Think National Trust and English heritage properties are just for your nan? Visiting stately homes can be a wonderful day out with your mates or even something to do with your parents and grandparents. It can get you in the Christmas spirit, beguiling those magical Christmasy childhood memories. Here are 7 stately homes to visit for an enchanted holiday season.
1 Castle Howard
Home to the Carlisle branch of the Howard family for over 300 years, it took 100 of those years to build this impressive baroque-style stately home in North Yorkshire. And although it’s called a castle, it’s no castle – as in fortified structure – but was, instead, built on the site of a former castle, hence the name.
The property has breathtaking vistas, multiple gardens, 145 rooms, 140,000 square feet, and 600 acres of parkland.
Film lovers will recognise the home as the set of two Brideshead Revisited film and television versions (1981 and 2008) of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel.
The property is impressive all year round but at Christmas, you can marvel at the 25-foot Christmas tree in the Great Hall with over 3,000 baubles – and you thought putting up ornaments on your 6-foot tree was a chore!
The house is open from 10 AM but you can also enjoy a magical Christmas in Narnia experience in the grounds and go for a festive afternoon tea if the fancy strikes.
Find out more here.
2 Dunham Massey
Dunham Massey is located in Altrincham, a market town in Trafford, Greater Manchester and the history of the house spans over 400 years. Owned by two ancient families, the Booths and the Greys, the Earls of Warrington and Earls of Stamford, it passed between the two families by inheritance and the family still live in a part of the house.
However, instead of venturing indoors, most visitors go to see the historic formal gardens and impressive 300-acre deer park, which dates back to medieval times. The garden contains over 700 plant species, 1,600 trees and shrubs, and Dunham Massey has the largest winter garden in Britain with snowdrops, daffodils, and bluebells.
If you visit at Christmas, though, you will be able to see the spectacular illuminated trail through those impressive gardens. The illuminated trail has over one million lights, lasers, and seasonal sounds on your journey. You enter besides a glittering deer and venture through tunnels of light, marvelling at trees the colour of jewels. Try and spot Father Christmas before you go for your spiced winter drink or festive hot chocolate.
Uncover the lights here.
3 Holkham Hall
Holkham Hall is in Norfolk and its Marble Hall was modelled on the Temple of Fortuna Virilis and the Pantheon in Rome.
During Christmas, you can see the marble columns wrapped with fairy lights, lines of Christmas trees along the staircase, giant baubles descending from the ceiling, and decadent decorations in the state rooms.
Find out how to see the house in candlelight here.
4 Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palance in Woodstock, Oxfordshire is home to the Dukes of Marlborough – with the famous family names of Spencer and Churchill and an American Vanderbilt thrown in for good measure – and is the only non-royal and non-episcopal country house in England with the title of palace. Like Castle Howard, Blenheim was built in the short-lived English baroque style, used from around 1666 to 1714, and was the birthplace and family home of Sir Winston Churchill.
At Christmas, this home sure knows how to celebrate with a Nutcracker-themed interior, an illuminated trail outdoors, and a Christmas market.
Learn more here.
5 Chatsworth House
Home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth House has been in the Cavendish family since 1549. Located in the Derbyshire Dales, a few miles north-East of Bakewell, of the Bakewell tart fame, the house’s inhabitants have had a colourful history, including Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who was a famous Mitford sister and the wife of the 11th Duke of Devonshire, Andrew Cavendish and the wife of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer – who is worthy of history in her own right – was the great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales. The house also hosted Princess Victoria’s, later Queen Victoria’s, first formal dinner party.
The home is spectacular all year-round with its famous Painted Hall, completed in 1694, but it’s especially magical at Christmas. Over 25 rooms are decorated for the holidays including the Painted Hall, various state rooms, and the sculpture gallery.
For film lovers, the house was the site of several films to do with Jane Austen lovers, including 2005’s Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and many others.
If a house tour isn’t on your agenda, you can explore the 105-acre garden with 500 years of cultivation history, including an arboretum, rock garden, fountains, waterworks, and sculptures. At Christmas, there’s a festive illuminated walk.
You can visit the farm shop, buy your very own Christmas tree, enjoy festive music in the chapel, and see how Chatsworth is staying green with sustainable decorating. If you’re hungry, the Carriage House also has some festive feasts.
Explore the magic here.
6 Harewood House
If you’re venturing to Yorkshire again, you can see Harewood House. Home to the Lascelles family, the house and family have long had royal connections. Henry Lascelles, Viscount Lascelles and later 6th Earl of Harewood married Princess Mary, the only daughter of King George V and sister of Prince George VI (later King George VI, our current Queen’s father). The 7th Earl of Harewood, George Lascelles, the eldest son of Princess Mary was, thus, the first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II before his death in 2011.
Inside the house, you can see the house tell its history in “Upon a Christmas Wish,” an immersive story, designed by Lord Whitney, that takes you through the state rooms and below stairs.
You can also see the usual attractions, including the bird garden, the Himilayan garden, the terrace garden, the walled garden, the lakeside path, and the wider 1,000-acre grounds.
Book Christmas at Harewood here.
7 Highclere Castle
Finally, if you love Downton Abbey, you’ll love visiting Highclere Castle at Christmas. This spectacular home is the country seat of the Earls of Carnarvon with a second claim to fame as enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, along with archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in Deir el-Bahari, known as Thebes in Ancient Egypt, from 1907 to 1914.
At Christmas, the house is decorated to the nines and there are special events such as champagne and carols, a Charles Dickens evening reception, recipes from the real Downton Abbey, and winter tours.
Decide what to see here.
Of course, with hundreds of rooms, a sizeable budget, thousands of acres, and a large staff to help, we could all put on a Christmas show, but these stately homes bring the magic of Christmas alive on a scale that is sure to impress.
Book your place to see them before Christmas or enjoy them in January or February as those winter days start to lighten into spring. Many of these stately homes still have their lights on past the Christmas season or are spectacular to visit year-round. Which magical tour do you plan to take this year or next? Let us know on social media.