Join us on a trot through snow-muffled streets (well, metaphorically speaking at least), as we find out what’s happening this Yuletide – from letter-writing to pantos, Christmas feasts to kisses under the mistletoe – in a dozen of Hertfordshire’s loveliest, twinkliest, most festive towns...

Great British Life: The Navigation Bridge that spans Grand Union Canal in Apsley, Hemel Hempstead (c) GettyThe Navigation Bridge that spans Grand Union Canal in Apsley, Hemel Hempstead (c) Getty

Christmas 2023 in Hemel Hempstead

Festive Food and Drink

Relax in beautifully restored Shendish Manor (shendish-manor.com), a Victorian house sitting in 160 acres of parklands and gardens – the perfect setting for a Christmas celebration. Hive (oldtownhive.co.uk) is a licensed, independent coffee shop proud to be part of the community and among the first UK suppliers to stock original CBD-infused coffee. You’ll find a great selection of plants here too – always a handy gift option. From cosy Christmas lunches to festive celebrations with colleagues, or show-stopping parties in its newly opened Pavilion, the Centurion Club (centurionclub.co.uk) has a range of spaces on offer, to ensure you celebrate the festive season in style, whatever sort of get-together you’re planning.

Thrills and chills

Embark on an unforgettable adventure with a Christmas party of a different kind at Drift Limits motorsports academy (driftlimits.co.uk). Party packages start from £50 for a two-hour session and include demonstration laps and spins in two cars. Gift vouchers are available. Sticking with thrills, The Snow Centre (thesnowcentre.com) is the place to celebrate in a truly winter environment. Christmas Party Nights here are understandably popular so don’t be surprised to see events sold out, but you can still enjoy the slopes over winter. Alternatively, brave the ice and experience the wonder of skating at Planet Ice (planet-ice.co.uk) - lessons and gift vouchers are available.

Gift Shopping

Located in the Old Town, The House of Elliott (thehouseofelliott.net) is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, the perfect hunting ground for Christmas gifts or a treat for yourself. What makes it special is its links with local artists and craftspeople, who supply the shop with the best in personal, high-quality pieces. Jewellery is a always a popular gift and the workshop at Daisy Chain Jewellers (daisychainjewellers.co.uk) in Boxmoor offers an extensive range of handmade pieces, specialising in wedding and engagement rings if you’re planning a Christmas proposal. Whether you’re new to the Warhammer hobby or a seasoned enthusiast, staff at Hemel Hempstead’s Games Workshop store (games-workshop.com) offer help and advice for collecting, building, painting, playing, and reading – the perfect place for a gift for the gaming fan in your lie.

Great British Life: The D Day Darlings are in Hoddesdon this Christmas (Credit D Day Darlings)The D Day Darlings are in Hoddesdon this Christmas (Credit D Day Darlings)

Christmas 2023 in Hoddesdon

Community Fun

The biggest festive event in Hoddesdon returns on November 25, so get set to eat, drink and be merry. ‘Hoddesdon Loves Christmas’ is a cracking community extravaganza that attracts crowds of some 18,000 people each year. The town centre is taken over all day by entertainers, stallholders and special events. Shoppers can take advantage of some seasonal retail therapy while the fun builds up to highlights including Santa parading through the town, a big festive-light switch on and firework finale. The Broxbourne-Council-organised event is free and takes place from 10am to 6pm. broxbourne.gov.uk

Something Special

Nothing gets you more in the mood for Christmas than a good-old feelgood festive knees up - vintage style. Beloved Britain's Got Talent finalists, The D- Day Darlings, will provide just that by bringing their festive spectacular 'A Christmas To Remember' to The Spotlight Theatre in Hoddesdon on November 29. The glamorous wartime singers will be belting out heartfelt harmonies and festive favourites, such as Santa Claus is Coming to Town, It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas and When A Child Is Born. Don't forget to bring your mistletoe! Tickets from £21. thespotlightvenue.com

