London is one of my favourite cities in the world, but as the festive period rolls around it can become difficult navigating the streets as a traveller. As locals and tourists alike flood the streets to meet up with friends and family for some festive grub, or to do some of their Christmas shopping on some of the city’s numerous high streets, it can be hard to find a quiet moment. In amongst the chaos however there are plenty of traditional and unique experiences waiting to be discovered, away from the crowds. So make yourself a hot chocolate, put on those novelty woolly socks you pretend you don’t like wearing, and take a seat, as here are ten of my favourites.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner / Green Park / Marble Arch
Top of most London itineraries over the winter, including my own, is of course Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. With a pop-up ice rink, frozen sculpture displays made of ice, ferris wheel and its very own circus; the park is a hive of activity throughout the day. My personal highlight however is the Christmas market, and for me the festive period doesn’t start until you’ve attempted to eat a Frankfurter and drink a litre of beer simultaneously, whilst trying not to drop either on the head of a small child. Laura also recommends this place, if only for its abundance of Winter Pimms stalls. For those who fancy getting their exercise away from the madness in Hyde Park, skating rinks also pop up at The Natural History Museum (my personal favourite spot in the entire city), Somerset House and Marble Arch from around mid-November.
Christmas Pudding Race
Nearest tube: Covent Garden / Leicester Square
Us Brits have a reputation for being a little bit barmy in the eyes of foreign visitors. Boris Johnson’s crazy antics over the past few years have done nothing to dispel the rumours, and nor has Covent Garden’s annual Christmas Pudding Race. If you fancy joining the crowds of onlookers gathering in the Piazza to watch 150 people don their best fancy dress and race around a course littered with flour-filled balloons, foam cannons and other miscellaneous obstacles, whilst trying, and often failing spectacularly, to balance a Christmas pudding on a paper plate, then this is the place to be. Plus, it’s all for a good cause, as all proceeds go to support Cancer Research. Afterwards, you can take a walk through Covent Garden, with its shops, street entertainers and diverse street-side gastronomy. For more information on this madness.
Nearest Tube: Kew Gardens
Following on from the madness of the Christmas Pudding Race, if you fancy something a little more calm and traditional, then Kew Gardens is a must. With more than 40,000 plants, Kew Gardens is a beautiful place to visit at any time in the year to explore the annual cycles of plants from across the world, from flowering to fruiting, whilst taking a chance to get out of central London. However, during the festive period Kew Gardens is transformed into a magical, mile-long illuminated trail through a beautiful winter landscape. Complete with light sculptures, tunnels and ample amounts of mistletoe, the gardens are transformed into an wonderland, with a Christmas village that offers entertainment for all the family, including festive food, shopping and Victorian-style fairground rides. For more information.
The Enchanted Mirror Scavenger Hunt
Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge
For those that really want a unique experience, HiddenCity organise a Snow White inspired adventure around the streets of London. In teams of up to four people, you must solve a trail of clues set by an evil queen, in search of the fabled magical mirror. The hunt will take you down some of London’s famous cobbled streets and art galleries, starting with the Victoria and Albert Museum, with enough time to pause for drinks in some of the city’s traditional taverns. For more information on Hiddencity’s London tours.
Vauxhall Christmas Tree Maze
Nearest Tube: Vauxhall / Oval
Nothing beats the smell of a Christmas tree, so get lost in hundreds of fairy light-decked Nordmann Firs that have been carefully arranged to create a fun-filled, festive maze. In December, nearly a square kilometre of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens get transformed into a Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire-esque mega maze, where visitors can work their way to the middle to meet a very special guest. Vauxhall also hosts another outdoor ice rink, alongside an alpine cabin bar, craft market and food stalls. For more information.
Montague Hotel Ski Lodge
Nearest Tube: Russell Square / Tottenham Court Road
Now well on its way to becoming an annual event, the Montague on the Garden’s Ski Lodge, complete with its falling snow, reindeer, piste maps, pine trees with their twinkling lights and good-looking men in cheesy Christmas jumpers, is back for its third year in the city. From mid-November, the Garden Grill of the Montague Hotel is transformed into London’s very own corner of the Alps. £20 buys you a ‘lift pass’, which guarantees you an authentic alpine supper of hot cheese fondue and vodka (served separately, may I add), traditional bratwurst and sauerkraut, or for those with more of a sweet tooth, chocolate fondant with cream liqueur. The bar can get quite busy, but for their handcrafted novelty candy cane vodka and spiced apple liqueurs, it’s well worth waiting in line for.
Carols by Candlelight at the Royal Albert Hall
Nearest Tube: South Kensington / High Street Kensington
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a carol or ten, and carols don’t get any more festive than sung by candlelight in the grandeur of the Royal Albert Hall. Tickets can get quite pricey, there are also some cheaper seats for those looking for a bargain, but these sellout fast! All the carols are performed by the Mozart Festival Orchestra, who are dressed in full 18th-century period costume for a truly immersive experience. So cram you bags with some mince pies (but maybe leave the hip flask of brandy at home) and head over to the Royal Albert Hall website.
Christmas Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych
Nearest Tube: Covent Garden / Temple
Nothing is more British than an afternoon tea, and all the usual London hotspots pull out all the stops for the Christmas period, and my favourite of these is the offering from One Aldwych. Themed around Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, it starts with a special Cocktail Charlie or a glass of Lallier Champagne, with a selection of mini sandwiches and a spread of delicious treats to follow; golden eggs with vanilla cheesecake and mandarin purée, mini bottles of chocolate caramel milk, apple and blackberry Eton Mess, home-made mini candy floss cones, gingerbread pops, cinnamon swirl brioche and cocoa bean financiers. Are you dribbling yet? You should be. Of course no afternoon tea would be perfect without some warm scones to accompany it, and One Aldwych’s ones are served with home-made plum jam, sweet berry compote and Devonshire clotted cream. I’m off to book one of these right now, and if you want to come with me, Prices start from £34.50 per person for the standard menu, up to £45 per person for a real taste of luxury with an accompanying glass of Lallier Champagne.
Victorian Christmas at The Dickens Museum
Nearest Tube: Russell Square / Chancery Lane
‘A Christmas Carol’ is a festive favourite for many, so why not experience a real Victorian Christmas with a trip to the Charles Dickens Museum. As the real home to Charles Dickens in the 1800s, Number 48 Doughty Street is a true piece of history and some of Dickens’ most famous novels were written here including Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. Serving steaming mulled cider and traditional mince pies in the days leading up to Christmas, including Christmas Day and Boxing Day, they are also hosting film screenings and lively readings from some of Dickens’ most famous Christmas stories. For more information on dates and times.
Belgravia Christmas Sunday
Nearest Tube: Victoria
One of London’s best and underappreciated Christmas markets takes place in the beautifully prestigious London district of Belgravia, which also happens to be the UK’s most expensive postcode. For one day each December, Elizabeth Street sees a festive market pop-up, where the road is lined with a variety of arts and crafts stalls, selling gifts from fashion accessories and jewellery to homewares and holiday gifts. Rumour has it that there is also an opportunity to run into Santa and his herd of reindeer before they set off on their round the world trip, along with traditional carol singers and a live brass band. You can also take a stroll down the nearby Pimlico Road where the retailers pull out all the stops, with jugglers, trumpeters and plenty of stalls selling festive nibbles, such as delicious roast chestnuts and homemade toffee apples. For more information on this year’s event.