You know Christmas has arrived in London when Selfridges have their Christmas windows on display! The British capital is a traveller’s delight any time of the year but come Christmas, the city takes on a decidedly magical feel with its festive décor, twinkling Christmas trees and numerous skating rinks. With so much to see and do, navigating your way around London town can be a tad overwhelming for the first-timer. But fret not! With two weeks left till the big day (read: opening presents and stuffing ourselves silly) there’s still plenty of time to partake of the city’s festivities, mulled wine and all! We’ve done the legwork and compiled a list of super Christmassy things to do in everyone’s favourite European capital so all you’ve got to do is put on your favourite Christmas jumper (because when else is it socially acceptable to wear ‘em?) and get ready to paint the town red (and green!)
1. Go ice skating at Somerset House
Nevermind if you’re a lousy skater -everyone will be too busy skating/gawping at the stunning 18th century courtyard that is home to Somerset House’s ice rink to actually analyze your moves on ice. So grab your skates and make the most of this 900 square metre iconic London rink. If you find yourself running out of steam, glide over to Fortnum & Mason’s pop-up lodge for a bit of fondue, champange and smoked salmon blinis.
2. Check out the world-famous Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square
London is not short of Christmas trees this season and to really get into the festive spirit, stroll over to Trafalgar Square where the world famous Norwegian Christmas tree stands. An annual gift from Norway since 1947, (as a means to thank Britain for its support during World War Two) the majestic 20 metre tall tree is a popular spot for passers-by to listen to carollers and join in the festive cheer.
3. Go on multiple joy rides at Winter Wonderland
Although now a fixture on the British festive calendar, many will be surprised to know that these German-style Christmas markets weren’t on the scene till the year 2000. Since then, the Brits have taken a shine to Christmas markets, with new ones popping up in cities across the country, each declaring theirs to be the best in town. While we’ve yet to contest these claims, the undisputed crowd favourite of Christmas markets has got to be Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. With joyrides, circus shows, an ice rink and free entry, we can certainly see why Winter Wonderland keeps ‘em coming every year.
4. Embark on an enchanting stroll with Christmas at Kew
Christmas at Kew returns with a new illuminated trail at the Royal Botanical Gardens. Round up your family and friends and follow the mile long sparkling path for a magical after-dark experience that includes illuminated fountains, trees dressed in Christmas colours, carol songs by the Choir of the Holly Bushes as well as an appearance by Father Christmas himself -all set against a background of the magnificent glass Palm House.
5. Explore the traditions of Christmas Past at Geffrye Museum
How did people of yesteryear celebrate Christmas? Step back in time and see for yourself at the Geffrey Museum where twelve period rooms provide a historical glimpse into the customs and traditions of Christmas Past. The exhibition takes you back 400 years and explores why we send Christmas cards, hang stockings by the fireplace and kiss under the mistletoe. A display not to be missed if you want your most pressing Christmas questions answered!
6. Get your carolling on at St Paul’s Cathedral
There’s nothing like an evening of Christmas carols to get you in the jolly holiday spirit, and if you only have time to attend one caroling event, it has got to be Advent Season at St Paul’s Cathedral. Considered to be the spiritual home of Great Britain, St Paul’s Christmas schedule is full of concerts and events, with the pinnacle of the season being the world-famous services on th 23rd and 24th of December. The elegant Christopher Wren cathedral will be packed with more than 2000 worshippers in a service led by Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres. If you don’t make it on time, fret not as the whole service will be beamed live on a screen in Paternoster Square next to the cathedral.
7. Enjoy Christmas Afternoon Tea at Claridges
Already one of the most famous spots in London when it comes to traditional afternoon tea, Claridge’s also has our vote for best festive afternoon tea in town. Indulge in the finest selection of Christmas treats such as Claridge’s Christmas pudding and the Dolce & Gabbana lemon meringue Christmas tree, (named for the impressive tree in the lobby designed by the Italian duo) whilst sipping Laurent-Perrier champagne to toast the season.
8. Watch the Nutcracker live
Christmas isn’t really Christmas without the Nutcracker and if you’re one of the few who has yet to catch this timeless classic, then it’s about time you head to London Coliseum where the English National Ballet brings Tchaikovsky’s score to live, with exquisite backdrops, glorious music and spellbinding dance moves taking you on an enchanting journey with Clara, her Nutcracker doll and Drosselmeyer the magician.
9. Get caught up in the Christmas shopping frenzy at Oxford Street
Perhaps no experience aptly sums up Christmas in London quite like shopping on Oxford Street. Whether you like to get your Christmas shopping done early or leave it till the last minute, you’re guaranteed to find everything you need in the stretch of stores lining this sparkly shopping strip favoured by shopaholics and celebrities alike.
10. Pet a live reindeer at Covent Garden
If you’ve always wanted to see a reindeer up close and personal, head over to Covent Garden anytime from now till Christmas to have your wish fulfilled -and no we’re not talking about the hard-to-miss 22-foot silver reindeer installation. Yes, you read that right, Covent Garden has been luring in the crowds with the promise of petting one of Santa Claus’s power rangers-no trip to the North Pole required!