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Plane or Train: Winter Getaways

It's that time of year again. From decorating the tree and writing cards to wrapping presents, lots of us are in the swing of the festive season. In the lead up to the big day, you might also be on the lookout for Christmassy activities to keep your little ones entertained. There are certainly plenty of options to choose from, both on your doorstep here in the UK and further afield. So, how far do you have to travel to experience the top festive attractions?

Home or away?

To give you a flavour of what's on offer, we've created a table showcasing family-friendly activities across the UK - and compared them on price to similar options you can find overseas. A follow up to our summer campaign 'Plane or train: UK staycations that are more affordable than abroad', we showcase a wide range of attractions that kids and adults of all ages are bound to love this winter.

While there are undoubtedly lots of great experiences to be had outside the UK, our table shows that you don't have to reach for your passport to enjoy truly memorable festive fun this year. Staying closer to home could be a lot easier, especially if you're travelling with young children in tow. You won't have to worry about airport queues and keeping little ones occupied on flights. And then there's the fact that you're likely to spend less on your travel if you choose attractions in the UK rather than overseas.

UK location versus abroad location



So, how do UK attractions stand up against the options abroad?

Take a festive train ride

If you want to take a train ride to remember and you don't mind racking up some air miles to get there, the Polar Express railway in Switzerland could be the one for you. This cog railway ascends over 1,000 metres, serving up stunning views over the Swiss Alps. And of course, Santa will be there to greet you and your family when you reach the top.

You could save yourself the long journey however and enjoy an equally magical festive experience on THE POLAR EXPRESS™ train ride. Departing from Leeming Bar station in North Yorkshire, this unique attraction is themed on the 2004 motion picture of the same name. Especially if your kids are fans of the movie, they'll love meeting the characters, including the conductor and singing chefs. Once you reach your destination - the North Pole no less - you'll be greeted by Santa Claus, who'll join you on board.

See zoos in a whole new light

For sheer scale, it's hard to top the Tierpark in Berlin. Europe's largest zoo, this vast park comes alive after dark during the festive period with an array of beautiful illuminations, including 30 intricate light sculptures. Your walking tour of the zoo will also give you a chance to see its historical Friedrichsfelde Palace bathed in colourful lights.

But if you don't fancy travelling to Germany to see an impressive light display, Chester Zoo offers a superb alternative. The Lanterns, an annual tradition at Chester Zoo, showcases an entrancing wonderland of festive scene and animal-themed illuminations, from glowing wolves to life-size orangutan puppets. There are 11 worlds for you and your family to explore, each more fantastical than the last.

Experience the ultimate Christmas market

No festive season is complete without a family trip to a Christmas market. For those keen to venture further afield, Winter Wonders in Brussels is a strong choice. This market stretches across the Marché aux Poissons, Grand-Place, Bourse and Place Sainte-Catherine and offers everything from light shows and ice-skating rinks to attractive chalet-style stalls selling winter warmers including mulled wine, hot chocolate and waffles.

You can get a flavour of a continental Christmas market right here in the UK though if you're looking for a more convenient option. Edinburgh's annual festive market is nestled in Princes Street Gardens, an attractive spot right in the heart of the city centre - perfect if you want to combine your visit with some Christmas shopping or a trip to one of the Scottish capital's museums or galleries. You'll find lots to keep all the family busy, including food and drink stalls and a big wheel that offers impressive view over the streets below.

Get off the beaten track

Want to get in touch with nature this Christmas? There are lots of activities on offer abroad that give you and your family a chance to get off the beaten track and enjoy something altogether wilder and more rugged. You could book a guided tour to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, arrange a husky sledding adventure in Norway or take a reindeer sleigh ride in Lapland. The options are endless.

These foreign sojourns don't tend to come cheap however, and there's no shortage of excellent alternatives here in the UK. You could visit the picturesque Moray Firth in Scotland for a chance of glimpsing the Northern Lights without have to take a flight, for example, and north-east Scotland is also a great spot for husky sledding. Pack your wellies and be at one with nature this festive season!

Visit Lapland

Any kid will tell you Lapland is the place to go to meet Santa. If you're prepared to travel, you could take your family to the destination itself. Both Swedish and Finnish Lapland offer a host of Christmas-themed activities that are perfect for kids and adults. Of course, you'll have a chance to meet the main man himself, and you can also get stuck into traditional Arctic activities, take husky sled rides and much more besides.

But for an immersive Santa-themed Lapland experience, it's hard to beat Lapland UK in Ascot. OK, so it may not quite be the real thing, but for youngsters it can be just as memorable. Based on a reimagining of the Father Christmas myth, this experience fuses theatre and craft making a highly imaginative, interactive experience.

Have a very Harry Christmas

If there are Harry Potter fans in your family. why not treat them to a festive take on their favourite wizard? If you fancy a trip stateside, Universal's Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Orlando undergo a transformation in the run-up to Christmas, with Hogwarts castle lit up especially for the celebrations, and the streets of Hogsmeade decked out in festive adornments.

You don't have to travel thousands of miles to get your Harry Potter fix though. Hogwarts in the Snow at the Warner Bros Studio in London delivers all the magic you and your kids could wish for. Take a tour of the studio to see iconic film sets including the Forbidden Forest, Gryffindor common room and Diagon Alley given a Christmas twist. From shimmering snow and dripping icicles to wintry orchestral music, this attraction perfectly encapsulates the wonder of this time of the year.

What's on your Christmas list?

With so many family-friendly activities on offer both in the UK and abroad, you're spoiled for choice when it comes to planning your next trip. So, which festive attraction tops your list? Let us know what you have in store for your winter adventures using #UKHolidaysVSAbroad.