travel guide

Experience the Magical Wonder of Christmas in London

london-christmas-5-400x270Summer is over and the autumnal evenings are beginning to draw in. Now, our minds begin to think about that special time of year when families come together: the festive time of Christmas. If you are considering taking a short break or even a longer holiday, then Christmas time in London can not be beaten. Throughout the capital city of England, Christmas time will see the whole city lit up with glittering Christmas lights, Christmas trees and a general buzz of excitement, anticipation and cheerfulness. Christmas in London is always a magical time but since Christmas 2020 was practically cancelled, 2021 intends to make up for it in this year’s festive season.

Treat yourself to the experience of a Christmas wonderland of sparkling and twinkling decorative lights covering all the famous London attractions , winter ice skating venues, special Christmas events, Christmas markets, Christmas shows, pantomimes and circuses and beautiful carol singing concerts. 2021 promises some wonderful events, sights and adventures for tourists and visitors alike.

Although prices may not be the cheapest there is always something that you can do absolutely free of charge. Make the most of your time in London during this jolly festival by reading below about some of the amazing things that you can do and see.

Please take note though that Covid is still with us and due to new Covid regulations some events are now ticketed or operate via a booking system. If you are coming to London then don’t leave it to the last minute to decide what you want to see. Having said that though, there is still plenty to see, do, experience and feel the buzz of festive excitement just by being here, without any cost at all.

Before describing the Christmas activities not to be missed there are some helpful tips that may make your visit easier and enjoyable.

Firstly, the weather. December in England is not usually snowy – so if you are expecting a white Christmas you will probably be disappointed. It has happened in the past but is not usual. It is however often cold so make sure that you pack plenty of warm clothing.

Getting around London in Christmas time

london- getting around in christmas 2The best way to get around London is to use the public transport system. This consists of the underground trains (the tube), the iconic red buses, the River Bus Service, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and the mainline over-ground trains of British Rail.

Taxis (the iconic black taxi cab of London) obviously are another way but bear in mind that, unlike in some countries’ capital cities, taxis in London are not cheap.

To make things easier you should buy an Oyster card (available from any London station and also some shops). The Oyster card allows you to travel on any of the above means of transport (except taxis), and also on the Emirates Airline cable car that crosses the River Thames. You just top up the credit on the Oyster Card to as much as you think you need. This is by far the cheapest and most convenient way to pay for your travel around the capital.

It is nearly always cheaper too, to book your flights and accommodation well in advance. Once here and shopping, look out for sales and discounts in many of the shops during the Christmas period – the 26th of December (Boxing Day) is often when some bargains can be found. Ensure you visit at least one of the excellent Christmas markets and carry some cash to make it easier to buy snacks and tasty street food from the vendors that you will encounter.

Unlike some European countries the main day of celebration is Christmas Day itself (25th December). Christmas Eve (24th) is a final day of preparation and all shops, restaurants, pubs and bars, will remain open. The only days you can expect many places to be closed is the 25th and 26th.

However, you will find that this only applies to the major shops and main attractions. London is full of small independent shops that are run by non-Christian people, so for them, Christmas is not a holiday and they will remain open. New Year’s Day (1st January) is also a public holiday which will see most shops and attractions closed for the day.

LONDON TRANSPORTThere is no public transport on Christmas Day (25th December) and it usually begins to wind down from the early evening on the 24th. Night buses on 24th December do not operate.

You will still be able to find a taxi but it is more than likely they will charge much more for working on a public holiday.

You can check the Christmas travel information by going to https://tfl.gov.uk/ which is the Transport for London website. If you are intending to travel outside of London and will be using British Rail overground trains get their travel information from https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/

London during Christmas

london-christmas-The main two days of Christmas would be the perfect time to amble through the streets, when it is much quieter and peace really does descend. Seize this opportunity to enjoy the view of the major landmarks and marvel at the decorations and lights.

Tour companies will still be operating the hop-on hop-off bus tours and river cruises, so you could include this in your planning.

Going to the beautiful London parks at this time can be very special. On Christmas Day morning, at Hyde Park, you can watch the Serpentine Swimming Club who hold their Peter Pan Christmas Day Race, swimming in the freezing Serpentine Lake in the park.

For those of you who want to be active themselves and wish to burn off some of the calories consumed in the lead up to Christmas there are plenty of Santander Cycle hubs around which will allow you to explore the streets and parks on two wheels.

Alternatively, go to West Hampstead’s JW3 ice rink which is a 70-capacity rink in the Jewish arts, culture and community centre. After the exercise you can indulge again with seasonal food, hot chocolate or mulled wine. As a Jewish venue the rink is open throughout the Christmas and New Year holiday.

