Gift ideas for people who love experiences

Gift ideas for people who love experiences

People in the UK and the USA are increasingly choosing to spend their money on experiences, rather than things. This is probably wise. Way back in 2014, San Francisco State University research showed that experiences were more likely than possessions to make people happy. And on a practical note, a voucher for an experience is an easy gift to buy at the last minute.

There are literally thousands of experiences to choose from. I spotted some great gift ideas on Groupon, like a soap-making workshop, a hop-on hop-off London bus ticket, or a massage (always a winner). I’ve also put together my own list, of gift experiences for people based in the UK. They’d be perfect for any book-, theatre- or history-loving people in your life.

Blacksmith lesson

Blacksmith lessons are available in a number of places. I surprised D with a birthday present of a class with Kevin Boys Blacksmiths at Surrey Docks Farm, London. It was a good way to access the ancient skills that are rarely practised these days. For a very reasonable £25, Kevin taught D the basics of forming, shaping and joining. This was a few years ago, so prices might have increased since.

Mr B’s Reading Spa at Mr B’s Emporium, Bath

Mr B’s Emporium has twice been named the UK’s best independent bookshop, and according to the Guardian in 2015, is one of best bookshops in the world. Its staff and owners are passionate about books, and it’s a cosy, energetic place to discover new and old reads. Mr B’s even ran a pop-up festival bookshop at Glastonbury this year. For £80, bibliophiles can have a ‘reading spa‘: tea, cake and a chat with a knowledgeable ‘bibliotherapist’, who will then hand-pick a large pile of books to explore, based on the reader’s likes. The spa ticket includes a £55 voucher for books.

Star-spotting at Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is set in the Galloway Forest, 373 square miles of dense woodland. The Forest was the first place in western Europe to be given official Dark Sky status, so it’s perfect for gazing at the 3,000 stars above.  Visitors have to pre-book sessions. A 90-minute evening session of star-spotting and astronomy presentations starts at £15 per adult.

Read more about the Galloway Forest here.

Day trip to Paris (with cheese package)

For those who live in the south of the country, Paris is just a short train journey away. The Eurostar whisks passengers from London St Pancras straight into the heart of Paris, so there’s time to take in the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, or just to stroll round the historic Père Lachaise Cemetery, where you can see the graves of the graves of Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Eurostar tickets from London to Paris cost from £29 one way.

If you wanted to include a stay in London as part of the experience, why not combine the Paris trip with an Academy of Cheese masterclass at the UK’s premier cheesemongers, Paxton and Whitfield? Cost: £195.

You can read about my own day trip to Paris here.


Shakespeare double bill – in Stratford-Upon-Avon and at the Globe Theatre, London

There’s no better place to watch a performance penned by the Bard than in the RSC theatre at his childhood home, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Or is there? The Globe Theatre, on the banks of the River Thames in London, is a faithful reconstruction of the venue for the majority of Shakespeare’s performances. If you find it difficult to choose between the two, why not spend a night in each town, for a Shakespeare double bill? It takes around two hours to travel from London to Stratford, so it’s easily accomplished. Ticket prices vary, so check out the theatres’ websites for details.

Falconry experience


At Leeds Castle in Kent, the falconry school offers half-day or day-long experiences. These include a Hawk Walk, where budding falconers are introduced to one of the Castle’s hawks and taught the techniques of handling and flying the birds across the beautiful Leeds Castle parkland. Also available is the Owl Experience, Bird of Prey Walk, and Bird of Prey Phoography Day. Prices begin at £75, which includes a day’s entrance to Leeds Castle.

English Heritage membership

Eltham Palace

English Heritage’s Eltham Palace, in London, is a treasure trove of medieval and twentieth century history

English Heritage cares for over 400 sites across the country, from medieval castles and inspiring abbeys to grand houses and heritage gardens. A year’s membership gives unlimited entry to them all. Up to six accompanied children can use the same membership ticket. So if your loved one wants to explore prehistoric mines, Roman public loos or monastic tanning vats, English Heritage membership might be for them. Annual membership for one adult is £54.

You can read more about our days out with English Heritage at Deal Castle and Eltham Palace, London.

Fly a vintage aeroplane

tiger moth

Image from Pixabay

History enthusiasts can fly a number of vintage planes, including a Tiger Moth or a Dragon Rapide, at IWM Duxford. This branch of the Imperial War Museum was built in 1918 as a training base for the newly formed Royal Air Force. Classic Wings has been based at Duxford for 25 years. It restores and maintains all its own aircraft, and offers flight experiences from March to October, beginning at £95.

