One of my favourite things about Christmas is the decorations. I love the lights, colours, and sparkles of the season, so I was excited to see what Lady Leicester and her team had done inside the historic Holkham Hall.
We were invited to the press preview for Holkham Hall by Candlelight. Let me share our experience on the tour so you can decide if you would like to go too.
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About Holkham Hall
Holkham Hall, located inside Holkham Park in North Norfolk, has been the family home of the Earls of Leicester since the 1750s. The Palladian-style building you see today was built between 1734 and 1764 by Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester based on designs by William Kent.
Not many changes have been made to the Hall from the first Earl’s original ideal. During the 1850s, the second Earl installed central heating, added some additional buildings like the stables, and created the terraced gardens. His successor, the third Earl, installed electric light with a private generator and updated the bathrooms and heating.
You can still see some of the original furnishings and wall coverings in the state rooms. There is also an impressive collection of ancient statuary, manuscripts, books, and paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Claude, Gaspar Poussin, and Gainsborough.
Note: Lady Glenconner, Princess Margaret’s Lady-in-Waiting, who grew up at Holkham Hall claims that it is haunted. You can read more in her new novel “A Haunting at Holkham.” Also find out about more haunted places in Norfolk here.
What is Holkham Hall by Candlelight?
Holkham Hall by Candlelight is your chance to go inside this historic house and see it all decked out for Christmas. Guided tours will take you through Holkham Hall, one of the best stately homes to visit in Norfolk, to show you the holiday decorations.
I should mention these are not your average Christmas decorations. Lady Leicester and Christmas-connoisseur Catherine Zoll spend almost the entire year planning everything.
Holkham has been doing these candlelight tours for 10 years now. Typically, Lady Leicester and Catherine travel to Christmas markets to discover trends and get inspiration. As much as possible they try to reuse and rework decorations from previous years.
This year, they collaborated with renowned makers and artists including Claire Owen, Emma Thorburn, Alice King, FX-Live, and Natalie Boon. It took about four weeks to install with the help of 30-40 volunteers.
If you are looking for more ideas for things to do this holiday season, check out our list of the best Christmas events in Norfolk.
Our Experience at Holkham by Candlelight
As soon as we entered the Marble Hall, I knew we were in for something special. The grand staircase in front of us was lined with Christmas trees and other decorations. With the grandiose columns and carved ceiling, it felt more like we were inside a palace than a family home.
We were greeted with glasses of crisp prosecco and warm mince pies and the lovely sound of a live pianist. While we enjoyed our treats and waited for our tour to start I counted 22 Christmas trees just in this room.
Our steward greeted our group and we went up the stairs to start our tour. She gave us a brief introduction and told us a bit more about the event. There would be hundreds of lit candles throughout the house and they do try to recycle many of the decorations from previous years.
We made our way to the Delft Room, which is appropriately decked out in blue and white. The large cake on the table caught my eye, but then I also noticed the beautifully decorated pumpkins and small cakes. The detail and artistic skill that went into this display was outstanding, I could only imagine the time that went into it.
As soon as I walked into the next room, I felt a bit of a chill. We learned that the Frozen Room is the coldest room in the house so it made for a fitting spot for a snowy dining scene.
The all-white presentation was glamorous and elegant. It looked like something out of a fairy story, or maybe the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Our steward shared that the cheese was Lady Leicester’s favourite part of the room.
Inside the Jewel Room everything sparkles and the scent of Christmas is in the air. There is a lot going on in this room, so it’s worth taking a bit of time during your visit to look at the components. My favourite parts were the sled pulled by the swans and the butterflies because they were so colourful and creative.
We moved on to the Saloon which is where the family will open their presents on Christmas morning. The room was dominated by a large rather gorgeously decorated Christmas tree. It had some colourful parrot ornaments that were a tribute to Lady Leicester pet parrot, Basil.
The family also has five pet dogs so it was fitting that there was also a dog-themed room. It had portraits of some of their dogs as well as the dogs of some of the staff.
This was the room in the house with the most humorous feel – particularly the pictures of the dogs, done in a style like classical portraits. It also had a Christmas tree made up of dog treats along with an adorable Christmas-themed dog house.