Of course, it should never be forgotten that Christmas is actually about the birth of Jesus and is one of the most important Christian religious festivals. Attending one of the many Christmas Day services in one of London’s iconic cathedrals or churches is a very spiritual affair.

Majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral, magnificent Westminster Cathedral, evocative St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Christophe Wren’s St. Clement Danes, the delightful All Hallows by the Tower and historic Southwark Cathedral are just six of the major religious venues but there are many more. Be aware though that there is limited space and they can be very busy so make sure you check the times of the service and arrive in plenty of time to ensure you can get in.

Eating and drinking on Christmas Day

mints-piesWhen it comes to eating and drinking on Christmas Day or Boxing Day many places remain open for lunch and early dinner. However, it is always best to book well in advance to ensure you don’t go hungry.

Alternatively, go to one of the many London districts which do not follow Christian traditions and you will find many places open as usual. China Town in Leicester Square for example or around South Kensington, Mayfair, Edgeware Road or Knightsbridge; which are areas where you will find lots of Middle Eastern restaurants where you can experience delightful cuisine.

London pubs are usually open at lunchtime but may not be in the evenings. Most hotels and hotel restaurants are open for Christmas and will be serving food but, again, you may need to book in advance.

If you are planning to see a pantomime or a Christmas show and you find that there are no tickets left, have a look at some of the things showing in theatres outside of London’s West End Dartford, Gravesend, Croydon, Hackney, Stratford East, Hammersmith, Richmond, Greenwich, Hampstead, Kentish Town, Edmonton and nearly all suburbs of London all have theatres and most will have either pantomimes or Christmas themed shows.
If you go anywhere, you should ensure you visit Winter Wonderland. It’s not just for children, you will have a fabulous time even if you are travelling alone. Furthermore, if you go off-peak there is no entry fee.

Christmas Lights illuminations and entertainment

london-christmas-The first thing you will notice however, when you arrive in the capital is that everywhere possible is sparkling and glittering with bright shining Christmas decorations and Christmas lights. This usually begins by the 3rd week in November and all through December until 12th night (5th January) when they are taken down.

The festive lights and decorations in the streets, shops, parks and public gardens, and glimpsed through the house windows and gardens of Londoners is one of the biggest delights of Christmas, instantly cheering us all up and putting us in the right frame of mind for the holiday spirit. The perfect way to experience this, without spending a lot of money, is to simply stroll around the streets and parks. From Oxford Street, Regents Street to Trafalgar Square this is one of the most popular activities, for tourists and locals alike, to do in December. London Christmas lights are really spectacular and the theme and colour scheme changes every year. Below are listed some of the streets, parks, squares and gardens that standout and should be on your list of ambles through the city lights.

The main shopping streets of the West End are probably the most famous and justifiably. Not only do you have lights and decorations hanging across the width of the streets but every shop seems to compete with its spectacular Christmas themed window displays. The windows of John Lewis and Selfridges in Oxford Street are always very impressive. The lights in Oxford Street usually get switched on before the other streets and the big switch-on ceremony attracts thousands of people.

london-christmasThere is always special entertainment and performances plus a variety of in-store promotions that accompany this. The biggest display happens in Regent Street and the display illuminates the whole street from Oxford Circus to Waterloo Place off of Pall Mall. A perfect evening’s stroll along the traffic-free street. They are usually switched on from around 15.30 until midnight every night until early January. In elegant Bond Street a spectacular effort in decorating the street and the stores is also made, guaranteed to leave you giddy with excitement.

In Carnaby Street, the iconic street famous for its musical heritage and Punk and Mod styles, a new theme is chosen every year to decorate the street. For example, in 2018 the theme of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was used with Freddie Mercury’s lyrics manifested into dazzling neon lights that stretched the length of this evocative street. Covent Garden, with its historic piazza and beautiful buildings, looks gorgeous when adorned in Christmas lights and with its magnificent Christmas tree. Look out for information regarding the switching-on ceremony which usually is carried out

Christmas trees

xmas-treeTalking of Christmas trees, one of the most impressive is always erected in Trafalgar Square. Beginning in 1947, a massive 20 metre Norwegian Spruce is donated very year by Norway, as a token of peace and love, in recognition of Britain’s support during the Second World War.

The tree is decorated in the traditional Norwegian style with hundreds of lights vertically strung from the top of the tree to its base.

The lights are usually switched on in early December and the ceremony includes a torchlit procession from nearby St. Martin-in-the-Field church and a blessing of the crib ceremony. Carol singing takes place around the tree throughout the holiday season. 