Santa Spectaculars

Father Christmas is certainly getting about a bit this month. Not only are he and his reindeer around every weekend from December 2, then daily from December 16 to 24 at Paradise Wildlife Park (see Visit Herts' feature on pagexxxx), you can visit him on the water, too. Lee Valley Boat Centre will be hosting special Santa Cruises on December 10, 17 and 21. Youngsters can enjoy a one-hour cruise where they’ll meet Santa and his Elves, sing carols and enjoy arts and crafts. Call 01992 462085 to book. (Leevalleyboats.co.uk)

Great British Life: St Albans Cathedral - at the heart of the city (c) GettySt Albans Cathedral - at the heart of the city (c) Getty

Christmas 2023 in St Albans

Timeless Traditions

Attending Midnight Mass is a tradition for many people each Christmas and, as you can imagine, experiencing Midnight Mass at historic St Albans Cathedral is simply unforgettable. The service sees Christmas Eve give way to Christmas Day and is one of the Cathedral's most popular events. The free event features popular carols and an atmospheric performance of a chosen Mass, sung by the boys and Lay Clerks of the Cathedral Choir. Doors open at 10.30pm on Christmas Eve. The cathedral will also be hosting a fundraising carol concert on December 3 which will feature local choirs, thoughtful festive readings and plenty of jolly audience participation. Tickets cost £18. stalbanscathedral.org

Something special

Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without a good old thigh-slapping, barnstorming panto, so it’s great to know a star-studded Christmas extravaganza awaits audiences at the Alban Arena this festive season. Coronation Street actor Chris Gascoyne (he played Peter Barlow in the soap) will star as Captain Hook, alongside CBeebie’s Maddie Moate as Tinkerbell in The All New Adventures of Peter Pan. This promises to be the theatre’s most spectacular pantomime yet, with stunning sets, dazzling costumes, and a wonderful cast. The panto is a perfect family festive treat and will run from December 8-31. Tickets are £17.50 to £34.50. alban-arena.co.uk

Teatime treat

Sink into a comfortable chair and enjoy a Christmas-themed afternoon tea in Georgian splendour at Sopwell House (sopwellhouse.co.uk). Traditional finger sandwiches and homemade scones topped with Devonshire clotted are accompanied by festive cakes and pastries, including a slice of homemade Battenberg cake - the 17th-century house was once home to Prince Louis of Battenberg, grandfather of the Duke of Edinburgh and after whom the cake was named. Add a glass of mulled wine or Taittinger Champagne to make your afternoon fizz. For an extra-special visit you could tack on a session as the Cottonmill Spa here. Its Afternoon Delight packages include the use of the pool, gym, sauna and steam room.

Great British Life: Magical Christmas Lights to enjoy at Watford Credit Simon JacobsMagical Christmas Lights to enjoy at Watford Credit Simon Jacobs

Christmas 2023 in ​Watford

Winter Walks

Cassiobury Park is a large 190-acre park in Watford that offers a wealth of walking options, from mile-long jaunts to a six-mile trek. You could follow the very attractive Grand Union Canal that runs through it, take one of the woodland paths or head for the play areas for children - and should you get tired of walking you can give your feet a rest by taking the miniature railway. There are plenty of walking routes available, from a mile jaunt to a six-mile trek - wonderful for blowing away any Christmas cobwebs. If you're in the mood for a longer walk, head for the West Herts golf course and loop around Whippendell Woods.

Something special

What better way to celebrate for footie fans to celebrate Christmas than with a private party at Vicarage Road Stadium, home of Watford FC?

The much loved venue welcome crowds of football fans year on year, here to support their beloved team but, beyond the Beautiful Game, it's also a great place to host festive events - you could dance the night away with friends or colleagues at a private party from £55 per person. The price includes hire of a private room, three-course dinner, DJ entertainment, cashless bar and an e-cracker prize draw.

watfordfcevents.com.

Community

Raise the roof with a cheering concert with the Watford Phoenix Choir. Its Christmas concert will take place on Saturday December 9 at St Mary's Church on Church Street.

