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Exbury Gardens delights visitors with Christmas craft fair, donkey rides, Santa’s grotto and illuminated steam railway

Exbury Gardens is pretty magical at the best of times, but at Christmas, with its replica Victorian train station and artisan craft fair, the attraction comes alive with festive cheer.

This was my second Christmas visit to Exbury, and in spite of the rain it managed to dazzle and delight us with its many singing elves, illuminated railway station and cosy Santa’s grotto tucked away in the engine shed.

The venue transforms into an enchanting Christmas wonderland at this time of the year, and our first stop was the Festive Express for a journey full of fun and frolics.

The elves create a party atmosphere with singing and lots of silliness
The elves create a party atmosphere with singing and lots of silliness

Santa’s onboard elves did a great job of whipping the kids up into a frenzy with tales of their naughty friends who, rather than being hard at work making toys, had gone AWOL and needed to be found.

Bolstering the fantasy as we journeyed around the gardens on Exbury’s beautiful blue steam train were various work-shy elves, who got a stern telling off for skiving – much to the children’s delight!

The Festive Express takes passengers on a magical journey
The Festive Express takes passengers on a magical journey

The party atmosphere was kept going with music and singing, and as the ride neared its end we were taken through a tunnel enchantingly illuminated with thousands of colourful fairy lights.

Next was a visit to Santa’s grotto, and although we missed the big man himself, my boys enjoyed creating glittery Christmas cards and writing their lists of desired gifts which they dutifully posted.

Santa's cosy grotto in the engine shed
Santa's cosy grotto in the engine shed

Sadly it was too soggy for donkey rides, but we happily browsed the impressive array of craft stalls, many of which were undercover, offering some gorgeous and unique gifts from some very talented producers.

Each and every one we stopped at was keen to engage and tell us about their products – from English sparkling wine, massage oil candles, scarves and Christmas decorations to local honey, cheeses, art works and quirky lamps.

Almost nothing we saw there could be bought on the high street.

A hot chocolate and some sausage rolls in the cafe finished nicely our day at Exbury, and what a memorable day it was for all of us.

The gardens are now shut to the public over winter, until March 2024, but Santa and the elves will be back next year for another dose of family-friendly festive fun – I suggest you book early because tickets sell out fast!

For more information about Exbury, visit https://www.exbury.co.uk/

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