Liverpool, 1879, and something different was happening at Lewis’s Bon Marché Department Store. A big jolly man in a red suit with a long white beard had set up shop, and the children couldn’t keep away. It was, of course, the first ever Santa’s grotto, and Father Christmas, his elves, the gifts and the naughty and nice lists that would become synonymous with Christmas traditions for countless families over the next century had definitely arrived. Today, there is a huge amount of choice when it comes to the big man’s grottos in Kent, and the joy and magic that it produces is a great way to start your festive celebrations.

Bluewater // 1-24 Dec

Bluewater’s enchanting grotto, located by the beautiful lakes at The Village, invites little ones on a unique Christmas adventure where they will meet Santa’s elves and receive a reindeer hat, before enjoying a magical 4D screening of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. Children will also visit Mrs. Claus’ room for a fun craft activity, meet Reggie the animatronic reindeer and of course, Santa himself in his beautiful toy cabin room. Each child will take home a soft toy and photographs with Santa can be purchased on leaving the grotto.

Price: £10 per child


Calverley Grounds, Tunbridge Wells // 1-24 Dec (selected dates)

Father Christmas and his friendly elves will be welcoming families visiting the Tunbridge Wells Ice Rink in Calverley Grounds, Tunbridge Wells on selected dates from Saturday 1st December to Saturday 24th December 2018. The picturesque natural amphitheatre of Calverley Grounds is the perfect venue to experience a personalised and authentic family visit. After children have written a letter to Father Christmas in the cosy waiting area, he will magically know the names of all the children after talking to the elves! There will be plenty of time allowed to talk to Father Christmas before children choose an age appropriate gift and have their photograph taken with Father Christmas as a memento of their visit.

Price: £14.50 per child (price includes a mounted photograph of the child with Father Christmas)


Leeds Castle // 1-2, 8-9, 15-16 Dec

Leeds Castle offers up a magnificent Christmas market each year, and at its heart lies Father Christmas in his magical grotto. There is colouring to take part in, as well as crafts while the children are waiting, and then, when it is time, you will be led through a mysterious enchanted pathway to see Santa himself. Every child will be given a traditional gift to take home with them too.

Price: £15 per child


Hever Castle // 24 Nov-9 Dec (Weekends), 10-24 Dec (Daily)

Photo credit Hever Castle & Gardens

Hever Castle at Christmas is always something magically memorable, so of course, making this the place to meet with Father Christmas will really start the festive period off perfectly. Children will be enchanted by the magical grotto where they will be taken by an elf through the snowy forest to meet Father Christmas in his log cabin. Fireside stories and beautiful attention to detail – as well as plenty of opportunity to enjoy mince pies and mulled wine – make this grotto something for all the family.

Price: from £8


Kent Life // 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 20-24 Dec

There is a lot going on at Kent Life this Christmastime! Arrive to meet Santa and climb aboard the festively decorated land train – the head elf himself will be driving, so you know you’re in safe hands. Bundle into Santa’s cottage and listen to the Christmas stories that Mrs Christmas is going to tell; you can even write a letter to Father Christmas as you wait. Father Christmas will see each child individually and give them a gift – parents and guardians can enjoy a mince pie and a sample of cider too.

Price: £12.95 per child


The Hop Farm // 1-23 Dec

The Hop Farm in Paddock Wood offers a truly magical Father Christmas experience during the festive season. The little ones can meet Santa, receive a gift and have plenty of fun inside the Big Red Grotto where they can spend an unlimited amount of time playing with the elves and taking part in various Christmas craft activities. They can even write a letter to give to the big man himself while they’re there. Ticket price includes entry into the family park, animal farm and even the indoor soft play centre, as well as a Christmas gift and one printed photograph per group.

Price: £18 per child


Royal Victoria Place, Tunbridge Wells // until 24 Dec

With Christmas coming up so soon, Santa is always going to be super busy, but he is making the time to stop off at Royal Victoria Place Shopping Centre in Tunbridge Wells throughout December so that he can meet children and make sure they know what it takes to get onto the nice list! Grownups can even get their Christmas shopping done at the same time, keeping everyone happy.

Price: £5.50 per child


Kent and East Sussex Railway // 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 21-24 Dec

The steam trains at the Kent and East Sussex Railway will be decorated beautifully for the occasion on this one hour 10 minute journey during which Father Christmas will be passing by each carriage and chatting to the children inside. Following on behind are the elves, carrying sacks of gifts for the kids. And, if there are any teenagers on board who might prefer something a little sweeter, there are boxes of chocolate just for them! On 21st December, there will be a special ‘relaxed day’, which is ideal for children on the autistic spectrum so that they don’t have to miss out on all the fun and they can enjoy their visit with Santa in a way that makes them most comfortable.

