Whether chestnuts were roasting on an open fire or otherwise, last year’s lockdown cancelled Christmas: Jack Frost was self-isolating, and no-one could make out the yuletide choirs given the social-distancing. This year, things may still be a little strange (turkey for lunch? Fat chance) but the capital is raring to make up for lost time with a winter of fun. From igloos serving up cosy cocktails to Instagram-ready light trails, here’s where to get festive.
The Winter Market hosted by the Southbank Centre (SE1, southbankcentre.co.uk) pairs its culinary offerings with the chance to tick a few things off the Christmas list with its shopping stalls. The market at Selfridges (W1A, selfridges.com) is the biggest it’s ever been, with a helter skelter, gift stalls, and sustainably-grown Christmas trees to buy, and if you’re heading West, swing by Pergola Paddington’s magical Deck The Halls installation: a festive wonderland featuring Santa’s sleigh, life-sized nutcrackers, hundreds of snow-dusted trees and warming mulled cider under thousands of twinkling lights (W2, pergolapaddington.com). The Swiss cheese fondue pot and festive filth burger are a must.
Leicester Square (WC2H, christmasinleicestersquare.com) will house a market selling hand-crafted goods with a Twenties spiegeltent next door putting on lively shows. Down in Kingston (KT1, kingstonchristmasmarket.co.uk), the market will feature a vintage carousel and live entertainment, while the Canopy Christmas Market at King’s Cross (N1C, kingscross.co.uk) will offer vegan goodies and handmade crafts. And not forgetting the guys who do this kind of thing all year round: Borough Market (SE1, boroughmarket.org.uk), Leadenhall Market (EC3V, leadenhallmarket.co.uk) and Greenwich Market (SE10, greenwichmarket.london) are among those getting into the festive swing.
The capital’s ice rinks are another winter favourite. Be sure to seek out the Natural History Museum’s (SW7, nhm.ac.uk) popular rink, as this will be its final outing after 16 years. The rink in the courtyard of Somerset House (WC2, somersethouse.org.uk) is a great option for central London, as is the one at Winter Wonderland (W2, hydeparkwinterwonderland.com) in Hyde Park — it’s the UK’s largest outdoor rink. Out east, Skylight Tobacco Dock (E1W, skylightbars.com) has a rooftop rink, and there’s one at Canary Wharf (E14, icerinkcanarywharf.co.uk) too, while just over the other side of the Thames, The Queen’s House (SE10, rmg.co.uk) rink can be found within the grounds of the Royal Museums Greenwich. Up north, Alexandra Palace’s (N22, alexandrapalace.com) indoor rink offers protection from inclement weather, while over to the north-west, Brent Cross Shopping Centre (NW4, winterfestivalbrentcross.com) is also putting things on ice. At Hampton Court Palace (KT8, hrp.org.uk), the Tudor architecture that flanks the rink makes it well worth the journey.
Families with kids who would like to meet the big man himself can find Santa Claus at various meet-and-greets, from the Royal Albert Hall (SW7, royalalberthall.com) and Ally Pally to the London Transport Museum (WC2E, ltmuseum.co.uk) and Hamleys (W1B, hamleys.com).
A stockingful of culture
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without all the old films. Luna Cinema (thelunacinema.com) is in residence at both the Battersea Arts Centre and Kensington Palace — and screening the classics, including Elf, Home Alone and Love Actually. Those three movies will also be on rotation at the Backyard Cinema (backyardcinema.co.uk) takeover at Troxy in Limehouse, with shows featuring a live choir and an original story read with George the Poet, with another site down in Wandsworth. The Christmas offering at BFI Southbank (SE1, bfi.org.uk) is slightly more left field — films range from Japanese animation Tokyo Godfathers to French comedy-drama A Christmas Tale — while the reliably wonky Prince Charles Cinema (WC2H, princecharlescinema.com) is promising an “alternative” winter season of films that, at the very least, “feature a tree somewhere in the background”.
