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 Kenwood House to festive flicks at Backyard Cinema and Selfridges Christmas Market on the Mews, 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 wreath making, 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.
Enjoy Immersive Nutcracker Dining at Brown’s Hotel
Don’t just watch a Christmas show, take part in one, with an enchanting evening at Brown’s Hotel. Step back in time to Edwardian London where an immersive adventure alongside actors, magicians and ballet dancers awaits, accompanied by a live string quartet. The £98 ticket price includes the performance, plus a delicious three-course feast designed by Michelin-starred chef Adam Byatt to the sounds of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. Festive dishes include Gingerbread Crème Brulée. But be quick as there are only three chances to catch this unique festive experience, which is suitable for both adults and children. This exclusive show is on November 28 and December 5 and 19. Sittings are between 5-7pm and 8-10pm. It’s one not to be missed!
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. 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.
Dine at Dalloway Terrace
A year-round Instagram hit, it’s likely you’ll 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. Though the restaurant, named after Virginia Woolf’s best-known character, has yet to reveal its festive makeover this year, expect oversized foliage, twinkling lights and lots of tastefully-draped materials. As for their menu, fill your boots with a vast array of indulgent dishes, from vodka-cured gravlax to good old fish and chips. Whether you’re after breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea, dinner, dessert or drinks, you’re in for a real treat.
See the iconic Christmas tree at Claridge’s
If you ask the Mayfair crowd, they’ll all tell you that the place to see and be seen during the festive season is Claridge’s, and its iconic Christmas tree – which is styled by a different designer every year – merits a visit all on its own as it towers above guests in the grand lobby. The landmark 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. This is Christmas just as it should be: elegant, indulgent – and totally effortless. They’ve also got their own Christmas shop if you fancy really spoiling your nearest and dearest this year.
Live it up at Fortnum & Masons
Perhaps London’s most iconic luxury store, and a favourite of the Queen herself, Fortnum & Mason doesn’t take Christmas lightly – in fact, the entire shop (all six floors) 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 all the very best in movie magic this Christmas at two London locations. Catch The Winter Night Garden and The Snow Kingdom at flagship venue Capital Studios in Wandsworth. Or take a trip to east London’s iconic Troxy – London’s original Art Deco cinema – for a Christmas Movie Spectacular featuring a live choir and original story narrated by George The Poet. Audiences will delight in a festive double bill of live music and performance, followed by their favourite classic Christmas movie. As usual, expect plenty of Backyard Cinema-esque surprises, winter magic, giant Christmas trees, twinkling lights, snow, mince pies and mulled wine.
Treat your friends to a Mother Supper Christmas Brunch
If you’re after a really special, intimate festive brunch for you and your friends but are struggling to get a table somewhere, why not host one of your own with Mother Supper. The process couldn’t be easier: pick your guests, your menu and let the Mother Supper team come and set up the table (including all tableware, glassware, cutlery, linen and floral arrangements) and sort the food, leaving you to be the Christmas hostess with the mostess. We particularly love the sound of the fluffy American Pancakes, Cinnamon & Walnut Whirls (hello, cream cheese frosting) and Shakshuka. Prices start from £35pp with a minimum of 4 guests per booking.
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.
Wreath making at Page 8 Hotel
This November, Page8 is partnering with The Real Flower Company to host a wreath making workshop. The chic hotel sits opposite the famed National Portrait Gallery and is just a short walk from the bustling shops and restaurants of Covent Garden and Soho. Guests can immerse themselves in the festive buzz of Trafalgar Square and get into the Christmas spirit with twinkling lights adorning the hotel façade. Festive refreshments and seasonal bites will be available throughout the course of the workshop, provided by Page Common, the hotel’s artesian café. Sessions take place on November 28 and 30 and December 7 and 9 and cost £90pp.
Soak up winter 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, with a schedule of sing-along live music and dance-worthy DJ nights running every Monday to Saturday evening. Boasting frosted-wreath archways, fir tree foliage, twinkling lights, metallic pinecone and branch garlands and glittering bell jar lanterns; the ski chalet style pop-up is taking Instagram worthy moments to new heights.
Enjoy a dose of nostalgia at Miracle Bar
Opening for its fifth year in Covent Garden’s uber-chic Henrietta Hotel, this festive pop-up is a brilliant example of how to nail kitsch, and is one of the most festive things to do in London at Christmas. 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 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!
Sip Christmas Cocktails at The Drunken Butler
The Drunken Butler restaurant in Clerkenwell feels like joining a friend, a very chic friend, for a drink in their eclectic living room. And now it’s been given a festive twist, as the restaurant, which offers French and Persian inspired blind tasting menus, have launched what they are hailing as the oldest Negroni in London, made with vintage gins, vermouths and bitters that are up to 70-years-old. Chef Yuma Hashemi offers three different vintages, 1980 for £35, 1970 for £45 and 1950 for £58, allowing guests to take a trip back in time from the comfort of the bar. Sounds like our kind of evening.
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, in our opinion. Skate around the grand neoclassical courtyard on this huge, 900-square-metre outdoor rink, with a 40ft Christmas tree in the middle for maximum festive feels. This year, you can also book Late Night Skates, 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.
Visit Selfridges Christmas Market on the Mews
Everything Selfridges try their hand out is sure to be good, and this year that includes their Christmas Market on the Mews. Only the second market from the iconic department store, this year it promises to be bigger and better than ever before, with an impressive Helter Skelter, performances from Santa and his friends, and the capital’s greatest street food market, to name just a few. This year, it is taking up the whole of Edwards Mews, making the perfect way to while away a wintry afternoon or evening.
Join a candlelight gig at the Round Chapel
Anything by candlelight gets our vote, particularly when it takes place at a venue as beautiful and atmospheric as the Round Chapel in Hackney, the scene of secret gigs from the likes of Coldplay over the years. For two nights only this December (16 and 17), the Grade II listed circular chapel will host a candlelit concert, with the list of names playing only revealed on the evening. Food and drink will be on offer, as will plenty of festive cheer. We wonder who is playing…
Get Festive at The Churchill Arms
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.
Step back in time at A Gatsby Christmas
The roaring twenties were an era of bootleg liquor, jazz, hedonistic pleasures, and, of course, Jay Gatsby. And this year, the infamous party man has invited you to one of his parties – surely the hottest ticket in town? Immerse yourself in one of the greatest stories of the 20th Century as you step back in time into a heart-racing immersive adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal jazz-age novel which puts you in the centre of the action, inside a beautiful, heritage listed, 1920’s Art Deco ballroom. A Gatsby Christmas is the perfect activity for anyone bored of the classic Christmas market or who is just looking for something a little different this year.
Festive Afternoon Tea 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, magical Christmas tree and enjoy a Festive Champagne Afternoon Tea at The Promenade (from £85pp). A Christmas Carols Afternoon Tea is also available (from £95pp). Other hotel highlights include a hidden festive cinema snug and winter cocktails at The Bar at The Dorchester. Try a Naughty or Nice or Snowflake Negroni.
See A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic
Upgrade an evening in with a Christmas movie and head to The Old Vic instead for a live performance of A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens’ classic is back on the stage, adapted by Jack Thorne, and is set to fill the theatre with music and merriment, with Green Wing’s Stephen Mangan playing Scrooge himself. We defy you not to sing along!
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, they’re festive and they 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.
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