Twinkling lights, towering Christmas trees, mulled wine and ice rinks, the capital knows how to do Christmas. Whether you're heading down to London with the kids this festive season or yo're just looking for some Christmas ideas to get you in the spirit, here's our guide on where and how to get festive in London this year.
See the lights
London quite literally lights up like a Christmas tree at this time of the year – wherever you wander you’re sure to see fairy lights twinkling in the trees and strung across the street. One of the best places to see London’s Christmas lights is Oxford Street, where 1778 snowball-like decorations and their 750,000 LED lightbulbs sparkle above the city’s most famous shopping street – the display here has been going for 56 years. From November 15th Regent’s Street joins in the fun, with shimmering golden sequins, cogs and coils illuminating this grand sweeping street, running down from Oxford Circus. Covent Garden is another of London’s festive hubs, with a mistletoe theme for 2015 and London’s first mulled wine festival. The big switch-on here is November 12th. Finally, joining the illuminations this year is the Strand, once home to the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity (the Savoy Theatre) and now getting festive with Christmas lights for the very first time from November 10th.
Stock up on stocking fillers
London is great for shopping all year round, but come Christmas the city is an unbeatable place to fill those stockings. The department stores go all-out; head to Harrods for luxurious Christmas decorations and have a ride on the Egyptian escalator while you’re there. Pop into Selfridge’s for some very stylish decorations and tableware, as well as their new personalisation service which offers everything from wrapping paper to mini Moet bottles. For decadent food hampers it has to be Fortnum and Mason, which seems given over entirely to Christmas as soon as November hits. This British institution has been making Christmas turkey’s out of us, with their Very Berry Christmas Cake and Marc de Champagne truffles for more than 300 years. Old-fashioned Christmas wreaths and gorgeous crackers can be found at Liberty in the fourth floor Christmas Shop.
If you’d rather take the opportunity to shop outdoors (and feel all fuzzy and festive inside at the same time) at one of London’s Christmas markets then you’ll have plenty of choice. Head to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland for stalls selling everything from jewellery to handicrafts (November 20th to January 3rd), or schedule your visit for the weekend of December 3rd-5th to visit the Royal College of Art’s Christmas Fete, where you can pick up ceramics, textiles, jewellery and art by former and current students, with prices as low as £2 per item. There’s also a daily Christmas market at the Southbank Centre from November 20th right up until Christmas Eve, selling sheepskin rugs, wreaths and gingerbread as well as festive food and drink. Check this out for more information on Europe’s best Christmas markets – including how to get there and what to buy.
Put Christmas on ice
What could be more Christmassy than wrapping up warm and taking to the ice? London has more than a dozen outdoor ice rinks but perhaps the most iconic is the one at Somerset House, which fills the eighteenth century courtyard and is presided over by a giant Christmas tree. Open daily from November 18th to January 10th, as well as hour-long skating sessions (£14 for adults), you’ll find the Fortnum’s Lodge here (from Fortnum and Mason) offering hot chocolate and après-skate cocktails. Need more space? Head to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, home to the UK’s largest outdoor ice rink, surrounding the Victorian bandstand and open from November 20th to January 3rd. Sessions last 50 minutes, run from 10am to 9pm daily and cost £14.50 for adults. If you’re bringing the kid to London this Christmas then a better bet is the Natural History Museum, where the large rink neighbours a smaller one designed specifically for little ones. There’s also a fairground carousel here and a café-bar overlooking the ice. Sessions here cost £12.65 for adults and £8.80 for children and on weekday mornings you can skate for up to three hours.
Get your fill of festive food
As night falls thoughts turn to getting cosy and feasting on some festive dinner. London has options by the sleigh-load, from fine dining to chic and cheerful. In Chelsea, head to The Rabbit for a wild, seasonal menu that includes woodcock pâté, black truffle and manor farm cheddar fondue and venison cigars, while in the City it has to be Searcy’s at the Gherkin, where the top two storeys of this iconic building are themed as London’s largest snow globe. Expect a 13-foot white Christmas tree, white floors and decorations to accompany your four-course winter-focused tasting menu.
Want something truly memorable? Try the glorious Goring, where the Dining Room and its Executive Chef Shay Cooper recently achieved a Michelin star. Indulge in a traditional Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in London here and you’ll get more than some soggy sprouts and a turkey drier than the Sahara. Visit The Goring anytime from November to February to get settled in their St Moritz Ski Bar where old-school alpine glamour reigns supreme and you can indulge in rich fondue and decadent warming cocktails.
Have a silent night in these London hotels
Few hotels have a better location for Christmas shopping than The Arch, just metres from Oxford Street. Step into the opulent interior and you’ll find roaring fires, a warm welcome and luxurious suites with four poster beds, as well as traditional festive dinners in the superb hotel restaurant, Hunter 486. Alternatively, book the winter nights package at The Grosvenor, for five-star style without the price tag, including breakfast. The hotel is located within shopping bag swinging distance of Victoria station and has opulent, spacious rooms.
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