Admire breath-taking autumn colours on a stroll through the English countryside, learn the art of whisky cocktails at an Edinburgh bar and cosy up in front of a roaring fire at a Welsh country house hotel. When it comes to events, autumn and winter pack in the parties; join in British favourites from Hallowe’en to Hogmanay.
1. Autumn colours
The seasonal colours in Britain are irresistibly Instagrammable. Treat your eyes to the dazzling display at Sheffield Park in south-east England; the garden was planted specifically for the autumn with auburn, russet and golden leaves doubled in beauty thanks to lake reflections. Westonbirt Arboretum in south-west England is renowned; home to 15,000 trees, it’s a riot of colour from September to November. Prepare your friends for a #autumnleaves onslaught.
2. Food festivals
Two of Britain’s best food festivals take place in September: Ludlow Food Festival sees the central England market town’s castle become a hotbed of culinary activity, with talks, music and demos, plus 180 market stalls to graze (or gorge) at. Abergavenny Food Festival at the end of the month transforms the Welsh market town into a gastronome’s paradise, with tours and forages, workshops and masterclasses, plus a Saturday party at the castle with music, dancing, feasting and fireworks.
3. Award-winning art
The Turner Prize exhibition opens in September, when the contenders for the prestigious award show off their work to the public ahead of the winner announcement in December. The exhibition has alternated between Tate Modern and other British galleries in recent years – including Newcastle’s fabulous BALTIC and the Tramway in Glasgow – and will return to the Tate Britain this year.
4. Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night
Celebrate Halllowe’en in Whitby, north-east England, which has a history of smugglers, shipwrecks and the supernatural – as well as being the home of Dracula. Bram Stoker wrote his famous gothic novel here and set spine-shivering scenes in the atmospheric Abbey. For Bonfire Night, head to Lewes in southeast England; the celebrations are the biggest of their kind in the world, with parades, firework displays and up to 80,000 visitors in a town with a population of just 16,000.
5. Christmas markets
Get into the festive spirit at Christmas markets all over the country, when the air becomes heady with the scent of mulled wine and you will inevitably end up too full for dinner after chomping down dozens of mince pies. Pick up unique handmade gifts direct from the makers and enjoy live entertainment at markets from November onwards in Bath, Birmingham, Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff and more.
Photo © Visit Bath
6. Ice-skating everywhere
There’s nothing like ice-skating in the open air, under the stars, in the heart of the city. In London, the Natural History Museum makes a magical backdrop for a swish around the rink. Somerset House is another favourite and has a handy ski lodge-themed Fortnum and Mason café on site, for a warming hot chocolate post-skate. Ice-rinks pop up in most British cities from November onwards – many conveniently located next to the Christmas markets.
Photo © Marcus Ginns
Autumn and winter are delicious in Britain, with pumpkins, forest fruits and sloe gin gracing the menus of those restaurants that like to serve up seasonal fayre. Book into The Gardener’s Cottage in Edinburgh, the city’s ‘home for seasonal cooking and social dining’, and have the seven-course dinner menu – which changes daily – alongside other happy diners at communal tables in this dinky little cottage that dates back to 1836.
8. Apples and cider
We Brits really do like them apples: we love to eat them, cook them into crumbles, squash them into juice, turn them into cider and we even devote a day to them: 21 October is National Apple Day. There are apple festivals across the country, ‘apple days’ at National Trust properties and a Cider & Music Festival in Cornwall in September. Cider lovers should visit Thatcher’s in Somerset for a guided tour of the 100-year old orchards and a tasting of the refreshing (and deceptively strong!) beverage.
If it’s been raining in south Wales, head straight for the Bat Cave. ‘Waterfall country’ in the southern Brecon Beacons is particularly spectacular after a downpour, when the falls thunder forth with an exciting force. Henrhyd Falls – south Wales’ tallest waterfall at 88 feet – played the role of entrance to the Bat Cave in The Dark Knight Rises; walk behind the curtain of water for a super-sensory experience – it’s loud, it’s wet and it’s exhilarating.
