If you can’t wait to get in the festive spirit this year, London has a whole range of activities to help spread a little seasonal cheer. The city goes all out when it comes to decorations and family fun in the lead-up to Christmas. Whether you want to take a drive to London for the weekend or you’re looking for a festive day trip near the capital, check out some of these events.
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Every year, central London is illuminated with pretty Christmas lights. Get ready to be dazzled by the impressive festive decorations that will be strung up from the grand buildings in London’s central shopping areas. Previous themes have included ‘Meet me under the mistletoe’ on Oxford Street and Carnaby Street’s collaboration with the Rolling Stones for a rock’n’roll Christmas in 2013.
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Why not time your visit to coincide with the switching on ceremonies? Catch special guests turning on the lights and performing to the gathered crowd. The Regent Street lights will be ignited on the 17th of November. This year’s display will give you a glimpse into the past as it’s based on the street’s first ever Christmas lights which adorned the area in 1954.
While you’re in town to admire the lights, don’t forget to take a glance at the window displays too. London’s most luxurious department stores really get into the holiday mood when they unveil their winter window displays. Head to Selfridges for fantastic scenes that will capture your imagination. Last year’s stunning display was based on the signs of the zodiac and the 2014 windows depicted enchanting fairy tale scenes.
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Check out the elegant Harrods windows and pop into the Christmas Grotto while you’re there. Or pass by the window displays of the historic timber frame Tudor building that’s been home to Liberty’s since 1875. Kids are sure to enjoy a trip to Hamleys, the quintessential British toy store. And after you’ve admired the stories weaved through the window displays, it’s a good chance to step inside and get a bit of Christmas shopping done too.
Open-Air Ice Skating
Magical outdoor ice rinks pop up in the most picturesque of locations throughout December. There are lots to choose from, blending iconic landmarks with twinkling lights and towering Christmas trees. Whether you’re a complete beginner or able to whizz and twirl around the rink with ease, all levels are welcome.
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Wrap yourself in warm layers and head to the Tower of London to skate around the moat with the historic fortress providing a spectacular backdrop. The 18th century courtyard of Somerset House is a magnificent setting for a spin around the 900-metre Skate ice rink. There’s also a Fortnum & Mason bar and café, as well as DJs on some evenings.
Hop across the river to the Eyeskate where you can slip on some skates under the gaze of the illuminated London Eye. Combine it with a spin around the big wheel for fabulous views of the famous skyline. Or venture a little further out of the city to the 16th century Hampton Court Palace for a regal skating experience in front of the grand building and gardens.
Not just for finding the perfect gifts, Christmas markets are as much about the festive atmosphere and fantastic food stalls as they are about the shopping. From traditional wooden market stalls selling homemade mince pies to lively fairground rides, there’s a Christmas market to suit all tastes.
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The Tate Modern’s Christmas market is sprawled out on the banks of the Thames. Wooden chalets offer handicrafts and locally sourced gift items as well as a delicious selection of street food and a carousel. Entertainment is in the form of live music and film screenings accompany the chalet-style stalls at the London Bridge City Christmas Market.
For the ultimate Christmas market extravaganza, make your way to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. A huge selection of market stalls are teamed with live performances, two circuses, the UK’s largest outdoor ice rink and lots of fairground rides.
See A Show
Whether it’s a classic Christmas panto, a smash hit musical in the West End or a festive trip to the ballet, the holiday season is the perfect time to treat yourself to a show.
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See a Christmas pantomime return to the London Palladium after 30 years, in a family-friendly version of the Cinderella story starring a few famous faces. Or check out Potted Panto which interweaves seven pantomimes into one at the West End’s Garrick Theatre.
Witness an elegant winter wonderland as The Royal Ballet performs The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House. Watch the stage adaption of the animated festive favourite The Snowman at Sadler’s Wells. Or for something a little different, try La Soirée at Christmas in Leicester Square for cabaret and circus acts with a quirky twist.
You’ll find seasonal sounds to get you into the festive mood with carol singing performances in grand settings. You can catch a variety of carol performances at Westminster Abbey, with choirs singing right up until Christmas Eve. With more than 1,000 years of history within its walls, the high arches and stained glass windows are a dramatic backdrop to the angelic voices. There are also some carol concerts held at the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral.
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The Christmas Festival at the Royal Albert Hall offers a full schedule of festive cheer in musical form. This includes a 500-person choir singing Handel, Carols by Candlelight and a sing-a-long session.
Go Reindeer Spotting
You don’t have to go all the way to Lapland to seek out Santa’s reindeer. Richmond is not only a beautiful suburb of London, with its riverside restaurants and green leafy park, but it’s also home to herds of reindeer.
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Richmond Park is a National Nature Reserve with hundreds of Fallow and Red deer roaming its grassy grounds since 1529. Ancient oak trees and a rich array of birdlife can be found here too.
You can take a little bit of Christmas home with you as Christmas trees are available to buy throughout December with a percentage of the proceeds go to the Royal Parks. You can pick up some lights and tree trimmings while you’re there too.
If you’re not going to the Alps this December, then a trip to Milton Keynes is almost as good. Slalom down the artificial powdery slopes at Snozone. Or practice your snowboarding skills with a range of classes and facilities available. Sledging, tubing and family snow play sessions are also on the agenda.
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Then there’s The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, which offers private and group skiing lessons for all ages. You can tuck into a Christmas dinner at the restaurant and take part in other festive events such as sledging sessions in the simulated snow.
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