The ultimate guide to Christmas in London
By Helen Wright
It’s the most wonderful city at the most wonderful time of the year – Christmas in London! 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
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 Dogstar in Brixton from the 2nd – 3rd December. Entry is free.
THE GEFFRYE MUSEUM
If you’re staying north of the river, The Geffrye Museum in east London is not only one of our favourite museums in London but currently has a Christmas Past exhibition which takes a nostalgic look at celebrations through the ages. Plus, on the 14th December the museum will be open late for Crafty Fox’s Christmas night market. Fifty stalls will be selling handmade gift items, alongside street food, mulled wine and, of course, carol singing!
SHOPPING BY THE RIVER
With Christmas markets becoming a real mega-trend, we couldn’t ignore one of the bigger more flashy markets, mainly because its location, between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, is extra pretty. Between November 30th – 3rd January 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 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 this heritage railway has created a whole Santa experience, which almost 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 Santa Special is only departing on 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23 and 24th 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.
IN THE NIGHT GARDEN
CHRISTMAS AT KEW
One of the big heavy hitters this year is Instagram favourite, Christmas at Kew. Follow the trail of a million lights, illuminated trees and show-stopping buildings for a glow-in-the-dark extravaganza. You can also toast marshmallows on an open fire surrounded on all sides by a spectacular light installation. What could be more Christmassy than that? Tickets start from £16 per adult and £10 for children. Closest stations are Kew Gardens on the District Line and the North London Line (Overground).
BIG TURN ON
THE YONDA TOUR
Speaking of all the pretty decorations, where can you find the best Christmas lights in London? Answer – everywhere! But, don’t worry, we’ve found a way to make all your illumination dreams come true in less than two hours. You can take a self-driven tour of the top twinkly spots in your very own Yonda Smart Car – complete with heated seats. Cruise past the shimmering lights of Bond Street, the wonderfully decorated Harrods and the colours from the southbank reflecting in the River Thames. With bespoke GPS-enabled technology, the easy-to-follow 90-minute tour is accompanied by a virtual guide who helps you navigate London’s most iconic sights and the hidden nooks and crannies. The experience costs £60 (£30pp) for a two-seater convertible and £95 (£23.75pp) for a four-seater with a clear panoramic roof. (Insurance is included).
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 has taken a topsy turvy turn with a unique design by designer Karl Lagerfeld.
NOBU HOTEL, SHOREDITCH
It goes without saying that the hippest new hotel in town, NOBU Hotel, Shoreditch, would have an equally trendy tree. The Lobby Lounge has a pop up shop with Christmas hampers, Nobu style mince pies, Matsuhisa wine and other gift ideas, all surrounding the uber modern Origami Christmas Tree.
ST KATHARINE DOCK
And in the spirit of what Christmas is really all about (curling up under a blanket and staring at the telly), how about this tree that reflects in the water as you scoff popcorn and watch your favourite festive film on a giant floating screen? The St Katharine Dock Floating Film festival has all the merry greats, including Elf and Home Alone and runs from the 4th – 10th December. Tickets start from £13.25 and booking is essential.
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. This 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.
8 HOXTON SQUARE
This chilled out hipster hangout, 8 Hoxton Square, has two Christmas menu offerings this year. The three-course menu is only £30pp and includes pheasant breast and grilled sea bass, among other treats. Festive desserts range from Christmas rice pudding and quince and almond tart. For a big blow out (bring your stretchy pants), the feast menu starts with a glass of fizz on arrival before seasonal plates including venison with potato galette, kale, chestnuts & cranberry, and turkey with carrots, parsnips and brussel tops with truffle bread sauce. Dessert and cheese finish the spread, and all for £50pp.
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.
No, you wont need your active wear for this German Gymnasium, which is in fact a fun bar just outside London’s Kings Cross station. In a partnership with Lufthansa Airlines, the terrace has been transformed into a German winter market. Warm up with a range of Christmassy cocktails, including the Mulled Convair 340 – a mix of red wine and dark rum with grenadine, oranges, lemons and a sprinkle of Christmassy spices.
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 spectacular floral tree, designed by the station’s florist, Moyses Stevens, towering over the platforms. Enjoy the merriment with a Christmas pudding martini (cognac, madeira wine, apricot liqueur, spiced syrup and red berries) from classy platform bar, Searcy’s.
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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