Join the choir for a festive fundraising concert in aid of New Hope, a charity that supports the homeless.

Doors open at 5pm, with the concert kicking off at 5.30pm and refreshments available. And if you're inspired by what you hear, bear in mind that the choir is always looking

for new members - it meets on Wednesday evenings during term time at Central Primary School on Derby Road, Watford. watfordphoenixchoir.co.uk.

Great British Life: The canal's always a good area for a wander: (c) Danny LooThe canal's always a good area for a wander: (c) Danny Loo

Christmas 2023 in Hertford

Something special

Leaf is a children-oriented cafe, where adults can enjoy coffee and food and their little ones can discover new books and play.

This Christmas, Father Christmas himself will be visiting the space, and every child who visits will have the opportunity not only to talk to him, but to have their photo taken with him too - perfect for the family album!Visits also includes a 30-minute family photo session. There'll be lots of props available and the whole event takes place in a festive setting, making for a really fun, memorable shoot.

hertsgrotto.co.uk

Community

Bag yourself some unique gifts for loved ones at Mudlarks Café's Christmas Craft Fair. On Sunday November 19, from 11am to 4pm, local artists and artisan crafters will be selling everything from handmade jewellery, ceramics, glass and textiles to Christmas crafts. It's a great way not only to find really different Christmas gifts, but to keep shopping your independent and to show your support for Hertford's small local businesses. And if you're a maker rather than a shopper with gifts to sell this Christmas, tables at the Fair are still available to rent. Either way, email admin@mudlarksgarden.org.uk for details.

Timeless traditions

Kick off the season in style at Hertford Christmas Gala's big Christmas Lights Switch-On, at 6pm November 24. Part of the wider Christmas Gala, expect market stalls, live entertainment and fairground rides, with local shops and businesses opening their doors to offer promotions and discounts.The event runs alongside the Hertford Castle Christmas Market (see Visit Herts' feature in this issue), taking place on the Hertford Castle Lawn throughout the weekend. Sounds as if Hertford is definitely the place to be come Christmas time!

hertford.gov.uk.

Great British Life: Traditional Sliced Honey Glazed Ham Ready for the HolidaysTraditional Sliced Honey Glazed Ham Ready for the Holidays

Christmas 2023 in ​Potters Bar

Timeless Traditions

Ready to start decking the halls? A wreath-making workshop hosted by Ramel’s Florist on Hatfield Road could be just what you need to make it happen! During the two-hour session, Ramel’s team of professional florists will show you how to create a gorgeous Christmas wreath using an array of decorative materials - a wreath that you can then proudly display on your frontdoor. As an extra treat, you can book yourself a spot of afternoon tea at Milly's Patisserie and sample their delectable range of teas, cakes, macarons and sandwiches while you're crafting. The workshops will be hosted throughout November and December. Reserve your place by calling 01707 657 038.

Food and Drink

Make Christmas Day one where someone else does the cooking, with a festive feast at The Old Manor. On Dec 25, put your feet up and let the team take care of all the hard work as you and the family dine on delights such as West Country 28-day aged sirloin of beef, wild mushroom and beetroot Wellington and maple roast gammon. Each dish is accompanied by double-egg Yorkshire puddings, goose-fat roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, crushed roots, roast parsnips and gravy. Can we get a 'hallelujah'? the-old-manor.co.uk

Spectacular Shopping

Seeking gifts for the fashion-forward? A stop by The Closet Ladies Boutique on Darkes Lane is a must! Explore its carefully curated collection of clothes, shoes, bags and accessories. Buy a gift card at theclosetpottersbar.com so your loved one can choose something they truly adore (and won’t pull a Rachel from Friends and exchange it!) If you feel like spreading the cheer this season, Potters Bar is also home to several charity shops including Oxfam, Cancer Research UK and St Elizabeth’s. Check them out to discover one-of-a-kind presents, wrapping paper and cards, and give something back to those most in need this Christmas.

