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The best and worst advent calendars revealed: Which? test beauty, chocolate and boozy offerings – with surprising results


With just a month to go until the start of advent, many shoppers will be heading to pick up a festive countdown calendar.

From a beauty bargains to chocolate goodies and even children’s toys, there are dozens of choices to help get people in the festive spirit.

But which are Christmas bargains and which are a rip-off?

From Barbie to the Body Shop and Lindt to Lego, testers at consumer giant Which?opened, analysed, tasted, dabbed and constructed from all the advent calendars that might be on your Christmas countdown wishlist.

Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, told FEMAIL: ‘With December just around the corner and many people wanting to spread the cost of Christmas this year, festive essentials like advent calendars are likely to fly off the shelves.

‘Whether you’re looking for traditional chocolate, children’s or slightly more upmarket beauty or booze, we’ve found some advent calendars that offer a compelling countdown to the big day, while others might underwhelm when you open the doors on some days, so it is worth doing your homework before committing.’

BEAUTY 

The best: M&S Beauty Advent Calendar

M&S Beauty Advent Calendar came out on top of the beauty buys

M&S Beauty Advent Calendar came out on top of the beauty buys

How are the advent calendars tested?

Which? choose popular beauty, chocolate, children’s and food & drink advent calendars available at UK retailers. We ask our testers to open all the doors of each calendar and score them on the following:

Quality of products Testers taste chocolate, dab make-up, sip wine and build toys to rate the quality of what’s inside each advent calendar in its entirety.

Variety of gifts: They look at the range of gifts included. The best advent calendars have different products every day and are exciting in the run up to Christmas. The worst are boring with lots of repeated gifts.

Aesthetics: They rate each advent calendar on how visually appealing it would look displayed in your home and how easy it is to get at the gifts without running the look of the advent calendar.

Favourites: Testers pick which advent calendars they’d gift to their loved ones and which they’d enjoy opening themselves.

Cost: £45 (when you spend £35 on clothing, home or beauty)

What’s inside: 25 mini and full-size beauty products, worth £340 total

Pros: Excellent variety of products and brands. A good mix of travel and full-size products. Comes in a reusable cosmetics bag. Loved by testers

Cons: Have to spend at M&S to buy it

WHICH? verdict: Fantastic selection

WHICH? said: ‘Our testers were very impressed with the offering of products and brands in this year’s M&S beauty advent calendar. 

‘Half our panel said they’d happily gift it to a loved one. That’s why we’ve voted it our best beauty advent calendar of 2023 of those we tested.

‘Each product is unique and you get a wide range of haircare, skincare, nailcare and make-up over 25 days.

‘As well as travel size products, the beauty advent calendar includes a few full-size products from popular brands including Benefit, L’Occitane and Ren. 

‘Our testers liked the addition of M&S’s in-house brand, Apothecary, too. Some of these cost around £25 to buy individually, so you more than get your money’s worth at £45 for 25 products.

‘Keep in mind that this is a gift with purchase, so you’ll need to spend £35 on clothing or home products at M&S to be able to buy it. If you regularly shop at M&S and you’re a beauty fan, it’s definitely worth a look.

 

 

 

The worstL’Occitane Classic Beauty Advent Calendar

L'Occitane Classic Beauty Advent Calendar was branded 'underwhelming' by Which?

L’Occitane Classic Beauty Advent Calendar was branded ‘underwhelming’ by Which?

Cost: £59 

What’s inside: 24 mini beauty products, worth £122

Pros:  Festive pop-up box design. Decent range of products

Cons: Small-sized products. Disappointing in the run-up to Christmas

WHICH? verdict: ‘Underwhelming.

‘Our testers enjoyed the citrus and verbena-based body care products included in this L’Occitane beauty advent calendar, but they were left disappointed by the lack of showstoppers in the run-up to Christmas. 

‘Some found the beauty gift on Christmas Eve, the Intensive Hand Balm, had a medicinal and slightly unappealing smell.

