Visiting Waddesdon Manor at Christmas has been one of our traditions for the last 3 years. As always I booked months ago, but this time decided to book tickets closer to Christmas. And after the Waddesdon Manor Christmas market had finished. In the past, it’s been really crowded, and we’ve not really been able to get close to the stalls. N isn’t interested in the market and we can go to other town markets so I wasn’t bothered about cutting that out of our visit. Limited to weekends, it meant we didn’t visit until the 23rd December. Late, but it worked out well for us.
This year I was determined to stick around for long enough to see the outdoor lights switch on as well. So I booked a later house appointment in the hope that parking wouldn’t be too insane if arriving after lunch. The aim was to have an hour on the playground, grab a drink, and then mooch round the house then see the lights outside. We timed it really well and I was surprised that arriving at 1pm, there were still plenty of spaces in the car park. I did expect it to fill up as it approached dusk as more people turned up just to see the lights outside. We didn’t have to queue for ages for the bus either (we never walk up the hill on the way in – it’s too far uphill to then spend time walking around once we’ve arrived at the house).
We’d checked out what we wanted to see and where it was on the map beforehand. First stop was the stables via the wigwam cafe for a hot chocolate stop. It’s a lovely atmosphere in the cafe, complete with hyyge rugs and fire. But the hot chocolates aren’t great. They’re very watery, and both were so hot, 15 minutes later I’d had to try topping up with water. In future we might take our own. The cafe only seemed to have sausage rolls, mince pies and crisps – it would have been nice to have some other snack options as I’m sure lots of people would have ordered more than just drinks.
The playground was quite wet so we didn’t stop there apart from the swing and obstacle course. But down the woodland path past the playareas they had a sound trail. The musical parts were interesting, but it was a little odd. A lot just sounded like muffled sounds of the sea. Very strange.
Down at the stables there’s lots going on. Being so close to Christmas there was a sale in the Christmas shop – not much left, but worth a look round much to N’s moaning.
The family activity room only had the bauble decorating. They advertised writing to Father Christmas was still on to the 23rd, but we couldn’t see it, so they must have stopped that earlier unfortunately. But the bauble wall was still there, and we arrived just in time before the rush came and seating room ran out.
For £4 you could choose your bauble colour (N went rogue and opted for blue – even changing my tree colour scheme won’t add blue into it!), and then decorate them. They had a whole range of colours, and some ideas of baubles. N decided to go simple with a Christmas tree and tinsel around, and it looked quite good in the end. I wish I’d done one too but I’ve plenty of plain baubles at home we could decorate as well as having chalk paint pens which should work on baubles. Next year’s activity decided!
Before heading up for our house slot, we did a walk through the light tunnel. Lots of people on the Waddesdon Manor facebook page had moaned they couldn’t find it, but it was the first thing you saw coming down from the play areas. Even if you came off the bus and in the side entrance to the stables it was well signposted. I’m glad we saw it when it was fairly quiet, even though the lights didn’t show too well. In the dark, it was rammed with crowds so very hard to get a photo. They almost needed to have a one way system and someone manning it do let everyone do photos at certain slots of the day.
(I do find people very selfish when it comes to trying to get photos. People standing in the middle getting in the way of people just wanting to walk through. Stopping abruptly and not apologising for swinging round and knocking other kids walking past. Or having mass family photos spending ages getting people organised and blocking it for everyone else. Not a Waddesdon thing at all, but just in general. I think people need to be more aware that other people want to get photos or just enjoy a location).
The tunnel was a lovely idea, and I have to say Waddesdon Manor did a good job with the outdoor light options this year after last year’s was a little disappointing.
Waddesdon Manor is a stunning building and there’s plenty to see. Over Christmas the Batchelor’s Wing is opened to the public, but make sure you book early as slots sell out. It’s never too busy in the house as they time it well, but this year it was great. Many rooms were empty of people and we had plenty of time to move around at our own speed.
Like always, N was given a children’s trail. This time it was an advent calendar style, 12 days of Christmas – along the theme of Christmas Carnival which was the theme for the 2018 Waddesdon Christmas. He had to find the numbers stars int he different rooms, then open the doors to find the pantomime characters. We did need a hint for one room, and had to back up to find it. But the others were easy enough. A trail always goes down well, and gives me a bit of time to enjoy the beautiful decorations.