On stage, there are three major versions of the timeless Nutcracker ballet — at the Royal Opera House (WC2E, roh.org.uk), London Coliseum (WC2N, londoncoliseum.org) and the Royal Albert Hall — with the last of those venues also putting on its annual recital of Handel’s Messiah, as will the Barbican (EC2Y, barbican.org.uk).
Catch performances of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at both the Old Vic (SE1, oldvictheatre.com) and Alexandra Palace, and take the family along to the West End musical version of Disney’s Frozen at Theatre Royal Drury Lane (WC2B, lwtheatres.co.uk). It’s also panto season. Highlights include Aladdin at Lyric Hammersmith (W6, lyric.co.uk); Anton Du Beke’s panto debut in Cinderella at Richmond Theatre (TW9, atgtickets.com) and the star-studded Pantoland at London Palladium (W1F, lwtheatres.co.uk).
It will be a great big singalong at the Royal Albert Hall’s various carol concerts, with popular services at St Paul’s Cathedral (EC4M, stpauls.co.uk), Cadogan Hall (SW1X, cadoganhall.com), St Martin-in-the-Fields (WC2N, stmartin-in-the-fields.org) and, for something a bit different, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (SW8, battersea.org.uk), whose carols will be held at St Luke’s & Christ Church in Chelsea with a guard of honour from some of the Home’s own dogs.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant or bar that isn’t doing some sort of seasonal menu — and there’s a list bursting at the seams on standard.co.uk/Reveller — but a handful of places will help turn the festivity up to 11. Coq d’Argent (EC2, coqdargent.co.uk) is taking guests on a trip to the Alps with its après-ski themed Lodge d’Argent. It’s a similar vibe at The Montague on the Gardens Hotel (WC1B, montaguehotel.com), with its Ski Lodge serving all manner of Christmas fare. Transparent igloos were the Christmas rage pre-pandemic, and they’re making a return. At Coppa Club’s Tower Hill branch (EC3R, coppaclub.co.uk) groups can tuck into truffled wagyu burgers, chocolate fondants and more while at rooftop restaurant Aviary (EC2A, aviarylondon.com) the igloos look out across the London skyline from 10 floors up. At Skylight Tobacco Dock, the igloos are also up on the rooftop (as they are over at the venue’s Peckham branch, SE15) as well as down by the canal. And at Jimmy’s Lodge on the South Bank (SE1, jimmyspopup.com), igloos are swapped for “snow globes”.
Where treetops glisten
By far the most historic tree is the one that looms over Trafalgar Square (WC2N, london.gov.uk) — it has been an annual gift from Norway since 1947. You’ll find another tree a short walk away in Covent Garden, as well as Leadenhall Market, and a trip to the ice skating at Somerset House will give you ample opportunity to admire their 40ft tree.
Over at St Pancras International station (N1C, stpancras.com), this year’s tree is a collaboration with ZSL London Zoo — it’s one of the more unorthodox displays you’ll see in London — while the nearby Coal Drops Yard (N1C, coaldropsyard.com) is hosting a 28ft illuminated prism with a mirrored interior that visitors can step inside.
The 25ft LED tree in Wembley Park (HA9, wembleypark.com) has 100,000 twinkly lights. The walk-through installation is part of the area’s free lights trail, and there are others all over London: along the Thames as part of the Southbank Centre’s Winter Light exhibition; at Kew Gardens (TW9, kew.org), with its illuminated trees and waterside reflections; the sparkly Illuminature trail at the London Wetland Centre (SW13, wwt.org.uk); lasers, lanterns, large-scale installations and more at Lightopia in Crystal Palace Park (SE19, london.lightopiafestival.com); and a brand new trail at Kenwood House (NW3, christmasatkenwood.com). Some of London’s popular shopping hotspots are also good places to take in the Christmas lights, from Carnaby Street (W1F, carnaby.co.uk) and Regent Street (W1B, regentstreetonline.com) to Seven Dials (WC2H, sevendials.co.uk) and Marylebone Village (W1, marylebonevillage.com). Have yourself a merry little Christmas.