DISCLOSURE – THIS EXPERIENCE WAS GIFTED TO THE REVIEWER AND GUEST/S FOR THE PURPOSES OF WRITING THE REVIEW.
Reviewed by Alexander Wilde
Today marked the official start of Derby’s Festive programme for the Christmas season. Many Derby residents received a pamphlet in the post and this year it advertised an extremely comprehensive offering for all ages, budgets, and interests. Therefore, it was with great delight when my family and I were given the opportunity to sample a section of the yuletide line-up. By chance, my children’s school were already participating in The Lantern Parade which marked the climax of the Derby Season of Light festival, organised by South Asian city-based arts organisation ‘ Surtal Arts’ (https://www.surtalarts.co.uk/), so this visit was expected to be extra special
We started our afternoon in the St Peters Quarter (https://stpetersquarter.co.uk/), the central high street of the city centre, from where the Lantern Parade was departing. It was a wintery day with temperatures firmly stuck at frozen, but fortunately to combat this we received a sweet and warm welcome from the Gingerbread Man. Just one of many costumed characters, entertainers and groups who are bringing free music and fun at the weekends up until New Year.
Celebrating the diversity of the city, the dazzling spectacle began with an array of dance and music performances from across the world. Led by a stunning, elaborately dressed Caribbean carnival queen, hundreds of school children, holding aloft their handmade lanterns, with their families, teachers, and the public, danced through the streets to the Council House. To the mighty beat of traditional Indian drums, we were accompanied by Chinese dragon performers, masqueraders, and a range of dancers in luminous and vivacious costumes. The parade concluded with an energetic Bollywood dance and drumming performances – adding colour and dynamism to the Christmas Light Switch On. An exceptional cultural celebration showcasing what makes the city so special!
Building up to the Big Switch On, a temporary stage in the glow of the Council House hosted a range of compelling acts which raised spirits of all ages. In front of thousands, breakfast presenters of Smooth Radio (https://www.smoothradio.com/eastmids/) were joined on stage by the stars of Derby Live’s panto Mother Goose (https://www.derbylive.co.uk/whats-on/mother-goose/– including the titular star in all her poultry prowess), the Mayor and the main man himself – Father Christmas! The countdown culminated in the dazzling lighting of the streets and a flurry of fireworks. A rousing and crowd pleasing crescendo!
A short stroll took us to the cultural heart of the city centre – Derby Marketplace – in the Cathedral Quarter (https://www.derbycathedralquarter.co.uk/). Lit beautifully by a towering tree, oversized decorations and a small fairground, attractions and food cabins surrounded the pop-up and spectacular real Ice Rink (https://www.derbylive.co.uk/whats-on/cathedral-quarter-ice-rink-2023/) and the family friendly neighbouring Nordic Bar (https://www.derbylive.co.uk/whats-on/festive-bar/).
On arrival at the Ice Rink we were treated to a performance by a local skating virtuoso, and a star turn from the local Mayor; who was clearly having a great time and later mingled with his constituents. We skated for a full 45 minutes to the sounds of Smooth Radio. The glittering rink was spacious and accommodated varying abilities. It is fully undercover, allowing for all weather frozen fun. Starting at £7.50 with additional discounts for groups, the Ice Skating is fantastic value and inclusive of skate hire, which were clean and comfortable, and the use of cute aids, including a sit on raft, for little gliders. The rink is also wheelchair friendly. Enhancing the experience, the team were incredibly friendly and helpful; being on hand to help visitors fasten their skates and pass out the aids.
Next door, the three peak tepee is the perfect pre- or post-skate venue for hot and cold winter tipples. Best described as Scandi hygge mixed with disco chic, under the cosy canopy you will find a welcoming fire pit, a well-stocked bar with an extensive menu and plentiful seating. Prices were reasonable and we ordered mocktails and hot chocolate for the children. I tried the day’s ‘Nordic Special’ called a ‘Nordic Hug’, it was an indulgent mix of chocolate, cream, and liquors. A blissful treat!
Additionally, for those wanting to enjoy their drinks outside, there is a dedicated cheerful and themed space. This would be a great spot to enjoy the delicacies from the nearby food stalls. The aroma of the German sausages and loaded fries were incredibly tantalising, plus the sweet crepes and waffles also caught our eyes! Next time…
Hosting a programme of entertainment including live music, theatre, comedy, quiz nights and more, tonight we were entertained by the incredible, local, party band Cassette Roulette (who had also played the Light Switch On stage). Belting out pop hits and medleys from across the decades, the energetic quintet raised the roof and created an unrivalled atmosphere. Young and old were bopping together to the enthralling end of an incredible day celebrating Christmas. We left with an afterglow that the cold couldn’t cut!
Overall, a magical and memorable day out for the whole family! Christmas has officially started!
The vibrant city has excellent transport links and several car parks which make visiting easy and accessible. Catering for all your holiday needs, from seasonal activities and entertainment to shopping, dining to theatre, and everything in between, Festive Derby is a Christmas gift not to be missed – a wonderful offering that will leave you and those you celebrate with delighted!
Further highlights we hope to enjoy include: The Elf Trail; the Window Wonderland walk; Snow Globe photo opportunity; multiple theatre productions by Derby Live, Derby Theatre and Deda; services and celebrations at the local churches. We may even find time to squeeze in some Christmas shopping (plenty of gift buying options from the exceptional independent retailers to the high-street big hitters), as well as entering the Golden Ticket Prize draw. This year, Derby is absolutely the only destination needed to make memories that will sparkle beyond the season!
Rating: 5/5 Five Merry Stars!
Prices range from free and are dependent on the experience. For those that require booking, do so online or by visiting the dedicated Box Office in the Market Place or specific venues.
Visit https://www.festivederby.co.uk/ for more information, map and what’s on guide.