Visiting Blenheim Palace at Christmas is like seeing all the festive sparkle and magic you know and love… on steroids.
There’s fairytale-inspired glitz and glamour inside, thousands of twinkling fairy lights and fun projector shows outside and even row upon row of Christmas market chalets in the courtyard with the palace’s grand facade as their backdrop.
Read on for all the reasons why your UK bucket list simply MUST have Christmas at Blenheim Palace on it – and the top tips we wish we’d known before visiting.
Psst! Here are the “skip ahead” links for this blog post if you need them:
- Our Christmas at Blenheim Palace review (the short answer)
- Christmas lights and illuminated trail review
- A look inside Blenheim Palace at Christmas
- Blenheim Palace Christmas market info
- Tips for visiting Blenheim Palace at Christmas
Honest Review: Is Christmas at Blenheim Palace Worth It?
In a word: “Yes”. But we didn’t appreciate the £10 parking fee.
There’s a lot to see at Blenheim’s Christmas event – from a fairytale wonderland inside the palace to a stunning illuminated trail through the gardens and even a good-sized Christmas market selling festive gifts, crafts and food.
Tickets are pricey and with an additional £10 parking charge, it’s well over £100 per couple – and even more for a family!
In our opinion, though, this feels worth it given just how much thought and pizzazz goes into the decorations each year. But we definitely don’t agree with the £10 parking fee. Given Blenheim Palace is out in the country, most people will drive to it, so we do think this is a little unfair.
For those of you wanting to save a few quid, there’s a Park & Ride service close by (called Oxford Parkway Park & Ride).
Parking charges aside though, Christmas at Blenheim Palace is a total UK bucket list activity. Here’s why…
Blenheim Palace Christmas Lights & Illuminated Trail
Blenheim Palace has frequently topped lists of the best Christmas experiences in the UK and the palace’s annual mile-long illuminated trail probably has something to do with it.
Throughout the trail (which lasts for around 90 minutes), you can look forward to sweeping tunnels of twinkly lights, bright neon laser beams, hundreds of bedecked Christmas trees and even a rainbow-coloured waterfall.
It’s usually very busy at the start of the trail. But when the lights look this pretty, can you really blame them? Once you get going, you should find you lose some of the crowds given everyone walks at different speeds.
Blenheim Palace really tries to use all the interesting features of the gardens and estate. From lighting up the boat house to resemble Frosty the Snowman’s abode / a neon Penguin Paradise to stunning bridges and water features.
Sadly, last year the river and waterfall weren’t included in the illuminated trail like in most other years. Hopefully, it’ll be back on for this year!
Once you reach the end of the trail, you can watch a stunning light projector show at the back of Blenheim Palace, which is good fun.
Our Final Thoughts About Blenheim Palace’s Illuminated Trail
Although this is a stunning trail, we couldn’t help but compare it to the trail we did at Westonbirt Arboretum a few weeks before.
The trail at Blenheim Palace is bigger and flashier but it’s also much more crowded. And because of the size of the grounds they’ve tried to cover, there were quite long stretches of the walk that actually didn’t have anything happening at all apart from maybe a couple of lights in the trees.
This means that some of the magic gets lost along the way, whereas at Westonbirt, it feels like there’s something around every single corner.
Also, because Westonbirt’s trail is smaller and more intimate, it’s also more interactive than the trail at Blenheim Palace as children (and big kids!) can make their own music by banging drums and things like that.
You just don’t get the same interactive experience at Blenheim Palace… but you do get flashier photos for your Instagram and nothing can stop this from still being the ultimate UK bucket list activity. Even if you only choose to go once in your lifetime!
Inside Blenheim Palace At Christmas
Every Christmas, Blenheim Palace itself is also bedecked with glittery fairytale pixie dust. While the unique light projections outside and the illuminated trail are wonderful; inside the palace is REALLY where the magic takes place.
The theme changes with each year but it’s always magical! Last year, the theme was “The Kingdom of the Snow Queen”:
While in 2023, the theme is based on the story of “Sleeping Beauty”. In the past, we’ve been excited to see themes based on other fairytales like “Cinderella” and “Alice in Wonderland”, so I suspect this year will be just as magical!
Despite the theme changing every year, there are some similarities. For example, there’s usually a large tree in the main foyer when you first go inside the palace and the decorations throughout the event always tell a story, while still allowing you to appreciate the opulence of each room.
The experience runs through several of the grandest rooms downstairs. And to be honest, it’s difficult to find the right words to describe to you just how magical everything looks. So instead, we’ll share some photos from when we visited in previous years.
Please note that you might experience something slightly different in 2023, but hopefully, our photo guide will still give you a feel for what to expect.
When you first arrive, you’ll be shown into the rather grand entrance hall and foyer of Blenheim Palace. This is where you’ll find glittering Christmas trees and your first glimpse into just how much thought has gone into this year’s theme.
We know it’s difficult but don’t forget to also admire the building behind all the Christmas sparkle. From statues and figurines of famous people to marble flooring and towering pillars, the Baroque architecture here just totally explodes out of every nook and cranny!
