Outdoor skating rinks spring up in London’s favourite landmarks each winter. Skate in the grounds of the Tower of London
or take to the rink in the Natural History Museum’s
gardens. At Kew Gardens
the palm-filled Temperate House form an unlikely backdrop to their 1000-square-metre rink as skaters flash or stumble by, or warm up with mulled wine.
Cries of ‘it’s behind you’ and ