It's the time of the year where London look like a film set after dark. The capital dazzles in December as stores put out their holiday decorations, glittering trees go up in hotels, and ice skaters twirl around pop-up rinks. There’s a fantastic array of Christmas cocktails and cakes in bars and restaurants as 2022 draws to a close. Go beyond Winter Wonderland and the crush of people in Hyde Park, and get into the festive season by visiting one of these 13 places in London.
Duck & Waffle: Christmas in the clouds above the City
The 24-hour restaurant on the 40th floor of the 110 Bishopsgate Tower has been transformed into a seasonal sight, complete with snow-covered trees and sparkling trimmings. Its main bar has added cozy wood panels and a sparkling sleigh, making the restaurant a festive refuge from the hustle and bustle of the area around Liverpool Street Station.
Guests can enjoy daily specials, as well as an exclusive Christmas Day menu that’s full of traditional ingredients like truffle and chestnut. Highlights include Jerusalem artichoke Rossini with foie gras, smoked chicken and chestnut hash with duck egg, and porcini mushroom ravioli with shaved winter truffle. Save room for dessert, there’s a decadent Xmas Pudding Waffle with brandy butter and rum ice cream.
Dior at Harrods: Gaze at the windows and top it off with cake
Harrods, which is doubling-down on its fine dining offerings, has teamed up with luxury brand Dior this winter to change its Knightsbridge home into the Fabulous World of Dior, complete with a takeover of its window displays and gingerbread-themed Dior Café that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Options include roast heritage beef with black winter truffle and a red wine jus as well as a 72% chocolate mousse merveilleux. Festive drinks like cinnamon and orange-spiced Champagne Mirabelle are available after a long day of shopping.
Guests can take home an edible piece of Dior in the form of festive gingerbread biscuits, like the iconic Book Tote, Saddle and Lady Dior bags, or the J’adore perfume.
Christmas at Kew: Have a wintery walk
Stroll under the stars at southwest London’s famous botanic garden. There’s a winter lights trail that brightens up the evening skies as the trees get drenched in jewel-like colors. Warm up during the walk with a hot chocolate or a spiced winter drink from street food vendors. Finish off the eve with dinner: hot kati rolls from Kolkati Indian Street Food are available as well as sliders and halloumi fries.
Columbia Road Christmas Wednesdays: Shop local, independent shops in East London
Columbia Road is one of London’s oldest and well-known outdoor markets, with a fantastic array of fresh flowers and plants. At this time of the year, there are plenty of wreaths and Christmas trees and decorations to spruce up your flat for the festive season. Besides the famous flower market, Columbia Road is also home to more than 60 independent shops, as well as restaurants, galleries and cafes—all open late on each Wednesday in the run up to Christmas.
Find unique gifts like vintage coats from Vout Vintage or peruse the music collection at Play Vinyl, and finish it off with a sweet treat from Lily Vanilli Bakery. Or just grab a mulled wine and enjoy the festive mood while a Guildhall brass quintet performs Christmas carols on one of East London’s most unusual streets.
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Shangri-La at the Shard: Go intergalactic during afternoon tea
The hotel at London’s tallest building has welcomed the festive season with a cosmic take on traditional décor and a space-age Christmas tree designed by Mayfair’s luxury florist, McQueens Flowers. In the TĪNG Lounge, the Skyline Afternoon Tea takes up the theme as well, with shimmering “galactic” pastries completing the classic British spread.
The experience starts with a winter-warming cinnamon, pumpkin purée and lemon welcome tea before a selection of smoked salmon and roast turkey and cranberry finger sandwiches, savory items such as a prawn cocktail roll and freshly baked scones with jam and clotted cream. At the end of the tea, guests will be presented with a spiced pear, vanilla and white chocolate Shard replica pastry to share, served over fluffy clouds made by dry ice.
Somerset House: Ice skate in style
One of the best winter activities in London is ice skating at Somerset House, and it’s back this year with a bigger rink than ever. There’s also 40-foot Christmas tree complete with festive, Instagram-ready decorations from Moët & Chandon, and bubbles from the brand in the skate lounge. A “skate late” program allows families their daytime fun while kids-free revelers can party at night to DJs spinning Afrobeats and house music. Chalet Suisse by Jimmy Garcia provides après-skate fare at the pop-up alpine restaurant that champions food from the Swiss regions of Bern, Lucerne and Valais.
