It is said that necessity is the mother of invention and never have these words rung truer than in 2020. UK tourism venues, travel businesses and museums have had to pivot hard and fast to outrun two lockdowns, tier restrictions and the monthly travel-corridor roulette. As a result, this Christmas there is a surge in everything from experience gifts and vouchers to foodie treats and festive baubles coming from the travel industry.
The World Travel and Tourism Council predicts that the pandemic will cost the UK £22bn in tourism revenues this year alone, so there’s never been a better time to give the gift of travel.
Outdoor adventure and activities
Charlestown in Cornwall is Poldark territory, and its Georgian harbour, complete with a fleet of traditional wooden boats, is offering sailing vouchers for aspiring mariners. Recipients can learn to hoist the sail and take the wheel as they chart a course around St Austell Bay, while keeping an eye out for basking sharks, seals and dolphins.
• Trips run April to September 2021; a half-day tour costs £50 an adult, a full day is £95, charlestownharbour.com
In Snowdonia national park, Plas y Brenin National Outdoor Centre is offering vouchers redeemable against a range of courses, including mountain biking, scrambling, paddle sports and rock-climbing. Voucher denominations start at £25 and are valid for two years.
• Introductory courses from £299, pyb.co.uk
Independent tour company Bath Adventures is offering monetary vouchers for a range of fun trips exploring the West Country spa town. Gift cards are valid for two years and options include the Ghost Hunter’s Silent Disco Tour and river cruises with gin or prosecco tastings.
• Tours from £9, riveradventures.co.uk
Give the gift of “blue health” this Christmas with vouchers from The Wave, an inland surfing centre with a cafe, gardens and meadowlands on the outskirts of Bristol. At its core is a 180-metre surfing lake divided into six zones, using technology to generate waves from 50cm to two metres high.
• 1½-hour coaching classes from £50 adult and £40 child, thewave.com
Enhance a loved one’s UK staycation next year by gifting a Blue Badge tour guide, considered to be the best in the business. Vouchers for private tours could mean a guided walk along Hadrian’s Wall, a demystification of Stonehenge or a themed romp around London.
• Half-day private tour £185, britainsbestguides.org
Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens in Horsham, West Sussex, has developed a number of experience day gift cards, incorporating entry to its Grade I-listed valley estate. The pick is a walking tour of England’s first pinotage vineyard, where you can learn all about the region’s burgeoning wine scene before visiting the gardens’ prized blooms and ancient woodlands.
• Day entry from £12.50, wine tour experience £49 for two, vouchermine.co.uk
Hotels, cottages and camping
Manchester’s newest hotel is Kimpton Clocktower, a glamorous reimagining of a Grade II-listed industrial landmark that launched this autumn. For Christmas, it’s offering a range of vouchers (from £50-£500) for stays in its loft-style rooms and Sunday roasts or vegan feasts in its Refuge by Volta restaurant.
• Doubles from £120, kimptonclocktowerhotel.com
Canopy & Stars is offering the Nature Box (£35) as a clever add-on to voucher purchases this Christmas, to tie in with its wilderness lodgings and experiences. It evokes the outdoors with goodies such as a “build your own” treehouse for houseplants and a smoke-and-wood scented candle from The Nomad Collective. The company will plant a tree for every box ordered and vouchers come with a hand-written message.
With terrific views from the doorstep, Brechfa Forest Barns in Carmarthenshire has launched personalised vouchers for its dog-friendly rural boltholes. The cottages are well placed for forest walks and dog-friendly Welsh beaches, and there’s also “Scentral Bark” – a new onsite dog sensory garden. Quiet evenings in can be spent with home-cooked meals delivered to your door.
• Three-night weekend breaks from £395, brechfaforestbarns.co.uk
Cool Camping launched gift vouchers quietly last year but this Christmas it is going all out with a well-timed promotion of “the gift of fresh air”. A £40 voucher gets you a basic weekend around the campfire on a grass pitch in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park; for over £100, you could buy a family a night’s break in a converted 1960s horsebox in Northumberland.
DIY gingerbread kits and local-produce Christmas hampers are available from Healing Manor in the Lincolnshire Wolds. They’re part of its new Lincolnshire Kitchen at Home range, launched as a response to lockdown. A hot meal is donated to a local homeless charity for every product sold. The family-run heritage hotel is also offering vouchers for hotel stays and restaurant experiences with a 15% discount until 16 December.
• Hampers £160, order by 15 December, healingmanorhotel.co.uk
Two Magpies Bakery on the Suffolk coast has opened an online Christmas shop. It’s got all the traditional goodies you could want: fat stollen, rich panettone with figs, dark chocolate and Pedro Ximénez sherry, and a festive hamper (£55) with Christmas pudding, mince pies, cinnamon swirl butter and other artisan treats.
