Christmas in Essex is always a fun time of year, with many businesses having Christmas Events. From Christmas Markets to festival train rides and more, there are lots of options to pick from. In this post I share a selection of Christmas things to do in Essex in 2023!
Disclosure: I do my best to try and keep information up-to-date but please check direct with businesses for current opening times and prices.
One of my favourite things to do at Christmas is to visit a Christmas market! I personally love the German market at Meadow Croft Garden Centre in Battlesbridge. It opens in mid-September and runs through to December. As well as the stalls, there are traditional German foods and drink on offer.
Essex Christmas Shopping Fair
🗺Cressing Temple Barns, Witham, Essex CM77 8PD
📅10th – 12th Nov 2023
💰Adults: £5 | Concessions: £4 | Children: Free
Held at Cressing Temple Barns, just outside of Braintree, is the Essex Christmas Shopping Fair. It takes place across one weekend in the middle of November. There are over 100 vendors selling a wide range of products that are great for Christmas gifts.
I went in 2021 and ended up buying things mostly for myself (🙈), including a bottle of salted caramel rum and a giant cake from the Donut Bar! Many of the stands that sell food or drink products have free samples too.
For one weekend in November, a Christmas Fair is taking place at Layer Marney Tower, just outside Colchester. There will be over 120 stalls, selling gifts and food. Live music takes place on each of the days and Santa will be walking around the fair on Friday and Saturday. You’ll even find a Ferris wheel (for an additional fee)!
Several other garden centres in Essex also have Christmas displays. Perrywood in Tiptree has themed displays every year. In 2022 the theme is ‘Step Back In Time’ starting from the 1800s and going up to the 1980s! Perrywood doesn’t have a Santa’s Grotto, but they have various photo opportunities around the shop.
Poplar Nurseries Breakfast With Santa
🗺Poplar Nurseries Ltd, Coggeshall Rd, Marks Tey, Colchester, CO6 1HR
📅Breakfast With Santa select dates between 3rd – 23rd Dec 2023
💰Adults: £12.99 | Child: £19.99
Poplar Nurseries in Marks Tey has another great Christmas department. In the week before Christmas they are running their ‘Breakfast With Santa’ event from 8.15am until 10am. All children receive a gift and a real-life baby Christmas tree. There will be festive stories and singing.
Teatime & Breakfast With Santa at Cherry Lane Garden Centre
🗺Coggeshall Rd, Braintree, CM77 8AE
📅Breakfast With Santa – Sunday 3rd, 10th & 17th Dec 2023
📅Teatime With Santa – 18th Dec 2023
💰Adults: £6.99 | Child: £10.99 (food and drink included)
Cherry Lane is another garden centre with a Christmas department. They also have a Breakfast With Santa and Teatime With Santa event. The price includes a gift for every child plus food and drink.
The children’s teatime menu offers meals like fish fingers and chips, sausage and chips, juice or water. Adult meals are various jacket potatoes with fillings and tea or coffee.
Events must be pre-booked in advance. Make sure to filter by location when looking on the websites as some of the other Cherry Lane locations have other events on offer.
Colchester Christmas Market
🗺High St, Colchester CO1 1DN
📅Sunday 26th Nov & 10th December 2023 – 10am until 5pm
There are two dates for the Colchester Christmas Market taking place along the High Street. There will be 80 stalls selling festival food, drink and gifts. Along with an opportunity to shop, you’ll find funfair rides, Santa, live music and street performers.
📅24th Nov 2023 – 1st Jan 2024 (Barleylands & Castle Park opens: 1st Dec)
💰Adults: from £12.50 | Child: from £9
Returning to Hylands Park is Enlightened, an outdoor light trail running from 24th November 2023 until 1st January 2024. Tickets are pre-booked online in advance.
In 2023 there are 2 further Essex light trails, one at Castle Park in Colchester and another at Barleylands in Billericay. These two locations will be open throughout December (Barleylands until 24th Dec).
The light trails are approximately 1 mile long and take 1 hour to walk around.
