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Kent Christmas shopping guide: Late-night opening hours, parking and special events

We all know that frantic dash around the shops before they shut on Christmas Eve - so, although there are still two months until the big day - there's no harm in thinking ahead.

Kent's main shopping centres have already started planning events, late-night shopping and special parking arrangements:

Whitefriars Christmas market in Canterbury last year
Whitefriars Christmas market in Canterbury last year

Ashford

Designer Outlet

Christmas at the outlet will begin from November 7 with a light switch on, fireworks and the opening of new stores kicking off the celebrations.

A grotto and elf workshop will also open at the same time, and a giant snow globe selfie station.

Shops will be open between 9am to 9pm from November 25 to December 28, with the exception of Sundays when they will open from 10am to 6pm, on Boxing Day from 8am to 9pm, and on Black Friday November 29 from 8am to 11pm.

Town centre

Plans are still being finalised but there is sure to be lots going on in Ashford town centre this Christmas.

Glow International, a light show at International House which will explore the history and heritage of the town, will run on December 6 and 7, at 4.30pm, 5.30pm and 6.30pm. A Christmas market at the adjoining Coachworks with hot food and drink will also be running.

Ashford's Winter Forest, a trail of giant illuminated trees, will be on show from 3pm to 8pm, also on both days.

Santa arrives in Ashford last year
Santa arrives in Ashford last year

The Carnival of the Baubles will run on December 14 at 5.30pm, starting at Elwick Place. The parade of giant baubles and lanterns will light the way up Bank Street to Lower High Street. Children from six of of the town's primary schools will help decorate the baubles.

In the run up to Christmas, there will be free parking in council run car parks on the following Sundays in December: 15, 22, 29, and on the January 5. However, on December 22, the Recreation Ground Road Car Park, Tenterden will not be included.

Canterbury

Whitefriars and town centre

There is heaps going on in Canterbury this Christmas.

Celebrations will begin with the light switch-on in St George's Street on Friday, November 15 at 5.30pm, with free park and ride available from 3pm.

An outdoor ice rink, festive market and grotto will all be appearing as the city is transformed into a festive fantasy. Thousands of shoppers will flock to the wooden cabins, located between St George’s Street and Whitefriars Shopping Centre, selling everything from candles and handmade stocking fillers to mince pies and beer, from November 15 to Christmas Eve, with Santa and his elves joining the fun from November 30.

Furry friends will also be able to meet Father Christmas at the extra special 'Santa Paws'.

Meet Santa in Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre
Meet Santa in Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre

Residents across Canterbury will be decorating their windows with snow, tinsel and figurines from December 1, in a bid to win the Christmas Window Competition.

Friday, November 29 will be late-night shopping for the independent retailers in the city, where you can expect to grab plenty of bargains.

You can head to Whitefriars after work on Thursday, December 19, as stores will be open until 8pm.

Further details on competitions, activities and potential workshops are yet to be confirmed.

Although there are no special Christmas parking arrangements for the city, it is free to part every Saturday and Sunday in the council car park in Military Road.

In Herne Bay, the first two hours of parking each day are free at William Street car park.

Dartford

Bluewater shopping centre

Besides an extravagant grotto where you will meet gingerbread soldiers and a sugar plum fairy, and an outdoor ice rink by the lakes, there will also be several days when the popular shopping centre will be open for even longer than usual.

On Friday, November 29, the shops will be open from 9am to 10pm - two more hours than normal. This will continue until Monday, December 16, when the shopping centre will be open for yet another hour each day, until 11pm, December 23.

Dover

Town centre

Dover Town Council has so far confirmed there will be an afternoon of festive fun on Saturday, November 30.

Delicious food and drink will be available in the Market Square from lunchtime to 5pm together with stalls and shops open for that all-important Christmas shopping.

The council is keen for as many local people as possible to come along and join in the celebrations, with performers and carols singers keeping everyone jolly and dancing around the Christmas tree, in the centre of the square, and the lights will be switched on at 5pm.

Parking will be free all day in the council off-street car parks and will also be free on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Dover will light up this festive season
Dover will light up this festive season

Port

White Cliffs Christmas is back at Cruise Terminal One at Dover Western Docks for the fourth year.

Father Christmas and his friendly elves will be making a welcome return, and a Christmas Market will run every Saturday and Sunday from Sunday, December 1.

The undercover ice rink has been made even bigger this year, now spanning 440m², allowing 146 skaters to enjoy the ice at any one time.

Faversham

Town centre

There is plenty going on in Faversham this Christmas, starting with the light switch-on on Novmber 23 at 5.30pm.

