The ultimate guide to Christmas in London 2018
By Helen Wright
It’s the most wonderful city at the most wonderful time of the year – Christmas in London 2018! Lots of places around the world go hard for Yule but nowhere twinkles of festive cheer as much as our home city of London. Wander through the Royal parks and watch them shimmer as frost settles on the manicured lawns and twirling silhouettes glide (and probably fall over) on makeshift ice rinks. Shops come alive with the sound of Mariah Carey and everyone is wrapped up like Lenny Kravitz, draped in woollen knits with their red noses poking out like Rudolph himself. Chestnuts may be roasting on an open cart outside Oxford Circus station, but nothing warms me like the snow-covered Dickensian idea of Christmas in London.
I was looking for festive things to do with my family this December and I felt slightly overwhelmed by the amount of so-called ‘Christmas’ activities in London. So, I decided to create my own list of the best, not-so-common and most lovely places to celebrate in our city. Hold on to your Santa hats, here we go!
Things to do at Christmas in London 2018
Extra Christmassy Christmas shopping
BRIXTON CHRISTMAS MARKET
London may be a big city but it houses thousands of small businesses and we fully recommend supporting the #shoplocal movement at Christmas. For a start, your family and friends won’t end up with four identical Soap and Glory boxsets from Boots, and independent Christmas markets are extra festive. Think homemade mince pies, swing dancing, hot chocolate and marshmallows, lovingly stitched stockings and handmade toys. Crafty Fox markets are on all over the city but the one in Brixton, south London is always a goodie. A wide range of independent designers and makers will be at The Department Store in Brixton from the 15th – 16th December 2018. Entry is free.
CHRISTMAS BY THE RIVER 2018
With Christmas markets becoming a real mega-trend, we couldn’t ignore one of the bigger more flashy markets, Christmas by the River mainly because its location, between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, is extra pretty. Between November 29th – 2nd January 2018 on the bankside of the Thames, this pop up market hosts 40 independent traders in twee wood cabins, selling handcrafted and bespoke gifts as well as lots of delicious-smelling festive food. It’s less crowded than its rivals on the Southbank and the (hideously tacky) Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and has more of a local atmosphere, largely due to the fully-stocked bar serving cocktails, mulled wine and craft beer in the middle of the festive frenzy. And, from here, the views of the city, Tower Bridge and The Tower Of London are superb.
The coolest London Christmas market offering this year is at Camden Market, which manages to retain its street edge while getting fully involved in the Christmas market spirit. The market, which is open year-round, is enjoying a festive Christmas takeover. There is Santa’s Gingerbread Workshop for kids, hourly snow flurries, Christmas-sy carols and a festive street food line up, including a Vegan Christmas dinner from Rudy’s Dirty Vegan diner. With over 1,000 vendors spanning food, drink, lifestyle and entertainment, there is a lot going on here and a recent makeover has transformed the whole market into an inspirational space for 2019.
LONDON’S BEST FATHER CHRISTMAS
THE EPPING ONGAR RAILWAY – SANTA SPECIALS
Standing in a long line with your kids so they can have five minutes with Father Christmas doesn’t sound like fun for anyone, but heritage railway, the Epping Ongar Railway, has created a whole Santa experience, which sold out completely last December, so get in fast. Located at the very end of the Central Line, a vintage double-decker bus collects visitors from Epping Underground Station and takes them to North Weald for a ride on Santa’s special steam train where everyone gets to meet the man himself as he makes his way through the carriage with his huge sack of gifts. A brass band play jolly tunes on the platform and Mrs Christmas, Scrooge and The Grinch are also on hand to make sure none of the kids (big or little) make it onto Santa’s naughty list and miss the train. The Epping Ongar Santa Special train is only departing on selected dates December so booking in advance is recommended. Tickets start from £17.50 and all children receive a gift. Allow 2-2 1/2 hours for your experience.
BRANCH OUT – LONDON’S COOLEST CHRISTMAS TREES
It goes without saying, I love the giant Trafalgar Square Christmas tree as much as the next person. In fact, one of my earliest Christmas memories is watching the news with my nan as the tree was ceremoniously delivered (a gift from the people of Oslo). But you don’t need me to tell you that it’s there – at 20 metres tall and covered in lights, you can hardly miss it!
If you’re hunting for an alternative tremendous tree for your Christmas inspiration check out these quirky firs.
Ahh, posh Christmasses make me all warm and fuzzy (or was that just the mulled cider?). If you’re in Mayfair, just a few streets from Bond Street, pop into Claridges for a look at their annually fabulous Christmas tree, which this year was designed by sleek New York designer Diane Von Furstenberg.
ST PANCRAS STATION
This year, St Pancras Station let world-renowned jeweller Tiffany and Co take control of their Christmas tree. Far from a classic Audrey Hepburn-esk traditional fir, they’ve gone full on ying yang robot tree and we love it! The modern tree with a twist is on show on the main concourse and there might even be someone playing Christmas songs on the nearby piano if you’re lucky.
I’m usually a sucker for a classic tree but this effort from The Connaught, also in fancy Mayfair, really stood out. Designed by reminded artist, Sir Michael Craig-Martin CBE, the playful tree has 12,000 digital rainbow-hued lights decorating it. The colours are choreographed to continually change, but this Pride-esk setting makes it extra cool. A walk around this area will also give you the treat of festively decorated residential homes – straight out of a Richard Curtis film.
