Amy Moore outlines some group friendly destinations, attractions and tours for celebrating the upcoming season.

North Front Manor

Waddeson Manor at Night

Christmas Destinations

WINCHESTER, HAMPSHIRE

For groups looking to travel locally, GTW highly recommends Winchester’s quaint high street and characteristic Cathedral, which is simply stunning when illuminated in a lavish ceremony each year. Such coach operators as National Express operate a regular service to the attraction, with adequate coach parking situated north of the King Alfred statue, opposite the Guildhall. Guests can enjoy a short walk through the high street to the attraction, which has played host to a festive themed market since 2006. The market is recognised as one of the best in Europe and attracts more than 350,000 visitors per year. Pretty wooden chalets surround an attractive open air ice rink, where guests can skate for a small fee. The market will run from November 20 to December 21 and will be open daily from 1000hrs to 1800hrs Sunday to Wednesday and 1000hrs to 1930hrs from Thursday to Saturday. For more information visit www.visitwinchester.co.uk

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND

It’s been a big year for Scotland with its vote on independence and of course, its recent hosting of the Commonwealth Games from July 23 to August 3. The country’s capital of Edinburgh, provides a truly magical backdrop for shopping and other exceptional winter events tailored to the festive season. Festivities usually begin with a light switch on in November, accompanied by a spectacular fireworks display. Themed events are often held at the prestigious theatre venues in the vicinity, including The King’s Theatre and The Royal Lyceum Theatre, with additional family friendly shows hosted in Andrew Square. Shopping is made easy with extended opening hours and free parking for guests. Additional city break itineraries are available, including a trip to its top voted attraction; The Royal Yacht Britannia. The venue is commended for its stunning dinner and evening reception facilities, where it hosts a number of events suitable for 40-400 guests. For more information visit www.visitscotland.com or www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk

TROMSO, NORWAY

Some of us here at GTW visit Norway every year to sample what the destination has to offer guests. We often travel to the small and isolated island of Tyssoy, trekking through inches of snow to cut down our own Christmas tree, which is a local tradition. Christmas is a truly special time for locals, as shorter days invite a cosier atmosphere. Oslo and Bergen, for example, are known for their large Gingerbread Towns, with contributions from a range of local school groups. The culture is very different to that in the UK, and guests to the region can witness the spectacular Northern Lights from Tromso. The destination is highly recommended, with Tromso labelled ‘the capital of the Arctic.’ Specialised Northern Light Tours are due to commence from September. Groups should expect moderate temperatures and stunning light conditions from November 21 to January 21. For more information visit www.visitnorway.com

Christmas Attractions

CASTLE HOWARD

Groups visiting Castle Howard in Yorkshire can trail through a beautifully hand decorated setting, complete with baubles, trees, wreaths and garlands. Open from November 22 to December 21, guests could toast the festive season beside roaring log fires, whilst perhaps enjoying a private lunch in the elegant Grecian Hall. Groups especially can join a wreath making class, hosted by the venue’s own florist. Such arrangements will be on display throughout the attraction, with pre booking essential. For more information, visit the website: www.castlehoward.co.uk

IGHTHAM MOTE

Ightham Mote will remain open seven days a week, celebrating Christmas traditions old and new. A special opening commences on November 28-30 from 1100hrs until 1500hrs. There will be a market selling locally sourced produce and seasonal refreshments. From November 29 to December 23, guests can learn how to make their own decorations. Additional Christmas carol and festive feast events are also available to book. For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ighthammote

IRONBRIDGE

This winter, Ironbridge is offering guests ‘songs and laughter and seasonal fayre’ with the opportunity to witness a traditional Victorian Christmas. Groups can take advantage of an exclusive offer available on December 6, 7, 13 or 14, with entry priced at just £7.50 per person to visit Blists Hill Victorian Town. Celebrations will include Punch & Judy performances, a brass band and carol singers, amongst others. Standard entry to the town will cost £25 per person, including a tailored festive menu. For more information visit www.ironbridge.org.uk

LEEDS CASTLE

Snow bench (15x10) LEEDS CASTLE

Groups can enjoy a number of festive themed events at Leeds Castle

Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent, offers an extensive programme of activities for group visitors. A festive themed party at Fairfax Hall or Maiden’s Tower is on offer to celebrate the season. Enjoy a three course lunch from £29.50 per person for up to 100 people in the Maiden’s Tower, surrounded by moat. Alternatively, a two course lunch in the 17th century Fairfax Restaurant is available for smaller groups of up to 20 people. Both lunches can be arranged from December 1-23, Monday to Thursday. From more information visit www.leeds-castle.co.uk

ROYAL HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY

Visitors looking at gifts for sale at the Christmas Craft and Design Fair 2012 at RHS Garden Rosemoor.

