Christmas in London like a “local”

By Nadia Read

It’s already December 8 – gulp. Thanksgiving is a distant memory and Christmas is, literally, just around the corner.  (15 days and 20 hours, according to my children and the Norad Santa tracker.) Well, let’s be honest, pubs in London have had their “Book your Christmas party” leaflets out since August when we were all still enjoying Pimms al fresco, so it shouldn’t be a complete surprise.

This will be my 3rd Christmas in London, and every year gets even more magical with new outings and traditions. If this is your first Christmas in London, make sure to add some of my favourites to your list:


  • “Panto” – Going to the Panto was not at all in my calendar 3 years ago, but is a staple in the UK Christmas season. Musical comedy and family laughter, every pantomime incorporates the requisite slapstick, double entendre, drag, and of course a celebrity or two. Generally running through the beginning of January, you are not too late to pick up tickets and enjoy a belly laugh with your entire family.
  • Christmas in Kew – take in the magical lights after dark and stroll through lit paths while sipping mulled wine and watching the amazement of wide-eyed children. Similarly, Syon Park features its Enchanted Woodland and many of the National Trust properties have fabulous events over the holidays for a day out of London. (Don’t forget a poke around the gift shops at Kew and the National Trust properties.)
  • Ice skating – one of my daughters broke her wrist ice skating at Somerset House last year, ouch, so skating is not on our family bucket list this year. (However…..I’m still thinking about a date night at Somerset House for one of their Club Nights – DJ, skating and the Fortnum’s Lodge for bubbly anyone?) Time Out offers a great round up of all the outdoor skating rinks.
    Natural History Museum Ice Rink
  • Christmas movies – What are your favorites? Between holiday parties and school nativities, we always find time to snuggle in for Christmas movies. I’ve also planned a girls night IN next week to take a breather and enjoy some downtime with friends, wine, Love Actually and The Holiday. (Husbands relegated to the pub!) If you are headed out to the cinema, check out Pop Up Screens and holiday screenings at one of the Firmdale Hotels for something a little different.
  • Christmas lights – London has virtually been glowing for weeks now that all the Christmas light “switching on” ceremonies start as early as November 1. Stroll along Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street, Carnaby Street, Duke of York Square, Covent Garden, Marylebone High Street to take in the festive sparkle. For a happy hour treat, book a table and sip cocktails with a view over lit up London: City Social in Tower 42, Radio Rooftop Bar at ME London, Oblix or Gong in The Shard, Sky Bar in the Millbank Tower, SUSHISAMBA at 110 Bishopsgate or the new-ish Sky Garden.
  • Food glorious food – Christmas means delicious food and lots of it. Borough Market has extended Christmas hours as of December 9 and plenty of entertainment, goodies and libations to satisfy any cravings you may have. Go for lunch, take the kids on the weekend, or do some early morning food shopping among proper chefs for your next dinner party. Heavenly….
  • Hotel décorOne of the best spots to see Christmas décor at its finest is in the top hotels of London. For some modern bling during the day, book afternoon tea and nip in to see Claridge’s 2015 Christmas tree designed by Burberry’s talented Christopher Bailey. (I wonder how many gold and silver umbrellas form the tree?)  Before enjoying drinks in the Punch Room or dinner in the posh Berner’s Tavern at Ian Schrager’s fashionable London Edition Hotel marvel at the 20-ft Christmas tree designed by Mark Colle. Individual flowers, ivy, and moss make up the tree designed in Belgium by Raf Simons’ go-to floral designer. (Remember the magical floral rooms in the film Dior and I? That was Mark Colle.)
    Petersham Nurseries
    Petersham Nurseries
  • Shopping – I could go on and on here. Deep breath. I have one friend who annually books an entire Christmas shopping day with a girlfriend and they never leave Selfridges. Others are devotees of Harrods, Liberty, Harvey Nicks and of course Hamleys for the children on your list. There are High Street fans and those who shop only online or from the convenient Argos catalogue. (A sidenote for those of you new to London, make sure you get introduced to the concept of Argos. Now. For Christmas, for your small appliances, for anything you may need in a hurry when settling into your new home.) My favourite destinations for Christmas decorations and houseware gifts include the magical oasis of Petersham Nurseries (my mother-in-law has renamed the shop and café “heaven”), the V&A shop (and really most of the museum shops), Summerhill and Bishop in Notting Hill, Liberty especially for gorgeous Christmas crackers, Fortnum and Mason, the Conran Shop, and Heals. My daughters could spend hours perusing the paper goodies at Paperchase (also fun for tree decorations), as well as picking up homemade crafts and goodies at school Christmas fairs and local markets. Timeout publishes a handy guide to all the best Christmas markets in town.


Covent Garden in Xmas decor
Covent Garden in Christmas decor

For those of you traveling “home” this Christmas, don’t forget to bring back a taste of London.
Everyday biscuits and sweets are a novel treat for the little ones at home, while foodie and tea gifts from Fortnum and Mason, Selfridges, and Harrods will make jaws drop.
And if you’re short on time, Heathrow is your friend– Harrods, John Lewis, Carluccio’s, M&S and of course Duty Free for those truly last minute food gifts. (I’m heading to Berlin this week and will be checking out the very glam looking holiday gift wrapping services at LHR in partnership with top illustrators including Clym Evernden and Fifi Lapin – will report back!)

In my family, we have a mix of German, American and Canadian backgrounds. We combine favourite Christmas customs to create our own family traditions.
Now that we are in the UK, we have added a few local customs to our mix. Christmas crackers are a new addition to our dinner table (along with the paper crowns in family photos!), and our Christmas morning walk along the Thames with a cheeky drink (or two) has become a family favourite. Hmmmm……how will you spend your Christmas this year?


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