By Boutique Handbook writers
London is a magical city to visit all year round, but during the festive season shops, streets and landmarks are lit up from the inside out, turning the entire city into a winter wonderland.
From the enchanting light displays at Kew Gardens and Lightopia to festive flicks at Backyard Cinema, there is no shortage of things to do in the warm-up to the big day.
To help narrow it down, we’ve rounded up some of the best things to do in London at Christmas. Whether you’re all in for a festive afternoon tea or just want a Christmas cocktail beside a bauble-filled tree at one of the capital’s most chic addresses, we’ve got you covered.
Best things to do in London at Christmas
Peek behind The Little Scarlet Door
If you can find The Little Scarlet Door – or get a booking (they accept some walk-ins) – step into a chic Christmas paradise. Styled to look like an apartment, this Soho bar has been given a festive glow-up from the kitchen to the mezzanine bedroom. Pop in for cocktails, Christmas lunch or book a ticket to their epic New Year’s Eve party which is paying homage to Studio 54 this year.
Dine at Dalloway Terrace
A year-round Instagram hit, you’ll likely recognise the flower-clad Dalloway Terrace already. But at Christmas it gets a sprinkling of frost and a wintery upgrade that’s enough to make even the Grinch’s heart sing. This year its festive makeover is an ‘Enchanted Wonderland’. Guests can enjoy a festive afternoon tea and limited-edition nature inspired cocktail menu in partnership with Chase Distillery. For aspiring sleuths there is an additional sweet treat in the form of a hidden menu item that can only be obtained by requesting a ‘Mrs Dalloway’s Secret’.
See the iconic Christmas tree at Claridge’s
One of the absolute best things to do in London at Christmas is pay a visit to Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair. Its iconic Christmas tree, styled by a different designer every year, merits a visit all of its own as it towers above guests in the grand lobby. This year it comes courtesy of Sandra Choi for Jimmy Choo and is meant to give the illusion of stepping inside a diamond. The landmark hotel also hosts a festive afternoon tea, as well as Christmassy lunch or dinner, held in both The Foyer & Reading Room and their elegantly-decorated French Salon and adjoining Drawing Room.
Explore The Nutcracker at One Aldwych
This year, the festive theme at One Aldwych in the heart of Covent Garden’s theatre district is The Nutcracker. Each corner of the hotel has been transformed into a fantasyland celebrating a different character from the original story by E.T.A Hoffmann. There is a Nutcracker Afternoon Tea (from £86pp), while the Royal Opera House close by is showing The Nutcracker ballet until January 14. There are also Film and Fizz nights in their private cinema, festive lunches and the ultimate Christmas package which includes a two night stay for two, festive afternoon tea Christmas Eve, Christmas Day lunch in Indigo restaurant, English breakfast both mornings, a bottle of champagne and festive treats, access to the pool, gym and spa and a late check out on Boxing Day. Book us in!
Carol and shop at Portman Marylebone
Get into the festive spirit – and some serious Christmas shopping – at Portman Marylebone. Enjoy complimentary mulled wine and carols while you shop or dine every Thursday up until December 22. Follow them on Instagram to find out where the roaming choir will be performing between 5 and 7pm. Home to some of the chicest independent shops, restaurants and hotels in the capital, it’s definitely worth making a special trip for and far better than battling the crowds on Oxford Street.
Have a Disco Christmas at 100 Wardour Street
This swanky hangout in the heart of London’s Soho is transforming into an immersive glittery pop up this Christmas. 100 Wardour Street has partnered with Absolut Elyx Vodka to bring you Disco Christmas. Enter through a magical metallic pathway decked out with giant disco balls. Once inside expect very Instagrammable backdrops, disco ball sharing cocktails and big disco tunes from their resident DJs. This one runs all the way through until January 30 so is perfect for beating those post-Christmas blues. Check out their Bottomless Brunch and Saturday Night Fever themed New Year’s Eve bash too.
