Norfolk’s 12 most festive places to visit

PUBLISHED: 15:02 05 December 2019 | UPDATED: 15:55 05 December 2019

Sandringham Estate (photo Neil Didsbury)

Sandringham Estate (photo Neil Didsbury)


Christmas is magical right across the county – but some spots shine especially brightly

1. The Royals at Sandringham

Norfolk is where the royal family chooses to spend Christmas. Royal Christmas traditions include opening gifts on Christmas Eve and attending church on Christmas morning. Many of the younger royals walk to and from the service, stopping to chat to well-wishers lining the route. They return to a Christmas dinner of Norfolk turkey at Sandringham House and afterwards settle down, like millions of other families, for the Queen's speech. The very first Christmas message, by the Queen's grandfather, George V, was broadcast by radio from Sandringham in 1932. Elizabeth II made the first televised Queen's Speech from the library in Sandringham on Christmas Day, 1957.

2. Bethlehem at Ashill

Wander through ancient Bethlehem - in rural Norfolk. Christmas Alive is an atmospheric outdoor living nativity village, including sights and sounds which would have been familiar in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. Meet costumed characters including carpenters, stonemasons, scribes, spinners, weavers, an apothecary, tax collectors taking a census, Roman soldiers barking orders and inn-keepers sharing food, plus real donkeys, sheep and goats. Watch, or even join in with, baking, dancing, mosaic-making or writing in Hebrew. Christmas Alive also includes the chance to see Scrooge, an interactive musical reworking of Charles Dickens' famous story. What if Scrooge had met the baby Jesus one life-changing, world-changing night? Find out at performances at 3pm and 6pm.

Christmas Alive is from 3pm on Saturday and Sunday December 14 and 15 at the Fountain of Life Church, The Well Christian Centre, Swaffham Road, Ashill, near Watton. Tickets are free but should be booked in advance from

Prepatations for the Christmas Alive event at the Fountain of Life church at Ashill (photo Fountain of Life Church)Prepatations for the Christmas Alive event at the Fountain of Life church at Ashill (photo Fountain of Life Church)

3. Illuminations at Blickling

The hall and gardens, near Aylsham, are a magical sight, lit for Christmas from November 30 to December 20. The house glows with glorious illuminations, framed by an avenue of lit trees, and the spectacle continues through the gardens with the temple walk, fountains and parterre all sparking with thousands of multicolour lights. This year Blickling celebrates 400 years of history and inside the rooms are decorated for four centuries of Christmas.

4. Festive facts at the University of East Anglia

Twas 10 days before Christmas when all through the lecture theatre, children were nestled all snug in their seats, amazed by science and history behind festive treats.

Every year the hugely popular UEA Christmas lectures for children shine a light on anything from snow to Santa. This year the appropriately-named Jeremy Noel-Tod will be exploring the traditional ingredients that make up the poetry of Christmas, by way of festive favourites from robins to reindeer and shepherds and angels. Help Jeremy write a new Christmas poem and then find out about pink pigeons in pear trees. Camilla Ryan will talk about how unravelling the code in pink pigeons' DNA could help save the species. Not Even A Mouse and The Pink Pigeon's Peril are aimed at children aged seven and over, accompanied by an adult. Tickets are free but must be booked.

5. Mistletoe in Thorpe-next-Haddiscoe

Save all your kisses for Hillfield Nursery, at Thorpe-next-Haddiscoe, near Loddon, where the orchards are alive with mistletoe every winter. The orchards have more than 250 varieties of apples, plus pear, plum, quince and medlar trees. And once the fruit is picked, many of the apple trees yield a second harvest - of mistletoe. Mistletoe has been part of midwinter celebrations for thousands of years, and its ancient association with fertility continues into the 21st century as couples kiss beneath its boughs.

6. Holly in Ludham

Of all the trees that are in the wood the holly bears the crown at How Hill Farm, Ludham, where more than 100 types of holly are grown. The first holly trees were planted at the farm in the 1930s and berry-laden branches of Ludham holly create a festive feel around the country. They are sold in London's Covent Garden as well as much nearer home and bundles of How Hill holly are donated to decorate Norwich Cathedral every year.

