It is that time of year again. Even the most reluctant revellers out there have to now accept that Christmas truly is closing in. It is December, after all, and pretty soon schools will be on holiday, shops will be running out of stock and the least prepared among us will be frantically racing around for a Christmas turkey.
Christmas activities in London are, of course, about eating, drinking, giving and receiving; but that is not all. One of the most important elements of this festive period is family and friends. There are few places on earth, if any, better than London for celebrating what is the festive favourite of many.
This article will let you know all about the best cosy hideouts for a soul-nurturing mulled wine, the top places to buy perfect presents, some great and unique gift ideas, fantastic winter activities for both families and friends, and everything else you need to unearth the finest Christmas activities in London.
Great Christmas Shopping Locations and Unique Gift Ideas
What is it they say? It’s not how you shop, it’s where you shop. Well, I may have just made that up and it’s not exactly true, but it does certainly help to know some top spots for Christmas shopping. Remember, it doesn’t matter if the shops are out of your price range, Christmas shopping is not only about consuming, but partaking in the fun also.
Established back in 1993 in Fulham, Oliver Bonas came about as a result of Olly himself bringing back gifts for friends and family from overseas. Over the last two decades, the shop has grown incredibly, with 40 shops spread throughout the UK, as well as the online store.
The shop sells a range of different products in women’s clothing, jewellery and accessories, as well as furniture and home goods. There are also a few more unusual products, in line with the initial founding of the store.
Many products are now made in house, such as ‘poem’ a women’s clothing range, as well as some rather luxurious velvet upholstered furniture. In this respect, Oliver Bonas is a great place to pick up something unique for the one you love at Christmas. Whether it is something for her to wear, or something for the home, there are truly some great choices available.
Fortnum & Mason
With its main store located at 181 Piccadilly, Fortnum’s – as it is commonly called – was established over 300 years ago (in 1707). Initially developed as a grocery store, famed for supplying quality food, it has now opened further sections, such as its Gentleman’s department and renowned tea shop. Quality still remains a key component of everything they produce.
In addition to their usual quality gift items, they also host a fantastic Christmas section. Here you are able to buy anything from special Christmas hampers to decorations and crackers. There are also plenty of great Christmas food and drinks options. Whether you have the budget for Fortnum’s or not, popping in for a visit should certainly make up part of your Christmas shopping experience.
One New Change
Located on the New Change Road between Cheapside and Canon Street, One New Change is a huge office and retail development in the heart of London’s historic and financial centre. Although often crowded in the run up to Christmas, a few hours in One New Change and you can begin making serious inroads into that gift list.
The retail complex boasts 60 shops and restaurants – including Gordon Ramsey’s Bread Street Kitchen – and you are sure to pick up some great gifts to put a big grin on the face of your loved ones.
Especially if you are shopping with the kids in tow, you can’t go wrong with a bit of Hamleys magic. Christmas is, after all, predominantly about children and, on top of that, most of us adults would also have to confess to being slightly excited by the prospect of a visit to the world’s oldest toy shop at Christmas.
Located on Regent’s Street – one of the major shopping areas of the capital – Hamleys never does anything by halves and it will certainly be getting into the Christmas spirit. Indeed, your children can even be transported to a magical Christmas world through their special ‘I Met Santa Claus at Hamleys’ event.
Best Places to Warm Up With Mulled Wine
What better way to get into the festive spirit than to warm your hands around a glass of mulled wine? With a scent of cinnamon and cloves drifting from the caskets, who can resist a glass to help warm your insides in the chilly temperatures outside? There are a number of venues around London you can visit to drink your favourite Christmas tipple, but here are our favourites.
The Mayflower, Rotherhithe
The Mayflower in Rotherhithe is the perfect old pub to visit in the south east of London to enjoy a mug of mulled wine or cider. There is an outside decked area overlooking the water, with views along the river. Inside there are plenty of nooks and crannies in the wooden interior to find a comfortable corner to cosy up in. With stuffed deer heads, old paintings and candles for interior decor, this pub presents the genuine old world feeling that London pubs are famous for.
The staff are friendly and helpful, making it a popular choice for those in the know, and the menu has a range of delicious dishes at a reasonable price if you’re feeling peckish.
Chad’s Place, Kings Cross
With the King’s Cross 67 acre redevelopment, a cultural revolution is underway for the once downtrodden district. It is fast becoming the trendiest social hub in London, with the opening of new hotels, shops, sports facilities and restaurants. But Chad’s Place has long been ahead of the curve, having opened to glowing reviews in 2003.
This restaurant and bar, set in a cavernous Victorian warehouse, is tucked away on a quiet side street. Popular with Kings Cross locals, this light and airy venue hosts monthly DJ events. After exploring all the newly developed area has to offer, Chad’s Place is a unique and interesting space to sit and enjoy their original recipe mulled wine.
Southbank Christmas Market
The Christmas Market on Southbank beneath the London Eye on Queen’s Walk is an authentic German Christmas market. With 80 stallholders from around the globe in wooden chalet-style stalls, this authentic German Christmas market is a wonderful way to do the Christmas shopping, get in the festive spirit and enjoy some of the finest Christmas food and drink.
Whether you are after traditional wooden toys or roasted nuts, everything you can imagine can be found in this shopper’s treasure trove. Amble through the crowds at this outdoor market and finish off the afternoon with the most festive of Christmas drinks, Glühwein (German mulled wine).
The market stretches from the London Eye to Waterloo Bridge and is open until 24 December at 11am until 9pm Mondays to Friday, 10am – 10pm Saturdays and 10am – 9pm Sundays.