Subscription to BookBeat


Audiobook sales have shot up in the UK, with a 25% increase in the first half of 2017. For people who might not be able to take the time out for a big experience, audiobooks could be a good option. They can transport the listener to another world, on all those moments when their mind has time to wander: when doing the housework, gardening, commuting…. There are a number of audiobook apps available. We trialled BookBeat, which usually costs £12.90 per month and is great for real bookworms, as it offers unlimited listening. You can read more about BookBeat here, as well as sign up your loved one for a month’s free listening before the subscription charge kicks in.

Do you have any more ideas for gift experiences? Do let us know, in the comments below.

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  1. December 7, 2017 / 9:58 am

    I love the idea of a blacksmith lesson. I have a friend who was a firefighter and retrained to become a blacksmith. Now he wins awards for his work. A day class could be the beginning of a whole new career!! I’m very into giving experiences as presents, I think we all have far too much stuff nowadays. Great list Nell.

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 12:33 pm

      Well done to your friend! The blacksmith who runs these classes is very artistic too. There were some beautiful sculptures of his on display around the farm.

  2. December 7, 2017 / 11:12 am

    Brilliant ideas, the blacksmith lesson is genius! I have bought a falcon flying experience for my husband in the past and he loved it.

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 12:35 pm

      Ah, I’m glad to hear that, Nat x

  3. I definitely prefer gift experiences over items (that I usually don’t want or need!) We buy gift experiences for most of the grown ups in our family and a few for the kids too. My father absolutely adored the horse racing experience I gave him via Groupon last Christmas and Richard and I have enjoyed some really lovely spa days. Thanks for the new ideas Nell;)

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 12:35 pm

      It really is a bottomless pit of ideas, isn’t it? x

  4. December 7, 2017 / 6:41 pm

    I’m thinking of getting my husband a gift experience this year so these are very handy ideas thank you. We are very much experiences over gifts in this house. Mum will be getting an afternoon tea for two and hopefully I’m invited lol

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 1:04 pm

      Ooh, now afternoon tea is a good suggestion!

  5. December 7, 2017 / 7:31 pm

    Great ideas. I’ve bought my daughter tickets to a musical that she’s desperate to see – and I’ve also asked for tickets to an event for myself. I think everyone reaches an age where they don’t need more ‘stuff’.

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 1:09 pm

      I think I’ve reached that stae already, Christine!

  6. December 7, 2017 / 8:31 pm

    There are some amazing ideas here – I definitely agree that I’d rather have an experience than a random thing. Who knew you could learn blacksmithing though?! Paris – or a bit of star gazing – would be high on my list.

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 1:09 pm

      I looked into it and there are all sorts of blacksmithing classes. This one was just for a couple of hours, but you can sign up for weeks of lessons….

  7. December 7, 2017 / 9:18 pm

    This is such a brilliant different list. I totally agree that experiences count for so much more. My parents just don’t need material things so this year I bought my Dad a tiger moth flight for his 70th. He absolutely loved it! They flew over stonehenge and everything! 🙂

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 1:10 pm

      Oh that sounds brilliant

  8. December 7, 2017 / 11:25 pm

    Fabulous, I love experiences much more than gifts. That blacksmiths lesson is really different and something I knwo my son woul love. Mich x

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 1:10 pm

      D had a blast when he tried it out.

  9. December 9, 2017 / 1:40 pm

    Yes! I get much more excited by experiences than things that get put away in a cupboard. My parents have bought us National Trust membership again for Christmas and I couldn’t be happier. I love the sound of star spotting too!

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 1:11 pm

      Ah yes, NT membership’s a good one. x

  10. December 10, 2017 / 9:29 pm

    Star-spotting at Galloway Forest sounds wonderful! what a lovely idea Nell!

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 1:13 pm

      I want to go back to do some more….

  11. December 11, 2017 / 8:35 am

    Oh they all look pretty special although I love the idea of flying a vintage aeroplane. That would be right up my street!

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 1:14 pm

      I can see you in one, Ting!

  12. December 11, 2017 / 1:29 pm

    I’ve wanted to do falconry for a while but all of these sound so amazing. Close to the top of my list is also the biblio spa and blacksmithing lesson!

    • Nell
      December 13, 2017 / 1:14 pm

      D treated his mum to the reading spa one year, and she really enjoyed it.

  13. December 15, 2017 / 4:28 pm

    How many lovely ideas! I must admit I would prefer the audiobooks over the plane ride – which probably says a lot about me!

    • Nell
      December 20, 2017 / 12:58 pm

      Haha – I’m right there with you!

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