Throughout the palace, you’ll find lots of stunning Christmas trees. And if you look closely, you’ll find decorations inspired by each theme, which naturally change every year.
The themes also continue under the Christmas trees. And you might even wander through fun archways and halls laden with decorations.
Each room inside the palace is lovingly decorated to go with each year’s theme. Usually, Blenheim Palace lovingly tells a story as you move from room to room.
Here’s how some of the rooms looked when Alice was in the palace:
Something that we really weren’t expecting was the huge table and key in the centre of all this wackiness. As you may (or may not know), Alice shrinks down super small during her ‘Drink Me’, ‘Eat Me’ adventures and so we were also made to feel TINY during the experience. Pretty cool, eh?
The room with the Cheshire Cat was one of my favourites. Not only does this look like an artist’s impression of the fairytale, but there were teacups in the flower arrangements! Teacups! I guess we know what’s coming soon as this is clearly a big clue…
But before we reached the Mad Hatter craziness, we first met the Red Queen and her stack of cardmen… who like to climb things. Probably to paint the roses red.
Now I know the Red Queen is supposed to be scary and all that. But this sight was enough to give even me nightmares, let alone any children in the room. Sorry kids. This is one mean old scary-looking woman… who apparently likes to play a rather barbaric game of flamingo croquet where the balls are cute little hedgehogs.
But alas we’ve reached the final room you’re allowed to see inside Blenheim Palace at Christmas. They most definitely saved the best until last in the shape of the Mad Hatter’s extravagant and pink-hued tea party. Where teapots are out of this world and towering cakes look like they’ll topple over any second next to delicate china cups.
When wandering around this last room, I was furiously scribbling notes on how to decorate our dining room at home. Oh… just me? Okay.
Hooray! We found Alice… just casually chilling next to a Christmas tree where there was room on the bench beside her for little ones and yet another prime Christmas card photo opportunity.
But just when you think you’ve seen everything inside the palace, you’ll wander along a row of twinkly Christmas trees overlooking the palace’s courtyard… before heading inside the chapel where you can leave a Christmas wish on a magical Christmas tree.
Seeing the inside of Blenheim Palace at Christmas time was easily the most magical part of our whole experience, so it’s not to be missed!
Blenheim Palace Christmas Market
But it’s not just the illuminated trail and amazing themed decorations you can enjoy when visiting Blenheim Palace at Christmas time. The palace also plays host to an annual Christmas market.
There are usually around 70-80 stalls for you to browse where you can enjoy local arts and crafts, gifts, homewares and food and drink.
You can visit the Christmas market for free before 4pm but only if you don’t need a car parking space. You can just wander into the market whenever it’s open to the public (more on this in a moment).
If you need to park your car, then you’ll need to pay for parking (£10 per car) and book a ticket in advance to do so. If you’re not interested in the illuminated trail or seeing inside Blenheim Palace, then you can choose the “Christmas Market Parking” option.
This year, the Blenheim Palace Christmas Market is open from November 17th to December 17th and starts at 10.30 in the morning every day it’s open.
Top Tips For Visiting Blenheim Palace At Christmas
The tips we’ve provided below are based on our own experience of visiting Blenheim Palace at Christmas. We hope they prove useful to other first time visitors, so you can avoid some of the mistakes we made!
1. Book way in advance (like in June!) to get the best days and times
Tickets for Christmas at Blenheim Palace go on sale as early as June.
If you’re like us, you’re definitely not thinking about Christmas AT ALL during that time but it does pay to think about this Christmas event.
To get your pick of the best days and times to visit, you should book as far in advance as you possibly can. This is a crazy popular event and books up… FAST!
2. But don’t worry if you’re slinging margaritas in the Bahamas in June because…
You can still get tickets once the autumn/fall months hit (and even sometimes as late as November and December). We hadn’t heard about this event until we saw it mentioned on another travel blog at the end of September.
Lo and behold we were able to book tickets without any major issue. We didn’t get our first choice of date and we did have a long wait between visiting the palace and the Illuminated Trail BUT we’re happy we still got decent tickets despite our festive disorganisation.
3. Arrive before dark to see the palace by day and at sunset
We’d booked to see inside the palace at 4.20pm so we chose to arrive just after 3pm, so we could roam around some of the gardens in the daylight and check out the Blenheim Palace Christmas Market before seeing inside the palace.
This seemed to work well for us as we got a chance to see the palace and its surroundings by day AND at sunset.
Note: If you decide to do this as well, remember that the formal gardens close at 4pm as that’s when the trail lights start to get switched on.
4. Timings aren’t severely strict
If you’re anything like me then you’ll think that everything has to happen either early or bang on time. And if you’re anything like me then you also think that establishments as grand and proper as Blenheim Palace would be the same.
WRONG! Don’t worry too much about being a little early or late for each event.
We had tickets to see inside the palace at 4.20pm but were allowed in up to fifteen minutes before. And we’d booked 7.40pm for the Illuminated Trail but were allowed on as early as 7.10pm.