Last year I’d felt the manor decorations weren’t as good as the previous 2 years. They’re always stunning, but this year again was pared down. Lots of beautiful trees and some gorgeous mantlepiece garlands, but I felt they could have made the theming more obvious to tie in. The carnival theme was ‘theatre’ and ‘mask’ themed but other than that, I missed it. The billiard room was the star again for me – with an Alice in Wonderland theme – chess pieces on the mantlepiece and playing cards on the trees.
The Cinderella themed corridor past the lift was a nice touch too – N was more interested in why there was a lift in a big manor house – not that he’s ever asked before!
We were in and out of the Manor house in 20 minutes which is a lot faster than normal. A definite sign there was less to see. As National Trust members we don’t pay much to go in so it’s still worth it, once you’ve added in the outdoor lights. It’s a bargain compared to Blenheim Palace – but this year Blenheim beat Waddesdon Manor hands down with their first indoors display. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next year.
We still had time afterwards to mooch down to the Stables again to wait for dusk so we could see the projections. In the past we’ve always left before dusk so never seen the amazing house projections so was a little disappointed to hear it was on the stables this year. It meant there was a lot of walking up and down to the stables – unless you want to risk waiting for the bus there afterwards, and then not getting on a full bus before you leave.
We had another drink and mince pie stop as we had more time left than planned, and then the rain had started. This is the first year that all of our Christmas visits have been wet which is a shame (but probably lucky we’ve not had more in the past).
The outdoor light trails state they’re due to start at 4.30 or dusk whichever is sooner. On the way to the Stables we detoured and went on a wander down Miss Alice’s Drive. This year the local schools have decorated baubles to be in displays along the walk, along with light box pictures depicting different pantomime/fairy story characters. It’s all lantern lit so is a lovely place to walk and look at the displays.
It was dusk by 4 when we arrived at te Stables again, so we grabbed a seat to sit under the umbrella and wait for the light projections to start. But 20 past we were still waiting with no sign of them starting, and the crowds getting busier. In the end we gave up and headed back up the hill to the manor and Aviary to see the lights there.
I think they could have added a sign near the stables or at the entrance when you arrive off the bus, saying when the lights will start that day. Obviously dusk means different things to different people, but by the time it would have started, we’d have not been able to see anything because the crowds were too busy and there’s not enough space outside the stables to stand and watch from further away. On the manor is much better because you can stand right up the drive and still see it without being crammed in with everyone else. I hope they rethink it next year.
This year the trail behind the Aviary is a proper walking trail. It’s only another 10-15 minutes walk but is a bit of fun added on to the end of a visit. There’s a variety of lights to see – glitter balls in the trees, shooting lights, square tunnels and lit up trees. The rain didn’t spoil our spirits although by the time we were back at the manor we were pleased to arrive as the music and lights were on show, rather than having to wait for the next round.
There was of course, a queue for the bus back to the car park, but it wasn’t long to wait. It was another successful enjoyable Waddesdon Manor Christmas visit, and I’m sure we’ll be back next year too.
Tips for your visit
- Book early if you want to visit inside the manor. Sometimes they have a handful of tickets at opening each day, but personally I wouldn’t risk that. If you’re a National Trust member you still need to book
- Plan your day. If it’s a nice day, the play area is great for children, but it does get busy, and if it’s a really cold winter day, it’s not that comfortable for children to play for ages
- Layers and take waterproofs. If you’re planning on walking round the grounds to see the trails, take shoes suitable for muddy paths.
- If you’re visiting the house you can leave big bags at the information area, or check if they’re holding them at the back of the house by the restaurant.
- Take a camera but remember not to use flash in the house.
- Expect to have several cafe stops. There’s plenty of stalls for hot drinks, but be prepared to queue. Or take a flask and snacks.
- Look out for interactive displays. We missed the colour tree buttons by the wigwam cafe first time past, but spotted them the next time.
- Opening times there will be huge queues for the ticket booths, and the bus. Arrive later or be prepared to queue. The walk up to the manor is around 20 minutes and uphill. It’s not easy for pushchairs or wheelchairs os it’s worth waiting for the bus.
- Pick up a map – there’s usually plenty of activities on for the family as wel as the main trails nd lights.
- If you don’t want to do the Christmas market, think about going after Christmas when it’s a lot quieter.
- Check parking before you go. This year I noticed that weekends while the market was on, they had a different parking system to normal.
National Trust do some amazing house displays over the Christmas season, so it’s definitely worth getting to any local places you can, especially Waddesdon Manor.
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