London Lights Up for Christmas*
by Catherine O'Dolan on 18/12/2015
There’s nothing like a wander among twinkling lights, with delicious aromas of Christmas spice mingling with the fresh fragrance of fir tree inviting you to take deep refreshing breaths and soak it all in. Throw in a bevvy of traditional wares and gifts to tempt you and a selection of rides and shows and you’re guaranteed to create a feel-good festive mood.
London and its environs come to life during the Christmas holidays with a wonderful array of spectacular Christmas ‘villages’ where it’s free to wander and savour the atmosphere – though chances are you’ll end up parting with more than a few pennies, too).
** If you prefer taking a seat to enjoy a festive treat, check out our Best Family Shows in London for Christmas 2015 **
Here are some of our favourite festive hang-outs for all the family over the holiday season where you can see London at its illuminated loveliest:
WINTERVILLE AT LONDON’S VICTORIA PARK
Until 23 December 2015
London’s hip East End festive offering includes an ice rink, Santa’s Grotto, and some breathtaking aerobatics from the stars of The Moscow State Circus, all neatly contained in a corner of the historic park that edges Bethnal Green, Hackney and Bow. Cosy up at the Backyard Cinema’s enchanted Winters Night Garden for al fresco festive family films including Frozen, Elf and Happy Feet, or perfect your putt at the winter-themed Plonk Crazy Golf as you navigate snow drifts, ice beasts and foggy valleys. Behind you – well, actually, it’s in the beautiful Dutch Spiegeltent – there’s trad panto fun and japes with Snow White performed by local Hackney thesps Tour De Force. The dedicated Kids Quarter is the perfect spot to stop for a delicious hot chocolate chez Kids Shack, stroll around the children’s market and stop off at Santa’s Grotto. Join Pop Tots for daily 30-minute workshops creating fancy dress outfits, Christmas cards, antler headpieces, snowflakes and Christmas decorations. The Pop Tots Mini Salon will also be open for festive face-painting, hair-braiding, temporary tattoos and hair chalks (if you want to perfect that Elsa chalky-white chignon).
Ages All ages
Cost Entry to Winterville is free, prices for rides and shows vary. See website.
Details Winterville, Victoria Park, Grove Road, E3 5TB
CHRISTMAS AT KEW GARDENS
Until 2 January 2016
As darkness falls, the new winter trail for 2015 lights up with a tantalising mile-long sparkling path that romantically winds its way through the world-famous botanic gardens in a magical after-dark experience. With stunning illuminations that includes the quirkily named Squid Soup where visitors can stroll through cascades of fairy lights to the Weli-Creative Illuminations of funky day-glo flowers.
Take in the woody aromas of the scented Fire Garden and watch a kaleidoscope of colours lighting up Kew Garden’s famous Palm House
There’s also musical accompaniment from the Holly Bush Choir. Visit the vintage fairground at White Peaks for a jaunt on the Victorian carousel and helter-skelter (rides £2 each). There’s also plenty of delicious seasonal eats on offer and the chance to bump into Santa and his elves who will be performing as part of the trail.
Ages All ages.
Times 5pm–10pm, with timed entrance between 5pm and 8.15pm.
Cost Adult £16, Family £48, Child 4–6 years £10, Under 4s free.
Details Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, tel 020 8332 5655, www.kew.org
HYDE PARK WINTER WONDERLAND
Until January 3
Now well established as one of London’s most popular festive highlights, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland returns in all its glory – and it’s free to wander. There’s also over 100 rides and attractions including Ski Zillertal Ice Rink, The Magical Ice Kingdom, Zippos Circus and Cirque Berserk, Giant Observation Wheel and, for the littlest ones, Santa Land, with a selection of gentler rides and attractions, including Santa’s Grotto, for preschoolers. Wrap up warm to shiver with delight in the Magical Ice Kingdom, get your icy Instagram moment on the frozen throne and be sure to slip down the ice slide. Take refuge from the cold to be entertained by the UK’s favourite circus, Zippos Circus, who will be performing two shows: Zippos Christmas Circus and Cirque Berserk. For those who like to shop, the traditional German Christmas market has over 200 chalets bursting with festive fare and nicknacks, while The Angels Christmas Market offers unusual and handmade gifts and crafts, including ceramics, candles, jewellery, wooden toys, nativity scenes and Christmas decorations, perfect to fill those stockings. See our full review of Hyde Park Winter Wonderland here.
Age All ages
Times 10am–10pm daily (closed Christmas Day)
Cost Free entry, rides and attractions vary. See website for details.
Details Hyde Park, London W2 2UH
WINTER AT SOUTHBANK CENTRE
Until January 6
The twinkling of blue lights along the Southbank heralds a festive season filled with goodwill and great entertainment! Focusing on the true spirit of Christmas, festivities follow the themes of family, charity and giving to others with festive concerts, social dances, choirs and charitable fundraising. New this year is BUMP Rollerdisco, where kids can upgrade their Heelys for roller blades and strut their stuff to guest DJs (shoes start at child size 9). There are more unconventional moves provided at the London premiere of new family show, We Are the Monsters (12–23 Dec), and the return of seasonal favourite Slava’s Snowshow (16 Dec–3 Jan). There’s crafts at the £5 Gift Workshops (19 Dec), Get Your Knit On workshops to knit scarves for vulnerable homeless people (19 Dec), book crafts in Snow Queen Winter Crafts (19 Dec) and communal gift wrapping in The Great Big Social Present Wrap (19 Dec), while little groovers can shimmy at Pram Jam with winter themed sessions of creative dance and movement (16 Dec). Fans of Elsa will enjoy the free sing-along screening of Disney’s hit film Frozen – with fancy dress encouraged (21 Dec).
Ages All ages
Cost Many events are free; performance prices vary. See website for details.
Details Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX
CHRISTMAS ON NORTHBANK
Until January 6
Not content with letting its glittering equivalent south of the river getting all the glory, London’s Northbank will be glistening and glimmering with festive cheer for the holiday season.
For the first year ever, the Strand will be sparkling with Christmas lights running from the famous Trafalgar Square Christmas tree to the beautiful St Mary le Strand Church
This is rather fitting since the area has some rather famous associations with lights: The Savoy Theatre on the Strand was the first public building in the world to be permanently lit by electricity and Victoria Embankment had the world’s first street lights (You can still see the original dolphin emblems on the lights). Northbank also offers ice-skating at (arguably) London’s most romantic rink at Somerset House. With sponsors Fortnum & Mason at the helm, there’s also a chance to grab a delicious hot chocolate or a cup of F&M’s finest tea. If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, the brilliant family spectacle of The Snowman at The Peacock Theatre will not disappoint, or if chocolate’s more your thing, how about a family festive visit to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Be sure to make time for the fabulous Willy Wonka-inspired afternoon tea at One Aldwych, where the kids’ll love the amazing smokin’ mocktail. Finally, if you fancy seeing a whistle-stop tour of London at its illuminated loveliest, we strongly recommend the BB Bakery Christmas Afternoon Tea, a very civilised affair where you are chauffeured around London – from Victoria to Knightsbridge, Notting Hill and along Regents Street – on a classic Routemaster bus, whilst munching on a delightfully festive Afternoon Tea.
Ages All ages
Costs Show prices vary, see individual theatres for details.
Details To find out more about festive activities and events, visit the Northbank BID website.