A Child's (Or Child at Heart's) Christmas in Wales: Four Activities Around Cardiff to Get You in the Festive Spirit

Christmas in Wales is a magical time of year: the festive trimmings come up and the lights come on, Santa pops up in malls and Christmas markets, and the pubs all start doing their seasonal cocktails. From Cardiff to small towns in the valleys, it seems like everyone enjoys a good helping of holiday cheer. Here are some of the best ways you can get in on the action!

Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway’s Santa Train (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)

1. Carol by torchlight

Is there anything more atmospheric and spine-tingling than singing Christmas carols by firelight in the ruins of Tintern Abbey, the tunes drifting up with smoke towards the inky sky overhead? The Chepstow Rotary Club puts on their Torchlight Carol Service every year to kick off the festive season in town. Joined by local choirs, participants process from the nearby Anchor Inn in a long, winding column toward the Abbey where a reverend then opens the service with a blessing and a prayer. On a cold December night, with people’s breaths of air illuminated by their flickering torches, it is a poignant and moving start to what can sometimes be an overwhelmingly chaotic time of year. See this page at Visit Monmouthshire‘s website for more information. 

Carols at Tintern (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)
Inside the Abbey (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)

2. Travel by steam train to Santa’s grotto

All aboard! Christmas isn’t complete without a visit to Santa. Why not consider switching it up from the usual shopping centre outing and take a ride on Pontypool and Blaenaon Railway‘s Santa Steam Train? This special train runs every weekend in December leading up to Christmas, offering an unforgettable and distinctly Welsh experience children especially will find delightful. The vintage train departs from Pontypool station with a shrill whistle, then pipes through mid Wales’s countryside for about twenty minutes or so before arriving at Blaenavon High Level station. There, Santa himself waits in his grotto to chat with the children and distribute small gifts. Everyone can enjoy a mince pie on the ride, and parents are also treated to a tot of sherry. Book ahead here.

Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway’s Santa Train (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)
Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway’s Santa Train (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)
Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway’s Santa Train (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)
Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway’s Santa Train (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)

3. Let loose at a winter carnival

It’s not Christmas in Cardiff without Winter Wonderland, the city’s annual Christmas extravaganza. There are carnival-style games, a covered ice rink, food and beverage trucks and an alpine ski bar, and (new for 2019) a skating trail throughout the exhibit. Live entertainment and neon lights put everyone in the Christmas spirit with their infectious energy- on a busy night, be prepared to bump elbows with other revelers as the space can get quite packed. Luckily it’s all in good fun, and as Winter Wonderland is set near the heart of Cardiff, it’s easy to step out for a breather if you need! See more at this website.

Winter Wonderland (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)
Winter Wonderland (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)

4. See and hear Welsh traditions from Christmases past come alive

Christmas Weekends (formerly Christmas Nights or Nosweithiau Nadolig) at St Fagans National Museum of History puts a historical Welsh spin on the festive period and is one of the best ways to embrace the joy and childlike wonder of the season. The event features a market with local vendors, crafts and activities for young ones (including writing laters to Santa in their old schoolhouse),  Welsh yuletide traditions, and Father and Mother Christmas themselves.

Of course, there’s also music (what is Christmas in Wales without music?) in the form of carols sung in both Welsh and English, as well as ancient Welsh Plygain singing. Admission to attend this event is free at Wales’s award-winning museum of Welsh life, although tickets are required for some activities. Food and drink are also available for purchase, and there’s a funfair for the little ones too.

The grounds of Saint Fagans truly transform for this event, and each weekend features something different- use their schedule to plan the perfect weekend, or check out all of them! Of note, the activities all take place during the day, a change from their Christmas Nights last year.  All the same, Saint Fagans National Museum of History is the perfect backdrop for the mystery and magic of Christmases past- no matter your age.

Saint Fagans National Museum of History (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)
Saint Fagans National Museum of History (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)
Saint Fagans National Museum of History (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)
The ancient Welsh tradition of the Mari Lwyd (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)
The bakery at Saint Fagans National Museum of History (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)
The post office at Saint Fagans National Museum of History (photo credit: canuckrunningamuck)

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