Great British Life: Mist near the canal at Berkhamstead CREDIT Getty ImagesMist near the canal at Berkhamstead CREDIT Getty Images

Christmas 2023 in Berkhamsted

Pic captions:

Winter’s mist captured along the canal near Berkhamstead CREDIT Getty Images

Wreath-making workshops are popular in the run up to Christmas and are taking place at Ashridge House courtesy of Hanako Flowers CREDIT Getty Images

Community Fun

The Festival of Light 2023 returns on November 26, when the high street will be lined with stalls offering mince pies, mulled wine, arts and crafts, and more! For children eager to send their wishes to Father Christmas, the Elves' posting house will be stationed at the Civic Centre. Children can write or create a special message there, but access to the Elves' posting house is by ticket only, so be sure to reserve your visit in advance. With A Best Dressed Window Competition, local entertainment, light switch-on at 5.15pm and visit from Father Christmas at 5.30, the event runs from 3.30pm to 6pm. berkhamstedtowncouncil.gov.uk

Festive food and drink

Hearty menus and impeccable fine wines, local ales and signature cocktails are on the festive menu at the Kings Arms (kingsarmsberkhamsted.co.uk) – all the ingredients, then, to make your family gathering (or even your office Christmas party) extra special. Looking for a fun, quirky party venue? As its name suggests Graze Life (grazelife.co.uk) serves grazing platters and drinks, complete with cabaret entertainment. Tickets are available for the Christmas Special and The Lounge is available for private hire. For sheer opulence try The Gatsby (thegatsby.net), which offers a three-course menu as well as a jazz lunch on December 30 and 31. The former art deco cinema is the perfect backdrop for regular live jazz.

Gift Shopping

Dressing the home is a key part of the Christmas celebrations and Tobias Oliver Interiors (tobiasoliverinteriors.com) sells beautiful ornaments, candles and decorations, which make for special gifts, too. Look out for luxury brands including Michael Aram, Baobab Collection and L’Objet are featured. If you’re shopping sustainably this season, The Refill Pantry (therefillpantry.co.uk) makes it easy to buy only what you need - simply take your own clean, empty containers and cut down on unnecessary waste this Christmas. Hanako (hanakoflowers.co.uk) will be hosting various wreath-making workshops at nearby Ashridge House in November and December and offers other floristry experiences that could make an unusual gift for the flower fan in your life.

Great British Life: You never know how you'll bump into at the Christmas lights switch-on at Hitchin Market Place... Picture: Rob WeaversYou never know how you'll bump into at the Christmas lights switch-on at Hitchin Market Place... Picture: Rob Weavers

Christmas 2023 in ​Hitchin

Christmas traditions

Hitchin kick starts its festive season on November 18 with Santa’s parade, live music and the town’s Christmas lights illuminated. On December 16-17 there’s a ‘big weekend’ of entertainment. Get that Instagram photo in the giant snow globe, visit the Ark Farm, say hello to Rudolf and his friends and meet the big man himself … On December 16, put your winter woolies on and line the streets: the tractors are coming! The 'Farmers on Christmas Lights' tour features some 200 farm vehicles adorned with twinkly Christmas lights and decorations, one of the biggest parades of its kind. Meanwhile, for serious bauble and tinsel envy, pop into Holy Saviour Church on December 8 to admire the beautiful, imaginative decorations on display at its annual Christmas Tree Festival.

Something special

Each year the little village of St Ippolyts near Hitchin puts on a rather magical Christmas festival. The Nativity Crib Festival includes over 200 nativity scenes from around the world. From the very tiny - a wooden one the size of a quail's egg to one made of papier mache a couple of feet high, you'll find every type and size of Nativity set on display. From traditional sets carved out of Holy Land olive wood to the slightly barmy – ones made from banana leaves, for instance - each is displayed with details of why it is special to its owner. Some may make you laugh, but they may also bring a tear to your eye. The festival runs from December 2-3, entrance £4, children free.

