Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year and if you are in London around late November- December, you will definitely feel it. The whole city is lit up with Christmas lights turning into a magical kingdom and there is so much to do and see. But there are certan Christmas experiences that every Londoner or visitor should definitely check out.
The following are my five most favorite Christmassy things worth experiencing or doing in London:
1.Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland
This is definitely the biggest theme park in London dedicated to Christmas. It’s an amazing playground both for kids and adults offering a huge variety (over 100) of rides from scary roll coasters to haunted houses and traditional funfare.
There is also Santa’s workshop, Christmas markets with food and gift ideas, numerous bars and cafes, an ice rink, a Giant Wheel, Ice Bar, and even Magical Ice Kingdom with ice sculptures created out of 500 tones of ice and snow by a number of artists.
The Giant Wheel offers amazing views of the whole park. To avoid long queues, I recommend buying VIP tickets in advance which not only allow you to skip the queues but also offer a longer flight (20 mins) and a comfier pod with a telly playing popular programs, like Mr Bean!
You can easily spend several hours there and let your inner child come out! I have been going to Winter Wonderland every December for the past four years and it has become a lovely tradition in my family. I would suggest bringing cash (many vendors don’t accept cards and rides’ costs vary between 2-3 and 5 pounds per ride), coming on a week day to avoid large crowds and bringing hat and gloves in case it gets nippy.
Dates: 18 November 2016 – 2 January 2017
Times: 10am- 10pm daily
Address: Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London W2
Also, if you have time, you can take a short walk from the Hyde Park down to the Natural History Museum which sets up one of the most beautiful ice rinks with museum’s impressive building lit up in the background.
2.Southbank Christmas Market
Located on the other side of the river and next to the London Eye, Southbank Christmas Market is one of Londoners’ favourites to hang out in the run up to the Christmas holidays and is one of my favorite Christmas experiences.
Take a stroll along the river enjoying amazing views of the Big Ben and other London landmarks while checking out wooden chalets offering hot drinks, yummy street food and handmade crafts.
If you want to take a break and try something different, there is also a pop-up Cider Lodge, a Rollerdisco and a 300 Christmas trees maze (shown below), while little ones will love children’s amusement park with traditional merry-go-around.
Dates: 20 November – 24 December 2016
Times: 11am – 9pm Sunday – Thursday; 11am – 10pm Friday – Saturday
Address: Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX
From Southbank I usually cross the Thames River via Waterloo Bridge to visit one of London’s hidden gems – the Somerset House. Built in 1551 by Duke of Somerset, the former palace is a perfect site for Christmas magic. Every year an ice rink is set up in Sommerset House’s inner courtyard and a gigantic beautiful Christmas tree greets daily visitors.
In the last couple of years, it has been sponsored by Fortnum and Mason, so in the West Wing visitors will find F&M Lodge where they can get a hot drink or buy some of their famous delicacies, teas, gifts and Christmas decorations. And did you know that after dark Somerset House hosts Club Nights with top international DJs performing their beats?
Dates: 17 November 2016 – 15 January 2017
Times: 08.45am – 11.30pm for ice rink (24 December, 10.00am – 6.30pm; 25 December, closed; 26 December, 12.30 – 10.15pm; 27-30 December, normal opening times apply)
Admisison: £7.5 for ice rink
Address: Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA
After the Somerset House, I love walking down the Strand to the Covent Garden. With plenty of shopping options, restaurants and street entertainment, Covent Garden is always a popular destination among tourists, but during Christmas it’s even more popular and there is a reason for it. Each year the Covent Garden market features elaborate lighting designs and last year designer Michael Howells came up with the ‘Meet Me Under the Mistletoe’ theme. The Market Building was illuminated by more than 40 magnificent mistletoe chandeliers, creating a magically romantic effect.
In the meanwhile, the Christmas tree at Piazza is always one of the biggest you will find in London, while a giant silver Reindeer and realistic Lego Santa Express serve as a great background to photo opps.
Dates: 15 November 2016 – 6 January 2017
Times: from 5:30pm onwards
Address: Covent Garden, London WC2E 8RF
If you are willing to venture outside of Central London, Christmas at Kew Gardens is one of a kind Christmas experience. Imagine following gardens’ mile-long trail that is all illuminated in the dark. As the journey begins, it unveils hidden paths, mysterious trees, temples, glasshouses and fountains.
Each area has its own nature-inspired theme with elaborate decorations and soundtrack revealing gardens’ vast territory in a very different light. Walk through the singing bushes of reed changing their lights to the music beat or the tunnel of over 60,000 lights taking you into the future.
Or enjoy the meadows of whimsical and colorful flora and fauna installations.
As the trail ends, little ones can enjoy Snowflake Grotto with various rides and meet Father Christmas and his elves.
The last stop is an impressive music, light and water display at gardens’ famous Palm House that leaves your breathless.
Dates: 23 November 2016 – 2 January 2017 (28-29 November, closed; 5-6, 12-13, 24-25 December, closed)
Admission: £16-20 (adults), £10-12 (children, 4-16)
So wrap yourself up and get out there for some serious winter fun! Enjoy!