‘There are no full-size products included either, unlike other beauty advent calendars for 2023.’

Other beauty calendars 

The Body Shop The Advent of Change

The Body Shop The Advent of Change cost £59

The Body Shop The Advent of Change cost £59

COST: £59

What’s inside: 24 mini and full-size beauty products, worth £119

Pros: Good variety of products and scents. Includes some full-size products. Eye-catching design

Cons: A few of the same product type – hand creams, shower gels

WHICH? Verdict: ‘Lovely scents. Body Shop’s colourful, pop-up beauty advent calendar went down well with our testers with its array of products from body butters to soap bars, lip balms and more.

‘Our testers liked that the products from different days complemented each other, such as the Shea Shampoo and Conditioner or Tea Tree Facial Wash and Toner.

‘Some of the products felt a bit samey, for example there were several shower gels and hand creams, but there’s a lovely range of fruity scents among these to try. Our testers particularly enjoyed the hydrating Mango Hand Balm.’

12 Days of Liz Earle Beauty Advent Calendar

12 Days of Liz Earle Beauty Advent Calendar has just 12 products

12 Days of Liz Earle Beauty Advent Calendar has just 12 products

What’s inside: x12 mini and full-size beauty products, worth £169

Cost: £75 

Pros: A good mix of travel and full-size products. Festive design. Includes limited edition Christmas products

Cons: Only 12 days

WHICH? verdict: ‘Complete beauty package. Despite only including 12 products over 12 days, this beauty advent calendar gives someone who might want to try Liz Earle everything they’ll need for their skincare routine.

‘Some of the products inside the autumnal-style gold box include a full-size cleanser, hydrating mask and retinol booster. There’s also a nice selection of skincare minis that don’t feel like filler products.

‘As a nod to Christmas, our testers enjoyed the addition of the festive-scented Cedarwood & Frankincense Hand Cream too.

 

Boots 24 Days of Premium Beauty Treats Advent Calendar

Boots 24 Days of Premium Beauty Treats Advent Calendar comes in a 'big bulky box'

Boots 24 Days of Premium Beauty Treats Advent Calendar comes in a ‘big bulky box’

Cost: £99

What’s inside24 mini and full-size beauty products, worth £467

Pros: Lots of full-size products. Good variety of products. Excellent value for money

Cons. Big, bulky box

WHICH? verdict: ‘Good for trying new brands. It’s the priciest beauty advent calendar we tested, but you more than get your money’s worth at £467 worth of products for £99.

‘If you’re not particularly brand loyal, it gives you a chance to try newer brands, such as Byoma and Arkive, as well as the beauty classics, including Lancome and Bobbi Brown. There’s no skimping on full-size products either. There are 14 included, ranging from lipsticks to cleanser, eye cream and more.

‘Keep in mind you’ll need space to store the large, bulky box though, which opens out into drawers like a jewellery box.

CHOCOLATE

Hotel Chocolat The Grand Advent Calendar, £75, was the 'best' according to Which?

Hotel Chocolat The Grand Advent Calendar, £75, was the ‘best’ according to Which?

Best: Hotel Chocolat The Grand Advent Calendar

Cost: £75

What’s inside? 24 chocolates, hot chocolate and chocolate-flavoured spirits

Pros: Delicious chocolates. Excellent variety of gifts. Festive design. Loved by our testers

Cons: Pricey compared to other chocolate advent calendars

WHICH? verdict: Top of the chocs. As you’d expect there are lots of chocolate gifts inside Hotel Chocolat’s The Grand Advent Calendar including a chocolate wreath, snowmen and champagne truffles. But you also get some genuine surprises, such as chocolate lip balm, cacao gin, and some more we’ll leave you to discover yourself.

‘Half our testers voted for it as one of their favourites and said they would love to receive it as a gift.

‘There’s no denying that it’s incredibly expensive, but it contains a huge amount of chocolate and other gifts that’ll go down a treat in the run up to Christmas. That’s why it gets our nod as the best chocolate advent calendar of 2023 of those we tested.