Glow at Hyde Hall
🗺Creephedge Ln, Chelmsford, CM3 8ET
📅23rd Nov 2023 – 30th Dec 2023 | 5pm – 9pm
💰Non Member Adults: £15.95 | Child: £8.45
Another light trail is Glow at RHS Hyde Hall. Glow 2023 is open from 23rd November 2023 until 30th December 2023 between 5pm – 9pm. It’s not open daily, so check the website for information. Tickets must be pre-booked in advance.
The trail goes around several of the different gardens at Hyde Hall. Traditional festive German food and drink is available for purchase.
Nayling Road Lights in Braintree (Free)
🗺Nayling Road, Braintree, CM7 2RY
I wrote a whole post about the Nayling Road Christmas Lights! There is a street in Braintree where a large percentage of the houses all decorate for Christmas and raise money for charity.
There’s one house that creates a music light show which is awesome! One year it was Baby Shark and another was dedicated to Keith Flint where they played Firestarter by The Prodigy. Switch on is December 1st.
Christmas Train Rides
Epping Ongar Christmas Train and Lights Express
🗺North Weald Station, CM16 6BT
📅Nov 2023 – Jan 2024 dates vary depending the event
💰Price varies depending on event
The Epping Ongar Railway has a couple of different Christmas events running. Santa’s Special Trains run weekends from 25th November and throughout December and then weekdays between 20th December to 24th December.
All children receive a gift from Santa, included within the ticket price.
Running on various dates between November 2023 until mid-January 2024 are the Epping Ongar Lights Express trains. Both the steam and diesel trains are decorated with hundreds of Christmas lights as well as a light display along the route.
There are 3 departures most evenings, either 16.45, 18,25 or 20.05. Tickets are £20 per person. Santa is not on the Lights Express journeys.
Both events use the same trains, however, the lights are only illuminated on the Light Express rides.
Audley End Christmas Special
🗺Audley End Rd, Audley End, Saffron Walden, CB11 4JB
📅18th Nov – 24th Dec 2023
💰Adults and Children over 92cm: £18 – £30 | Children under 92cm: £9 – £15
The Audley End Christmas Special is always a popular Christmas event in Essex! Visitors board the Santa Express to Father Christmas’ Winter Wonderland. Here, children receive a gift and watch a special Christmas dance.
Ticket prices also include letter writing to Santa at the North Pole Post Office and reindeer food making. Booking in advance is a must and tickets do sell out!
Colne Valley Railway Santa Special
🗺Colne Valley Railway, Castle Hedingham, CO9 3DZ
📅2nd Dec – 24th Dec 2023 (dates vary) | 10am – 4pm
💰£20 per person (children under 3: £10)
Colne Valley Railway Santa Special has a Santa’s Grotto. After meeting Father Christmas, board the diesel train to Santa’s Toy Shop to collect a present. Time slots last for 30 minutes.
Festival Day Out With Thomas at East Anglian Railway Museum
💰Adults: £17 | Child: (2-17yrs): £13 | Add on Santa Visit: £7pp
The Festival Day Out With Thomas is similar to the usual Day Out With Thomas events, but with the addition on a visit to Santa. Tickets are valid for a 3-hour time slot in which you can have unlimited rides behind Thomas, Percy and Daisy.
The journey is 1/3 of a mile. A visit to Santa is an additional £7 per child. This is added at the checkout. There are several different options to receive an age-appropriate gift. The East Anglian Railway Museum has free parking for 200 cars.
Magic of Christmas at Colchester Zoo
🗺Maldon Rd, Colchester, CO3 0SL
📅Weekends from 25th Nov 2023 and all week through 16th – 24th Dec 2023
As well as enjoying all the animals at the zoo, the Magic of Christmas event includes: a Christmas road train, reindeer stables, Elves Workshop with crafts (small cost), storytelling and an enchanted woodland.
For an additional £15 per child the Santa Experience is a journey through Christmas scenes, finishing up with a visit to Santa to receive a gift.
Enchanted Trail of Lights
There is a 2nd Christmas event at Colchester Zoo called the ‘Enchanted Trail of Lights‘. This year it’s a completely separate event to the Magic of Christmas. The main zoo shuts at 4.30pm and will reopen again at 5.30pm. Visitors will be able enjoy the Christmas lights around the zoo on selected dates throughout December. The trail takes approximately 1.5 hours to complete.
