When Antler thinks of Christmas in London, it’s usually a Dickensian sort of scene that pops into our head. Streets covered in a blanket of thick, white snow; sleigh bells quietly tinkling in the distance, and the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But let’s be honest, London at Christmas isn’t really like that anymore!
But we’re still suckers for a bit of “Mingle and Jingle” at Christmas, so we thought we’d share with you, as long-time locals to our capital city, our favourite things to do in London over the festive fortnight – from the week before Christmas, all the way through to the New Year.
When Antler was a kid, we always went on a shopping trip “up west” to see the Christmas lights. Nowadays, it’s more of a commercial event with key locations being sponsored by a Disney film or something similar. This doesn’t stop us loving them, though! Our favourites this year are:
- on Carnaby Street, as a tribute to Freddie Mercury to celebrate the release of the Queen singer’s movie biopic. Yes, they’re a commercial venture, but they’re incredibly cool, still very festive, and who doesn’t love a bit of Freddie?
- at Kew Gardens, where once again the venue gets another seasonal makeover. Illuminations are installed in a mile-long trail that light up the historic buildings and surrounding botanical gardens. New this year is the Laser Garden; hidden in the accompanying woods and lit by moonlight, with a flotilla of bobbing and glowing boats on the lake;
- at The Churchill Arms, a well-known pub in Kensington, whose team makes so much effort to deck their halls and go ‘all out’ with their decorations that it’s become an annual pilgrimage for many Londoners and out-of-towners!
London Shop Windows
Courtesy of Selfridges
No trip to the West End of London would be complete without a visit to some of the best stores in town to see their Christmas windows. Every year, the top department stores put out all the stops to create artistic, vibrant and visually stunning content to entice customers into the doors. Every theme is different and provides the stores with themes that run across all elements of their pre-Christmas preparations.
Antler’s favourites this year include:
- Hamleys, on Regent Street: probably the most famous toy store in the world, and certainly the oldest having been on the Regent Street site since 1881. It’s become a British retail institution and is most definitely the destination of choice to make sure all those tiny believers receive their dream gift. This year, they’ve given us “Something to Remember”, with each window giving a different scene that mirrors the holiday season in London, including a snowy Christmas market and a festive fairground;
- Selfridges, on Oxford Street – inspired this year by some of the world’s great Rock’n’Roll stars, Selfridges has declared that it rocks Christmas, and rolled out everything to help you grab your inner rock god, including a rockin’ Santa!
- Liberty, on Great Marlborough Street – another iconic building in the heart of the West End, Liberty London offers up “The Liberty Christmas”, creating an enchanted world with exotic creatures in a magical woodland setting. The animals run throughout the store and have been re-imagined in a series of Christmas prints, whilst up-and-coming poet, Gabrielle Djanogly, has written a special poem describing how the magical animals come alive at night and help in the Christmas preparations – the mischievous ones hinder it, of course!
The Skating Rinks
Ice rinks appear like magic all over London during the festive fortnight, and if you’re prepared to bear the chill and possible pain when you fall delicately like a snowflake (naturally…), then it’s a fantastically fun way to experience the delights of the Season.
Some of the best in show are:
- at Somerset House on The Strand – this historic venue has been at the forefront of art, fashion and the current zeitgeist since its inception in the 1770’s, so it’s apt that this year, it’s being taken over by The Spectacular Empire – artist and writer Gaika’s new record label – for “Iced Out When it’s Nice Out”, so you’ll get the chance to skate along to some top tracks amidst the beautiful surroundings;
- in the grounds of the National History Museum in Kensington, with the iconic building as the backdrop – grab a hot chocolate at the Museum café and listen to some of the local music artists perform around the rink;
- at the Tower of London by the Thames: a visit to this medieval location in the evening will find the walls illuminated by thousands of snowflake lights. There’s even the chance to grab a mulled wine at the nearby café;
- on the roof at the Skylight at the Tobacco Docks in East London. This is Europe’s only rooftop rink, with amazing views and stellar cocktails to boot.
