We explore the magical Christmas experience just outside Sussex that promises fun for all the family

​There’s a huge amount of Christmas things to do in Sussex, and if you read last week’s column you’ll know I have already been enjoying some of them already.

​But sometimes it’s fun to venture a bit further afield, to see what’s on offer just outside our beautiful county.

So receiving an invitation to Christmas at Hever Castle, just over the border in Kent, was a very exciting prospect.

Having booked tickets for the event back in September, when our date to go finally rolled around on Saturday I was like a kid at Christmas (and my actual kids were pretty excited, too!).

When you book, you can either choose to experience the daytime festivities or opt for a night-time experience. We plumped for the evening, so we could enjoy the lights.

You have to book a timed entry slot and we managed to snag one at 4.30pm. When you go through the ticket booths, you’ll be given a map showing where all the festive fun is happening.

Practically the whole grounds is lit up with twinkling lights, colourful trees, projections and more. There’s also the ‘Space Walk’ where you can view the solar system and hit ‘hyperspeed’ – if you dare.

And the show by the illuminated talking Christmas tree is not to be missed!

We also loved the Christmas trail. It tells the tale of Ted, who gets lost in the woods and is helped by Red the Squirrel. You follow the trail to find cute little scenes featuring all the characters from The Festive Forest that bring the story to life. We loved the fireside scene with proper crackling fire noises.

In fact, my five-year-old son loved it so much we bought this and last year’s books in the gift shop as a Christmas present for him (£12 for both) – but ssshhhh, please don’t tell him!

Ask my children what they liked most about the evening and they’ll probably say the rides. There’s a carousel, train and ferris wheel. You pay using tokens (£2 each) which can be bought from a booth near all the food stalls.

They were great fun, but sitting at the top of a ferris wheel while it’s unloaded, when it’s -2 degrees out, is definitely not for the faint-hearted – bbbbrrrrr! My children didn’t even seem to notice the icy air and absolutely adored being up so high.

Possibly my favourite part of the night was touring the castle itself. It’s been adorned with beautiful Christmas decorations and features 35 gorgeously decorated Christmas trees. If that doesn't make you feel all warm and Christmassy inside, then I don’t know what will.

Seeing as it was so cold, stopping for some chips and doughnuts from the mobile food kiosks provided some welcome warm sustenance. And if you want to really warm up, the Moat Café is open where you can sit inside.

For an additional cost, guests can discover the beauty and serenity of the lake on the Lady Astor and take in the stunning views with a boat trip (running until 6pm).

All tickets must be purchased on the day from the Old Boathouse. They will accept cash and card, at £12 per adult and £6 per child (age 1 and over).

We also decided to upgrade our ticket and pay for the Father Christmas Grotto experience for our two children. Tickets for this are very limited now this year, but there are a few left for daytime tickets.

We loved walking through Santa’s magical grotto, seeing how the toys are made and where the reindeer are kept, and then meeting the big man himself.

It was lovely to have a family photograph with him, and the children loved the gift they received – a teddy bear wearing a Hever Castle jumper in the colour of their choice.

If you can’t get a ticket that includes meeting Father Christmas this time round, then it’s definitely worth bearing it in mind for 2024!

The only tiny critique I can muster is that the night wasn’t long enough. When closing time at 8pm rolled around, we weren’t quite ready to go. I still wanted to walk more of the illuminated trails.

I guess that just means we’ll have to go back next year!

For more information, and to book tickets, visit the Christmas at Hever Castle website.

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