The Royal Horticultural Society is known for its Christmas Craft and Design Fayres

Royal Horticultural Society Gardens boasts fantastic seasonal events, from sculpture trails and winter walks, to art exhibitions, craft and design fayres. The attraction offers fantastic rates for parties of 10 or more, with free entry for GTO’s and/or coach drivers, free coach parking and a free refreshment voucher. A Christmas Craft and Design Fayre is scheduled to take place from November 25-30, where visitors can browse from over 150 of the finest craftspeople in the country. For more information visit www.rhs.org.uk/gardens

WADDESDON MANOR

Christmas at Waddesdon Manor will welcome the theme of Lights and Legends, incorporating stories, myths and rituals from all around the world. Six new light installations will decorate its gardens, with designs by resident artist Bruno Munro. From November 28 to January 4, special late night opening will be available to enjoy the best view of the attraction. Inside, a digital installation has been installed, entitled Snow Code. For more information regarding upcoming events and group admission rates, visit www.waddesdon.org.uk

WARWICK CASTLE

This festive season at Warwick Castle, visitors can enjoy torch lit tours, festive feasts and cheeky elves. The structure’s interior will be decked in the finest grandeur, with a 25 foot tree gracing its Great Hall. Guests can dine amidst roaring log fires and flickering candles, with a number of group packages available to book. Guests can put on their glad rags for a New Year’s Eve Ball, to be hosted later in the year. For more information visit www.warwick-castle.com

Christmas Transport & Tours

CITY CRUISES

ChristmasShowboat CITYCRUISES

City Cruises offers traditional Christmas Day lunches on the Thames

There are plenty of opportunities to get out and about this winter with City Cruises. Those looking to host a big crowd could choose to book a Traditional Christmas Day Lunch Cruise atop the River Thames. Departing from Westminster Pier at 1200hrs, guests can enjoy a three course Christmas Lunch served by expert chefs, accompanied by a welcome glass of sparkling wine. Alternatively, a special Christmas Day Thames Circular Sightseeing Cruise is available between 0915hrs and 1415hrs, offering live commentary. For more information visit www.citycruises.com

DFDS SEAWAYS

Following the success of its mini market cruises last year, DFDS Seaways has re-introduced them in 2014, travelling to such destinations as Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels and Cologne. Departing from Newcastle to the Dutch capital of Amsterdam, guests can enjoy two nights in an en suite cabin and one night in a top hotel in the area, with the opportunity to extend if required. In winter, the city’s cobbled streets and canals are lit up with festive decorations, creating the ultimate winter wonderland for groups. For more information visit www.dfdsseaways.co.uk

ISLE OF WIGHT STEAM RAILWAY

On select days in December, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway in Havenstreet will run a service starting from 1035hrs, with last departure at 1505hrs. The friendly and festive atmosphere is suitable for visitors of all ages, featuring live music, a bustling market and a host of entertainment. Guests can enjoy a stroll through a glossy winter wonderland or alternatively, can relax on a 10-mile trip through the countryside aboard a majestic steam train. For more information visit www.iwsteamrailway.co.uk

POTTERS HOLIDAYS

A 101

Potters Holidays offer a fantastic stay at the Athena Beach Hotel in Paphos

Potters Holidays offer fantastic festive breaks on select dates throughout the year, with a deluxe stay at the four star Athena Beach Hotel in Paphos. The island provides the perfect destination for a winter getaway, with the hotel predominantly designed for adults, housing high quality rooms boasting excellent facilities and great food to suit all tastes. Christmas and New Year packages are available at great value, with itineraries starting from 14 nights, with a maximum of 21 nights. For more information call 0333 3207 454 or visit www.pottersabroad.com

RIVER CRUISE LINE

Celebrate Christmas and New Year aboard the River Cruise Line, which is offering a number of festive market itineraries. A trip to the Strasbourg Christmas Market in Germany is available aboard the newly introduced Ms Serenity, with its 95 en-suite cabins and deluxe restaurant. Strasbourg is said to be Europe’s oldest Christmas market, with the location also home to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Prices start from £399, with departures on December 8 & 11. For more information visit www.rivercruiseline.co.uk

TITAN TRAVEL

Groups can ‘see the world differently’ with Titan Travel, which offers a selection of packages, from city breaks to cruises and beach escapes to shopping destinations. Titan’s 12 Holidays of Christmas itineraries compile a number of festive tours abroad, ideal for celebrating the festive season. Cruises are especially popular, with liners headed to New Zealand & Australia, for example. Groups can avoid the bustle of the city with a fireworks display on board the MV Sydney 200, accompanied by dinner, drinks and live music. For more information visit www.titantravel.co.uk

SEE GTW‘S LIST OF PANTOMIME PRODUCTIONS HERE