Christmas Venues

Two venues where the illuminations excel in their magic are slightly outside of central London but within easy reach by public transport. These are Kew Gardens (closest underground station, Kew Gardens on the District Line) and Syon Park in East Brentford, not too far from Kew. The Kew Gardens Christmas experience is absolute magic and delight.

kew-garden-christmas-illuminations-768x490There is a one-mile walk through trees dripping with fairy lights, the Cathedral of Light, Singing Neon Trees, branches illuminated with stars, the vibrant rainbow tree, the Meadow of Light and the Fire Garden all will take your breath away. The trail ends with the panoramic finale at the Palm House where phenomenal projections light up the historic glasshouse and the adjacent lake – all this set to a soundtrack of wonderful Christmas classical music.

There are fairground rides for children, stalls where you can refresh yourself with mulled wine or hot chocolate and firepits where you can toast marshmallows. If you are lucky then Father Christmas may also appear! It usually begins around 3rd week in November and continues until the beginning of January. Tickets cost around £21.50 per adult. These need to be booked on-line and a date and time-slot chosen. These are already selling like hot cakes so if this is something you would like to do then I would suggest you book now before they sell out completely.

Syon Park’s Enchanted Woodland is a similar experience of a wonderfully illuminated trail in a natural setting and a stunning illuminated Great Conservatory. Unlike Kew, though, the Enchanted Woodland operates only for the three last weekends in November.

This year, 2021, it will be the weekends of 12th to 28th November. The glittering trail takes you around the ornamental lake and through the arboretum of Syon House and the focus is to illuminate and celebrate the amazing collection of around 400 species of trees that the park has in its grounds. The Enchanted Woodland runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 17.00hrs until 19.40 hrs.

Admission charges are approximately £10 per adult. Less straightforward to get to than Kew – the most direct and cheapest is to take the N9 bus from Charing Cross or Trafalgar Square to Brentford Market Place and then Syon House is a 12 metre walk from there. Alternatively, you could take the underground train on the District Line to Gunnersbury then a 237 or 267 bus to Brentlea Gate bus stop, and the entrance to the park is 45 metres away.

Christmas Markets.

christmas-market-food-stall-400x270One thing that you must really do during your visit, and probably will just come across anyway, is visit a Christmas market. This is a fairly new phenomenon in Britain, having taken the idea from the popular Christmas markets of Germany, Austria and Belgium. However, today in London there is a huge variety of such markets some very traditional and quaint serving mulled wine, spiced biscuits, decorations and gift ideas whereas others a very big and incorporate funfair rides and festive activities. Right in the centre of London, at Leicester Square ,you can browse the quaint stalls of their Christmas market, selling gift ideas, decorations and food such as the German sausage, bratwurst, and also see a festive show. At London Bridge City Christmas Market, you will find Christmas by the River. With its wonderful river views, you again can experience a traditional style of Christmas market, selling food, drink, stocking fillers and unique gift ideas from their 70 stalls, designed in the traditional little wooden chalet style. This year 2021, children can enjoy making crafts like cards, wrapping paper, decorations and gifts in the workshops that will be running and there will also be a sculpture trail based on Raymond Brigg’s children’s book character The Snowman.

Over the river is the very attractive and historic town of Greenwich. Unlike other Christmas markets which just appear for the festive season and then disappear, Greenwich has a permanent market that is transformed into a spectacular Christmas market in December. The market hall is lavishly decorated and the food stalls change their usual menus to festive delights of bratwurst, mulled wine and gingerbread. Explore antiques and jewellery whilst under the pretty lights in the market.

christmas-marketLike the London Bridge City Christmas Market, the Southbank Christmas Market boasts a fabulous riverside location. Here too you will find the traditional wooden chalets selling their Christmas fayre of bratwurst, roast pork, and potato pancakes followed by stollen, marzipan and candied almonds and all washed down with gluhwein or eierpunsch ( a kind of eggnog) or hot chocolate – spiked with rum if you wish. Lights twinkle illuminating every stall, you will find loads of ideas for gifts and stocking fillers as well as decorations to brighten your own home. As well as the stalls selling their wares, the market also hosts fairground rides, firepits and tons of Christmas spirit

Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland

winter-wonderland-london-1024x675One of the best places to really enjoy Christmas in London is at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. In a carnival setting, it is much more than a Christmas Market. As well as the traditional Christmas market with more than 200 wooden chalets selling Christmas decorations, gift ideas, stocking fillers and traditional food and drink, the Winter Wonderland also has fairground rides, games and shows. The attractions include the Instagrammable Giant Wheel , the Oktoberfest’s Munich Roller Coaster, a 45 metre Real Ice Slide and The Hangover – an 85 metre drop tower that gives you the most fantastic views of London. The Open Air bar with its fire pit has live music and DJ sets.