Other chocolate advent calendars 

Venchi Advent Calendar

Venchi Advent Calendar cost £42

Venchi Advent Calendar cost £42

COST: £42

What’s inside: 24 assorted chocolates

Pros: Delicious chocolates. Elegant design. Reusable boxes. Loved by our testers

Cons: Not as impressive as others we tested

WHICH? verdict: Elegant. Half of our testers said they would gift the Venchi advent calendar to a loved one and we can absolutely see why.

Its elegant, chocolate box design with green ribbon and tasty selection of treats impressed. Our testers also felt the boxes that housed the individually, enticingly wrapped chocolates were sturdy enough to be reused.

Although the chocolate itself didn’t blow our testers away, they appreciated the variety.

Lindt Festive Select Advent Calendar

The Lindt chocolate was branded a 'classic'

The Lindt chocolate was branded a ‘classic’

COST: £15

What’s inside: 24 assorted chocolates

Pros: Excellent variety of Lindt chocolates. Exciting gift on Christmas eve

Cons: Not the most eye-catching design

WHICH? verdict: ‘A Christmas classic.

‘You can’t go wrong with Lindt chocolate at Christmas and our testers certainly found this to be the case after trying the Lindt Festive Select Advent Calendar.

‘They enjoyed tasting the variety of Lindt chocolates inside and particularly liked the big chocolate surprise you get on Christmas Eve.

‘It’s not a standout chocolate advent calendar, but you get a lovely array of delicious treats for under £20.

Charbonnel et Walker Advent Calendar

Charbonnel et Walker Advent Calendar has 24 chocolates

Charbonnel et Walker Advent Calendar has 24 chocolates

COST:  £39.95

What’s inside?: 24 assorted chocolate truffles

Pros:  Tasty chocolates. Festive design

Cons: Not as much variety as other chocolate advent calendars

WHICH? verdict: ‘Delicious truffles. Our testers enjoyed opening this chocolate advent calendar – it ticks all of the boxes in that it’s beautifully decorated and contains 24 delicious truffles.

‘The festive sweet shop design would look wonderful displayed among your Christmas decorations too.

‘While it’s a lovely calendar it didn’t impress as well as our top picks. Not enough of our testers said that they would buy this, mainly due to its lack of variety. It repeated chocolate flavours more often than the Venchi advent calendar.’

Fortnum’s Chocolate Truffle Selection Advent Calendar

24 assorted chocolate truffles are inside the F&M calendar

24 assorted chocolate truffles are inside the F&M calendar

COST: £35

What’s inside: 24 assorted chocolate truffles

Pros:  Delicious truffles. Excellent variety of flavours

Cons: Not the most eye-catching design. Tricky to get chocolates out the doors

WHICH? verdict: ‘Decent for the price.

‘You get a variety of festive-flavoured truffles inside this chocolate advent calendar, including Christmas pudding, maple and spiced praline.

‘Our testers found the truffles okay but weren’t blown away by what they tried.

‘They also felt the box was less impressive than other chocolate advent calendars on offer and mentioned that they struggled to get the chocolates out from behind each door.’

CHILDREN’S 

Best: Lego City Advent Calendar 2023

Lego was named the best calendar by Which?

Lego was named the best calendar by Which?

What’s inside: 24 Lego surprises, 250 Lego pieces

Cost:  £13.99

Pros: Excellent variety of Lego to build. Exciting gifts in the run up to Christmas. Can be added to existing Lego sets

Cons: Confusing box design

WHICH? Verdict: Fun to build. The 2023 Lego City Advent Calendar is packed full of figures and accessories that can be added to other sets after Christmas is over.

Our testers enjoyed the festive-themed Lego figures that include Santa Claus, Mrs Claus and a reindeer sleigh, and some said they would enjoy being gifted it.

The consistency of the gifts behind each window is also excellent, and it gets even more festive in the run up to Christmas.

