London is one of the most festive cities in the world during the holiday season and throughout winter. Lights are strung on nearly every storefront, villages and high streets take pride in their celebrations and the fun lasts for more than two months — a treat for those who love the festivities.
Best of all for visitors, the fun doesn’t end on December 25. Don’t miss these favorites for the ultimate winter weekend in London.
This is arguably the most Instagrammable place in London throughout the year, but during the holiday season it is even more photo-worthy. Stroll through the markets to find a perfect London memento. Take your pick of several photo ops: in front of a sparkling reindeer, a vintage car (a ‘67 Morris Minor with 21 gifts tied to its roof, to be exact) or the largest decorated tree in London clocking in at 55 feet. Be sure to stick around for the numerous shops, or the many wonderful restaurants, including the Covent Garden outpost of the infamous Petersham Nurseries, for a long lovely lunch. And a must-visit for families of young kids, the London Transport Museum is full of hands-on activities.
Family Traveller Tip: A one-day ticket to the museum gets you in all year so save your ticket just in case you come back.
West End Show
London has a thriving theater offering all year long but the West End offers even more showtimes through the December and January months, with extra matinee performances perfect for kids. There are numerous kid-friendly shows that mom and dad will like as much as the kids, including School of Rock, Matilda, Lion King, Aladdin and Wicked.
Family Traveller Tip: Go to the theater when you are out and about (most are near Covent Garden) and check on last minute tickets. There are almost always tickets available and the prices are better in person.
No winter weekend is complete without lacing up your skates. London offers picturesque backdrops with rinks at landmarks like The Natural History Museum (through Jan 20) and Somerset House (through Jan 13) . They even have special kids-only times and kids-only areas, complete with penguins to assist you if your child is a first-timer.
Family Traveller Tip: The views and atmosphere are just as good as the skating; both rinks have great lounges where you can sip on warm drinks and fun beverages, even if you only want to watch the skaters.
London lights up during the winter months and is nothing short of magical. Stroll through Mayfair to see buildings decked out like Christmas gifts on Bond Street, turn onto Regent’s Street for larger than life angels flying overhead, go through Carnaby Street for some funky winter fun and finish with the German-style Christmas market in Leicester Square (most go until Jan 7 and 15).
Family Traveller Tip: Go on a Sunday after the shops close or after 9pm on a regular night to avoid the crowds and get tourist-free photos.
No trip to London is complete without a proper afternoon tea. The only challenge will be not having enough time to experience them all! The Savoy features a life-size snow globe and an eye-catching red carousel, Claridges features a Christmas Tree designed by fashion designer Diane Von Furstenburg and (my personal favorite) Sketch, famous for their Mork & Mindy style egg-shaped bathrooms, elevated their bathroom decor with gift-wrapped eggs (note the bathrooms are on display all year round). The photo-ready holiday decor is on display until January 6.
Family Traveller Tip: Most hotels and popular restaurants keep a few walk-in tables throughout the day; call early in the morning the day of to see if you can grab a last minute booking.
London’s royal botanical gardens go all out when it comes to holiday lights. In fact, it features one million lights spread out on the ground, in the trees, floating on the water and finishing with a magical lights display reflecting on a pond, as grand as a Disney park (through January 6).
Family Traveller Tip: Kids under four go free and under 16 are half price.
London has figured out how to have fun no matter what the weather. Balmy winters and being close to mainland Europe lends itself to a lively celebration featuring rides, German beer gardens, live music and authentic European Christmas markets. Truly hours of entertainment for parents and kids that goes until January 6.
Family Traveller Tip: If you’re in need of some adults-only fun, don’t miss the super fun bars like the revolving Carousel Bar or the alps apres-ski-themed Bar Hütte, featuring wooden huts where you can karaoke.
London means business when it comes to sales. The famous Harrod’s sale has a celebrity opening it up every year and Selfridges and Liberty are iconic London outposts which feature some of the best children’s departments. Each have delicious lunch spots and great window displays that make them fun for the whole family.
Family Traveller Tip: Some of the high streets feature several quaint and cute English shops. Shop like a local on the high streets in Marylebone, St John’s Wood, Westbourne Grove or check out the street art and shops in Shoreditch.
London wins the prize for restaurants and hotels that go all out to gift you great food and picture-perfect experiences. Stop by the Chelsea Ivy Garden, which turns into a gingerbread house, or Annabel’s, adorned with a five-story Christmas tree on the front of the building. Or snag the most coveted reservation in London at Coppa to sit in an enclosed igloo with views of the infamous Tower Bridge or Dalloway Terrace to be transported to a winter wonderland decor worthy of the Alps (goes until Jan 31).
Family Traveller Tip: January is actually a great time to score a reservation at the Coppa igloos since a lot of the holiday buzz has finally died down.
London has really upped its game in the culinary department and practically invented the concept of gastropub. Most pubs offer festive lunch and dinner menus with special treats like mince pies and mulled wine. Some favorites include the Holly Bush and Freemasons Arms in Hampstead, Thomas Cubbitt in Belgravia, and of course Insta-famous Churchill Arms in Notting Hill, whose outside facade features nearly 100 fresh Christmas trees with sparkling lights.
Family Traveller Tip: Check the menus online for the best children’s offerings; some places even have entertainment for kids.
By Heather Mitchell Embley