After missing out on festive activities last year, many towns and villages in East Devon are putting on Christmas events in 2021. They’re bringing together local communities offering people the opportunity to shop local and support independent businesses such as retailers, restaurants, cafes, bars, or tourist attractions.
This guide brings you a host of different festive events, detailing what there is to do in East Devon this Christmas. We’ve got Christmas markets and switching on of lights, Santa-specific activities, and winter wonderlands to explore.
Some require pre-booking online, others are free. Do check all websites to avoid disappointment.
Christmas Lights And Christmas Markets
Many places are hosting Christmas markets alongside Lighting Up events to switch on the town’s Christmas tree and lights:
The Big Switch On: Topsham – 26 November
Christmas activities in Topsham start on 26 November with the Switch On around Matthews Hall from 4.15pm. They’ll be mulled wine and hot chocolate to enjoy from street sellers so don’t forget to bring a reusable cup. Bring along a torch and a festive hat, as you’ll be part of the procession. Wander around the town to see if you can spot which retailer has won the best-dressed window.
The festive fun continues over the next four weeks, including:
Shopping Evening: November 30
From 5pm onwards take the opportunity to listen to festive street musicians, wander around the shops, cafes and restaurants and get into the Christmas spirit. A market at St Margaret’s Church will be open until 9pm and feature unique gifts from artisan craftspeople.
Check out the Love Topsham website for a comprehensive list of other Christmas activities you can enjoy.
Axminster Christmas Switch On Celebration: 20 November – 4.00-8.00pm
Christmas celebrations include a funfair, market, Puppetree Punch and Judy, face painting, music, and food and drink in Axminster. Taking place in Trinity Square, the Minster Green, and the church there will be a torchlit procession and the Christmas Lights Switch On.
Connaught at Christmas: 7-12 December
In Sidmouth, the festive activities are based around the town’s Connaught Gardens.
The Christmas Food and Craft Village is open daily between 1.00pm and 8.00pm in the Manor Road car park and features over 30 craft traders and food outlets. The entrance is free.
The Christmas Illuminated Gardens is a colourful, illuminated trail around the gardens with a number of themed areas to enjoy, including Santa’s grotto. The trail will take one to two hours and as you walk around you’ll be able to enjoy yuletide music and carols performed on the bandstand. Warmed mulled wine and hot chocolate will be on offer.
Tickets are bookable at half-hour intervals and can be purchased from Connaught at Christmas
Exeter Cathedral Christmas Market: 18 November -18 December
Wander around the stalls in Cathedral green and soak up the atmosphere. Exeter Cathedral is also free of charge for the duration of the Christmas market.
The Elf Express, from Exmouth Miniature Railway, will be operating on Friday evenings from 5pm and all day Saturday and Sunday. No pre-booking is required, just turn up and pay on the day.
Christmas Market Opening Times:
Monday – Wednesday: 10.00am – 7.00pm
Thursday – Saturday: 10.00am – 9.00pm
Sunday: 11.00am – 5.00pm
Exeter Winter Wonderland: 17 November – 2 January
The Winter Wonderland will feature exciting rides and attractions, locally-sourced festive refreshments, a giant Santa’s Grotto, and Ice Rink.
The undercover ice rink is suitable for all ages, from ages three upwards. Skating sessions run for one hour and need to be pre-booked at Exeter Winter Wonderland
Get your children to bring along their letters to post in Santa’s special post box. Relax in the German-themed bar with a hot or cold drink from the Alpine Bar and enjoy a range of culinary delights from the Christmas Swing Grill, The Hog Roast, or the Gourmet Grill.
The Winter Wonderland will be open in Northernhay Gardens every day 11.00am – 10.00pm.
Present Makers 2021: The Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton: 13 November – 24 December
The Annual Christmas selling exhibition of contemporary craft features creative innovation across craft and design. Products are hand-crafted, one-off pieces from local designers and makers and include textiles, prints, ceramics, homewares, and jewellery. Unique Christmas cards and decorations will be on offer too.
Christmas Food Festival: Darts Farm – 13-14 November
You’ll be able to source festive treats and gifts and enjoy a host of tastings from the Darts Farm chocolatier and master butchers as well as food from Waterhouse Fayre, Ticklemore Cheese, Mr Filberts, Exe Coffee, Vicky’s Bread, Quickes Cheese, and Sandford Orchards.
Get Christmas sorted with mini masterclasses from Darts Farm in-house experts and local artisan producers. These cover everything from butchery, cheese, chocolate, and floristry.
And don’t forget to take a tour around the farm and see what seasonal fruit and vegetables could be on your dinner table this Christmas.
Festival Special Cruises: Stuart Line Cruises – 24 December – 1 January
If you need to take a breather over the holiday period why not sit back and relax on the River Exe with Stuart Line Cruises? Boats are decorated with covered and heated lower decks and there are cosy blankets if you want to sit on the upper outside deck.
Enjoy a glass of mulled wine and mince pie as you travel along.
The cruises take 1-1.5 hours and sail at different times during the day.
Booking via the Stuart Line Cruises website
The Polar Express Tram Ride: Seaton Tramway – 26 November – 24 December
Take the magical tram ride to Santa’s home at the North Pole in a specially decorated tramcar, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and the lights while you walk around the North Pole.
Children can chat with Santa and will receive a free gift. On the return journey, there’s a singalong of all your favourite Christmas carols.
The round trip lasts 2-2.5 hours on selected days. Booking is required via the Seaton Tramway website
Follow the Glow: The Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth – 5 November – 6 January
Follow the Glow brings you enchanting tales about donkeys all around the world. As you wander around The Donkey Sanctuary find the nine boards which each have a Christmas item hidden on them. Use the clues to help you complete a Christmas crossword.
Finishing at the Glow Room you’ll find out about the happy ending for three little donkeys and can collect your prize.
Trail sheets can be picked up at the gift shop and cost £5 per trail.
Christmas at Crealy: Crealy Theme Park and Resort – 27 November – 24 December
Join in the festive celebrations on selected dates in the run-up to Christmas. The theme park will be lit up with decorations and you can enjoy an Elves and the Toy Maker ice show, live entertainment, and a Santa parade runs throughout the day.
Tickets must be purchased in advance online at the Crealy Theme Park and Resort website
Don’t forget that most cafes, pubs, restaurants, and hotels will have festive menus in November and December. If you’re looking to celebrate with friends, family, or colleagues and are wanting some inspiration check out our Eat page where you’ll find a list of places.
And if you’re in need of getting some fresh air and walking off all those Christmas meals, why not explore some of the beautiful countryside and coastline East Devon has to offer. A perfect accompaniment to all that festive partying.