Likewise, they were still letting people on the trail a full hour after their booked time. Hopefully this info will save you a bit of stress regarding timings.
5. Ensure you’ve set aside about an hour for the themed event at the palace
We took our time inside the palace but still managed to see everything within about 45 minutes.
But this was without little ones in tow and with spending just a few minutes queuing to get in.
So we’d recommend setting aside around an hour for inside the palace (and maybe a bit longer if you need to take into account accessibility and/or little legs).
6. Save around 90 minutes for the Illuminated Trail
The Illuminated Trail runs for one mile but feels so much longer when you’re on it. We spent about an hour on the trail but were walking a little faster than others.
If you have children and/or accessibility issues then you should definitely set aside around 90 minutes for the trail – or longer if you plan on stopping at the various hot chocolate and mulled wine stations around the trail.
7. Wear decent walking boots or wellies
We wore trainers during our visit thinking it would be gravel paths the whole way around. Although there was some gravel, most of the paths were either concrete or au naturel, and thus, prone to a lot of mud and puddles.
This was a little tricky in the dark sections so we’d recommend wearing walking boots or wellies, so you don’t have to worry about splashing about in mud and puddles and can focus fully on the twinkly lights.
8. Don’t forget your umbrella and raincoat
You are in England in winter after all…
9. Remember that you have to pay for parking in advance
We didn’t realise this until actually booking our tickets and were taken by surprise.
To park at the palace, you have to pay an additional £10 per car. This must be booked in advance as you’ll be asked to show your car parking ticket when you arrive.
There’s also a Park & Ride option nearby if you want to save yourself a few quid.
10. Some parts of the illuminated trail aren’t suitable for prams and buggies
During our visit, some of the trail was uphill and there was a section of tunnelling lights, which seemed to wind its way uphill and over tree roots.
Although there were alternative paths and staff on hand to help, you may find that pushing a pram or buggy is pretty tough in some places.
Being such a family-focused event, this surprised us and we’re still hoping it’s something they might change this year.
11. Don’t miss out on a FREE Blenheim Palace annual pass
When you book tickets for the Christmas at Blenheim Palace event, you’ll be given the option to donate the cost of your ticket to the Blenheim Palace Heritage Foundation Charity and receive a free annual pass for doing so.
This doesn’t cost you anything extra and is perfect if you want to come again. We’d recommend a summer visit so you can see the gardens in full bloom!
Note: If you’re already an Annual Pass Holder, then you’re eligible to receive a small discount of £1 off the illuminated trail on most days. You can also enjoy free entry to see inside the palace before 3.45pm, so you can see the decorations during the day. You still need to book your free ticket in advance, though!
A Brief History of Blenheim Palace
And finally, if you’ve stumbled upon this blog post randomly, then allow me to tell you a little bit more about Blenheim Palace itself.
Blenheim Palace sits on the edge of the Cotswolds in Woodstock; 40 minutes north of Oxford and roughly 2.5 hours from London.
It’s everything you can expect from a country mansion: Grand. Picturesque. Ornate. But not royal.
Here are nine facts you need to know about Blenheim Palace and its rich history:
- Blenheim Palace was built in the early 1700s by the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
- Following a victory against Louis XIV of France in the Battle of Blenheim in Bavaria in 1704, John was gifted his title and an extensive amount of land by Queen Anne with which to build a suitable home on for his newly established dukedom.
- However, within just a few short years, this gift became a source of royal and political conflict, and in 1712, financial support for the project was stopped resulting in the palace falling into disrepair and near total ruin.
- Marlborough was later exiled to Europe for three years and racked up huge debts.
- It wasn’t until the marriage of the 9th Duke of Marlborough to American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt in 1895 that the palace and the family’s wealth were saved and restored.
- In 1874, none other than Winston Churchill (grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough) was born at the palace.
- Similarly to Highclere Castle in Newbury, Blenheim Palace is still a family home to this day – but to the 12th Duke of Marlborough.
- It’s the only non-royal country house in England to hold the title of palace.
And one more fun fact:
Did you know that a scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was filmed here?
A rather Harry Potter-esque tree by the side of the lake played host to an iconic Pensieve scene involving Harry’s Dad and Snape as teenagers. You know the one…
The tree really does look like it flew straight out of the pages of Harry Potter. When Scott and I saw it along the Illuminated Trail (even before we knew about its stardom), we said straightaway that it looked like something out of Harry Potter. Admittedly we had the Whomping Willow in our heads… but eh, close enough 😉
Are you heading to Christmas at Blenheim Palace this year? Do you want to go next year… or someday? Have you already been? Either way, we’d love to hear from you! Feel free to jot down a few thoughts, opinions, notes, poems etc in the comments below…
Looking for more things to do in the UK at Christmas? Here are some of our other festive blogs:
- Stepping Back in Time for A Very Victorian Christmas at Tyntesfield
- Christmas in Bristol: Your Festive Guide Full of Cheer
Feeling festive? Why not spread the cheer and joy around by sharing this blog post?