Father Christmas himself will pay a visit to the town during the evening along with several other special guests. Carols will be sung, live music will be played and delicious street food will be served at the Night Food Market later that evening.

Then from December 1 until the big day, Creek Creative’s Christmas Emporium will open, with a market on the 1 at Brogdale, 8, 15 and 22 in the Market Place. Ccreative craft sessions will also be held at Brogdale on December 7, and a chance to meet Santa in his grotto at the Alexander Centre on 14, 15, and 22.

Folkestone

Town centre

A 'living advent calendar' is just one quirky idea this seaside town has for Christmas this year.

We are all used to opening little cardboard windows to reveal tiny chocolates each morning of December, but JimJam Arts is doing something a bit outside the box.

From December 1, a different door in the town will open every evening at 6pm, to reveal a live performance. Exact locations of these special doors have not yet been revealed.

There is lots going on in Folkestone's Creative Quarter this festive season
There is lots going on in Folkestone's Creative Quarter this festive season

The main town centre light switch-on taking place a week later on November 22 and a festive market will be held in the town centre from November 29 to December 22.

New Romney will be glowing on December 13, when there will be a community lantern parade and a food and craft festival will be held in Elham on December 15.

Folkestone and Hythe Council will waive charges in council car parks and on-street ‘pay and display’ parking bays on the three Saturdays before Christmas.

You can park for free in these places on December 7, 14, ad 21.

Creative Quarter

Lights will begin twinkling above Folkestone's Creative Quarter on November 15, with people asked to gather at the top of the Old High Street at 5.30pm.

The Secret Postcard Show returns for its fourth year, with local artists and designers invited to create original postcards, which will then be available to purchase for £30 each, with all proceeds going to a local charity. It will launch on Thursday, November 15 from 5pm to 8pm at Brewery Tap on Tontine Street.

A free carol service in the beautiful St Mary and St Eanswythe’s Church will take place on Wednesday, December 11 from 7pm - gather to celebrate the festive season with mince pies and a warming glass of mulled wine.

Experience the magical world of shadow puppetry at The Quaterhouse Christmas Show - Once Upon A Snowflake, which will run between December 13 and Christmas Eve.

Some shops in Folkestone's Creative Quarter will remain open later on November 15
Some shops in Folkestone's Creative Quarter will remain open later on November 15

Some Creative Quarter shops will stay open later for the light switch-on on November 15, but being as they are independently owned, there is no set time.

Bouverie Place

This shopping centre will be open between 9am and 7pm from Thursday, December 5 to23, from 9am to 4pm on Christmas Eve and from 9am to 6pm on Boxing Day.

Gravesend

Town centre

Real camels and a donkey will be trotting into Gravesend this Christmas to take part in a live nativity on Saturday, December 14 from 11am to 3pm.

But this isn't the first bit of festive fun residents will get - Gravesham’s Greatest Christmas will actually kick off with a light switch-on and parade on Friday, November 22.

The celebrations will then continue every weekend, with events and attractions, right up to the big day.

A market, including Express your Elf and a grotto, will run in the High Street on Saturdays and Sundays from November 23 between 10am and 2pm.

Santa will be popping along to Gravesend
Santa will be popping along to Gravesend

There will be a traditional Christmas markets on November 30, December 7 and 14, and free craft sessions at the borough market on Sunday December 1, 8 and 15.

Icicle Bicycle Man, a carousel, a giant snow globe and live music will be found in the town centre on Saturday, December 7.

A land train, to help shoppers discover the town's independent traders, will also run on the same day.

Hythe

High Street

Although relatively small, the delightful coastal town of Hythe is not letting this stop it get into the spirit of Christmas.

Shops on the high street will stay open until 9pm on Friday, December 6, when there will also be a Santa’s Grotto, live music, choirs, bands, food and artisan Christmas market.

Maidstone

The Mall

There will be plenty of opportunities to find the perfect presents for your loved ones this year, with The Mall keeping doors open until late on several days throughout December.

Shops will be open until 8pm on December 5, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21, and until 6pm on December 13, 23, Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

The popular grotto will once again be appearing in the shopping centre, with Santa arriving at midday on Saturday, November 16, and gifts being handed out right up to Christmas Eve.

You can even get your presents gift wrapped throughout December - just head to the Ask Me desk to get your items wrapped in exchange for a donation to Guide Dogs Maidstone.

Fremlin Walk will have several late-night shopping days
Fremlin Walk will have several late-night shopping days

Fremlin Walk

The lights draped between the glass shop covers in Fremlin walk will begin glowing on Thursday, November 21, when the official switch-on will take place.

On several dates in December, shops will be open until 7pm, to make way for late-night shoppers.

