Your festive guide to the big smoke this Christmas
Eat, drink, and be merry in the capital this festive season with our holly jolly hitlist. From glam pop-ups and glittering fairgrounds to cocktails and carols, here's the best of the best.
Christmas at Kew Gardens (until 9 Jan) is always a knockout and this year there’s 2.6km of glittering lights, jewelled trees, glowing tunnels and an appearance from Santa. The whole trail should take around 75 minutes with plenty of hot drink and food stalls along the way – or book a table at the newly re-opened Botanical Brasserie overlooking the stunning Palm House Pond (Adult £26, Child £16.50, Family £76).
At Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland is back for its 15th year (until 3 Jan) with fairground rides, ice sculpting workshops, Santa Land, ice rink, Christmas markets, plus new for this year is the obligation to book ahead which – fingers crossed – will reduce the mega crowds (FREE off peak, from £5 during peak times). Then over in Wembley Park, see London’s tallest LED tree and a impressive light trail at Winterfest (25 Nov – 4 Jan). As well as the sparkly lights, there are shops to peruse, a smash-hit performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night to catch, and oodles of food and drink to consume (FREE entry).
Meanwhile in Belgravia head to The Museum of Architecture for something a little different. Sure, we can all cobble together a wonky cottage from a kit, but if you want to really see some gingerbread houses The Gingerbread City (4 Dec – 9 Jan) is a charming miniature (and presumably, delicious) gingerbread city designed by architects, designers, and engineers. You can also sign up for a family workshop on crafting your own gingery masterpiece, running every day of the exhibition (Adult £14, Child £8.50).
Panto season is back with a bang this year (oh yes it is!) with Pantoland at the London Palladium (4 Dec – 9 Jan) – a mash up of all panto’s best bits starring Donny Osmond and panto veteran Julian Clary (from £25). Or at Garrick Theatre London there’s more madness from the same team behind the Oliver Award-nominated and hilarious Potted Potter. Potted Panto (11 Dec – 9 Jan) promises a whirlwind tour of seven classic pantos in 70 minute – sure to be totally bonkers (£20).
Don’t fancy the cheesy brigade? Then try A Christmas Carol (26 Nov – 9 Jan) at stunning Alexandra Palace (26 Nov – 9 Jan) instead. Adapted by and starring Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, The Favourite), it’s a spookier take which leans heavily on the ghost element (suitable for 12+, tickets from £16).
Elsewhere, Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre has a late Victorian-style circus moving in for the festive period (16 Dec – 2 Jan). Circus 1903 will feature incredible costumes, jugglers, daredevils, contortionists and awesome elephant puppets, created by the team behind the Warhorse stage play. Here for three weeks only, so roll up, roll up! Tickets from £25.
Nothing gets you into the festive spirit quite like belting out some carols — and if you’re going for it, you might as well go all-out with a famous Royal Albert Hall carol concert (18 – 24 Dec). Classic carols, more modern arrangements, and one hell of a festive vibe thanks to the grand interiors and mega acoustics. There are sessions at 11am, 3pm, and 7.30pm (from £22.50). Or for something more traditional, try Christmas Season at the baroque church at St John’s Smith Square for a line up of carol arrangements, choirs by candlelight, Renaissance music, and a dedication to Bach. See what’s on here (10 – 23 Dec).
We’re loving the sound of the Winter Bar at Sky Garden, near Monument, this year: an alpine oasis, 35 floors up and surrounded by the lights of London, with cocktails, mulled wine, mince pies, and DJs… we are there. On 23 Dec, there’s even a Christmas Hits Music Night, promising a huge party with all the festive classics (hiii, Mariah!). Prices from £12. Also in the sky, the London Eye is transforming its pods into mini pubs with a full cocktail bar – each ticket will get you two cocktails (with more available to buy) so you can get tipsy whilst enjoying knockout views of the city. Make ours a Gingerbread Espresso Martini (£57.50).
London’s largest outdoor drinking area Between the Bridges on Southbank is getting a festive makeover, with the addition of two new venues: the Spiegeltent, and St Nicks. Expect plenty of street food, DJs, cocktails, festive games and more. We particularly like the sound of The Sleigh Queen drag brunches, with bottomless Prosecco (natch), £25. See what’s on when here until 23 Dec.
Ho ho ho! Trendy food and bar spot Pergola is undergoing a festive transformation: a winter forest on the upper floor and an après ski Alpine Hall on the lower. There are hot toddies, cinnamon doughnuts, and fondue for miles — but the real draw here is the array of themed nights. The venue is open late on Thursdays for ‘Mistletoe Madness’, with a real party atmosphere, and there’s also Christmas sing-alongs as well as some extra-special Christmas Eve and NYE parties. It’s based in Paddington so a super-easy (and drunken) commute home guaranteed.
And finally, there are ice rinks without swanky Moet & Chandon partnerships, and then there are ice rinks with (guess which we prefer). Head along to Somerset House for skating as well as plenty of bubbles, indulgent cocktails and Skate Lates sessions, featuring live DJs for an after-hours party vibe. Tickets from £17.50 for the Lates, £11 for standard (17 Nov – 16 Jan).
The Great Feast at The Old Selfridges Hotel, Oxford Street, 11 Nov – 18 Dec
‘Tis the season to treat yourself to a Willy-Wonka-esque extravaganza of Michelin-starred, multi-sensory, immersive eating at The Great Feast at The Old Selfridges Hotel on Oxford Street (11 Nov – 18 Dec). A swanky dining experience (“Counter of Joy”), a dessert and cocktail bar (“Wonky Dreams”), a live music lounge (“Magic Garden”), and a trippy tasting experience (“Joyride”) — safe to say this is a meal like no other (from £20).
May your Christmas be kitsch and full of cocktails! It certainly will be at the boozy pop-up at swanky Covent Garden hotel The Henrietta inspired by New York’s famous Miracle on Ninth Street bar (until 31 Dec). Or at the Corinthia London by Trafalgar Square the semi-covered inner-city courtyard will br transformed into a winter oasis of fur, foliage, and festivity including a dreamy alpine menu of tarte flambée, venison ragout, tartiflette — er, can we have the lot? Oh! And there’s even a cigar sommelier, if that strikes a match with you.
One for when you’re feeling really fancy, these luxe cabins on The Berkeley’s terrace in Knightsbridge have a £500 minimum spend. But seriously, what a way to spend an evening – fairy lights, blankets, fir trees, and an indulgent sharing menu to tuck into.
WHERE TO STAY
Fancy spending the night? Independent hotel One Aldwych is slap-bang in the hustle and bustle of the Strand and situated by the theatre district if you’re heading up for a show or fancy a little luxury (hello five stars). There’s also festive themed afternoon teas and cocktails (we have our eye on the Royal Santa shaken with homemade hibiscus liqueur, fresh pomegranate, Perrier-Jouët and cinnamon foam).
Also on the Strand, ME Hotel offers sleek, contemporary interiors and a killer rooftop that, in the winter, is decked out with cosy glass bubbles for champagne drinking. Best of all? It’s right across from Somerset House, for access to that excellent ice rink.
Or for something little quirkier, the Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell is cosy and rich in decoration — and perfect at Christmas, since its eccentric style wouldn’t feel altogether out of place in a Dickens novel.