How Hill Farm grows more than 100 varieties of holly (photo Nick Butcher)How Hill Farm grows more than 100 varieties of holly (photo Nick Butcher)

7. Turkeys in Thuxton

Turkeys did not arrive in Europe until the late 16th century but they thrived on Norfolk farms. By the 18th century a quarter of a million black-feathered turkeys, known as Norfolk Blacks, were herded from Norfolk to London every autumn - their feet protected by being dipped in tar or even encased in tiny leather boots.

In the 20th century heavier bronze turkeys became popular and Norfolk blacks were virtually extinct until a Norfolk farmer hatched a few eggs in the 1950s, saw the potential and decided to specialise. His descendants still breed free range Norfolk blacks at Rookery Farm, Thuxton, near Dereham - along with a virtual rainbow of other festive colours including lavender, red and bronze.

You may also want to watch:

Norfolk black turkey (photo Keiron Tovell)Norfolk black turkey (photo Keiron Tovell)

8. Carols at Little Walsingham

Christmas favourite Ding Dong Merrily On High was written by a vicar of Little Walsingham. The Rev George Woodward played the cello and euphonium, kept bees, wrote poetry and loved bell ringing. He wrote several carols - although his Twas In The Year That King Uzziah Died never caught on.

Ding Dong Merrily On High, set to a traditional French dance tune, was first published in 1924 and although George had moved on to look after parishes in Ipswich and then London, he and his wife, Alice, are buried in Little Walsingham churchyard.

All together now: "Glo-or-or-or-or-or…"

Putting out the Christmas crib figures in the chapel at Little Walsingham (photo Matthew Usher)Putting out the Christmas crib figures in the chapel at Little Walsingham (photo Matthew Usher)

9. Lights in Holt

The market town has become famous for its festive silvery white lights. Tens of thousands of them sparkle in trees and pick out the gables, windows and roofs of the town's lovely architecture. People travel miles to shop beneath the shimmering seasonal canopy and enjoy the fairytale atmosphere of the pretty town.

Christmas Lights in Holt (photo Sarah Louise Orme)Christmas Lights in Holt (photo Sarah Louise Orme)

10. City celebrations in Norwich

The many elements that help create a merry Norwich Christmas now include its annual tunnel of light installation. Walk through the recreation of the northern lights from Millennium Plain to Hay Hill, marvelling at the ever-changing colours all around you. The waves of shimmering colour light up the festive season right through until Sunday, January 5.

Real farm animals and a candlelit labyrinth will be part of a special carol service to bless Norwich Cathedral's outdoor crib on December 5. Other Norwich traditions include the Theatre Royal pantomime. This year's joyous production of Cinderella runs from December 17 to January 19. The annual Maddermarket Christmas show this year is Beauty and the Beast, narrated by a pair of mischievous fairies who appear alongside a very helpful rabbit, a thought-snatcher machine, a stolen rose and, obviously, Beauty and the Beast.

Crowds make their way slowly through the popular Tunnel of Lights at the Norwich Christmas lights switch on (photo Denise Bradley)Crowds make their way slowly through the popular Tunnel of Lights at the Norwich Christmas lights switch on (photo Denise Bradley)

11. Europe's biggest Christmas show in Thursford

The glitzy, glorious celebration of all things festive brings people from across the country to a barn theatre in a tiny village near Fakenham. With a professional cast of 120, a history stretching back decades, an immense stage and more fairy lights than fairyland, this all-singing, all-dancing distillation of Christmas is utterly unique.

12. The 12 days of Christmas in Yelverton

A festive flower festival begins on December 25 and runs through to Monday January 6 at Yelverton, near Poringland.

As well as themed arrangements for each of the 12 days of Christmas, visitors will find a retelling of the Nativity story. Donations invited for St Mary's Yelverton, the East Anglia's Children's Hospice nook appeal and the Matthew Project. 11am-3pm from Christmas Day to Epiphany.

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