Santa's Grottos in the Lake District

Santa's Grotto

Ho! Ho! Ho! Santa Claus, AKA Father Christmas has temporarily left his workshop in the North Pole and is travelling around the world meeting boys and girls. He’s trying to find out whether they have been naughty or nice, and what gifts they would like for Christmas. He’s a clever chap, being able to appear in shopping centres, hotels, and even trains all around the world during the month of December. All powered by magic, and some elven elbow grease, of course.

The first Santa’s grotto took place in Liverpool in 1879 in a large department store. It was an instant hit, drawing the crowds into the store. Since then grottos have cropped up all over the world, bringing joy and excitement to millions of children each year.

Where to Meet Santa Claus in the Lake District

There are lots of opportunities to meet Santa Claus in the Lake District and Cumbria. Santa seems to be a big fan of this fantastic county, spending a lot of time meeting children here. He can be found in shopping malls, steam railways, and even on lake cruises. Parents should note that there is a charge for meeting Santa in most of the places we list here (someone has to pay the wages of all the elves after all), and it might be necessary to book in advance.

Whilst we try to maintain an accurate list, it's best to check with the official venues to ensure their festive events are still taking place. Some may or may not go ahead every year. Most will update their websites by the early autumn, so please check early and book to avoid disappointment. 

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Ambleside Light Switch On

Santa visits Ambleside each year to help the town with its annual Christmas light switch on festival. Not only does Santa get the honour of switching the lights on, but he also spends the day meeting passengers aboard the Windermere Lake Cruises, departing from Waterhead Pier. Each child on the cruise will receive a gift. Afterwards, join Santa as he gets back on his sleigh for a parade through the town. Check out the complete schedule for the day here

Dobbies Garden Centre – Carlisle

  • Location: Orton Grange, Carlisle, CA5 6LB
  • When: Late November & December
  • More Information:

Dobbies Garden Centre is a few miles west of Carlisle city centre, and Santa can be spotted there for several weeks during late November and December. Children are invited to walk through a winter wonderland before heading into meet Santa, where a gift will be given. If you want to have more time with Santa, you can book into either breakfast or supper with the jolly fellow for an extra fee.


Houghton Hall Garden Centre – Carlisle

Houghton Hall is a huge garden centre on the eastern side of Carlisle. Children wanting to meet Santa here will be taken on a fun ride through a winter wonderland, before heading into the grotto where they will receive a gift. There are usually a few of Santa’s reindeer hanging around, and for an additional fee, you can have breakfast or supper with Santa.


Carlisle City Centre

Carlisle bustles during the festive season with a number of events that include a Christmas market and a Christmas carol parade. Santa magically transports his grotto to the city centre each year for a few days in December, inside a special marquee. Every child receives a gift, and they will meet plenty of magical beings along the way.


Castle Green Hotel, Kendal

  • Location: Castle Green Hotel, Castle Green Lane, Kendal, LA9 6RG
  • When: Various dates in December
  • More Information:

As Santa spends so much time travelling around meeting boys and girls in December, it’s not surprising that he often stops for a hearty meal. Thankfully, the good folk at the Castle Green Hotel in Kendal are happy to host him, along with all children and their parents who want to meet him. Everyone gets a two-course meal and well-behaved children receive a gift. An entertainer is also on hand to help everyone have lots of fun.


Cockermouth Light Switch On

Santa visits the small town of Cockermouth each November to help turn on the town’s Christmas lights. He often visits with his reindeer, and parades through the town centre, which is taken over with a fairground and charity market. Santa also sets up a temporary grotto for children to meet him and receive a present. The gifts are supplied free of charge, but donations to the town’s rotary club who run the event are appreciated.


Dunmail Park Shopping Centre

The Dunmail Park Shopping Centre on the edge of Workington is home to a supermarket, cinema, department store, and a small number of other stores. Knowing that many children are brought here by their parents doing Christmas shopping, Santa spends a few days here each December to help children escape the boredom of shopping and to give them a small gift.


The Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway

  • Location: Haverthwaite Station, Near Ulverston, LA12 8AL
  • When: Various dates in December
  • More Information:

A ride on a steam railway is a magical experience, and Santa is clearly a steam railway enthusiast, as he spends his weekends in December riding the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway line. Every child aboard the 'Santa Specials' train will receive a gift, whilst accompanying adults receive a drink and a mince pie. There are carol singers and elves to help keep you entertained during the journey.


Hayes Garden World, Ambleside

Hayes Garden World is an enormous garden centre in Ambleside. Santa loves spending time amongst all the plant and marine life that can be found here, and you can visit him at the centre during late November and most of December. Visitors walk through a winter wonderland before meeting Santa, and will receive a photo capturing this special meeting. Parents who book online can let Santa know a bit about their child in advance, making the experience even more magical.


Kendal Christmas Light Switch On

In mid to late November, there is a large celebration in the centre of Kendal that culminates in the town’s Christmas lights being switched on. There are activities throughout the day, including a market, live music, and more. Santa likes to call in to the party in the afternoon with his reindeer. He lands his sleigh at the Abbot Hall Gallery where he spends some time meeting children before joining in with the town’s parade.


Keswick Launch Father Christmas Cruises

December might be a little on the chilly side for a lake cruise, but at the weekends in December before Christmas, it’s worth wrapping up warm and hopping on board. Santa joins the Keswick Launch crew as they tour Derwent Water, providing warming festive cheer to all the passengers. Children will receive a present and adults can tuck into a mince pie with a sherry.


The Lakes Home Centre, Cockermouth

  • Location: Low Road, Cockermouth, CA13 0HH
  • When: Various dates in December
  • More Information:

The Lakes Home Centre is located on the edge of Cockermouth, selling a large collection of home furnishings, plants, and gifts. For a few days in early December, Santa visits to meet with children in the town. As well as being able to chat to Santa and receive a gift, children will also be able to do some Christmas themed crafts and have a snack in the centre’s café.


The Rheged Centre

  • Location: Redhills, Penrith, CA11 0DQ
  • When: Various dates in December
  • More Information:

There is so much for children to do at the Rheged Centre, so it’s not surprising that Santa likes to spend quite a lot of time there meeting with the children who visit. The Rheged Centre likes to make him feel at home, so there is a huge winter wonderland to stroll through, and children meeting Santa will receive a gift. Pre-booking is essential. In addition, the centre has numerous Christmas themed activities throughout December, so you can make it into a whole day event.


Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway

All aboard! Santa joins the La’al Ratty (The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway) as it chuffs through the Eskdale Valley. Board the train at Ravenglass and Santa will stroll through the train handing out presents to all the good boys and girls. Parents won’t miss out either, as they will receive mulled wine and mince pies (with squash and a biscuit for the children), as well as a gift voucher for a half price journey on the railway for the year ahead. There are activity sheets for children, and on arrival at Dalegarth, you will be welcomed into Santa’s grotto.


Ulverston Dickensian Festival

  • Location: Laurel & Hardy Museum, The Roxy, Brogden St, Ulverston, LA12 7AH
  • When: End of November
  • More Information:

The Ulverston Dickensian Festival takes place each year at the end of November. There is a huge market with traders and visitors dressed in Dickensian costume, as well as lots of other free and fun activities for the whole family. Santa likes to join in with all the fun, and he can usually be found at the Laurel and Hardy museum where for a small fee children can meet him and receive a gift. He then joins the town’s parade with his reindeer.


Westmorland Shopping Centre, Kendal

Santa knows that charity is important, which is why he likes to devote a number of days in the run up to Christmas helping volunteer groups, including the Kendal Lions Club, who raise money for various causes. He can be found in the Westmorland Shopping Centre in Kendal, where children can have a chat with him, and parents are encouraged to donate to help good causes.


Windermere Lake Cruises

Santa loves to take time out and enjoy a relaxing cruise, and he can be found doing just that during the weekends in December at Lake Windermere. Hop aboard a heated boat departing from Bowness Pier, and you will find games, music, plus sherry and mince pies for the grown-ups. Every child will get a chance to meet Santa and receive a gift.