Photo © Visit Wales
Warm your cockles with an ultra-rich dairy-free hot chocolate, then proceed to continue your appreciation of the cocoa bean with a gelato, cake, truffles and bars and a macaron that will make you swoon. Chocolate Ecstasy Tours run a tasty three-hour wander around Brighton that is ideal for the sweet of tooth.
11. Decked-out halls
For a proper winter Christmas experience visit Chatsworth, the stately home in the Peak District that Pemberley – where Mr Darcy lived in Pride and Prejudice – was based on. The grand historic property becomes a grown ups’ Santa’s Grotto every year, decorated with dozens of bling-tastic Christmas trees and thousands of lights, each room lavishly decorated according to a festive theme; previous years have included The Nutcracker and The Wind in the Willows.
12. Celtic Connections
Glasgow is a UNESCO City of Music, with a beat to tap your toe to throughout the year, however for 18 days from the end of January to the start of February it’s especially exciting. Artists from all around the globe make the city their target for Celtic Connections, a winter festival that celebrates Celtic music and its connections to cultures across the globe.
13. Premier League
Footy fans have a busy time of it between August and May, biting their nails as their teams climb the Premier League ladder – or else snake down the table. Book packages for selected clubs, plus accommodation, with Thomas Cook Sport, or else get behind the scenes at your favourite Premier League club on a stadium tour.
Feeling a little chilly is an excellent excuse to sip on a wee dram o’ whisky. Why not put in the hard yards though and knock up your own cocktail? DINE in Edinburgh offers cocktail masterclasses, including the ‘Slangevar’, which delves into the ‘Scottish nectar’ and teaches you how to make classic whisky cocktails, from the Rob Roy to the Old Fashioned.
15. Christmas shopping and January sales
Christmas lights transform villages, towns and cities throughout Britain from November onwards. The most famous lights illuminate London’s two central shopping arteries, Oxford Street and Regent Street. Department stores Selfridges, Harrods and Liberty vie for the crown of best-dressed window and, after a lull while people eat turkey and pull crackers, become packed again as they open their doors for the famous January Sales (which actually start on 26 December!).
16. Theatre and panto
When the nights get longer Brits start to peruse what’s on at the fantastic theatres across the country. HOME is Manchester’s newest cultural venue, with two theatre spaces dedicated to daring new works; Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse put on brilliant, forward-thinking theatre and the Birmingham REP is another regional favourite. In London, there’s always something interesting at the National Theatre, or head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square to score last-minute seats for West End shows.
17. Nocturnal adventures
Shorter days = longer nights = more time to party. When the nights draw in, pub windows steam up. The Bridge Tavern is a popular and convivial meeting spot in Newcastle, located under the iconic Tyne Bridge and perfectly placed for hopping on to some live music. In Glasgow, the Merchant City is where it’s at – Tobacco Lords once had their warehouses here, but today people come to eat, drink and party ‘til the wee hours.
18. Hogwarts at Christmas
Christmas is magical in the Harry Potter books, all feasting, dodgy jumpers knitted by Mrs Weasley and the occasional terrifying encounter with a snake-faced wizard. Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter, just a short journey from London, brings the magic to life (minus You-Know-Who); its Hogwarts model is covered in a delicate blanket of snow, a great feast is laid on the tables of the Great Hall and special-effects fires light up the Gryffindor Common Room.
19. Super-cosy hotels
After a bracing winter walk in the countryside, nothing is more relaxing than returning to a country house hotel, nestling in front of a roaring fire for a G&T and then heading into the dining room for a deee-licious meal. Then just flopping into your luxurious four-poster bed. Llangoed Hall in Wales has really nailed the ‘dinner, bed and breakfast’ combo; the charming property used to be owned by Laura Ashley’s husband and is lovingly furnished with her designs.
See out the old year and open your arms wide to embrace the new – and new-found friends – at Hogmanay, Scotland’s inimitable New Year’s Eve party. Its origins hark back to wild Viking parties and these days it’s involves all-night revelries across Scotland or, in the case of Edinburgh, a three-day event including a procession of flaming torches, a city-wide street party and fireworks, plus the loudest Auld Lang Syne you’ll ever hear at midnight.