmas at Henrietta Hotel, London
Start the season with a bang at Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden. Miracle, a cocktail pop-up that began in New York, is the first outside the US. The London outpost borrows from chintzy American tradition, with a dollop of nostalgia inspired by a “Seventies Christmas home”: expect retro decorations, an oversized fireplace, colourful lighting, and bopping to a soundtrack of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (among others). Oh, and plenty of Christmaspolitans (from £12).
Doubles from £249 (020 3794 5313; henriettahotel.com).
Read the full review: Henrietta Hotel, London
Eleven Pipers Piping
Festive desserts at Chewton Glen, Hampshire
Mince pies and figgy puddings are Christmas lunch musts, but mixing it up with a few home-made surprises will knock the stockings off your guests. At Chewton Glen, chef tutor Steve can show you how to make delicious goodies, from chocolate feuilletine and hazelnut and armagnac parfait, to pear Charlotte and panfortes, while being on-hand with tips like perfecting your icing piping patterns or what garnishes to decorate them with. A midday break includes lunch and a tour of the kitchen garden, and you will leave with your creations plus an apron for a keepsake.
Doubles from £325. Course 9.30am-3.30pm, Dec 7, from £175 (01425 275341; chewtonglen.com).
Read the full review: Chewton Glen, Hampshire
Ten Lords a-Leaping
Live like a Lord at Grantley Hall, Yorkshire
The Yorkshire wilds form a stunning backdrop to the stately grandeur of this Palladian-style pile, which celebrates its first Christmas this year. Throughout December, guests can enjoy themed afternoon teas, festive dining and private parties, but those who really want to live like a lord or lady can book the hotel’s “house party” (Dec 24-27). With a culinary medley featuring mince pies and mulled wine, champagne and canapés, plus feasts, buffets, breakfasts and brunches, it promises much merriment. Late-night parties at Valeria’s champagne and cocktail bar are a revelous addition, and there will also be a guided walk to Fountains Abbey, a service at Ripon Cathedral and evening entertainment with a pianist and singer. Plus there’s the spa for post-party pampering.
Packages from £1,300 per person based on two people sharing a Deluxe Room (01765 620070; grantleyhall.co.uk).
Read the full review: Grantley Hall, Yorkshire
Nine Ladies Dancing
Nutcracker on Ice at Celtic Manor Resort, Wales
Celtic Manor Resort is hosting Nutcracker on Ice by the Imperial Ice Stars at the International Convention Centre Wales, which is part of the five-star resort. Follow the Russian tale of Marie who is given a nutcracker doll by her godfather, Drosselmeyer, and her dalliances with the Mouse King, Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy when her doll comes to life at midnight on Christmas Eve. Guests can also exert themselves on the hotel’s annual ice rink, play a spot of golf or laze in the spa before retiring to the drawing room for a decadent Nutcracker-themed afternoon tea.
Rooms from £101. Tickets from £20pp, Dec 11 2019-Jan 5 2020 (01633 413000; celtic-manor.com).
Read the full review: Celtic Manor Resort, Wales
Eight Maids a-Milking
Festive afternoon tea at Beaverbrook, Surrey
This manor hotel has a distinctly British sense of fun. The festive Tinsel Tea Party comes with all the trimmings: tuck into onion bread sandwiches spread with sage butter and stuffed with roast turkey and spiced cranberry sauce; stilton and roasted fig scones with jam and truffle butter; and a mélange of delicious fancies such as poached pear and almond financier, gingerbread-man macarons, and mini mince pies as you cosy up by the log fire in the Dining Room, champagne or tea in hand. It’s reasonably priced, so you can plump for one of the beautiful suites and a spa treatment or two.
Rooms from £320; afternoon tea from £45pp (01372 571300; beaverbrook.co.uk).
Read the full review: The House at Beaverbrook, Surrey
Seven Swans a-swimming
Wild swimming with Another Place, Lake District
Though the idea of jumping into a Cumbrian lake in December may, for some, sound extreme, Another Place, situated on the shores of Ullswater in the Lake District, has teamed up with Colin Hill, the expert trainer and competitor, to get people out into the open water over winter. An hour and a half’s jolly will bring the group to nearby spot Kailpot Bay, reached initially by boat, where they will swim (in wetsuits) close to the shoreline before jumping off rocks and crags. Other sessions for beginners and the more adventurous are available. Combine that with a night or two at this stylish Georgian house, where you can warm up in the spa and rest near the crackling fires, and you’re in for a cosy Christmas stay.
Rooms from £180; wild swimming from £45 per person (017684 86442; another.place).