There is a Circus Town which boasts the largest circus tent in the country and where you can watch unbelievable circus performances. For the tiny ones there is Santa Land where Father Christmas waits to greet them in his Grotto. There are special rides for little children and a place where families can rest and recuperate from the excitement going on around them.

At the Arctic Circle you can wonder at the 500 tonnes of ice and snow sculptures and also have a go yourself in the ice sculpting workshops. There are arctic themed rides like the Snow Jet and the Ice Mountain and the Explorer’s Rest where you can take a break, have a drink and listen to some live music whilst regaining some energy before visiting the final attraction: the UK’s largest outdoor ice skating rink. Built around the historic Victorian bandstand and under a canopy of sparkling fairy lights it is the perfect place to skate.

Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is open from 10 in the morning until 10 at night and runs from the end of November until the beginning of January but closed on Christmas Day. Due to Covid you need to book a time slot to enter, and you can only enter at the time you chose.

Once inside, however, you may stay as long as you like. If you go in the mornings (Monday-Thursday) there is no entry charge but you will still probably spend quite a bit of money on some of the extra activities on offer. The entrance fee for standard tickets (which is every afternoon with the exception of Saturday and Sunday in December) is only £5.00 and peak time tickets covering Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings throughout December are £7.50.

So although entrance tickets are not expensive if you want to pack in some of the other attractions the cost will soon add up. The tickets for the extra shows and rides are on average £10 during off-peak and £16.00 during peak times. However, if you spend £20 on any of the attractions whilst booking for entrance tickets then the cost of entry is deducted. All of the activities along with the entrance fee must be pre-booked on line. As you can imagine, the weekends tend to be the busiest time and it gets quite crowded so a weekday is often a better choice, especially if you have small children.

Christmas Pantomimes and Shows.

christmas pantomimesWhen it comes to good old English family entertainment at Christmas then a traditional Christmas pantomime is an absolute essential. First developed in England, pantomimes are popular family Christmas outings throughout the United Kingdom and not very well known outside of it. They are a type of musical comedy play based on popular fairy stories like Puss In Boots, (Dick Whittington), Snow White, Jack & the Beanstalk, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Babes In The Woods.

They incorporate loads of fun and audience participation and the spectators are encouraged to sing along with parts of the music and to shout out phrases to the performers. Specifically, ‘He’s Behind You’ or ‘Oh Yes it is! Oh no it isn’t’ The performances typically always include slapstick, cross-dressing: with leading romantic male roles being played by young women and older female or unattractive female characters being played, and hammed up!, by men in drag.

There are often references to topical events and some mildly sexual innuendoes which all go over the heads of the younger members of the audience. Often in the major London theatres and bigger provincial theatres the main male and female characters (and more) are performed by popular television celebrities. The biggest production is seen at the London Palladium at Oxford Circus but every district of London will have a pantomime going on somewhere within its boundaries. Children and adults alike all love pantomimes.

If you are in London during the week 10th to 12th December the ice rink At Alexandra Palace in north London will be used foramagical pantomime, The Nutcracker on Ice, The price of this venue is a much cheaper way to take in a London show than many of those in central London. Ticket prices for adults are £15.00, children £12.50 and a family ticket for four people costing only £12.00. The nearest tube station to Alexandra Palace is Wood Green, but this is still a bit of a trek to the Palace. A better way to get there is to take the overground train from Moorgate station in the city of London to Alexandra Palace overground station.

Aside from the pantomime, other types of typical shows that are performed at Christmas time in London include productions of Charles Dickens, especially the classic story, A Christmas Carol. This could be as a reading, a play, or a ballet. The ballet, generally, is another popular family outing and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is usually somewhere to be found. Handel’s Messiah is a Christmas stalwart in classical musical venues and the Royal Albert Hall has Christmas themed performances taking place for the whole of December.

Children are well catered for and, this year 2021, the Royal Albert Hall are performing The Muppet Christmas Carol and the Peacock theatre at Sadlers Wells are staging The Snowman. In the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank, a thrilling retro circus show is being put on. Circus 1903 takes the circus back to the turn-of-the-century which includes contortionists, strong men, knife throwers, acrobats and musicians. No live animals but amazing puppet elephants, designed and choreographed by the same puppet company that gave us the incredible War Horse puppets all give a jaw-dropping, mesmerising twist to the traditional circus experience.

