The 7 best Devon family attractions to visit Christmas 2021

Two piglets wearing Santa hats.

These piglets are in festive mood at Pennywell Farm. - Credit: Richard Austin

After last year’s rather low-key affair, our attractions are going all-out to make this Christmas extra special for visitors, as CHRISSY HARRIS discovers 

Listening to the talk over at Woodlands Family Theme Park near Dartmouth is enough to bring out the kid in anyone. 

“I personally have never seen anything like this before…” says marketing assistant Olivia Hargreaves. “There will be eight or nine rooms to go through on your journey to meet Santa and it looks amazing. A lot of children are going to be completely mesmerised.” 

A model of a wooden elf outside a grotto.

The team at Woodlands Family Theme Park is busy preparing their new Santa’s grotto. - Credit: Woodlands

Woodlands is setting the festive bar high this year with a purpose-built grotto, divided into different zones, with real-life elves and snowy surprises around every corner. 

Excited visitors will be guided through the winter wonderland on their way to meet the big man himself. 

Everyone here at the South Devon attraction is pretty excited – and it’s not even Christmas yet. 

“It’s all go, go, go at the moment,” says Olivia, describing the project to build one of the greatest grottos around. “It’s going to be a little bit different from what everyone else is offering,” she adds, reluctant to spoil the surprise too much. “All I will say is that I can’t wait to see the look on the kids’ faces when they see it for the first time.” 

Like many of Devon’s attractions, the team at Woodlands are pulling out all the stops this year to make sure visitors get the full festive experience. 

Santa Claus waving from a miniature steam train.

Santa is coming to Crealy. - Credit: Steven Haywood

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Many of our theme parks, railways, zoos and museums had to cancel their Christmas plans during the pandemic, which came as a huge disappointment to many families who traditionally schedule a visit at this time of year. 

Tickets are now expected to sell out fast as locals and visitors book their chance to see Santa in his grotto or ride The Polar Express or watch a farmyard nativity scene or an ice-skating show – just a few of the magical events planned for this month.  

“It’s going to be brilliant,” says Anne Blackham from the Devon Association of Tourist Attractions (DATA). “The attractions are definitely going to make this Christmas one to remember. They are all so looking forward to welcoming people back through their doors to celebrate the festive season. There are so many events to choose from and each one promises to get you in the festive spirit – whatever your age!” 

A tram dressed up in Polar Express livery.

All Aboard the Polar Express at Seaton Tramway. - Credit: Ben Kapur

Here’s what to watch out for 

All aboard the Polar Express: Two of Devon’s top attractions are hosting events based on the on the hit 2004 Warner Bros Film. 

THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Tram Ride, is coming to the award-winning Seaton Tramway in East Devon. Families can enjoy a specially themed tram ride to Santa’s home at the North Pole in one of the specially decorated single deck tramcars. 

South Devon Railway is also running a Polar Express. Held in partnership with UK-based PNP Events Ltd, THE POLAR EXPRESS Train ride promises to be a truly magical experience for the whole family. 

Customers being served drinks on a Devon river cruise boat.

Take a trip with Stuart Line Cruises this Christmas. - Credit: Stuart Line Cruises

Ice stars: visit Crealy near Exeter to see the theme park lit up with decorations and enjoy attractions including a Christmas on Ice Show, live entertainment and a free present for every child. 

Sail with Santa: Set off along the peaceful waters of the River Exe with Stuart Line Cruises and Santa. The boats have an indoor heated lower deck with large windows for great viewing. Mince pies, drinks, sweets and presents make this a very special trip. 

Go underground: Head down, down and down to Kents Cavern in Torquay where there will be Christmas carols and songs underground. Hear the amazing acoustics and then take a walk around the magnificent cave system, while singing carols by candlelight. 

Farmyard fun: Pennywell Farm’s nativity and festive events have become firm family favourites over the years. The farm transforms into a magical winter wonderland with twinkling lights, hundreds of Christmas trees and plenty of sparkle.