🗺Marsh Farm, Marsh Farm Rd, South Woodham Ferrers, CM3 5WP
📅18th Nov – 24th Dec 2024 (not 7 days a week)
💰£30 – £75pp depending on day of visit
*Adults without children are not allowed into Marsh Farm*
The Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm lasts for approximately 2hr 30. It is quite an expensive event but it is all-inclusive. The ticket includes all the fairground rides, ice skating, seeing Father Christmas, a build-your-own teddy bear, a gift, meeting the animals and more!
Christmas at Ho Ho Hopefield Animal Sanctuary
🗺Sawyer’s Hall Farm, Sawyers Hall Ln, Brentwood CM15 9BZ
📅Every Weekend 2nd – 23rd Dec 2023
💰Child: £15.99 | Adult: £8
Every weekend from 19th November, Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Brentwood is holding the Christmas at Ho Ho Hopefield event.
As well as getting to see the 500+ animals that are at the sanctuary, full-price child tickets include: a mince pie and hot drink, Santa’s Grotto (with gift), Christmas activities, a winter trail, Christmas letter writing and more.
📅Various dates depending on theatre company. Many start mid November through to end of December.
Pantomimes are a typical Christmas tradition for many families. You can find a guide to what pantomimes are on in Essex this year by checking out this post: It’s Behind You! 8 Pantomimes In Essex. The biggest pantos in Essex are the one at The Cliffs Pavilion in Westcliff (Southend on Sea) and the Princes Theatre in Clacton. These two often bring in famous faces!
*Christmas at The Pier (Clacton)
🗺No.1, North Sea, Clacton-on-Sea CO15 1QX
📅Adventure Grotto: Weekends from 19th November 2022* and throughout December | Afternoon Tea: Weekdays from 28th November 2022*
💰Grotto: £14.99 (Adults £3.50 includes hot festive drink) | Afternoon Tea: £19.99 per person
The Adventure Grotto opens at Clacton Pier is open the last 2 weeks of November and throughout December. Visitors will meet Santa and his elves (plus other entertainment) and receive a toy and souvenir photo. There is an entrance fee for adults, although this does include a hot festive drink.
Along with the Adventure Grotto, on weekdays there is an Afternoon Tea Experience to meet Santa and friends. Tickets are £19.99 for both adults and children but everyone includes a gift and a souvenir photo (including adults). It also includes entry to the soft play area. The event runs from 3pm until 6pm.
Mental Elf Run 2023 at Belfairs Wood
🗺Belfairs Wood, Eastwood Rd N, Leigh-on-Sea SS9 4LR
📅Saturday 2nd December 2023 from 9am until 12pm
💰Adults: £15 | Children (under 16): £10
On the morning of Saturday 2nd December, the annual ‘Metal Elf‘ charity fun run to raise money for SECE Mind will take place at Belfairs Wood. The charity provides mental health support in the local area. The aim is to walk, jog or run approximately 5k around the woodland while in fancy dress.
Participants receive a medal and a mince pie at the end!
Afternoon Tea in a Ski Gondola
🗺Mrs Salisbury’s Famous Tea Rooms, 2 The Street, Wickham Bishops CM8 3NN
Hundreds of Essex cafes, pubs, restaurants and hotels have festival offerings during the Christmas period. It would be impossible to mention them all! However, a unique eating experience is to have an afternoon tea in a ski gondola at Mrs Salisbury’s Famous Tea Rooms in Wickham Bishops!
The gondolas have a minimum booking of 4 people with the afternoon tea from £31.95 per person, from 17th November 2023. Christmas afternoon teas are served with mulled wine, a glass of Prosecco or non alcoholic Christmas punch. (As well as tea and coffee).
For those looking to get out and enjoy some fresh air and movement after enjoying all the treats around Christmas, head to the Wild Forest in Brentwood! On the 28th and 29th December they have a 2k Bobble Hat Obstacle Run (land obstacles only, not the water obstacles).
At the end there is a fire pit and free hot chocolate. Participants are welcome to take marshmallows to toast over the fire!
I hope you’ve been inspired by these Christmas things to do in Essex in 2023!