The absolute cutest tree this year is this snow globe adorned fir in The Lobby Bar at One Alywich hotel in Covent Garden. Created by florist Mark Siredzuk every year, the 2018 Christmas tree is themed around The Nutcracker with 130 individual snow domes in different sizes with 7400 lights.
London Christmas cinemas 2018
THE LUNA WINTER CINEMA
Our definite favourite this year is The Luna Winter Cinema in the the stunning Pavilion of Kensington Palace in West London. No need to worry about the cold – the indoor, heated venues are the perfect place to enjoy iconic Christmas classics on the big screen with friends and family. With films ranging from ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, Elf’ and ‘Home Alone’ the cinema is a stress-free Christmas treat we highly recommend. Delicious mulled wine, mince pies and hot chocolate on offer as well as a full bar, comfy seats and gently falling snowflakes, tickets start at £8.50 and films run from the 17th-23rd December 2018.
Dancing on Ice
SKYLIGHT AT TOBACCO DOCK
Over the last few years the pop-up ice rinks at the Tower of London and the National History Museum have become somewhat of a Christmas staple but they aren’t the only ones. Last year a new frozen lake appeared – on a rooftop no less. Skylight at Tobacco Dock, previously an unused car park in east London, has been transformed into a neon-lit winter playground, complete with après ski bar and a cool ice rink. Tickets to skate are only £10 per person, but cannot be booked in advance so just show up ready to show off your skating skills.
HAMPTON COURT PALACE
For another alternative skating experience, this time with an extra regal backdrop, try the Hampton Court Palace rink. Here, the ice sparkles like Meghan Markle’s engagement ring (sorry, we couldn’t resist…) in the grounds of Henry VIII’s 16th century palace. Entry is £14 for adults, £12 for teenagers (ages 13-15) and £10 for children (3-12). The nearest underground stations to Hampton Court Palace are Wimbledon and Richmond on the District Line.
EAT AND BE MERRY
Do you have a favourite restaurant that you love but know the menu so well you always end up ordering the same thing? We feel your pain. Lucky for us, some of our top London foodie places have introduced excellent festive menus to keep us hungry for more.
The laid-back Italian restaurant chain. Carluccio’s, has two Christmas menu offerings this year. The Menu Festivo is £20 per person for two courses and £24 for three courses and includes Steak and Truffle, Butternut Squash risotto and their famous Panettone for dessert, of course! The jazzed up Menu di Natale includes a glass of prosecco and a Christmas cracker, with extra food options including antipasto, Cod and Mussels and Limoncello Marscapine Coppa (£26 for two courses and £30 three courses). Both menus are available from 14th November 2018 – 1st January 2019).
Celebrated chef Alessandro Bay at Diciannove has also created two festive menu options. The Piccolo Menu (£37pp) starts with a warming pumpkin soup with crushed amaretto biscuits and balsamic vinegar, followed by turkey, salmon or a vegetarian conchiglie pasta with red pepper pesto and basil. The Grande Menu (£42pp) has guests sharing the Il Supremo Italian meat and cheese platter – it’s a stunner. Super Christmassy main courses follow, including slow cooked lamb in a red wine sauce with mashed potatoes. The Christmas menu is served until 23 December.
Possibly our favourite London chain, Dishoom, has also created something special for the holidays. The Bombay kitchen restaurant is basing its festive offering on the Bohra tradition of serving up shared meals from a large thali plate to bring the community together. Dishoom may be true to its Indian roots but the main dish had to be, of course, a turkey raan with all the trimmings. You’ll get a slow-cooked turkey leg, served with bombay potatoes, masala winter greens and a spiced cranberry chutney. There are three set menus, priced at £30, £40 or £55 and you can choose optional extras to suit your group.
COCKTAILS AND DREAMS
DUCK AND WAFFLE
For a glitzy night out above the town, you can always count on the bar at Duck and Waffle to provide some extra Christmas cheer. Top cocktail curator, Rich Woods, has created 12 new festive cocktails to serve at the 38th floor bar. Our favourite was the Panettone Flip – cognac, walnuts, spices, panettone infusion and, of course, edible gold dust just to make it extra luxurious.
SEARCY’S, ST PANCRAS INTERNATIONAL
Nearby St Pancras International Station transforms into its very own Christmas grotto in December and you don’t have to be zooming off to Paris to enjoy it. As well as a great range of shops from L’Occitane, Jo Malone and The White Company, the station also has a sweet Tiffany & Co. pop up shop for all your posh perfume needs. Enjoy the merriment at the station’s resident champagne bar, Searcy’s.. with a limited edition ‘Tiffany & Co. Signature Cocktail’, which has been developed for 2018 by Searcys’ expert mixologists. The classy glass is a celebratory mix of; Cognac, Mandarin liqueur, sugar and a dash of bitters – topped with sparkling Veuve Clicquot. To add an extra touch of festive sparkle, the indulgent cocktail also boasts 23 carat gold flakes and a hint of fresh Mandarin (£18.50). For those who prefer to keep their Christmas teetotal, St Pancras by Searcys have also created a special ‘mocktail’, made up of lemon grass and ginger, mandarin presse, and topped with Fever Tree tonic (£6), which is also delicious!
For something a bit more cosy, plan a date at the cutest cocktail bar in town, Little Nan’s on Deptford Market Yard. Curl up with your beau (or a handsome stranger) and share a warming teapot full of mulled apple juice made from a 106-year-old family recipe. Don’t forget to add a shot of the house spiced rum – it is Christmas after all!
CHRISTMAS SHOPPING IN LONDON? Read the review of our favourite boutique hotel, just five minutes from Oxford Street.
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