Visit Christmas at Kew
There are few things more magical than the enchanting Kew Gardens as it’s illuminated by thousands of multi-coloured lights after dark – and it’s always top of our list for best things to do in London at Christmas. Each year, the installations, part-light show and part-artwork, get bigger and more impressive culminating in a dazzling show across the greenhouse and its foreground pond. As well as festive food trucks, there’s an opportunity to pick up last-minute gifts at the shop, toast marshmallows in the woods and catch a pantomime. Be quick as tickets always sell-out super fast for this one.
Mooch around Fortnum & Masons
Speaking of other best things to do in London at Christmas, a visit to the iconic Fortnum & Mason is not to be missed. London’s most iconic luxury store, and a favourite of the royal family, doesn’t take Christmas lightly. In fact, the entire shop (all six floors) and its windows get a thoroughly festive makeover. Whether you intend to buy something or not, meandering around the floors, taking in the decadent decorations, trying the various festive treats and listening to the sounds of wintery ditties in the background is a decidedly Christmassy experience. If it’s good enough for royalty, it’s good enough for us. Don’t know what to get someone as a gift for Christmas? Treat them to a Fortnum & Mason hamper.
Catch a festive flick at Backyard Cinema
Backyard Cinema, the UK’s leading experiential cinema venue, is here to bring you the very best in movie magic and is why it makes it on to our list of best things to do in London at Christmas. Cosy up on giant bean bags and catch a classic film, grab a bite to eat in the big top bar or board the Arctic Express train to the North Pole. The flagship cinema is in Wandsworth, south London, but they also have a venue in Manchester over the festive season.
Marvel at Lightopia festival of light
One of London’s newest and largest light shows is Lightopia in Crystal Palace Park. This winter wonderland of illumination is well worth a visit for its immersive installations which are fun for the whole family. See 3D projections, water shows, lasers, interactive lanterns and follow the magical trail as you head through zones including the Butterfly Field, Magical Animals, Rainbow Road, Interactive Floor and of course, The Christmas Zone. Tickets are from £13 for a child and from £19.50 for adults. The show runs until January 2. There are also venues in Manchester and Alton Towers theme park.
Soak up the views from the Sky Garden
Seeing the city up high is one of the best things to do in London at Christmas and the capital’s highest public garden, Sky Garden, has undergone a festive makeover. Expect a winter Wonderland Bar boasting panoramic views over London’s mass of Christmas lights. Sky Pod, located 35 levels above The City, and City Garden Bar on level 36, have teamed up with Moët & Chandon to create an alpine oasis in the clouds. Expect a schedule of Festive Music nights, along with a New Year’s Eve celebration in the clouds.
Enjoy a dose of nostalgia at Miracle
Miracle bar returns to Covent Garden’s uber-chic Henrietta Hotel this winter and is definitely one of the best things to do in London at Christmas to get you in the festive mood. Styled as a nostalgic, retro family living room complete with as many decorations as they can possibly fit in, sip on festive-themed, novelty cocktails (try a Christmapolitan) and cosy up from the cold outside. If you’re feeling a bit bah humbug, this place will instantly get you in the Christmas spirit!
Go ice skating at Somerset House
What’s a London Christmas without a visit to an ice rink? And the iconic Somerset House is the best the capital has to offer. Skate around the grand neoclassical courtyard on this huge outdoor rink with a 40ft Christmas tree in the middle for maximum festive feels. Book a Skate Late session where tunes will be blasting from a live DJ. Moet & Chandon will be providing the drinks and Hotel Chocolat will be offering a selection of tasty food to feast on. The rink is open until January 15. Their ultimate New Year’s Eve celebration has DJs, ice skating and fireworks. What more could you want.
Pop into London’s most festive pub
Given how many pubs there are in the capital, earning the accolade of its ‘most festive’ is no small feat. The Churchill Arms in Kensington is the perfect place for a pick-me-up after a day’s shopping, with a mix of Thai classics and festive favourites, all washed down with a big glass of mulled wine. But contrary to popular belief, when it comes to this particular pub, it’s what’s on the outside that counts – as the building is completely covered in floating Christmas trees, lights and foliage. Definitely one for the ‘gram.
Book a Christmas afternoon tea
There are many festive afternoon teas in the capital to book this December, so we’ve picked out a few of our favourites for all budgets to inspire you. The Great Scotland Yard Hotel has partnered with Floris, Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite perfumer, to create a multi-sensory experience from £59pp. Have an afternoon tea in the sky at TING Shangri-La on the 35th floor of The Shard from £69pp. For an afternoon tea in one of London’s most beautiful dining rooms head to Sketch in Mayfair from £75pp. While Pan Pacific London hotel takes its inspiration from the Sugar Plum Fairy for its festive afternoon tea from £78pp. Book the Twilight Tea between 6-8pm every Monday for £155 for two including a bottle of Nyetimber Classic Cuvee.
Have Christmas Day dinner at The Dorchester
One of London’s most iconic hotels, there’s nothing quite like walking into The Dorchester – and it’s even more magical at Christmas time. Pop in to see the sparkling lights and magical Christmas trees. There are festive menus, including a five-course Christmas Day Lunch for £350pp with wine pairing. Champagne Afternoon Teas start from £95pp, as does their three-course Boxing Day meal. More hotel highlights include a Winter Rooftop with cosy pods overlooking Hyde Park.
Cosy up on The Mandrake’s Winter Terrace
Visit the secret Jurema Winter Terrace at five-star The Mandrake hotel in Fitzrovia, just a few minutes walk from Oxford Street. Pop in for a winter cocktail or festive-inspired bite from their newly opened YOPO restaurant. This unique open-air bar, surrounded by a hanging garden of jasmine and passionflower, has been transformed into an alfresco wonderland complete with fairy lights and fur blankets. There are even outdoor heated cabins to snuggle up in.
See one of London’s tallest Christmas trees
The magical Winter Garden at The Landmark hotel is home to one of London’s largest Christmas trees. Pop in for a drink to see it in all its glory soaring eight storeys high in the glass atrium. There is also a cosy Garden Terrace and intimate Mirror Bar and their Festive High Tea, served in the Winter Garden, starts from £78pp.
Have cocktails with a view on the South Bank
This winter 12th Knot rooftop bar at the Sea Containers hotel on South Bank has teamed up with Icelandic vodka brand Reyka to launch a Fire & Ice Winter Terrace. The space, which enjoys stunning views over St Paul’s and the River Thames, has been transformed to echo the icy blue frozen landscapes of Iceland against the fiery tones of its volcanic explosions. Soak up those views with vodka cocktails in hand as you snuggle up in a sheepskin blanket.
Book a Sleeping Beauty Experience at The Goring
If you like to go all out at Christmas, there is no better way to do it than with a stay at royally-approved hotel The Goring, where Kate Middleton famously stayed the night before her wedding to Prince William. This year, the hotel are offering a luxurious Sleeping Beauty Experience starting from £1, 864. This includes an overnight stay for two, champagne afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason, two tickets to see Sleeping Beauty at Sadler’s Well with chauffeur service, a Sleeping Beauty hamper curated by Fortnum & Mason and a Sleeping Beauty nightcap cocktail followed by breakfast and martinis at 45 Jermyn St. Runs until January 15.
Marvel at Christmas at Kenwood
Christmas light trails have become somewhat of a trend over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why. They’re uplifting, festive and allow you a rare insight into some of the capital’s most gorgeous gardens after dark. Which is why we’d suggest booking Christmas at Kenwood ASAP. Perched on the edge of Hampstead Heath, the tranquil landscaped gardens will become home to an illuminated trail that invites you to see the historical landscape in a new light, as you step into a dazzling winter wonderland. Hot chocolates optional, but highly recommended. Runs until Jan 1.
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