Coppa Club Riverside Igloos: Cuddle up by the Thames
Coppa Club’s riverside “igloos” are great, intimate spaces to enjoy a dinner with a fantastic views of Tower Bridge and the Shard no matter the weather. They come with warm blankets and festive decorations on the tables, making it a very popular spot on social media. Over the holiday period, specials include spiced cranberry and white chocolate cheesecake, and roast turkey breast with pigs in blankets, braised red cabbage and red wine and shallot gravy.
The Connaught Bar: Clink martinis at one of the world’s best bars
This 5-star hotel sparkles at Christmas, and the mood is set before guests even get inside. This year’s tree has been designed by East London-born artist and sculptor Suzy Murphy, and is bedecked with 34 soft-white neon dogs, bringing whimsy to the heart of Mayfair. After gawking at the tree outside on Mount Street, head inside to the Connaught Bar, ranked as one of the best bars in London by Bloomberg Pursuits—and two-time world’s best bar winner. Keep it classic and get a sublime, ice-cold martini from the cart.
The Goring: Admire a ‘Tiara Tree’
As the only hotel to have been granted a royal warrant for hospitality services by Queen Elizabeth II, the Goring is filled with Buckingham Palace connections, like being the place where Kate Middleton chose to get ready before her wedding to Prince William. This Christmas, the luxurious Belgravia destination has teamed up with fellow royal warrant holder Garrard to create a tiara-themed Christmas tree inspired by historic tiaras worn by the queen. Be on the lookout for Teddy the Shetland Pony, who makes visits to the hotel for special occasions.
Spaniards Inn: Warm up with hot wine after a Hampstead Heath walk
This pub is on the borders of leafy Hampstead and Highgate Villages, both of which look straight out of a Visit London tourism ad during the holidays. The location makes it perfect for stopping in for a Sunday roast or a winter drink after a long walk on Hampstead Heath or Kenwood House, which is doing its own festive celebrations.
As well as being perfectly cozy in the winter, Spaniards Inn will be a hit for any literature fans in your life, as it’s also mentioned in Charles Dicken’s The Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and was frequented by Lord Byron and Keats, who allegedly wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the lush gardens. The pub is serving meals on Christmas Day, including pan-roasted venison and hand-carved turkey breast.
The Dorchester Rooftop: Enjoy dinner and winter-themed rooftop cocktails on a roof above Hyde Park
One of London’s best hotels has partnered with LVMH to transform its the main rooftop terrace overlooking Hyde Park. The holiday decor is inspired by a lesser-known part of London’s heritage, the so-called frost fairs that used to be held on the Thames when it froze over during the Little Ice Age. Ensconced within elegant, weather-proofed “Winter Globes,” guests can enjoy a three-course chef’s menu or a selection of shareable plates. Aspiring home-chefs can also learn how to make a Dorchester-quality Christmas meal in a master class offered by the hotel that will focus on all things festive, from making the perfect mulled wine to delicious mince pies, turkey and traditional Christmas pudding.
A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic: See one of London’s best Christmas shows
The Old Vic is back with its Jack Thorne-penned adaptation of the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. This year, Owen Teale is playing Scrooge (following great turns by Rhys Ifans, Stephen Tompkinson, Andrew Lincoln, Paterson Joseph and Stephen Mangan) and the theater still makes it a magical experience even during its sixth outing. Victorian-dressed cast members hand out mince pies before the show even begins, and the sets and costuming are properly haunting, as Mr. Scrooge gets visited by ghosts and becomes a changed man. The show runs until Jan. 7.
Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol: Create a new countryfied holiday tradition
If the Old Vic’s take on Dickens is a little too traditional, try one with a Tennessee twist. Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol is an all-new musical with songs written by the queen of country herself, Dolly Parton. The show is running at the Southbank Center starting Dec. 8 for a month, and portrays Ebenezer Scrooge as the owner of a mining company town, where his callous greed blinds him to the joys and gifts of the season.