• Delivery nationwide, twomagpiesbakery.co.uk
Blenheim Palace has launched an online shop this year, offering Christmas bag and box options with exclusive palace products such as its own twist on the classic festive hamper. Think spiced plum and sloe gin chutney, The Butler’s mulling syrup and Churchill’s Reserve Port. Vouchers for annual passes, afternoon tea or a three-course meal in The Orangery are also available.
• Hampers from £26 to £60, collection or delivery nationwide, blenheimpalace.com
The country estate of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire was forced to cancel its festive illuminations this year, but is hoping to buoy up business through its shop. The luxurious Christmas hampers come in two sizes, stuffed with Castle Howard paraphernalia and Yorkshire products, including an estate-made Christmas pudding and the owners’ Howard’s Folly wine.
• Delivery nationwide, from £85, castlehoward.co.uk
Many of the afternoon tea vouchers around this Christmas come with boozy add-ons. The Glasshouse Hotel in Edinburgh is serving it by the fireside in its Snug – and the afternoon can be stretched out by sampling some of the bar’s 100 whiskies.
• From £22, theglasshousehotel.co.uk
Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan is offering a handful of different voucher options (most at eye-watering prices!) for overnight stays and fine-dining experiences at his Cartmel mini-empire in the Lakes. A budget option is afternoon tea at his latest restaurant venture, Henrock, which is £56 for two. In fine weather, it can be taken overlooking Windermere and the fells.
For a bit of pomp and ceremony, consider gifting afternoon tea at Dukes in St James, London. There are a few options, but the frontrunner has to be the MarTEAni afternoon tea, which capitalises on the bar’s reputation for martinis, serving three mini cocktails with scones, patisserie and finger sandwiches.
• From £73 for two, dukes.skchase.com
Beachcroft Beach Huts Suites on the West Sussex coast is serving luxury afternoon tea, which includes all the usual food, plus a bottle of local Digbys English sparkling rosé and 1½ hour’s use of its clever all-weather seafront pod. Buy as a standalone gift or combine with a night’s stay, both available as vouchers.
• Luxury afternoon tea £75 for two, suites from £160 a night, beachcroftbeachhuts.co.uk
Virtual food and drink travel
Sherry tasting Zoom classes run by Andalucía tour company Annie B’s Kitchen have “Christmas” written all over them. Annie, a Brit and certified sherry educator, will deliver six miniature sherry samples and tapas pairing ideas in time for your fiesta, then recreate the experience of an Andalucían tapas crawl, providing commentary on the history and production of this classic Spanish tipple.
• Private session £125, group session £20 a window, plus £17.50 a tasting kit, anniebspain.com
Italian specialist Flavours Holidays is offering monetary vouchers that can be redeemed against any of its classes, which have moved online this year as a response to the pandemic. Classes are interactive and held in English. Options include painting, photography and mindfulness, but the ones that really give a taste of Italy are the language classes and the cooking classes with Italian master chefs, taking participants on a journey from Sicily to Emilia-Romagna.
• Lessons £20pp for group classes, £120 for private classes (minimum of five people), flavoursholidays.co.uk
Museum gifts and online marketplaces
The kooky Shell Grotto in Margate, a subterranean marvel of tunnels and atriums made of 4.6 million shells, has also launched an online shop this year that includes Christmas baubles trading on its coastal connections: beautiful, sparkly starfish, crabs, mermaids and the like. It’s also created tasteful yet whimsical Christmas cards featuring an angel child inside the grotto.
• Decorations from £5.25, shellgrotto.co.uk
A number of the UK’s biggest museums collaborated to push the #ShopMuseums hashtag in the run-up to Black Friday this year, in an effort to cushion the blow of lockdown. The Science Museum in London was one of them, and it has an excellent range of gifts for kids. It’s also offering 10% off your first order and a special Science Museum gift-wrap service available for online purchases. Its website also hosts York’s National Railway Museum shop collection – perfect for presents for rail enthusiasts.
The Birmingham Museums Trust is offering gift membership (from £30) to its nine museums and historic properties, which includes Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Gift purchases support the educational charity that runs it. There’s a range of bespoke gifts, including custom prints from the city’s art archives (from £20, framed or unframed) of masters such as William Morris, Ford Madox Brown, Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones.
Regional tourist boards are supporting local traders and tourist attractions this Christmas with beefed-up online marketplaces. Visit Cheshire’s portal includes the Treacle Market traders from Macclesfield, experience gift ideas and a digital high-street map of Chester. Similarly, Visit Herefordshire has launched winterwelcomes.co.uk to promote experience gifts, such as gin masterclasses, fire-pit cookery and blacksmithing days where you can cast your own axe, knife or hammer.
In Durham, the open-air Beamish museum has launched online selling “presents from the past” this Christmas, including Edwardian-inspired spiced apple bath salts and cold creams made to an original recipe from the museum. Gifts can be sent with personalised messages.