We have been living in London for 5 years now but I have never fully enjoyed its beauty during the Christmas season (shocking, I know!). As this is very likely to be our last Christmas living in London, I decided to make the most of it. London certainly knows how to get festive. It looks so pretty during the Christmas season and there is so much to do. I’ve spent the whole of December running around the city doing all of the Christmassy things it has to offer. Sadly, I’ve come to the conclusion that it looks more magical on the photos than it feels in reality. Let me walk you through it…
Most Christmas events and attractions need to be booked months in advance. I booked some of the tickets back in September/October but for some of them that was already too late or with availability being very limited. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, but it’s not something I want to be planning as early as the summer! Not to mention, that most of the tickets are overpriced. Anyway, I researched all of the Christmassy activities available and planned out my ‘Xmas in London tour’. As usual, you can see all my experiences in our Instagram Stories Highlights.
Winter Wonderland, I would describe as a fight for survival more than anything else really. Located in Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland is the most sought-after Christmas funfair in London. To get in, you have to wait in an unorganized queue and get your bag checked by security. You will then be welcomed by the iconic colorful arches. They are beautiful, although it is very difficult to enjoy them and to take a photo of/with them due to the constant flow of people. There are never-ending queues for each attraction and stall. The overcrowding was very stressful. We gave up on getting into the Bavarian village, which is a food area, again because of the crowd. We had pre-booked tickets for the Big Wheel experience but we still ended up queuing for 1 hour and 20 minutes! This definitely didn’t get us in the Christmas spirit.
Likewise for the other Christmas markets I visited. The ones in Leicester Square and on the Southbank were mostly all about pushing through the crowd. Although we did manage to treat ourselves to sweets and there is a huge selection of international delicatessens. Winterville market being in Clapham, is slightly outside of London’s touristy city center, so we hoped for it to be quieter. Unfortunately, it doesn’t open on Mondays which we failed to check beforehand.
Covent Garden is a fantastic place to enjoy not only the market but also the beautiful Christmas decor and the many small shops, cafes and restaurants around the neighborhood. In recent years, Covent Garden has dominated Instagram during Christmas due to its beautifully festive and original installations. This year, it was a stylish vintage car filled with presents and an illuminated mirror installation on Floral Street. The photos are cute and magical but the reality is not so glamorous- expect a long queue just to be able to take a photo…
At the end of November, ice rinks start mushrooming all around the city. You can find a whole list of them here. I love ice-skating, my husband not so much. So I went with friends to try out the most enchanting one of them all – the Natural History Museum Ice Rink. The decor is breath-taking. The museum building in itself is stunning, but add to that a very Christmassy atmosphere with a Christmas tree in the middle of the ice rink, Christmas lights all around and Christmas carols playing out loud- the whole experience is truly magical!
On another occasion, I visited the Somerset House Ice Rink, which is also beautiful but a bit small and the organization is a bit chaotic as you have to wait in three different queues before being able to get on the ice. However, if you go to Somerset House, I recommend stopping by for a cup of tea after your ice-skating session in the small corner café. You can also do your Christmas shopping here in the lovely Fortnum’s Arcade.
In general, the prices for ice-skating in London are not really budget friendly and the ice rinks are busier than you would probably expect, however it is a nice thing to do when visiting London during the Christmas season.
Christmas Backyard Cinema
This was one of my top three experiences from my ‘Xmas in London tour’. Located in Winterville, the Backyard Cinema is not your usual cinema. It all starts with drinks in a big tent with some live music. This is followed by a walk through a magical Christmas labyrinth. Oh boy, was that fun! The labyrinth leads you to the cinema, where they screen Christmas classics such as ‘Love Actually’, ‘Home Alone’, ‘Bad Santa’ and more. You are seated in big comfy bean bags and there is a bar serving hot drinks, popcorn and pies. When booking the tickets, you can opt for a ‘date bundle’, as we did, which included two mulled wines or hot apple cider, a bag of sweets, popcorn and 2 pies. Truly a wonderful evening! Tip: book your tickets way ahead as they sell out very fast.
Christmas at Kew
Kew Gardens turns into a magical Christmas trail every December. I was seriously enchanted by this. Some of the installations will leave you speechless. The trail is about an hour and a half walk with a grand finale at the end. By grand finale, I mean a 10 minute water laser show which was stunning! When booking a ticket, you can opt for a Christmas dinner before or after the trail. If you don’t feel like having a full Christmas roast dinner, there are some stalls on the way where you can get a light refreshment, or you can even grill a marshmallow on the fire.
Yet again, you need to book your tickets as soon as possible. Because they are in high demand, I recommend subscribing to receive a notification as soon as tickets go on sale next year.
There are many places where you can experience carol singing in London. The most popular services are in St Paul’s Cathedral. I tried the one in Trafalgar Square this year. People gathered around a poorly decorated Christmas tree and a friendly girl was going around selling carol lyric booklets. Sadly, the carols were drowned out by the busker performing nearby …
Christmas Lights Tour
As I said, London certainly knows how to get festive. The Christmas lights transform the whole city into a fairy tale. If patience is your strong suit, you should head into the city center and walk around to see the installations. Besides Oxford Street, Regent Street, Mayfair, and Piccadilly, you should also pay Carnaby Street a visit. It is stunning every year and really stands out from other places.
The Nutcracker Ballet
It has been my childhood dream to see the Nutcracker ballet. It was better than expected! I was blown away! Not only is the Coliseum Theatre a beautiful building- there was a cute Christmas tree made from ballet slippers- but the actual performance left me speechless. Plan ahead and book in advance. That way you can secure some good seats for a reasonable price.
Christmas Miracle pop-up Bar
For the very first time, London opened the American Christmas Miracle bar. It is based in the Henrietta hotel in Covent Garden and advanced booking is a must. As advertised, I was excited to experience an American Christmas with its over the top decorations and overwhelming Christmas atmosphere. The reality was slightly different. It was simply a nicely decorated café with Christmas themed cocktails such as the Christmapolitan, Jingle Balls Nog or Run Run Rudolph. However, the prices are not as festive. Altogether, our two-hour assigned slot turned out to be an expensive disappointment.
Hot Chocolate Hunt
Without a doubt, you can get yourself a cup of hot chocolate literally on every corner. But I found two places which I strongly recommend because their hot chocolate was soooo delicious. Le Jeune Chocolatiers in Covent Garden sells not only amazing hot chocolate, but all sorts of beautifully looking Belgian chocolates and it tastes fantastic. Plus, the staff is very, very friendly. Chin Chin in Soho serves the best hot chocolate I have ever had in my life. It is topped with a melted marshmallow and tastes dreamy. They do a vegan version too.
If you are looking for something a bit different, you can always visit the Sky Garden. You’ll be sipping some mulled wine while enjoying a stunning view of London from the 35th floor of this skyscraper in Fenchurch Street.
Looking for something fun? Santa parades are your thing! There are a few parades and marathons taking place during December, some of them fundraising for a good cause. There is something for everybody – walking, running, roller skating or cycling. Dress up and let’s go!
Klara’s Xmas Awards
The most beautiful Christmas tree 2018 – Annabel’s Hotel Mayfair
The weirdest Christmas tree 2018 – St Pancras Station
The weirdest Christmas decoration 2018 – Tate Modern had Christmas snails as decorations. Strange, right?!
The busiest place 2018 – Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park
The funniest attraction 2018 – The Grinch at Hamleys Toy store in Regent Street
The most impressive shop window decorations 2018 – Fortnum & Mason department store in Piccadilly
Over the top decorations 2018 – Stella McCartney store in Mayfair