Covent Garden Market
Covent Garden Market is the preferred Christmas shopping location of traditional Londoners. Come rain or snow, your shopping need not be interrupted by inclement weather beneath the covered market, which is a veritable wonderland in the run up to Christmas. Boutique shops make up the exterior of the market building, while stalls selling a range of goods ideal for Christmas gifts are set up under the cover.
Street performers draw large crowds outside the building and as the Royal Ballet building overlooks the market square you might hear the strains of the Nutcracker Suite drift out across the square as you sit and enjoy a glass of warm mulled wine under the cosy cover of Covent Garden Market.
Wonderful Wintery Activities
Christmas isn’t just about buying presents. There are some excellent wintery activities on offer across the capital that will provide an enchanting evening’s entertainment for you and your family or friends. From traditional Christmas carol concerts in spectacular historic venues to ice skating in the shadow of some of our greatest educational institutions, nothing rivals London at Christmas. Here are some of our hot tips for the ultimate winter wonderland activities.
Winter Wonderland Adventure Park
For a truly magical central London Christmas experience look no further than Hyde Park, host to the annual Winter Wonderland. Now in its 22nd year, the Winter Wonderland is the jewel in the crown of London’s bustling Christmas activities.
Complete with a helter skelter, big wheel, Father Christmas grotto, outdoor ice skating rink, magical ice kingdom, Zippo’s acrobatic Christmas circus tent, merry-go-round and many other fun fair rides, there are a thousand sights to wonder and amaze you as you soak up the seasonal spirit. Purchase unique gifts from the Christmas market or simply sample the delicious food and drinks on offer.
Open until 5 January, this is a Winter Wonderland that will appeal to adults and children alike.
Natural History Museum Ice Skating
Ice skating is a wonderful way to enjoy the festive spirit. Whether you can glide around on the ice like Torville and Dean, or just about make it round the circuit once by holding on to the side, the experience promises to be spellbinding beneath the Christmas lights and gothic gargoyles of the Natural History Museum.
South Kensington puts on a marvellous winter wonderland ice skating experience in this exceptional location, and with Harrods and the Kings Road just around the corner, it makes for the perfect end for a day of shopping. If you want to sit back and let the kids enjoy it there is a café bar you can warm yourself in or fairground carousel.
Somerset House Ice Skating
Somerset House Ice Rink is fast becoming an institution of the Christmas calendar. One of the most exclusive venues to enjoy skating, this rink has a host of additional events, like club nights with the rink transforming into an icy club dance floor to the beats of a host of exclusive DJs, and Glad Tidings Tuesdays. The spirit of Christmas is embodied by a late night shopping in the Christmas Arcade, which features a pop-up mall of British brands and independent artisans. The rink is set up within the impressive grounds of Somerset House on the Strand.
Skate at Somerset House opens in mid November each year and is open until 5 January.
Westfield London’s 5D Christmas Grotto
West London’s gargantuan shopping destination offers a Christmas Grotto with a twist: a 5D Christmas experience. Follow Elbow the Elf on his journey to help save Christmas with special wind, light and elf dust effects. The grotto animation features personalised content, and is sure to delight your children with a high tech adventure, with each child seeing themselves feature as an important part of the story.
After you’ve exhausted the high street shops on offer, delight your children with this 5D animated film that features personalisation, with your child’s name and picture featuring in it.
Advanced booking to the 5D grotto is strongly recommended.
Best Places for a Mouth Watering Early Christmas Roast
No meal better defines Christmas than the traditional Sunday roast. But why wait until Christmas? There are a host of excellent gastro pubs that offer mouth watering Christmas roasts throughout December. Here are our crop of the finest on offer.
Butler’s Wharf Chop House
Butler’s Wharf is a beautiful enclave on the Thames and the perfect place to enjoy a cosy roast dinner with family or friends. Designed by Terrance Conran in 1992, Butler’s Wharf Chop House specialises in serving traditional, simple and honest fare. With exceptional views over the river towards Tower Bridge, this restaurant is the perfect venue to enjoy a Christmas roast.
Currently under the expert eye of head chef Andrew Holmes, Butler’s Wharf Chop House extols the virtues of simple cooking techniques and seasonal ingredients. The riverside terrace provides the perfect venue to dine and take in the magnificent lights and views along the Thames at Christmas.
Set in Bethnal Green’s Wadeson Street, Bistrotheque is an example of East London’s finest French dining. Set in a clean bright urban space, this reasonably priced restaurant is also a trendy bar and cabaret. It has a grand piano in the centre of the restaurant and utilitarian interior design with sparse unpretentious and industrial light bulbs suspended from the ceiling.
This discreet restaurant is another retreat for locals in the know, with no outside signage. This sophisticated location is frequently hailed as serving one of the finest Sunday roasts in all of east London, so what it has up its sleeve for its Christmas roast promises not to disappoint.
L’etranger on Gloucester Road, Kensington in west London, offers a Christmas lunch that will delight the most sophisticated of palates. Its Christmas roast three-course menu, set at just £29.50, offers delicious main courses such as Miso aubergine with ponzu and aubergine caviar, pan-fried Irish salmon, Miso-glazed roast Turkey, Caramelised Alaskan black cod or Confit lamb shoulder. Its exceptional wine list won’t disappoint either.
The restaurant has minimal decor, with sharp crisp lines in lilacs and grey. This upmarket venue will be an education for your palate with its French and Asian fusion-led much lauded menu.