***Updated for 2017***
The setting for A Christmas Carol, original home to Christmas crackers, and the place where Christmas cards were first debuted – there’s no wonder London is a superbly celebratory city come December. You’ll find a huge range of festive entertainment, performances, and distinctly British advent traditions in the capital – from seasonal ballets to carol singing in Westminster Abbey. For those planning a London Christmas this year, here are 10 essentials bound to delight visitors young and old.
Father Christmas at Hamleys
While it’s best known for its teddy bears, beloved Hamleys, the world’s oldest toy store, has as many modern gadgets as it does traditional games. After browsing the shelves across the store’s seven floors, children can whisper their greatest wishes in Father Christmas’s ear: he’ll be in town on select dates between 25th November and 24th December, with games and treats alongside.
At the end of the year, a number of open-air ice rinks magically materialise across the capital – many of them in view of London’s most beautiful landmarks. Two of the best bets are the ice rink at Somerset House, held from 15th November 2017 to 14th January 2018, as well as the rink at the Natural History Museum, open this season from 28th October to 7th January. Both are stunning backdrops for an active London Christmas.
The Nutcracker at the English National Ballet
It isn’t really Christmas in London until you’ve heard the tinkling strains of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Whether you’re a connoisseur of the balletic arts or simply want to witness the Nutcracker battle the Mouse King, the English National Ballet will perform a highly anticipated (and étoile-studded) production this season, from 13th December to 6th January.
Where else in London can you find a Christmas circus, life-sized ice sculptures, a Christmas market, open-air ice rink, and carnival rides – all in the same place? Winter Wonderland is a London favourite for a reason, and the long-running event will return to its place in Hyde Park from 17th November to 1st January once more. For something further out of town – and even more picturesque – you can also venture to Lapland UK, which sees Berkshire dress up like it’s the North Pole.
Need to get some shopping done yet? For those arriving to celebrate a London Christmas but in search of a few final gifts, the city’s top department stores make for perfectly festive browsing. Selfridges has, this year, decorated its windows with both familiar and unfamiliar characters, along with a festive parade and a giant glittery robin, while its staff of “Elfridges“ are there to help handle all manner of shopping needs. Harrods, meanwhile, will host its annual Christmas Grotto, where Father Christmas can be found in his very own winter cabin.
To experience a traditional London Christmas head to the city’s historic churches. Under its famous dome, lovely St. Paul’s hosts an annual Family Carols Service, which this year will be held on 16th December. The quintessential London experience is furthered by a trip to Westminster Abbey, which also holds an enormously popular annual Christmas concert; this year, the Choir of Westminster Abbey will perform a selection of choral works on 14th December.
Meet Santa at London Zoo
Traditionally, Santa is flanked by a small posse of elves – maybe a reindeer or two. But sign up to meet Santa at the London Zoo, and you can bet that there will be some pretty exotic critters present for the proceedings. From 9th December to 24th December, little ones are invited to the grotto, where they’ll confess their Christmas wishes before learning about all creatures great and small.
Storytelling at Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum & Mason isn’t just a Queen-approved place to pick up canisters of fine tea to gift to friends and relatives back home. While retail therapy is certainly on offer, during the advent it also hosts special Christmas storytelling sessions. By a cosy fireplace, and surrounded by festively decorated Christmas trees, Father Christmas will entertain young attendees with special seasonal tales.
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