Christmas in Essex 2021: Festive things to do with the family in December

People wearing Santa suits warming up in a park

Don a Santa suit and raise cash for a good cause - Credit: Farleigh Hospice

The festive fun really kicks in come December. Here's our guide to Christmassy things to do in Essex...

1. Festive Programme at Colchester Zoo, Colchester

Immerse yourself in the wonderful Christmas atmosphere at Colchester Zoo. One of the best-known attractions in the county, visitors here can see Father Christmas’ reindeer in their stables, get crafty at the elves’ workshop, hear Christmas tales and enjoy some festive food. Every child who takes part in the Santa Experience gets to take home a soft toy. The adults get to keep warm with delicious festive coffee and winter treats while stocking up on presents in The Outpost Gift Shop.  

When: December 5, 11, 12 & 18-24

Address: Maldon Road, Heckfordbridge, CO3 0SL

Cost: From £19.94/£17.56

Website: colchester-zoo.com 


2. Mulled Cider Tasting, Braintree 

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Head to this sustainable cider mill this December for an evening of warming mulled cider in the Orchard Tap Room. There will also be the chance to buy some Christmas cider gifts. The whole family, including dogs and children, are welcome.  

When: December 2; 4pm-7pm

Address: The Big Bear Cider Mill, Stisted, CM77 8AZ 

Cost: Free

Website: thebigbearcider.co.uk 


3. Christmas at Finchingfield 

Finchingfield Guild of Business is creating a winter wonderland in the village with a number of locations holding market stalls, festive entertainment, an advent trail, and the big switch-on of the Christmas tree lights in the duck pond.  

When: December 4-5; 11am-8pm/11am-5pm

Address: The Village Green and the market will be held at Finchingfield Guildhall, Church Hill, Finchingfield, Braintree CM7 4NN

Cost: Free

Website: finchingfield.org 


4. Country Christmas, Blackthorpe 

Nestled in the heart of Rougham Estate, just over the border near Bury St. Edmunds, the historic Blackthorpe Barn is home to an event that brings the Christmas spirit to thousands of people each year – and this year is its 30th anniversary. The Country Christmas Shop has everything to make your Christmas special, from decorations and wreaths to aromatics and gifts for all. 

When: On until December 22

Address: Blackthorpe Barn, near Bury St. Edmunds, IP30 9JG 

Cost: Free entry

Website: blackthorpebarn.com 


5. Christmas brunch with Santa, Hatfield Heath 

Enjoy a special brunch with the whole family and create memories for a lifetime. Indulge in a sumptuous menu while the kids get excited to meet Santa and receive a gift – if they’re not on the naughty list! 

When: Various dates from December 5 to 21

Address: Down Hall Hotel & Spa, Hatfield Heath, CM22 7AS 

Cost: £40/£20 adult/child

Website: downhall.co.uk 


6. Horrible Christmas, Chelmsford

Don’t fancy braving the cold? Car Park Panto is coming to Chelmsford City Racecourse. In partnership with Birmingham Stage Company and Horrible Histories, Horrible Christmas is a fun-packed show, which enables families to get in the festive spirit from the comfort of their own car. 

When: December 17

Address: Chelmsford City Racecourse, CM3 1QP 

Cost: £49.50 per carload

Website: chelmsfordcityracecourse.com


7. Christmas at Adventure Island, Southend-on-Sea

Father Christmas will be paying a visit to the seafront fun park. Kids get to meet the big man himself, grab a toy and enjoy the rides. Each child can be accompanied by an adult for free – and they get a ride wristband too! 

When: Various dates in December

Address: Adventure Island, Southend-on-Sea, SS1 1EE 

Cost: Standard entry £20

Website: adventureisland.co.uk 


8. Santa Special at Colne Valley Railway, Halstead

Colne Valley Railway has worked hard with the Elf & Safety team to ensure your festive visit will be as enjoyable and safe as possible. You and the family will get to go to Santa’s grotto before travelling on the diesel train to collect presents from the toy shop.  

When: Various dates in December

Address: Castle Hedingham, Halstead, CO9 3DZ 

Cost: From £40

Website: colnevalleyrailway.co.uk 


9. Pip’s Post Room, Chelmsford

One for the kids, Wind Song Theatre is bringing the city a festive treat packed with whacky characters and toe-tapping tunes. Telling the story of Pip, the penguin in charge of delivering children’s hopes and dreams to Father Christmas, this original story is crafted to inspire young minds. 

When: Various dates in December 

Address: Cramphorn Studio, Chelmsford, CM1 1JG

Cost: £10; family tickets available

Website: chelmsford.gov.uk


10. Woodland wreath-making, Colchester

Head to the woods for a morning of fun while making winter wreaths from natural materials found in the woodland. Suitable for ages 4+, the outdoor event is £5.50 for children and free for adults; it must be booked in advance.  

When: December 21 

Address: High Woods Country Park, Colchester, CO4 5JR 

Cost: Free/£5.50 adult/child

Website: colchester.gov.uk 


11. Hylands Estate Christmas Open Day and Craft Market, Chelmsford

Hylands Estate in Chelmsford will open its doors free of charge to reveal the secrets of its history. You can enjoy this month’s Weddings and Royalty exhibition and browse the house at your leisure. For a more in-depth experience, you can join a free guided tour at 11am, which is lead by the house’s knowledgeable team. While you’re there, drop in for some last-minute gifts and festive treats at the Farmers’ and Craft Market. Located both outside the house and inside the Grand Pavilion, the market is a treasure trove of local food and drink and crafts direct from the makers – think Christmas wreaths, mulled wine and sweet treats! 

When: December 19

Address: Hylands House, CM2 8WQ

Cost: Free

Website: hylandsestate.co.uk 


12. Santa Fun Run for Farleigh Hospice, Chelmsford 

Don your Santa suits, hats and tinsel this December, all in the name of fundraising for Farleigh Hospice. The Santa Fun Run for Farleigh takes place on December 5 at 9.30am in Central Park, Chelmsford. The 5k route is suitable for the whole family – it’s wheelchair and pushchair-friendly and there’s even a prize for the best-dressed dog! Entry is just £15 and includes a free Santa suit. Farleigh Hospice fundraising manager Debbie de Boltz says, ‘All sponsorship money raised will go towards providing care and support to those in the community affected by life-limiting illness and bereavement. The route is suitable for all ages and abilities; you can run, jog or walk it. The most important thing is to get in the festive spirit, have some fun and raise money.’ 

When: December 5

Address: Central Park, Chelmsford CM2 0RW

Cost: £15

Website: farleighhospice.org


13. Guided tour: Georgian and Victorian Colchester at Christmas, Colchester 

Join a costumed guide to discover the ways in which the townsfolk of Georgian and Victorian Colchester celebrated Christmas. The tour starts at 2pm at Hollytrees Museum, a beautiful Georgian townhouse that’s now home to a museum of social history.  

When: December 4 

Address: Hollytrees Museum, Castle Park, Colchester, CO1 1UG 

Cost: £5/£3.50 adult/child

Website: visitcolchester.co.uk


14. Christmas Street Market, Braintree 

Held from 9am to 3.30pm, the Braintree Christmas Street Market is back for 2021. You’ll find more than 50 stalls lining the town centre, all packed with a range of goodies from handmade jewellery to festive decorations. Hungry? There will be plenty of stalls selling gourmet street food and mulled wine. 

When: December 4 and December 18 

Address: Braintree town centre, CM7 1RB 

Cost: Free entry

Website: visitessex.com

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