Our testers found the design of the box a bit confusing though. Numbers were tricky to locate, so younger children might need help opening the doors.’

Other children’s advent calendars 

Pokémon Trading Card Game Advent Calendar

Pokémon card calendar is £40

Pokémon card calendar is £40

COST: £40 

What’s inside? Pokémon cards, coins and sticker sheets

Pros: A good variety of gifts. Lasts beyond Christmas

Cons. Hard to get the cards out the box

WHICH? Verdict: ‘Exciting for little Pokémon fans. If your child is obsessed with Pokémon, we think they’ll love the selection of gifts in this children’s advent calendar.

‘They’ll be able to add to their Pokémon card collection with foil cards and booster packs hidden behind the windows.

‘You don’t get a pack of cards every day – for example there are sticker sheets and coins on some – but these filler days aren’t too frequent.

‘Our testers found it hard to get the cards out the windows without bending them, so little hands might need some help.’

Barbie Dreamtopia Advent Calendar

Barbie Dreamtopia Advent Calendar was a hit

Barbie Dreamtopia Advent Calendar was a hit

Cost: £16.97 

What’s inside? A Barbie doll and 24 accessories

Pros: Toys can be added to existing Barbie sets. Good value for money

Cons: Some toys feel flimsy. Not the most festive box design

WHICH? Verdict: ‘Exciting from day one. Barbie Dreamtopia begins with a bang thanks to the Barbie doll gift on day one, which is sure to get December off to a fabulous start for any Barbie fan.

‘What follows each day thereafter are clothes and accessories for the Barbie doll. These include wings, a mermaid tail, shoes, jewellery and more. Some of these felt a bit flimsy (and there are quite a lot of small pieces to stop from getting lost) but overall there’s plenty to keep little Barbie fans entertained.

‘A Barbie doll from Mattel starts from £13.99. Considering the amount of accessories that are packed into this advent calendar, we think it’s pretty good value. The accessories can be used with other Barbie dolls, too.’

Nintendo Super Mario Advent Calendar

24 Super Mario characters and accessories cost £30

24 Super Mario characters and accessories cost £30

Cost: £30

What’s inside: 24 Super Mario characters and accessories

Pros: Fun and festive box design. Some toys will last beyond Christmas

Cons: Gifts are hit and miss

WHICH? verdict A mixed bag. At a first glance, this advent calendar is super exciting for kids who love Super Mario with characters on the front of the box holding Christmas presents.

Some gifts are wonderful, such as the Santa Mario and Snowman Luigi figures, but some are very underwhelming. Our parent testers felt their kids would be left disappointed if they opened the door to reveal a plastic gold coin, as you get on some days, for example.

Playmobil Christmas Sleigh Ride Advent Calendar

Playmobil accessories and a figure was the worst rated of the toys

Playmobil accessories and a figure was the worst rated of the toys

Cost: £19 

What’s inside: Playmobil accessories and a figure

ProsToys can be added to existing Playmobil sets. Strong Christmas theme

Cons: Some gifts are underwhelming. Younger kids may need help from parents

WHICH? verdict: ‘Disappointing. Our panel liked the strong Christmas theme that runs through this calendar, with 24 pieces that you collect each day to form a Christmas Sleigh Ride scene.

‘Building the scene though meant negotiating fiddly pieces that our parent testers felt younger kids would need help with. Some of the daily gifts were also parts towards the build that weren’t really identifiable as a thing. Our testers felt opening these would leave a child a little underwhelmed.

‘Need some Christmas gift inspo? Read our reviews of the best trampolines and best remote control cars’

 

BOOZE & SNACK CALENDARS 

Best: Drinks By the Dram Premium Gin Advent Calendar (2023 edition)

Drinks By the Dram Premium Gin Advent Calendar was rated the best

Drinks By the Dram Premium Gin Advent Calendar was rated the best

Cheapest price: £89.95 at Drinks By the Dram and Master of Malt

What’s inside: 24 3cl bottles of gin from different producers

Pros: Excellent variety of gins. Festive design. Loved by our panel

Cons: Relatively expensive for a little over a standard bottle of gin.