Finally, a bit further outside London, in Watford is the Warner Bros studio and the Harry Potter and Hogwarts in the Snow Christmas Show. Quite possibly the best Harry Potter experience going, this day out will allow you to tour the studios and see how special effects for the Christmas scenes in the films were created as well as seeing the costumes and props. In Daigon Alley, the shopfronts and cobbled streets are decorated and sprinkled with snow. The trees and woodland in the Forbidden Forest are given a festive makeover as well as Hagrid’s Hut and the majestic Hogwarts castle.

The Great Hall is decorated with garlands, wreathes and trees with, instead of the traditional star or fairy balanced on top, a witch on a broomstick. The long dining tables are laid in preparation for the Christmas feast, with the SFX flaming Christmas puddings, that Harry ate in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It runs from 18th November until 16th January 2022 and tickets must be booked on-line in advance. Ticket prices start from £47 for an adult so not cheap, family tickets are also available. Definitely worth the money and could be a special Christmas present for someone.

Ice skating in London during Christmas

ice-skating-in-london-1024x576Even though the weather at Christmastime in London is rarely snowing and freezing the winter activity of ice skating has become very popular and is an attraction looked forward to by both locals and visitors. It is an activity that can be great fun for all the family and children as young as four years old can soon master the skill enough to enjoy it. Many of the rinks in London have ‘penguin aids’ (or skate aids) who help little children if needed. One top tip for wherever you decide to go is to arrive about 20 minutes before your timed slot to allow for time to sort your skates out.

There are many incredible places to choose as there is no shortage at all of skating rinks in London at Christmas time. Most are outdoors where you can skate whilst revelling in the fabulous views of the riverside or the panoramic views of London or the majestic spectacle of Hampton Court Palace. All are fabulous and which ever one you choose you really can’t go wrong. Below are some to choose from so put your skates on and get ready to glide around London.

Winter Wonderland, set in the grounds of London’s famous Hyde Park has one of the largest rinks in London and is part of the package of attractions that you can enjoy if you visit this amazing Christmas carnival event. The open-air rink is built around the attractive Victorian bandstand and skating under the canopy of twinkling fairy lights is a magical experience. It opens on 19th November and skating begins at 10am until 10pm every dail. Hourly Sessions are bookable and run every hour on the hour. You can hire skates or bring your own but speed skates are not allowed. The rink is open to all ages and abilites – including wheelchairs. See above under Christmas markets for details of Winter Wonderland.

Situated on the Strand near Covent Garden and overlooking the River Thames is Somerset House. Every Christmas the courtyard of the beautiful 17th century neo-classical building is transformed into a Christmas-card perfect winter scene. Spinning around the iced-over courtyard with its giant 40ft Christmas tree is an outstanding experience for all the family regardless of their age, ability or skill. This year, 2021, Skate at Somerset House has teamed up with Moet & Chandon to provide the festivities. There are skating lessons offered at the Skate School and a Kids Skate Club.

Wheelchair users can use the rink and there is also dedicated wheelchair user sessions as well as chill-out sessions which may be suitable for neurodiverse audiences. You can spin, glide and twirl during one of the daytime sessions or enjoy one of the late-night DJ events listening to soundtracks playing whilst skimming under the night-time stars. At the end of your session you can enjoy gourmet dining at the pop-up alpine restaurant, courtesy of Fortnum & Mason, or visit the skate lounge to enjoy champagne and cocktails.

There is no admission charge to Somerset House itself but to enjoy the skating rink you need to book a session beforehand and the prices are £11 for adults and £8.50 for children under 12.

One of the lesser known ice skating rings in London is the Skylight rooftop bar at Tobacco Dock in Wapping East London. This rooftop ice rink is a real hidden gem. Skylight is one of London’s most imaginative bars and restaurant venues and, come November, it is transformed into a frosty winter wonderland with an ice rink, an ice hockey slap shot and 18 igloo-bubbles where you can sit and enjoy cocktails, beer or delicious mulled wine or fill your boots with scrumptious street food and platters for sharing. This level also includes two bars, one in a heated tent and one in a pergola.

A unique selling point of Skyline rooftop is the fabulous 360 degree views of London’s distinctive skyline to marvel at whilst you skate . Although an outdoor venue there is an abundance of heating, seating and plenty of blankets available. Downstairs ( and indoors) there is another bar with lots of furry seating and day beds plus a fondue station, a cheese lovers dream! The price for skating is £12 for a 45 minute session. Tickets do not need to be booked. They are sold on a first come, first served basis. Skate aids are available if needed. Note however that children under the age of 18 are not allowed after 6pm. The nearest underground station is either Wapping or Shadwell.