This will happen on December 5, 10 to 13, and then until 8pm from December 16 to 21. Stores will be open from 9am to 6pm on December 23, and from 9am to 5.30pm on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

Hours will remain the same on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the Christmas period.

Medway

Pentagon Centre

Shops will be open from 8am to 7pm from Monday, December 9 until 23 in the Pentagon, apart from on Sundays, when the shopping centre will be open from 10am to 4pm.

Christmas Eve will be your final chance for last minute shopping, with stores closing doors at 6pm.

For Boxing Day, the shopping centre will be open from 10am to 4pm.

A number of themed events will also be held at the retail centre, details of which are yet to be announced.

Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre

Those with Hempstead Valley as their local shopping centre are lucky enough to have late-night shopping all year round, with stores normally open until 8pm.

There will be free parking on certain days in Medway this year
There will be free parking on certain days in Medway this year

But they are stretching even further for Christmas, keeping doors open for an extra hour until 9pm from December 19.

There will also be festive stalls in the communal area of the centre from November 1, where local traders will be selling unique goods, and a grotto from November 16.

Town centre

Medway Council will be offering free parking for Christmas shopping in all council-run car parks between Thursday, December 19 and Sunday, 22 December.

Sevenoaks

Parking can be a nightmare at the best of times, but it can get even worse at Christmas.

In light of this, Sevenoaks District Council are hoping to provide free parking for late-night shopping events over the two weekends leading up to Christmas.

This plan is due to be finalised in November.

Sittingbourne

The Forum

Santa Saturdays will take place on December 7 and 14, when Father Christmas will be in his grotto at The Forum with free treats.

The centre will also welcome choirs and schools this December, with performances throughout the festive season to keep spirits high during while out shoppin.

Whitstable

Town centre

The stylish town of Whitstable will be lit up with beautiful fairy lights from November 30, with a fun-packed evening setting the tone for the festive season to follow.

More details of this are yet to be announced.

Late-night shopping will take place on Thursday, December 5 this year, where you can buy all your cards, gifts and wrapping paper until 8pm.

Tunbridge Wells

Royal Victoria Place

Santa will be arriving at his magical Arctic themed grotto at Royal Victoria Place on Thursday, November 14 at 4.30pm along with Chase and Marshall from the popular TV series PAW Patrol. Children can visit Father Christmas every day until December 24.

A festive farmers market will take place each Saturday throughout December between 9am and 3pm in the market square, with lots of speciality produce on offer.

Westwood Cross shopping centre will have lots going on this Christmas
Westwood Cross shopping centre will have lots going on this Christmas

Royal Victoria Place also has an exciting programme of entertainment planned for every Sunday in the square, with all day parking capped at £2.

The shopping centre will open late until 8pm every night from December 16 to 23, with free parking between 4pm and 8pm, except Sunday, December 22 when the hours are 10.30pm to 4.30pm.

Thanet

Westwood Cross

For late-night shoppers in Thanet, Westwood Cross shopping centre will be open from 9.30am until 8pm between Tuesday, December 17 and Monday, December 23.

On Christmas Eve, shops will shut at 6pm, and from 10am to 5pm on Boxing Day.

The Toy Fort Grotto, with its six-metre high turrets, will open from November 9 at 12pm, when children can meet the Father Christmas and receive a special gift. It is recommended to book early.

Made in Chelsea star Sam Thompson will be among guests at the light switch-on on Friday, November 22 from 4pm. There will also be special performances, entertainment and competitions hosted by kmfm.

Ramsgate

Free veggie chilli and chocolate cake will be given to the first 300 people at A Winter Wotsit on December 15 from 4.30pm to 6.30pm.

Mulled wine and hot chocolate will also be available for a small free at the sing-a-long at the east cliff bandstand in Wellington Crescent.

Lights will be switched on in the town centre three weeks earlier on November 24 at 4.30pm.

An Christmas fair will be held on December 1 in Addington Street and an artisan market at the Italianate Glasshouse for two days from November 30.

A winter lantern parade will travel from the High Street to Albion Gardens on December 1 from 4pm and the Christmas Tree Festival will be at St George's Church from December 6 for nine days.

Independent stores will stay open longer on December 5 for late-night shopping with lots of special deals, treats and prizes.

Town centres

Although Thanet District Council doesn't run any special Christmas car parks, there are four spots where you can park for free on a Saturday all year round.

This applies to Cannon Road car park in Ramsgate, Mill Lane multi-storey in Margate, Harold Road car park in Cliftonville, and St Peter's Park Road in Broadstairs.

To find out more about Christmas light switch-ons across Kent click here.

To find out what’s going on in the county and for all the latest entertainment news click here.


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