WHICH? Verdict: ‘Excellent variety for gin lovers. As well as the stylish little wax-covered bottles inside this advent calendars, our testers were impressed with the spectacular variety of gins behind each of the 24 doors. Half our testers voted for it as one of their favourite advent calendars to gift to a loved one.

‘It features popular brands, such as Tanqueray and Hendrick’s, as well as plenty of niche distilleries from around the world.

‘The total volume of gin in the calendar is equivalent to a little over a standard bottle. You can purchase a whole bottle of premium gin in the region of £30 to £40, so it’s not a cheap advent calendar. However if you’re looking to be introduced to new gins that you won’t find in your local supermarket, then this is the advent calendar for you.

Other beer, booze and snack advent calendars 

Virgin Wines Beer Advent Calendar

Virgin Wines Beer Advent Calendar cost £79.99

Virgin Wines Beer Advent Calendar cost £79.99

COST: £79.99

What’s inside: 24 330ml cans of ales, lagers, pilsners and stouts

Pros: Excellent variety of craft beers and regions. Popular with our panel

Cons: Uninspiring box design

WHICH? Verdict: ‘A superb selection of beers

‘This beer advent calendar was popular with our testers. Nearly half said they’d gift it to a loved one or would enjoy it themselves.

‘Our testers praised the mix of big and small brewers inside the calendar, as well as the fantastic array of pale ales, session beers, stouts and pilsners to sample throughout the 24 days.

‘The wreath design on the box they felt could have been improved upon, but the quality of beers inside more than makes up for this.

The Snaffling Pig Pork Crackling Advent Calendar

The piggin' christmas calendar left testers 'wanting more'

The piggin’ christmas calendar left testers ‘wanting more’

COST:  £23.99

What’s inside: 24 5g packs of pork crackling

Pros: Creative flavours. Eye catching box design

Cons: Small pack sizes

WHICH? verdict: ‘Left us wanting more

‘There are some fun flavours of pork crackling inside this advent calendar including pigs in blankets, maple syrup and smokey barbecue. However our testers found these a bit hit and miss – saying some were tasty but some a bit sickly.

‘They also felt let down by the amount of pork crackling inside each bag. They’d hoped for it to be a bit more generous.

Joe & Seph’s Popcorn Advent Calendar

Joe & Seph's popcorn calendar is a fun alternative

Joe & Seph’s popcorn calendar is a fun alternative

What’s inside: 24 7g bags of popcorn

Pros: Creative flavours. Generous pack sizes. Fun and festive box design

Cons: A few repeat flavours

WHICH? verdict ‘Something a bit different

‘Our testers enjoyed sampling the 14 different flavours of popcorn inside this snack advent calendar. Favourites included mint chocolate and toffee apple & cinnamon, but some flavours, such as buck’s fizz, didn’t get as big a thumbs up.

‘The amount of popcorn in each bag is generous and although there are some repetitions, our testers enjoyed the unique, tasty flavour you get on Christmas Eve.

‘The colourful box design, inspired by ‘Where’s Wally?’, is striking and would look fantastic displayed at home.

John Lewis Wine Advent Calendar

John Lewis Wine Advent Calendar was 'very bulky'

John Lewis Wine Advent Calendar was ‘very bulky’

What’s inside: 24 18.7cl bottles of red, white and rosé wine

Pros: Excellent variety of wines

Cons: Very bulky box, Quality of wine is a bit hit and miss

WHICH VERDICT? ‘For fans of New World wines

‘While our testers enjoyed sampling the selection of New World wines from Chile, Moldova and California and more, they weren’t wowed by the quality.

‘It’s a fun novelty to enjoy in the run up to Christmas, but if you fancy yourself somewhat of a wine buff you’ll probably be left a bit disappointed.

‘The box that houses all the wines is heavy and bulky, so you’ll need plenty of space at home to store it too.



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