Christmas in London

We love London year-round, but Christmas is one of the best times to enjoy all the city has to offer. Even if you’ve visited before, you haven’t fully seen London until you’ve basked in the Christmas spirit on the same streets where Dickens drew inspiration for a Christmas Carol.

London comes alive for Christmas the entire month of December. There are twinkling lights and decorations everywhere, ice skating rinks pop up across the city (Somerset House and the Natural History Museum being the local favorites), and pubs become even cozier, with mulled wine tureens appearing on the bar counter. The gilded shops along Bond St. put on their best window displays, the doormen at fancy hotels across the city have their work cut out for them admitting gawkers who come to marvel at which lobby has the nicest Christmas tree. And of course, there are Christmas related music and theatre performances of every variety, in every type of venue across the city. With so many things to do, we’ve spent the past three Christmases in London and barely scratched the surface. But we’ve developed a few traditions along the way that are ‘must dos’ each year.  Herewith, a few of our top recommendations for the festive season in London where you are spoiled for choice. 

Favorite restaurant for a Christmas meal:

Rules: We’ve sung its praises before as one of our favorite restaurants in London, but Rules is our top pic for Christmas decorations, and our favorite place for Christmas Eve lunch. (Note: they are closed for dinner on Christmas Eve). This requires considerable advance booking, but if you can’t make it for Christmas Eve, stop in any time in December as the roaring fireplace, wreaths, holly, and framed photos of hunting dogs will have you feeling like it’s Christmas at the country estate of a British Lord. At least that’s how we feel every time we go…

The Christmas Performance we go to every year:

Carols by candlelight: This is our favorite Christmas concert of the season, and we go every year. The Mozart festival orchestra and chorus perform music and carols while in full 18th century attire, with intermittent readings from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. If this sounds stuffy,it’s not. The host is relaxed and funny, there are a few songs to sing along to, but for the most part you get to enjoy the music and choir as they put on a wonderful show. It changes venue every year (our favorite was the Royal Albert Hall), but wherever it is, this is an annual tradition we don’t miss.

Our favorite place for a Christmas tipple:

The Ladder Shed at the Chiltern Firehouse: We’ve mentioned how much we love this bar before, but at Christmas it’s particularly lovely. The Ladder shed fireplace is roaring, the people watching is some of the best in London, and the cocktails are some of the best in London. Our favorite is an eggnog-esque concoction with rum, limoncello, egg whites, and nutmeg that tastes like Christmas in a glass. It’s a splurge at £18 for a drink, but worth it if you settle in for a few hours. 

 treeFavorite dose of Dickens in London: The Dickensian Christmas walk with Richard Jones is a seasonal highlight. Richard is extremely knowledgeable and guides a two hour walk that diehard fans and people with barely a passing knowledge of Dickens will both enjoy (we’ve taken both types). Richard makes history and fiction come alive, pointing out the real locations referenced in A Christmas Carol, conveying the historical context, and lasting impact of this famous story. We can’t recommend Richard’s tour highly enough. [Note: the Dickens Museum also runs special Christmas events, but we much preferred Richard’s guided walk]

Favorite British countryside getaway for a cozy Christmas: We love all The Pig hotels (there are seven locations around England), and Christmas time is particularly suited to their cozy brand of British comfort. The fireplaces are roaring, stockings are hung, wreaths and Christmas trees twinkle, and there’s always someone asking if they can bring you something. We spent a recent Christmas at the Pig near Bath and it was a relaxing and festive break from London.  We arrived in time for an indulgent late lunch, then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening by a fireplace, sipping boozy hot chocolate and reading. The beds, down pillows, and bedding are top of the line and make for deeply relaxing night’s sleep, and the breakfast buffet with farm fresh eggs, local cheeses, homemade jams and honey, and freshly baked croissants is one of the highlights of a stay at the Pig

Favorite Christmas tree in London: Every year, Claridge’s hotel invites a different designer to conceptualize the lobby Christmas tree, and we always stop by to enjoy the result.  The ambience of the lobby, and their tea salon make for one of the best Christmas hotel scenes in London as well. 

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