Set against the background of the fabulous, cathedral-like Natural History Museum in London’s South Kensington, the ice rink in the museum’s grounds with its large decorated Christmas tree, slap-bang in the middle of the rink, is another superb place to experience this festive activity. Surrounded by fairy lights dripping from the frost-covered trees, the smell of hot spiced wine drifting across the air, this is Christmas at its very best.

You can either buy your tickets from the box office when you arrive at the museum (however, you may have to wait until a slot is free) or, to ensure you have a session, you can book them on-line. The price for an adult is around £12.65 and for children it is £8.80. Penguin skate aids are available on a first come, first served basis and cost £6.00 for an hour’s session. The rink is open every day except Christmas day from 11.00 until 22.00 hrs from October 22nd until January 16th.

Sadly, after 16 years of this Christmas tradition, 2021 will be the last opportunity to skate at the Natural History Museum. In keeping with the ethos of the museum, the plan for 2022 is to transform the 5 acre gardens of the museum into an urban wildlife hub as part of a national campaign to encourage people to help nature.

8 miles from central London, across the River Thames is the Queen’s House Greenwich ice rink which is located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the grounds of the Royal Museums of Greenwich. With breath-taking river views in one direction and fabulous views of Greenwich Park in the other direction this is another amazing venue to enjoy ice skating surrounded by the iconic architecture of the 17th century architect, Inigo Jones.

This is the only outdoor rink south of the Thames. It opens from 18th November until January 9th, every day except Christmas Day. Although you don’t have to book your session on-line beforehand it is strongly recommended to ensure you have a place. Sessions last for 45 minutes and prices are £15.00 for an adult and children’s tickets cost £8.50. Prices include skate hire if you book on-line.

A quick 30 minute train journey out of London to the magnificent Henry VIII’s residence at Hampton Court will give you to a very memorable ice-skating experience. Located in the beautiful gardens of the Tudor palace this is a truly impressive rink. Ice skating in the evening is particularly spectacular as the facade of the palace is lit up with beautiful colours at dusk. Spend the day there by exploring the impressive red brick palace then skating and finishing off with refreshments in the ice rink cafe and bar. The palace is open all year round and the ice rink begins on 19th November until January 2nd (except Christmas Day). Sessions are for 45 minutes and ticket price for adults is £16.00 and for a child £11.50. Skate Aids are available at £5.00 but must be pre-booked. Although a little out of London the location is certainly stunning.

If you really want to skate but find the prices of the special pop-up rinks too expensive then you could visit the Ice Rink in North London at Alexandra Palace. It is open all year round but December is quite possibly the best time to visit as the venue dresses itself in all its Christmas finery and Saturday nights see the rink turning into an Ice Disco with funky lighting and music by Ally Pally’s resident DJ. The rink has a lovely little cafe for a good selection of hot and cold snacks. It is open every day (except Christmas Day) from 10.00 to 18.00 Monday to Friday and from 11.00 to 18.00 and then from 20.00 -22.00 at weekends. Adult tickets on a weekday are £9.00 and children £8.00 (aged 5-16) and under 5s £6.00. At weekends the prices increase by 50 pence for each category. Skate aids are available at a small charge. The hire of skates is included in your entry price and a small charge of £2.00 is made for spectators only.

If you have little children in the family you could combine this with a visit to Santa’s Grotto or even watch a film with the Christmas Film Season or, if you are around during the week 10th to 12th December the rink is used for the magical pantomime The Nutcracker on Ice which, again, is a much cheaper way to take in a London show with tickets for adults at £15.00, children £12.50 and a family ticket for four people costing only £12.00. The nearest tube station to Alexandra Palace is Wood Green, but this is still a bit of a trek to the Palace. A better way to get there is to take the overground train from Moorgate station in the city of London to Alexandra Palace overground station.

Located at the Piazza at JW3 Centre, the JW3 Ice Rink is in West Hampstead’s Jewish Arts, Culture and Community Centre. Unlike the other ice rinks, JW3 is open on Christmas Day. It is a 200 square metre rink that holds a capacity of 70 skaters at any one time. Visitors are surrounded by twinkling lights, vibrant music and an electric atmosphere that will charge you up to skim your way round the rink. For those who are less confident on ice you can pre-book penguin stabilisers and seated banana toboggans. There is a cafe and restaurant selling kosher delights as well as hot chocolate and mulled wine. Located at 341-351 Finchley Road NW3 the nearest underground station is Finchley Road on the Jubilee Line.