Spectacular shopping

Hitchin was voted one of the best places to live in England, and its array of independent shops and restaurants only adds to its attractions. Delicious foodie gifts can be found at The Little Deli (thelittlede.li) - great for making up your own hampers, while for wine head to The Wee Vinoteca (weevinoteca.com); if Christmas shopping gets too much you can also enjoy a glass in its cosy bar. For gifts, Etcetera has a store packed with beautiful things (etceterahomefashion.com) and for the person who has everything try Vinegar Hill (vinegarhill.co.uk). Vintage Bay Home (thevintagebay.co.uk), meanwhile, transforms itself into a Christmas shop this month and will be filled to the rafters with baubles and decorations galore.

Great British Life: Make a Christmas wreath in Radlett (c) GettyMake a Christmas wreath in Radlett (c) Getty

Christmas 2023 in ​Radlett

Christmas traditions

There really is nothing like Panto - it's a British institution. This year, with its tale as old as time, Beauty and the Beast comes to The Radlett Centre (radlettcentre.co.uk). Dazzling choreography, stunning sets and uplifting live music is promised. Will love and beauty conquer all? We think so. Will there be plenty of audience participation? Oh yes there will! Suitable for all ages, Beauty and the Beast runs from December 2 – 31. The Radlett Centre also hosts monthly art exhibitions, so pop in and see just what a creative bunch our local artists are.

Spectacular shopping

In the 1960s, Battlers Green Farm (battlersgreenfarm.co.uk) began to sell produce to the local village, today the rural shopping village is home to 20 unique stores in an idyllic farmyard setting and the perfect place to pick up unique gifts. The long-established farm shop has a superb range of foodie gifts and wines while, nearby, The Pudding Stop sells its award-winning sweet treats. For something special Crafted Jewellery has some beautiful new pieces, with the company can also breathing new life into vintage ones. Osprey has classic bags - we have the Vagabond Italian Suede Hobo on our wish list this year. Need time to decide? Make up your mind over tea on-site at The Bull Pen.

Something special

Get into the Christmas spirit and wow the neighbours with a gorgeous wreath you've made yourself. No experience is necessary, florists Bev and Zoe at Lilac & Willow (lilacandwillowflowers.co.uk) at Battlers Green Farm will guide you through the process. During the two-hour workshop all the materials will be provided, including a range of natural decorations, seasonal wild foliage and scented fruits. A glass of fizz should help ease things along nicely too - a lovely way to take some time out and get creative during this busy time of the year. If you can’t make one of the workshops, Lilac & Willow also sells a DIY wreath kit that you can complete at home.

Great British Life: Gorgeous Lights at Welwyn Picture: Danny LooGorgeous Lights at Welwyn Picture: Danny Loo

Christmas 2023 in ​Welwyn Garden City

Something special

Imagine a giant dog perched atop a beautifully wrapped present, a majestic reindeer making a grand entrance at the Howard Centre, or a hot air balloon igniting your imagination. These are the sort of creations you can expect to see on the Wonderful Welwyn Garden City Christmas lights trail, free for the whole family to enjoy and bound to get even the worst Grinch in the Christmas spirit. No wonder the town has earned itself a reputation as the home of Christmas lights! Revel in this magical spectacle from November 18 – January 1 and share your photos at #WGCXmasLights.

Spectacular shopping

Want to find that special gift away from the High Street? Tewinbury Farm (tewinbury.co.uk) will be holding a Christmas market on November 25, with 50 independent stalls in its farmyard this month. Alongside festive live music, kids will love the crafts and gingerbread decorating, the magical Christmas unicorn returns and - if you''ve been good - Santa and his trusted elf will be making an appearance too. There’s great food and drink on offer from Tewinbury Farm, so kick back soak up the atmosphere.

Food & Drink

The White Hart (whitehartwelwyn.co.uk) dates back to 1681 and was once Welwyn’s main coaching inn. Owned by Tom and James Bainbridge, who also own The Tilbury in nearby Datchworth, it offers varied menus, real ales and a good wine list - all served in a relaxed atmosphere. Enjoy a festive meal including roast turkey with all trimmings followed by figgy toffee pudding and brandy ice cream or pop in for a cocktail.