If you want to keep your Christmas as traditional as possible, we’d recommend a couple of little extras that’ll sprinkle an additional layer of fairy dust on your celebrations.
Go to a Pantomime – Oh, yes you will!
A Christmas tradition that’s unique to the UK, Pantomimes stem back to Victorian times like so many English seasonal celebrations and are a fun and easy way to fill up on the Christmas spirit. A simple story like Cinderella or Puss in Boots is interpreted in a comical way with tons of audience participation, great costumes and songs that you probably know, designed for all ages to enjoy. If you’ve never seen a pantomime before, head over to https://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/whats-on/theatre/pantomime/christmas-theatre-and-pantomime and find the best ones in London this year. Be prepared to boo, hiss and sing for your supper!
A Shout Out to Carol Concerts
Well, it’s best not to shout out during one of these, but a beautiful concert with classic carols sung by an expert choir and held in the right surroundings under candlelight can be quite an awesome and often spiritual experience. Our favourites venues are:
- Southwark Cathedral: built in the 13th Century, the Gothic church stands at the oldest crossing point of the Thames which was once the only entrance to the City of London, meaning that everyone from princes to paupers have walked through the doors of this London church. The Carol Services take place at 6pm on Friday 21st and Sunday 23rd December;
- St Martin-in-the-Fields: when visiting Trafalgar Square, make sure you stop off at this Georgian church. From Mozart to Handel, the church as welcomed world-famous composers and continues to boast a fantastic classical music programme on a daily basis. Though this may not be to everyone’s taste, the candlelight carol concerts are a delight on the ears and truly help to put you in the Christmas mood.
Christmas time in London provides a great opportunity to try out new and fun activities, with a slew of smaller pop-up experiences appearing all over the city.
- “The Winter Forest” at Broadgate Circle, Liverpool Street – wood cabins, twinkling lights and a thicket of 300 snow-covered trees make for this fabulous pop-up experience. Visitors can try artisan foods, feel all snug from up high in the new pop-up bar upstairs, or take part in crafty Christmas wreath-making and lino-cut workshops happening down below;
- “Curl Runnings” at Roof East, Stratford – grab your bobsleigh, and make your way over to East London, for the Curling-themed pop-up that’s taken over Social Fun and Games Club at Roof East. A steel drum band provides the rhythms and drowns out the shouting from the batting cages whilst players warm up with a hot buttered rum cocktail;
- The Coppa Club at Tower Bridge – a great brasserie-style eaterie on the banks of the Thames, that has pop-up glass igloos on the terrace. They’re cosy, with fluffy blankets and sheepskin rugs, and an evening meal would offer a starry night sky and unrivalled views of the Thames Skyline.
New Year’s Eve
At the tail-end of the festive fortnight is New Year’s Eve – the chance to cast out the old year and bring in the new. Most venues get booked up quite quickly, so get in now if you want to spend the evening in the centre. Here’s our top suggestions:
- The Lord Mayor’s Fireworks Display at London City Hall: set on the banks of the river Thames, this is a ticket-only event. But if you’re not one of the lucky ones to bag a place, then the event is televised, which means you can it in the comfort of your hotel room with a massive mug of hot chocolate or a glass of champers to see in the new year!
- The Sky Bar, Westminster: situated at the top of the iconic Millbank Tower on the south bank of the Thames, the Sky Bar offers magnificent views over the river. If you can’t get a place right beside the river for the Lord Mayor’s fireworks, you’ll be sure to have a ringside sear here as you watch them from London’s tallest riverside venue.
- Queen of Hoxton, East London – this year, the Queen of Hoxton bar is channelling belle epoque Paris for its Winter season, complete with a Moulin Rouge-inspired lit-up red windmill. Swing by the absinthe bar for a glass of the green fairy before loading up on cheese and wine in the wigwam.
From all at Antler, we hope you manage to grab Christmas and the New Year by the Antlers, and we wish you the best for the Season!