Read the full review: Another Place, Lake District
Six geese a-laying
Spot rare geese on a guided nature walk with The Victoria Inn, Norfolk
When you stay at The Victoria Inn over Christmas you don’t just get friendly staff in tweed waistcoats, cosy bedrooms and hearty food, you get proximity to 3,000 acres of frosty parkland on a crisp morning, north Norfolk’s most beautiful sandy beach on a blustery afternoon, and the chance to explore Holkham Hall with a candlelit tour in the evening – all alongside food fairs, opera, nativity shows and nature walks elsewhere on the estate – especially atmospheric during the winter when local wildlife such as fallow deer and pink-footed geese can be spotted. On Dec 19, you can join a two-hour guided walk filled with facts about these migratory birds.
Rooms from £120. Reserve Ramble from £10 per person (01328 711008; holkham.co.uk).
Read the full review: The Victoria Inn, Norfolk
Five Gold Rings
Shopping with The Lanesborough, London
Make an event of your gift shopping this year (and avoid the Oxford Street Christmas crush) with a shop-and-stay weekend at The Lanesborough, one of London’s most elegant hotels. The experience kicks off with a chauffeur-driven car to Harvey Nichols where guests can meet and greet the fashion house’s style concierge or enjoy a private shopping experience with a stylist (the jewellery department is a must visit). Not only will you get 20 per cent off selected items, you can also upgrade to Black Tier Harvey Nichols Rewards. The fun continues back at the hotel, with a dedicated butler service and breakfast in Michelin-starred Céleste.
Doubles from £735; from Nov 13 2019-Jan 7 2020 (020 7259 5599; oetkercollection.com).
Read the full review: The Lanesborough, London
Four Calling Birds
Wreath-making at Heckfield Place, Hampshire
Before you set out to buy a cookie-cutter wreath, consider making one with Kitten Grayson Flowers, the consultant florist to the stylish Heckfield Place. The team will show you how to design, make and decorate one from scratch, learning the techniques and tricks of the trade, and how to colour-match the foliage. Elements are foraged from the estate and farm beforehand, and will dry to become naturally preserved, meaning they can be used for other events beyond Christmas – and are said to make great nesting boxes for birds come spring. Tea and cake is served.
Doubles from £350; course from £95, 10am-1pm, Dec 11 (01189 326868; heckfieldplace.com).
Read the full review: Heckfield Place, Hampshire
Three French hens
Festive cookery course at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire
Holidays are a classy affair at Belmond Le Manoir, with Christmas-card-perfect halls and a calendar of events including carol services and lavish dinners. You come to Raymond Blanc’s Oxfordshire pile for the food, so honing your Christmas Day lunch skills on a course is perhaps one of the more delightful ways to prepare your festive fare. Starters include parfait of Rhug Farm chicken livers or a dressed mackerel salad, before turkey with trimmings for main, and a traditional Christmas pud for dessert.
Rooms from £517; course 8.45am to 4.45pm, from £385, including all tuition, ingredients, tea, coffee and pastries on arrival, recipes and a course certificate (01844 278881; belmond.com).
Read the full review: Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire
Two turtle doves
Cosy couples at Gilpin Hotel & Lake House, Cumbria
Couples looking to escape for a night or two can head to Gilpin Hotel & Lake House, a country house hotel near Windermere, with 25 bedrooms, a Michelin-starred restaurant, and, until Dec 22, a festive dome with wood-burning stove, snug seating and a bar serving wintry cocktails. Most of the rooms lead to the gardens, and six have their own cedarwood hot tubs. Up the romance by splurging on one of the Spa Lodges, which have en suite rain showers, steam rooms, hydrotherapy hot tubs and saunas.
Rooms from £295 (015394 88818; thegilpin.co.uk).
Read the full review: Gilpin Hotel & Lake House, Cumbria
... And a partridge in a festive tree
Christmas tree at Claridge’s, London
One of the most anticipated Christmas events on the London hotel scene is the unveiling of Claridge’s Christmas Tree, designed each year by a distinguished guest. Previous designs have included Diane von Furstenberg’s Tree of Love (2018) and Karl Lagerfeld’s inverted tree (2017); this year’s creation is by revered French fashion designer Christian Louboutin. The tree, adorned in shoe-shaped gingerbread biscuits and topped with a gold-leaf crown, sits alongside “The Loubi Express”, a glittering red dining carriage, complete with four tables and its own cocktail conductor, pouring out pineapple punches (inspired by Louboutin) and serving lobster Wellington and truffle gougères (cocktails from £19).
Doubles from £600 (020 7629 8860; claridges.co.uk).
Read the full review: Claridge’s, London