London is truly magical over Christmas. Beyond the shopping frenzy of Oxford and Regent Streets and the company Christmas parties in bars and pubs, London becomes extra special for families this time of year. Kids become the priority for a change . The windows in Harrods and Hamley’s are made up to impress, ice skating rinks and Santa’s grotto pop up, the reindeer come to town and carnivals and markets appear. Wrap up the kids for a London Christmas experience.
Since 1947 Norway donates a 20 meter tall Norwegian spruce tree to serve as London’s Christmas tree proudly displayed in Trafalgar Square. Generally the 50-60 year old tree stands 20 meters tall and is decorated in simple Scandinavian style. Carol -singers perform each night from December 2 through December 22 from 5 pm to 9 pm. Snap a few photos, have a climb on the famed lion statues, ask the heritage wardens a few questions and hunt for a tiny former police box. Hint: it looks like a lamppost.
flickr image: raindog
Borrowing a page from the continent, London’s is sampling the Christmas market scene. And while it may still be the kid sister to the biggies abroad, they are definitely worth visiting. Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland not only boasts carnival rides, an ice skating rink, a circus and hot food, their Angel Market has over 100 shopping stalls. Tucked under the lights of the London Eye the Cologne Christmas Market serves traditional German brats and Glühwein for the adults while the kids are entertained by visiting Santa and riding the beautifully lit Victorian carousel.
flickr image: Orbisnonsufficit
Christmas Day Dining
Like the Tube, most of London’s restaurants and pubs are not serving on Christmas Day. Of course the majority of hotel restaurants are open although if you’re feeling cooped up dine at Inn the Park which is , as the name suggests, in St. James’s Park overlooking the graceful lake. Fresh, locally sourced food is used in their 3 course Christmas menu for just under £30. After gorging on the bacon wrapped turkey and spiced pears with clotted cream walk through the park taking in the sight of Buckingham Palace and down the Mall to Trafalgar Square.
Need to burn a few more calories or tire out the kids walk the Southbank. The pedestrianized path runs along the south side of the Thames from Westminster Bridge down to Millennium Bridge. London’s stunning architecture is illuminated around 4:00 when the sun sets and children have space to run free or ride that new Christmas scooter.
Temporary outdoor ice skating rinks appear all over London in November marking the beginning of the holiday season. Book a skating session in front of marvelous iconic buildings: the National History Museum, Somerset House or the Tower of London. Families can skate together on a discounted ticket or parents can rest and “watch me” from the rink’s cafe.
flickr image: MarchieCTIB
Christmas in London just is not a proper holiday without watching a pantomime or panto for short. Pantomimes are satirical fairy-tales with cross dressing actors. Most importantly, audience participation as an fundamental ingredient. Very cheesy, very silly, very entertaining. Dick Whittington and his Cat is playing at the Hammersmith Lyric but a friend tells me the Hackney Empire is THE place to see a panto; this year it’s Jack and the Beanstalk.
Yep, swim, but this polar bear dip is for watching. Annually at 9 am on Christmas morning the nutty members of the Serpentine Swimming Club in Hyde Park race in chilly lake for the Peter Pan Cup. Good for a laugh anyway.
Huskies and Reindeer
December 11th and 12th from 10 am to 4 pm Santa and his huskies are visiting the London Wetland Centre. Have your photo taken with the dogs or kids 8 and under can go for a husky driven sleigh ride. For the more traditional types, Santa’s elves and a reindeer petting zoo will be in Covent Garden for a on December 12th and 21st from 12 pm to 5 pm.