People are choosing to spend their money on experiences, rather than things. They make great presents, if you want to put a smile on someone’s face. Research shows that experiences are more likely than possessions to make people happy. And on a practical note, If you want to buy a gift at the last minute, it’s easier to order a voucher than to hunt down the latest gadget.
Here’s a list I put together of experience gifts for dad, mum, grandparents and even the kids. They’re all UK-based. Hopefully you’ll be able to find the perfect Christmas gift for that special someone in your life, be they a book-lover, theatre-goer or thrill-seeker. Gift ideas for men can be notoriously difficult to pin down, but this selection gives a few ideas for Christmas presents for dads and partners, as well as gift ideas for her.
A driving experience
*Sound the klaxon* Driving experiences are now available for kids! Children as young as ten or eleven can now take to the wheel of a Porsche, Ferrari, Lotus or other flash car. Specially designed, safe driving centres across the country offer junior driving experiences. You can search for your closest one through Trackdays. Of course, fast driving isn’t just for the kids. Adults can enjoy track days, where they take their own car and race it around a track, or driving experiences, where a racing car is provided, for off-road or track-based fun. Just pick whichever one the petrol-head in your life might prefer.
Find out more about your closest driving experience on the Trackdays website.
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 (back in 2015), Kevin taught D the basics of forming, shaping and joining. He came out with a lovely leaf-shaped hook, which we still have hanging in our kitchen.
To find out more about Kevin Boyes Blacksmiths, check out The Forge at Surrey Docks Farm.
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, it’s one of best bookshops in the world. The 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 last 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.
Find out more about reading spas at Mr B’s Emporium here.
Star-spotting at Galloway Forest
The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is set in the Galloway Forest – 373 square miles of dense woodland, in the south-west of Scotland. 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 at the Observatory, which received a certificate of excellence from Tripadvisor in 2016. A 90-minute evening session of star-spotting and astronomy presentations starts at £15 per adult.
Day trip to Paris (with cheese package)
For those who live in the south of the UK, Paris is just a short train journey away. The Eurostar whisks passengers from London St Pancras straight into the heart of Paris. The two-and-a-half hour journey leaves enough 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 start from just £29 one way. You can read about our own day trip to Paris here.
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 find out more about the Paxton and Whitfield Academy of Cheese masterclass 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.
At Leeds Castle in Kent, the falconry school offers half-day or day-long experiences. These include a Hawk Walk. 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. You can read about some days we’ve spent at Leeds Castle here, here and here.
Find out more about the falconry experience at Leeds Castle here.
English Heritage membership
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 £56.
Find out about English Heritage membership here.
Fly a vintage aeroplane
History enthusiasts can fly vintage planes at a variety of locations, including IWM Duxford, in Cambridgeshire. 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 offers flights on a Tiger Moths, Spitfires and Dragon Rapides. It restores and maintains all its own aircraft, and offers flight experiences from March to October, starting from £99.
Find out more about Classic Wings at IWM Duxford here.
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 to fly a plane, drive a rally car or take a day trip to Paris, audiobooks could be a good alternative. 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, costs £12.90 per month and is great for real bookworms, as it offers unlimited listening.
You can read more about BookBeat here.
Do you have any more ideas for gift experiences? Do let us know, in the comments below.
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This is a collaborative post. All views are my own.