How to Enjoy Christmas in London
Christmas in London is magical. The dark evenings, the twinkling lights, the window displays and the festive music as we scuttle from shop to shop, darting in and out of cosy bars and restaurants with stylishly wrapped parcels under our arms.
Of course it's not always like this. Christmas shops open in September, there are gaudy decorations everywhere and every shop seems to scream at you to buy things you neither want nor need. And then there is the hell on Earth that is Oxford Street on a Saturday in December, and the Winter Wonderland at anytime at all.
But it is entirely possible to navigate the run-up to Christmas in a quieter, more considered, more elegant way. You can turn a blind eye to the rampant consumerism and savour each perfect moment of this most atmospheric time of year. This does require some planning, with the best events getting booked up far in advance. But there is still time to make this Christmas wonderful and here is how.
GET YOUR SKATES ON
It's been a very long time since Londoners could skate on the frozen surface of the Thames and until that happens again we will have to make do with ice rinks. Nowadays there are a lot of rinks in London and though the Natural History Museum rink may be the most Instagrammable, Somerset House will always have our heart. Proper ice, proper music, and an enormous tree adorned with enormous baubles, all set against the backdrop of Sir William Chambers' 1776 Neoclassical building. And if that is not chic enough, there's even a Fortnum & Mason lodge for hot chocolate afterwards. Now is the time to book.
OR YOUR BALLET SHOES
London has world class ballet and whilst nothing quite beats the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House at Christmas, it's all sold out other than a few tickets for the Nutcracker between Christmas and New Year. The English National Opera seems to be inexplicably doing nothing for Christmas, but there are tickets for The Little Match Girl at Sadler's Wells. Personally I've always found the story too devastatingly sad to read or watch but if you have a stronger emotional constitution than me then you can book here.
ATTEND A CAROL SERVICE
Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without carols. And one of the great things about living in London is that you can have the very best of everything (except perhaps for a large house and a garden). The Advent service at Westminster Cathedral was sold out a while ago - unless you're happy to have an unallocated seat without a view - but there are still lots of tickets for the Unicef carol service at St Paul's. And if you are going to belt out some carols, why not do them in one of the world's most magnificent ecclesiastical buildings.
VISIT THE CHRISTMAS PAST
The Inns of Court are inextricably linked with Dickens and therefore are a pretty Christmassy place to head for. This year I am attending a candlelit Georgian Christmas evening at Sir John Soane's Museum in Lincoln's Inn (there are some tickets left at time of writing). Alternatively, an evening visit to the Dickens' Museum to see his house decorated for Christmas as it would have been when he lived there is a great way to absorb yourself in some Victorian elegance. The tickets are due to be released imminently so perhaps sign up their email newsletter to be first in line.
HEAD TO COLUMBIA ROAD
On certain evenings (usually Wednesdays) in November and December the wonderful independent shops that line this pretty East End street open late. As well as shopping, there is music, alcohol and food, and what's not to love about that. They've not released the dates yet but you can follow them on Twitter to find out. It's a really lovely atmosphere, it's relaxed, happy and a real antidote to the craziness and commercialism of Oxford Street. It's also the most enjoyable place in London to buy your Christmas tree.
It's no surprise that London's most expensive jewellery stores put on some of the best window displays in December, and Mayfair at Christmas is probably the prettiest part of London to head to. It has three of the best Christmas trees (Berkeley Square, Claridges and Mount Street) and two of the best bars for Christmas cocktails (The Connaught and Claridges). Our December walk has it all, and is designed to give you an atmospheric walk which will not fail to make you feel festive. You can download it here.
TAKE IN SOME FRESH AIR
I adore St James's Park at Christmas. This pretty park in the centre of London has been the filming location for feelgood films such as 101 Dalmations and I have always found it the most romantic of all the parks at this time of year. A walk from Piccadilly Circus or Green Park to Westminster will allow you to bid a happy Christmas to a pelican and stop at Inn the Park for a hot chocolate along the way. Our St James's Walk makes the most of this park and the surrounding streets. You can download it here.
TRY SOMETHING NEW
London is one of the most creative cities on earth and as well as the more traditional festive pastimes there is always something new to try. This year I quite fancy watching The Holiday or Love Actually outside at the Floating Film Festival at St Katherine's Dock (you can book tickets here). I'm also really looking forward to eating fondue at the pop-up chalet Jimmy's Lodge because one can't eat enough cheese at Christmas. Still on the food front, there are spaces left on some of Biscuiteer's legendary Christmas workshops.
OR JUST GO SHOPPING
Shopping for Christmas presents can be a tiring and miserable affair. Personally, I try to do it all in one go with a smash and grab at Selfridges (which is very Christmassy if you can cope with the high-octane nature of it and the thumping music), followed by a more leisurely time at Liberty, and then a trip to Piccadilly and St James for edibles from Paxton & Whitfield, smellies from Santa Maria Novella, books from Hatchards and sugary things from Fortnum & Mason. There are a whole host of other great old world shops in St James and Piccadilly and it's entirely possible to take as much pleasure in buying presents as it is in giving them.
AND FIND A RESTAURANT TO DIVE INTO
This special time of year calls for special restaurants and special meals. One of my favourite things to do is to have an impromptu dinner at Pollen Street Social on a Thursday evening after late night shopping for presents. It's in the middle of the best shops for Christmas shopping and they do a phenomenal Clover Club, which is much needed by then. I also love The Ivy for a decadent lunch once my husband has finished work for the year. With its dark, cosy interior it's the perfect place for a long, lazy lunch with champagne to mark the end of the run-up to Christmas and see in the start of the holiday itself.
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