The capital is at its most atmospheric come the festive season, with streets glittering with lights and the scent of mulled wine in the air.
Skate in a magical setting – choose the Natural History Museum as your backdrop, the 18th century courtyard of Somerset House, or have the Tower of London looming dramatically above you. There are bars to warm up in afterwards with Somerset House home to a Fortnum & Mason lodge offering fondues and champagne.
The capital’s Christmas markets offer a relaxed way to do seasonal shopping. Some of the best can be found along the river with pretty wooden chalets lining the banks of the Thames. The Tate Modern Christmas Market lights up the courtyard outside the former power station, the South Bank’s Christmas market offers shopping under twinkling lights, while in London Bridge the market looks out over the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
Come mid-November, London is starting to sparkle with festive lights. The most famous run across Regent Street, Oxford Street and Bond Street but some of the prettiest can be found in more intimate locales such as Marylebone Village and Covent Garden. Carnaby Street meanwhile is always eclectic. Shop fronts are an impressive sight with all the big stores including Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Liberty putting on themed displays.
Hyde Park’s vast festive fair has ice-skating, shows, live music and Christmas markets. Look out over London on a giant observation wheel then sip on cocktails in the ice bar. This year’s events include Cinderella on Ice and a Deep Sea themed Ice Kingdom. It is advisable to book attractions in advance, although no reservations are needed for children to visit Santa.
Festive music and culture
From carol singing around the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square to performances in some of the city’s most majestic churches and buildings, seasonal music can be enjoyed across the capital. The are various carol concerts at Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral – including events for children – and the Royal Albert Hall’s Christmas programme includes Handel’s Messiah and a carol concert by candlelight. Always popular is the wonderfully festive ballet, The Nutcracker. It can be seen at the Royal Opera House, performed by the Royal Ballet; the Coliseum (English National Ballet) and at the Royal Albert Hall (Birmingham Royal Ballet).
Much of the capital shuts down on Christmas Day – but exploring the streets without the bustle is a joy. Visitors can watch the brave souls of the Serpentine Swimming Club jump into the Hyde Park lake for their annual Christmas Day race; take a stroll around one of London’s famous Royal Parks, and admire the festive lights across the capital. The Landmark is dressed for the festive season with decorations including a towering 24ft Christmas tree, and hosts a Christmas Day brunch, afternoon tea and a traditional dinner. London wakes up come Boxing Day with many stores opening for the sales – although some now start earlier, while others wait until January.
London becomes one big party come New Year’s Eve with clubs, bars and restaurants celebrating in style. At midnight, the sky is illuminated with a spectacular firework display (to get the best viewing spot requires a ticket, although there are bars, restaurants and boats that offer a view). The Landmark offers an evening of champagne, live music and a six-course dinner. On New Year’s Day, the city celebrates with a grand parade of dancers, acrobats and marching bands that make their way from Green Park to Parliament Square.