London is a great city no matter what time of year it is but there is something particularly wonderful in the run-up to Christmas. As the days get shorter and darker and people start to wear more and more layers the city starts to take on a new life. If you are visiting at this time of year then here are a few suggestions on how to embrace the festive season.
1. The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree
Trafalgar Square is one of those sites you will want to visit at any time of year but there is a special tradition at Christmas and a rather unique tree. Since 1947, in gratitude for support during World War II, Norway has provided this particular Christmas tree. It isn’t difficult to spot, standing at over 25 metres tall! You’ll also find a nativity nearby and carol services happening throughout December.
Bonus top tip! Trafalgar Square is one of the first stops on the SANDEMANs free walking tour. You’ll experience Covent Garden, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey all in one go which is a great way to spend a few hours on a quintessential, frosty, winter’s day in London.
2. Get your skates on!
It might not be snowing but you can still find some ice. There are a number of open-air ice rinks in London during the winter in some very impressive locations, so whether you are a total novice or a seasoned skater its well worth having a go. The Natural History Museum and Somerset House usually have an ice rink on the premises, both wonderful tourist attractions all year round but perhaps the most impressive of all is the rink at the Tower of London! Book a slot in advance, as this is very popular.
Side note – Keep an eye out for the guy with his own skates, casually doing triple axels. He’s there every year!
3. Hit the streets
If you’re looking for an activity that will simultaneously feel festive but not break the bank why not explore one of the more beautiful areas of London, boasting beautiful architecture and a vibrant atmosphere. Covent Garden and the Seven Dials are well worth a visit. Wrap up warm and go for a wander and if it gets too cold there are plenty of cosy pubs to hide in if needs be.
4. Oxford Street Christmas lights
The Christmas lights on Oxford Street can be impressive and all the big department stores work hard to get your attention with flashy window displays. On the other hand Oxford Street is very busy all year round and particularly so at Christmas. If you’ve ever watched a wildlife documentary where salmon must swim upstream against the current then that is what walking along Oxford Street can feel like at the height of the shopping frenzy. If you don’t love the crowds then give this a miss.
There is one thing above all others that is so quintessentially British at Christmas time and that is going to a Pantomime. It would take too long here to explain this weird and wonderful theatre tradition but it is a special type of show that only takes place around Christmas in every town and city across the country, there is singing, there is cross dressing, there is audience participation and much, much more. If you want to do one thing that you wont see anywhere else or at any other time, then this would be it. Book in advance to avoid disappointment.
6. Getting merry on mulled wine
Mulled wine isn’t unique to London but it wouldn’t quite be Christmas without it. On the long list of things we can thank the Romans for, mulled wine is certainly one of them. They loved their hot, spiced red wine and when they were busy conquering Europe 1800 years ago they were kind enough to take it with them and share the recipe. Every pub will have a batch bubbling away which fills the air with a rich smell of cinnamon, oranges and of course… red wine.
The fashion for mulled drinks has really taken off in recent years with companies determined to mull anything and everything. So watch out for mulled cider and even mulled gin… with varying levels of success.
7. Christmas Markets
A variety of Christmas markets have started to appear around London in recent years so there are plenty to choose from. You can wander around sipping a cup of mulled wine, as mentioned before and do a little al fresco Christmas shopping. You will find Christmas markets on the South Bank and Leicester Square but if you want to add a little adrenalin to the equation Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park has fairground rides and other activities.
8. Seasonal sing-song
Carol services take place all over London in December and there is nothing quite like it to summon up those festive feelings. If you want to do it in real style why not head along to St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Paul’s of Covent Garden, Southwark Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, the list goes on. You are absolutely spoiled for choice.
So there you have it, a few suggestions on making the most of London at Christmas. London is a city worth seeing at any time of year but it does possess a little more magic in December… or is that just the mulled wine talking?