The arrival of cold, dark mornings, Michael Bublé songs in the supermarket and a lit up Oxford Street’s can only mean one thing… Christmas is almost here! And naturally, with that comes the great temptation to hibernate with a biscuit selection box and a Netflix subscription until the weather warms up again. However, if you make the effort to drag yourself off the sofa and get out into the city, we guarantee you’ll be filled with Christmas cheer as London has yet again embraced the festive period with vigour, with a brilliant array of seasonal events and activities across the capital.
From ice skating outside a historic monument and singing carols at the Royal Albert Hall to cosy winter pop-ups and the magical Hogwarts in the snow, the capital is utterly spoilt for choice when it comes to celebrating. So abandon your plans to watch ‘Elf’ one more time, wrap up warm, and get out into the city!
The annual tradition of ice skating on the temporary rink in Somerset House’s beautiful 18th Georgian square has always been a hugely popular activity in the winter months, but did you know many other historic spots across London have winter rinks too? Henry VIII’s palace at Hampton Court has been transformed into a winter wonderland with a large ice skating rink in the shadow of the palace, with a cafe and bar selling warming festive drinks for after. Meanwhile, the Tower of London are offering visitors the opportunity to ice skate in their 1,000 year old moat until early January, and the Natural History Museum in South Kensington has installed a large rink in the museum gardens for the Christmas season, perfect for a quick skate before visiting the dinosaurs.
Address: South Building, Strand, London WC2R 1LA
Phone: 020 7845 4600
Transport yourself to the snowy drifts of Santa Claus’ lair with this new Brixton pop-up on a covered rooftop. Essentially a festive dive bar, visitors to South Pole Saloon can enjoy dishes from street food traders such as Dip & Flip, The Crust Conductor, Butchies and social enterprise Papi’s Pickles, as well as warming winter cocktails including a Hot Tennessee Toddy and a Monkey Shoulder Apple Macs. With space for 500 people and private booths it's perfect for a Christmas party, and the DJ booth means you can dance to festive tunes into the small hours.
Address: South Pole Saloon, Valentia Place, Brixton, London SW9
Initially performed in St Petersburg in 1892, Tchaikovsky's enchanting ballet, ‘The Nutcracker’ has become a Christmas classic over the last century despite an initially poor reception. Based on a traditional fairytale by E T A Hoffman, it tells the story of Clara, who creeps down the stairs on Christmas eve to play with her Nutcracker present, but soon finds herself on a magical adventure to the Kingdom of Sweets with toy soldiers, a Sugar Plum Fairy, and a Mouse King. The enchanting songs are unforgettable, and with a beautifully festive set and talented dancers too, it’s bound to be an unmissable Christmas evening.
Address: Bow St, London WC2E 9DD, United Kingdom
Phone:+44 20 7240 1200
Feast on a proper Scottish supper this December as renowned supper club Dram & Smoke return with a very wintery special. Candlelit tables and tartan chairs set the scene for an epic five-course dinner including the likes of duck donuts with Irn Bru chilli jam, a rack of pork with Stornaway black pudding, whisky bread and butter putting and plenty of whisky cocktails. We’ll raise a dram to that!
Address: 2-3 Black Swan Yard, London, SE1 3XW
We loved this summery pop-up film club and now they’re back with a special cinema in the Snow, accessed through a magical wardrobe. Fortunately all the films are indoors (though if you’re lucky you’ll get some ‘snow’ too), and there’s a very festive bar stocked with mulled wine and delicious popcorn. All the usual favourites such as Home Alone, Frozen, Love Actually and Muppet’s Christmas Carol are being shown at venues across the city, so you’re bound to find one you love.
Address: Various venues
Forget the reports of sad, snow-free Christmas Festivals or Hyde Park’s tourist-packed Winter Wonderland and make your way to Victoria Park in East London for the brilliant new Winterville, a festive array of seasonal attractions including a Big Top Circus with performances from Moscow State Circus, Christmas film screenings at a secret Backyard Cinema pop-up (hidden beyond a tunnel of trees), tasty, toasty food from the likes of Mother Clucker and Smokestack, and the apres-ski style Bar Humbug. Add a mini Christmas market full of artisan products and some fairground rides, and you’ve got the ultimate festive destination.
Address: Grove Road, Bow, London E3 5TB, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7364 2494
Warm up your body and your vocal chords at the annual Christmas Carol Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, which sees the City of London Choir and the incredible Royal Philharmonic Orchestra join forces for a fantastic seasonal session. Both singalong and traditional carol services are scheduled for the weeks leading up to Christmas, so check the Royal Albert Hall website for all the details. The renowned choir from Kings College Cambridge will also be doing a special concert on the 16th of December for those who prefer traditional carols from Handel, Vivaldi and Corelli.
Address: Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP
Phone: 020 7589 8212
While we don’t want you to stay indoors and watch ‘Elf’ on TV while there are so many great events going on in the city, we’re more than happy for you to go and see it live with the smash-hit ‘Elf The Musical’ at the Dominion Theatre in Central London! Based on the famous Christmas film starring Will Ferrell, Elf tells the tale of Buddy, an orphan boy raised as an Elf in the North Pole who soon outgrows Santa’s Grotto and travels to New York to find his father and spread the meaning of Christmas. Hilarious, sweet and beloved by both adults and children, this theatrical adaption starring Ben Forster, Kimberley Walsh, Joe McGann and Jessica Martin will be a hit with all the family.
Address: 268-269 Tottenham Court Road, Regent’s Park, London W1T 5AQ
Phone: 020 7580 1889
Add a tropical and vaguely authentic spin on your Christmas celebrations by visiting the very child-friendly Living Nativity at the London Zoo, where children can meet the Wise Men and their camels, see Mary in the stable with the baby, and talk to the Shepherds about their herd of sheep. Santa will also be in attendance to tell them about all the animals he meets during his international Christmas adventures, before giving every child a special gift to take home.
Address: Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY
Phone: 020 7449 6200
The Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studio Tour is always guaranteed to be magical, but their Christmas transformation brings even more enchantment as Hogwarts is decked out in festive accessories including enormous Christmas trees, blankets of snow and savoury dinner props. Take a trip out to Leavesden for the day this December to enjoy the Potter-themed festive sorcery for yourself.
Address: Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, Hertfordshire WD25 7LR
Phone: 0845 084 0900
Prefer your Christmas with a spooky, ghoulish quality (and not just the ghosts in a Christmas Carol)? Book a ticket to the Crossbones Christmas Ghost Walk where John Constable, author of ‘Secret Bankside – Walks In The Outlaw Borough’, will be guiding you along this creepy section of the Thames, which is known for hauntings and paranormal activities over the years. Expect plenty of tales about ghostly pubs and scary goings-on, all with a festive twist of course.
Address: St George the Martyr Church, Borough High Street, London SE1 1JA
Main image credit: Pilippo Diotalevi