North West wonderland

Ice rinks, enchanted forests and light shows are tempting families outdoors this festive season. Our round-up of the best, throwing in some NYE family fun too

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Live arts events are thin on the ground at this time of year – at least, ones that don’t required the audience to boo and hiss on cue – but once the novelty of Christmas presents has worn off, families may be eager to go out in search of entertainment. Rest assured, there’s a whole host of wintery fun to be had if you just know where to look.

Various local National Trust properties, including Lyme Park, Quarry Bank, Speke Hall and Hardcastle Crags, are participating in a nature “winter wander” inspired by Nick Butterworth’s Percy the Park Keeper picture books. Tatton Park has its own forest-based variation on this theme.

Manchester’s Heaton Park has brought back its award-winning light and lantern trail festival Lightopia, with an array of immersive, interactive installations. In North Yorkshire, Castle Howard is known for its lavish festive presentations, and this year’s Christmas in Narnia, transforming the interior of the house into a magical fantasy world (recently the subject of an ITV documentary), sounds suitably splendid.

For the season, Arley Hall in Northwich is hosting an official Harry Potter attraction. The Forbidden Forest Experience populates the gardens with interactive beasts from the fictional Wizarding World, complete with special effects, activities and plentiful refreshment options.

The real-life animals of Knowsley Safari Park tend to keep a low profile at this time of year, but there’s still time to catch the park’s Christmas lights show Enchanted, an after-dark “foot safari”.

Meanwhile, Brockholes nature reserve in Preston is running seasonal events around their wetland and woodland areas, including an Ice Quest trail, plus a more challenging Christmas Xplorer Challenge created with British Orienteering.

If indoor winter wonderlands are more your style, the Trafford Centre in Manchester is littered with the things, with four of them jostling for your attention. At Event City there’s Silcock’s Winter Wonderland, reputedly the UK’s largest indoor Christmas theme park, with an assortment of rides, attractions, games stalls, show stages and, naturally enough, Santa’s Grotto.

At the BEC Arena in Trafford there’s Winter Funland, which claims to be the UK’s largest indoor fairground, with a flurry of rides and a Christmas circus show. Within the Trafford Centre itself, there’s the curiously-named Unreal Xmas, an immersive festive experience with an ice-skating rink – an enchanted one, naturally – plus craft market stalls. There’s also Tinsel Town, the centre’s own outdoor fayre, with stalls, rides and (another) ice rink. Santa’s available for visits here too, but this time he’s in a tipi.

Over in Blackpool, the traditional Promenade illuminations have been extended into January, and on the Tower’s Festival Headland there’s the promise of Christmas by the Sea, with a free outdoor skating rink, plus log cabins, an illuminated “magical forest”, video projections onto the tower itself and even simulated snowfalls. The nearby Winter Gardens has become – you guessed it – the Winter Gardens Wonderland, with stalls, entertainment, a Santa’s grotto and Bavarian-style Christmas chalets.

The options are almost endless, and this is just the tip of the enchanted iceberg. All of the above activities run until after Christmas, but exact dates vary and please do be sure to check availability before you set off by sleigh.

Finally, a special mention for Chester Cathedral’s Christmas Tree Festival, with over 50 fully-decorated trees on display. Christmas in excelsis, surely?

Playing out on NYE

The phenomenon of the kiddy rave seems to be here to stay, allowing parents to relive their glowstick glory days while sharing a love of serious BPMs with their young offspring. Needless to say, New Year’s Eve is a key date in the kiddy rave calendar. Bespoke events organised by specialist companies such as Our Kids Social and Big Fish Little Fish (slogan: 2-4 Hour Party People) regularly sell out in advance.

This NYE, Playground Nightclub in Manchester city centre is offering two daytime sessions from the popular Raver Tots stable (slogan: Throw Shapes, Not Toys). DJed by Kisstory’s Wideboys, both sessions will be complete with lasers, bubbles, balloons, confetti blasts and a chill-out zone – for overwhelmed parents, presumably. Along similar lines, BoomChikkaBoom will be presenting a mini family rave at the Piece Hall in Halifax, boasting snow machines, dance battles, parachutes and a photo booth.

If a rave, even a mini one, just isn’t your cup of tea, a more traditional alternative is the family-friendly New Year’s Eve party at Gulliver’s World theme park in Warrington, taking place both indoors and outdoors with food, drink, fireworks, international celebrations on the hour and rides running until the clock is ready to strike midnight.

The Alsager Civic in Stoke-on-Trent will be running a family NYE party for the sixth successive year. Not a full-on rave, perhaps, but it promises a child-friendly disco and entertainment alongside a two-course deli buffet platter served at your table. Alternatively you could make a night of it at St Mary’s Chambers in Rawtenstall, with an all-ages party incorporating a cabaret magic show – dubbed “incredible” by Prince Charles no less – plus a five-piece party covers band. Presumably, though, they draw the line at covering the Prodigy, Altern-8 and hardcore nineties bleep-pop generally.

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