Price: from £19


Quex Park // 1-23 Dec

All aboard the Elf Express to Elf Tower! Venture through the Magical Elf Forest at Quex Park where you will be greeted by three very cheerful elves. Each elf will be waiting with a sweet treat or two for you to take away, but of course, that is only if you have been good this year! Then climb the winding staircase to meet Santa for a Christmas story and present! This is set to be the best Christmas experience yet, so don’t miss it… even the adults get treats!

Price: from £10


Groombridge Place // 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 20-23 Dec

At Groombridge Place the elves have a lot to do, especially during the Merry Elfmas event that takes place each weekend in December and on the countdown to Christmas day itself. Elf storytelling, Christmas letter writing, plenty of Christmas-themed crafts and even a special Christmas circus will all be happening for 2018, as well as the chance to meet Santa in his grotto.

Price: £11.95 per child for the grotto, other events and activities are extra


Brookside Garden Centre, East Peckham // until 23 Dec

Brookside Garden Centre puts on the most spectacular grotto each year, and it really is a magical place for children to meet Father Christmas. It has won awards, and it is not hard to see why. Plus, part of the proceeds go towards local charities and good causes, so it is really worth taking a look at. The trail that takes you to Santa is as sparkly and bright as you would want, and the big man himself always has the time to chat – no one is rushed, and everyone can enjoy some special time together.

Price: £15 per child, £3 per adult


Ruxley Manor Garden Centre, Sidcup // until 23 Dec

It is Mother Christmas herself, as well as the funny elves, who will be guiding you through this magical winter wonderland to meet Father Christmas and receive a gift. Each grotto session takes 45 minutes, and there is plenty of fun to be had as you go including a special coconut shy and the chance to make reindeer food, made to Santa’s very own secret recipe.

Price: £12


Bewl Water // 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 21-24 Dec

Christmas preparations have been in full swing, but with just days to go a huge storm has wreaked havoc over the elves’ workshop, and dozens of presents are missing! When children come to visit Santa at Bewl Water, they must first hunt for the missing presents to bring them back safe and sound before Father Christmas has to give them all out on Christmas Eve. Entry includes a visit to see Father Christmas in his grotto with a gift for every child; explore the secret woodland wonderland with the jolly elves; Christmas-themed crafts and activity sheets for the children; place a wish upon the Magic Wishing Tree; 30 minutes skating on the ‘Magic Ice’ rink; unlimited fairground rides; marshmallow toasting and s’more making at the fire pit; and endless festive photo opportunities!

Price: £35 per child, £18 per adult


Broadditch // 1-2, 8-9, 15-23 Dec

With all the fun of the farm combined with meeting the most well-loved Christmas icon, Brodditch has everything your little one might want this festive season. Climb aboard the tractor sleigh and experience an exciting journey into the enchanted wood where the elves will lead you to Santa’s cottage. Listen to a story, make a wish, and come away with a great gift.

Price: £10


Hempstead Valley // until 24 Dec

Father Christmas has taken up residence in his traditional grotto which features many enchanting characters including penguins and a towering, beautifully decorated Christmas tree. The traditional grotto is open daily until Christmas Eve

and a visit to see Father Christmas includes a wrapped gift.

Price: £5


Polhill Garden Centre, Sevenoaks // until 24 Dec

The grotto at Polhill Garden Centre near Sevenoaks is one that families love to go back to year after year. It is always different, but always magical, and Santa is always happy to spend time with the little ones, reading stories and talking about the North Pole and his naughty elves!

Price: £12


Whitefriars // 1-24 Dec

The Santa’s Grotto experience at Whitefriars is bigger this year than ever before! This year you can make elf dust while you wait, and once they have met Father Christmas, the children will receive a lovely commemorative certificate.

Price: from £4


Crampton Tower Museum, Broadstairs // 1-22 Dec (selected dates)

Grottos do tend to get booked up well in advance, so finding one that doesn’t need tickets is always a bonus – and the Santa Special Weekends at the Crampton Tower Museum in Broadstairs works in exactly that way. Santa is waiting patiently at the top of the tower, and good boys and girls will be taken there by an elf. On the way they can walk through the elves’ workshop to see toys being made, and when they have finished chatting to Santa – and received their gift – they can then enjoy a ride on a miniature railway to finish the day off in style!

Price: £7


The Glades // 1-24 Dec

Santa’s elves are awake from their deep sleep and full of beans as they prepare for ‘ADVENTure Land’ at The Glades – Bromley’s Christmas grotto experience for 2018. To make the most exciting time of year really unforgettable, Santa and his helpers are planning a festive activity and a half to get families into the Christmas spirit. Open from 1st December until Christmas Eve, the ADVENTure Land grotto will have 24 doors and windows to explore, with a magical moment hidden behind each one. Families will be guided on a wonderful journey by a host of characterful elves who have been dispatched from the North Pole to The Glades specially, to ensure the countdown to Christmas Day runs smoothly. The escapade will culminate in a meeting with the man himself, Santa! Event-goers can take their own pictures and receive a professional photo, too. Children will also leave with a souvenir toy, certificate, sticker and tons of memories.

Price: £12

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