News Flash: For the second year running the ice rink at the Tower of London sadly will not be taking place this year. Last year didn’t happen because of Covid lockdowns and this year the Tower of London’s website state that they have some exciting plans for a major event at the Tower in 2022 – which means that the space usually taken up by the rink will be being developed for this special event. Next year (2022) will be the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and rumour has it that the moat (where the rink is usually located) is to be turned into a spectacular Commonwealth-themed garden. Hopefully the Christmas ice rink will return in 2022.

Santa’s Grotto

santa's grottoMeeting Father Christmas is probably one of the most exciting activities that a child can have leading up to the special day itself and, for them, Christmas isn’t Christmas without a visit to his grotto. All over the capital you will find Santa Grottos with the jolly bearded man in red spreading love and joy with his magical presence. Popular Santa Grottos are in Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, Hamleys Toy Shop in Regent Street and Duke of York Square. However, the big man in red gets about and he pops up everywhere. Below are some of those places to find him. Please bear in mind that most venues will require booking ahead. Decide on where you want to go and then research to discover if you need to pre-book.

At The Royal Albert Hall you can join Santa in his theatrical walkabout and listen to him reading from the Polar Express. The experience also includes puppetry and the chance to make a stuffed toy to take home. See him too at Leicester Square and listen to a Christmas story as well as receive a gift. Sessions need to be booked in advance and the price is £11.50 per child. At the world famous toy store, Hamleys of Regent Street, a visit costs £39.99 but children get to become one of Santa’s elves, learn special elf songs and dances and then meet Father Christmas himself.

If you are going to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park once you have paid your entrance free a visit to Santa in his grotto and a little gift is free. However, this cannot be pre-booked so expect to queue. Alternatively, join Father Christmas for breakfast at Selfridges in Oxford Street. Tickets are £50.00 which includes a gift for everyone in the family. Finally, if you have gone to Alexandra Palace for the ice skating then you can also visit Santa in his grotto and get a small gift for £14.50.

Just off Chelsea’s fashionable Kings Road is the pedestrianised Duke of York Square and every year Santa has his own splendid grotto. After cruising the shops and enjoying the decorations, take the children here where they can meet Father Christmas in his quaint workshop, listen to his magical storytelling and enjoy some tasty festive treats. Indeed, when the lights go on in November, it is Father Christmas himself who turns them on! On that night he usually has his reindeer with him. After the night of the turning on of the Christmas lights, Santa’s grotto will be open every weekend, including Fridays in November and every day, except Mondays, in December. The dates for the switch on have not been released yet but it is usually around the 3rd weekend in November.

Christmas Carols.

carol-singersTo get you in the right frame of mind and brimming over with the spirit of Christmas, listening to a carol concert and/or joining in with some carol singing must be one of the most traditionally festive things to do. There are plenty of opportunities to do this and below are some ideas to get you going.

Firstly the religious carol services that take place in all of the most iconic and historic churches and cathedrals around the city. At St. Pauls Cathedral there is a very popular and free service which usually takes place in the second week of December. It is important to arrive early and get in the queue as it isn’t ticketed. St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the beautiful baroque church just off of Trafalgar Square is another wonderful place to enjoy carol singing. There are a variety of concerts that range from choral, orchestral, candle-lit, classical, children’s programmes, sing-a-long and concerts that icorporate a sleigh ride to get you there. All the concerts must be booked in advance and prices range from around £10 to £40 per ticket.

The magnificent Westminster Abbey located close to the Palace of Westminster and Houses of Parliament, with a history that goes back thousands of years is a wonderful place to experience a special advent service. The most popular services, with Lessons and Carols, take place on Thursday 23rd December at 18.00 hrs and Friday, 24th December at 16.00 with the First Eucharist of Christmas taking place at 23.00 hrs. Tickets for both these days are free and should be available from Monday, 15th November.

The Barbican Concert Halls in the City of London also host some wonderful Christmas concerts. This year, 2021, some of the delights are a roaring twenties swinging celebration of 100 years, sung by the BBC singers and including a repertoire packed full of standards and classics. For those who enjoy the toe-tapping rhythms of the roaring twenties dance bands this is a great start to put you in the party mood. This concert is on 10th December and prices start at £12.00.

On 18th December you can belt along to all your favourite carols with the exuberant Jonathan Cohen and his fun-packed guests. Prices for tickets start at £18.50. The following day, on 19th December the mood changes to a sublime carol concert staged by musicians dressed in full 18th century costume in a hauntingly expressive candle-lit setting. Prices start at £16.50. Finally on 21st December there is a glorious programme of festive classics performed by the angelic voices of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and supported by the Crouch End Festival Chorus. The programme includes carols that everyone can join in with. Prices for this concert start at £22.50.

The Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank has a good reputation for its wonderful carol concerts and, for many, they are the highlight of the season with people returning year after year. Some argue that the Royal Festival Hall’s Carol Concerts, where you can sing along to all your favourite carols accompanied by world-class musicians is one of the best Christmas events in London. Popular musicians and singers like Justin Timberlake, Adele and Enrique have all performed at these. The concerts run from December 18th to Christmas Eve with prices that start from £22.49. Not too far from

The Royal Festival Hall is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. This outdoor theatre normally hosts a sing along concert of everyone’s favourite carols. It’s outdoors so make sure you wrap up warm and also take advantage of the mulled wine sold at the theatre. Tickets and their prices have not been released yet with their website still showing last year’s event but check out their website in a few weeks.

Lastly but perhaps the most important and popular carol singing event happens around Trafalgar Square’s famous Norwegian Christmas tree. Throughout the build up to Christmas, different groups of carol singers perform to raise money for voluntary or charitable organisations. In all more than 40 different groups perform for about an hour each. The event is free and audience participation is encouraged.

Partying and celebrating

partying-in-london.jpgIt probably comes as no surprise that London is one of the most popular cities in the UK to celebrate a Christmas party. This cosmopolitan capital offers literally thousands of incredible venues that are ideal for a whole range of festive events, including small, intimate gatherings and large scale, fully themed, Christmas party nights that come with dinner and entertainment.

Spread across London at three different locations of Brixton, Camden, and Shoreditch, Blues Kitchen is one of the best venues for partying in London with live bands specialising in blues and rock’n roll music.

The food is authentic American Soul food, varieties of delicious burgers, pork ribs, buffalo chicken wings, or ox cheek nuggets are just a small selection of the delights on offer, wash it all down with a cocktail from their choice of 17, or choose from one of the 18 different Bourbons on offer, or down a draught beer before hitting the dance floor, or chilling out with friends over casual drinks, Blues Kitchen is the best place to share the joy of the festive season. Open 7 nights a week with late dancing on the weekend. Booking has to be done well in advance to make the most of Christmas in London. Locations: 111-113 Camden High St, Camden, London, 134-146 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London, 40 Acre Lane, Brixton, London.

The Charles Dickens Museum.

dickensCharles Dickens had a big influence on the way that we celebrate Christmas today in England and a visit to the Charles Dickens Museum which is located at 48-49 Doughty Street, London WC1N.

Every year the museum dresses the house in its Christmas attire, the rooms decked out with holly and ivy and beautiful Victorian decorations. Transforming it to catch the true spirit of Christmas Past.

If you want a glimpse of how this celebrated Victorian author celebrated this festive season the museum provides it. The nearest underground station is Russel Square on the Piccadilly Line.

Dino Snores at Natural History Museum

If you are looking to do something completely different then having a festive sleepover at the museum can’t go far wrong. Open to children from aged 7 to 11 years ( with an accompanying adult) get to enjoy an evening of festive activities such as exploring the museum by torch light, create a dinosaur t-shirt or make Christmas decorations in the workshops, watch a live animal show and learn about the science of the natural world from one of the museum’s own scientists.

At midnight you settle down to sleep under the Blue Whale in the Hintze Hall. A nourishing hot breakfast is served bright and early before going on another trail around the museum before the Museum opens at 10.00 for the general public. Tickets are £65.00 each (the price is the same for adults and children). It seems however that all the tickets for December have been sold but there are still tickets available for 14th and 29th January.

New Year Celebrations

new years eveThe London New Year’s Eve fireworks display light up the skies of central London with a spectacular pyrotechnic show. Since 2014 the fireworks have been ticketed so if you want to be part of the celebrations you should ensure you have bought a ticket. Lots of the venues cited in the Christmas information also hold New Year’s celebrations so the best thing is to check out what is on offer.

The celebrations for 2021/2022 have not been confirmed yet but it is sure to go ahead. In the meantime, some information about travel during New Year’s Eve. It is usually free on the TFL network (Transport for London) which includes the underground and bus network.

This free travel begins at 23.45 until 04.30 on New Year’s Day. But, again, this isn’t confirmed yet so it’s best to check nearer the date. New Year’s Day itself tends to have quite a limited public transport provision so make sure you check out any details and plan your journey well. Eating out, going to clubs or bars will all need to be booked in advance as central London is extremely busy at this time.