For afternoon tea with a festive twist make a date at Laura Kate (laura-kate.co.uk). It includes their popular signature mince pie scones topped with mulled wine jam which even glitters. Toast the season with a glass of fizz.

Great British Life: Christmas in Harpenden CREDIT Steve CollinsChristmas in Harpenden CREDIT Steve Collins

Christmas 2023 in ​Harpenden

Community Christmas

Harpenden exudes community spirit all year-round, with Christmas of course a special celebration. The Christmas Carnival on Sunday November 26 will feature Santa’s Grotto, food stalls, entertainment and the official Christmas lights switch on. The farmers’marketwill also showcase local makers and artisans. Another festive tradition is the opportunity for retailers and charities, to show off their creativity in the Christmas Window Competition. Visitors are invited to vote for their favourite, with The Mayor of Harpenden revealing the winner on Monday December 11. harpenden.gov.uk or @harpendentowncouncil

Gift Shopping

A unique range of lovely gifts and cards can be found at Threads of Harpenden (@threadsofharpenden). This award-winning gift shop is one of the high street’s hidden gems. Another must-visit destination is Serena Hart (serenahart.co.uk)in Bower’s Parade. Independent shops like this make gift-shopping that little bit easier and, if you’re getting the house ready for Christmas visitors, it also sells furnishings. For the art enthusiast in your life Artscape (artscape.uk.com) has a range of crafts, paints, children’s art and crafts supplies, as well puzzles and games that make great stocking-fillers. A bespoke framing service will help add an individual touch to those never-fail family-photo gifts.

Festive food and drink

With one of its five restaurants in the town, Lussmanns Sustainable Kitchen (lussmanns.com) featured in the Sunday Times’ 100 Best Places to Eat in the UK, so it’s little surprise that its Christmas menu promises to make festive celebrations memorable. Also with a mouthwatering menu is The White Horse (thewhitehorseharpenden. co.uk)–choose fromfree-range turkey, British Blythburgh pork or an Aubrey Allen steak and all things yummy inbetween. Handmade sweet treats from The Pudding Stop (thepudding stop.com) are bound to bring joy – and January sees the return of its vegan PB&J cookie cup!

Great British Life: Tring's all aglow at Christmas (c) Stephen Martin KitcheneTring's all aglow at Christmas (c) Stephen Martin Kitchene

Christmas 2023 in Tring

Community fun

It’s back! The annual Tring Together Christmas Festival takes place on Saturday November 25 with events taking place across the town, from 3.30pm to 8.30pm. This free community events sees Tring High Street come alive with the sounds and sights of Christmas. Victoria Hall will be full of Christmassy stalls and Memorial Gardens will be lit and filled with residents’ decorated Christmas trees. The main stage on Church Square and Dolphin Square will host a variety of music and entertainment, with something for everyone. There’ll be food and drink stalls, too, plus plenty of chances to start your Christmas shopping early tringtogether.org.uk

Festive food and drink

Grade II-listed Pendley Manor will be going all out for the season of sparkle and celebration, with merry and magical events that include a festive afternoon tea – indulge in sandwiches, cakes with a yuletide twist as well as a glass of mulled wine. If you want to splash out on a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner at the hotel in Cow Lane you’ll be treated to sumptuous meals, with festive banquets, parties and more also on the cards. With its original parquet floors, roaring open fires and a cosy ambience this is the place to be for a tastebud-tempting season of Christmas feasting. pendley-manor.co.uk

Museum merriment

When we conjure up images of animals in winter, a cute and cuddly polar bear most likely comes to mind. This December the Natural History Museum at Tring will be demonstrating its passion for polar bears with a special seasonal event. Visitors can wander around the museum and challenge themselves to spot 12 of the hidden polar bears tucked away in the venue’s galleries. Plus, on your adventure, you’ll discover what animals live with polar bears in the Arctic. Plenty to keep inquisitive minds busy. The event runs from December 2 to January 3 and costs £1 per person. nhm.ac.uk