Like many major cities – New York and Paris especially spring to mind – London comes alive at Christmas time. And this December is no exception. Here’s just a stockingful of seasonal treats and events to throw yourself into in the run up to that all-important visit from Father Christmas on the 24th…
Trafalgar Square Christmas tree
(WC2N 5DN/ 1 December 2016-8 January 2017)
December in London simply wouldn’t be December in London if, each year, the 25-feet-tall spruce donated by the people of Norway didn’t take its exulted place next to Nelson’s Column and the stone lions in Trafalgar Square. An annual tradition dating back to 1947, when the first tree was shipped over from Norway in recognition of Britain’s steadfast support to the Scandinavian country in the Second World War, the magnificent pine is always decorated and illuminated in the elegant Norwegian manner and is often the site of organised carolling in the run-up to the big day itself. This year the switching-on of tree’s 900 lightbulbs will take place on the first day of December and Princess Astrid of Norway will be in attendance.
Outdoor ice skating at the Natural History Museum
(Cromwell Road SW7 5BD/ Until 8 January 2017)
An attraction that’s rightly grown to become enormously popular during the countdown to Christmas – and it’s not difficult to understand why. This 950-square-metre open-air ice-rink is illuminated by 76,000 fairy lights and, of course, boasts the beautiful architecture of South Ken’s Natural History Museum as its spectacular, nay, rather magical backdrop. When you can take to the ice each day varies, but sessions can most often be booked between 10am and 10pm and, before and after your skate, you can indulge in a winter warmer at the museum’s Café Bar (whose balcony overlooks the rink) or check out the millions of flora and fauna wonders in the museum itself, of course. A word to the wise – although this attraction’s open until 12.30am on 31 January (so that, yes, you can see the New Year in here; ideal if you’ll be in London and staying somewhere central like, say, the Marble Arch hotel London Oxford Street), it isn’t on Christmas Day. Although there is an attraction that is in London; Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! in Piccadilly Circus – believe it or not!
(Hyde Park W2 2UH/ Until 2 January 2017)
This compendium of Christmas and wintry-themed attractions proves hugely popular every year. It’s free to enter (although many of the things to see and do probably won’t be) and, being located slap bang in the centre of the city, makes for the perfect day out should you be staying at one of the hotels near Oxford Street London. Highlights include:
• Ice skating – circling the park’s Victorian bandstand you’ll find the UK’s biggest outdoor rink , on which you’ll not only be able to skate yourself but watch championship-level skaters do their stuff in The Imperial Ice Stars’ The Nutcracker on Ice show; nearby there’ll also be a London Eye-like ‘observation wheel’, at the top of which – all 60 metres up – you’ll be able to view the spectacular London skyline
• Christmas markets – the event’s German Christmas Market boasts in excess of 200 chalets stocked with seasonal treats, while the Angels Christmas and Fairies Markets focus on arts and crafts bits and bobs, jewellery and decorations
• Family shows – in addition to The Nutcracker on Ice, there’s also daytime performances from Zippos Christmas Circus, the always hugely popular little-ted-who-could Sooty in his Christmas show, a traditional fairground with a classic helter-skelter and rides for older kids, as well as – of course – the chance to meet Santa in his grotto
• Refreshments – an array of restaurants, stalls and bars will be for offering mulled wine, cocktails, hot drinks and more, while the Bavarian Village is sure to be packed with many a tasty snack as well as funtastic oompah bands.
Christmas at Kew
(Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW3 3AB/ 23 November 2016-2 January 2017)
Perfect for a crisp, clear wintry evening, the after-dark Christmas event at the extraordinarily beautiful Kew offers visitors a mile-long lit trail through its botanic gardens (featuring more than 60,000 lights), leading to a scented garden filled by atmospheric bonfires and charismatic crystal-flower art installations and ends in a ‘son et lumiere’ display in front of Palm House. Meanwhile, the gardens’ North Pole Village boasts Santa and his elves, naturally, while there’s also a Victorian carousel and helter-skelter to ride.
Hogwarts in the Snow
(Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, Hertfordshire WD25 7LR/ Until 29 January 2019)
Finally, what better way to treat your little ones than whisking them off (admittedly not on a broomstick, but still) to Hogwarts for Christmas? The ‘Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter’ has fully embraced the festive season this year, as the Great Hall will be decorated with a plethora of Christmas trees, while flaming Christmas puddings’ll be laid out on its long tables, fireplaces will be roaring away and the Gryffindor common room is bound to be packed to the rafters with Christmas treats just waiting for Harry and co. to unwrap them – and visitors to cast their eyes over them!