The next room featured a unique Christmas tree made of antlers from the deer on the estate. From a distance the antlers did look like leaves with a bit of a golden hue. The bird ornaments looked very realistic. It may have been the most unique tree I have seen.
Next door was the Chapel. While there is a church on the estate, during the winter, services are held in the Chapel in the Hall as the church doesn’t have heating. I could picture the residents gathering here for the Christmas morning service.
The theme for the decorations in the Chapel was a Partridge in a Pear Tree. While the tree on the balcony was beautifully decorated, it was the cases on either side that caught my eye. These historic manuscripts, including the Book of Common Prayer from the 18th century and the Holy Bible from the 16th century, would not have been out of place in a museum.
There were also three manuscripts from the library of Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) in memory of his imprisonment in the Tower of London on 27 December 400 years ago. While he was charged with treason and unpaid debts to the Crown, a clever lawyer cleared his name and he was released without charges.
Not only is the balcony of the Chapel adorned with Christmas flare, but looking down towards the altar there is a nativity scene. From where we stood, it looked like the figures were life-sized. I would have liked to get a closer look.
It was time to head back downstairs to see the Old Kitchen. Along the way there were more Christmas displays and the scent of rose filled the air. We passed by a cute little elven village complete with toadstools.
The display in the Old Kitchen has a sustainable theme. All the flowers used came from the Holkham walled garden and were dried in the basement. The wrapping paper for the presents was made using leaves from the park as stamps.
After our tour, we headed to the gift shop in the Courtyard. I was tempted to buy many Christmas decorations and there were also some great gift ideas including products that were locally made.
Note: In addition to the Holkham by Candlelight Tours, they do also have a Christmas Market at Holkham each year. Find out more about the best Christmas markets in Norfolk.
Holkham Hall by Candlelight Review
The Christmas decorations inside Holkham Hall are spectacular, but it’s the details that makes them truly special. The dog’s tail coming out of the chimney, the healthy snacks for Father Christmas, and the colourful birds made me smile.
The experience is more than just a visual one. At times, we could hear the piano music from the Marble Hall. The scents in some of the rooms reminded me of Christmas. Along with the candles and fairy lights it created a festive atmosphere for the displays.
I was pleased to see that they used resources from the Estate. Pieces with antlers, flowers, and leaves were made specifically for Holkham in creative ways.
Our steward was lovely too. She gave us lots of interesting information about the Estate and the decorations and was happy to answer questions. The tour was well-paced and we didn’t feel rushed.
With all that said, I wasn’t quite ready for it to end and I am already looking forward to seeing what the Holkham team does for next year.
Holkham by Candlelight FAQs
How long does a Holkham Hall by Candlelight tour take?
Tours last approximately 45 minutes. I would recommend allowing extra time for your visit so that you can also check out the gift shop, cafe, and Holkham Park.
This event is aimed more at adults, but older children will enjoy it too. Note that the evening tours are suggested for those aged 10 and up. If you are looking to entertain the kids, check out our list of where to see Father Christmas and ideas for things to do in Norfolk with kids.
Tickets for self-led visits are £32 adults, while children 16 and under are £16. A guided tour costs £36 for adults and £18 for children 16 and under. Both options include a glass of prosecco or soft drink, mince pie, and parking.
The event runs select days 2 December to 30 December 2023. Check the schedule here.
Yes, it’s a popular event and will sell out. Check availability of tickets here.
Yes, there is the Courtyard Cafe which has a good selection of sandwiches and hot meals. We had lunch there before our tour. The food was delicious and the portions were generous.
The team at Holkham aims to meet the highest standards to accommodate all accessibility needs where possible. They ask that when you book your Holkham Hall by Candlelight tour that you provide details about your accessible requirements. You can also find more information on accessibility at Holkham here.
There is plenty of parking at Holkham Park a short walk from the Hall.
If you are coming from Norwich to Holkham Hall it’s best to drive. Unfortunately, public transport to the area is limited so it is not practical.
Allow a little more than an hour to get to Holkham by car. There are several possible routes, we like to take A1076 (Fakenham Road) to B1105 to A149, then turn in on Park Road. You can use NR23 1AB for the sat nav, but make sure it doesn’t try to have you enter through a locked gate on the back side of the estate.
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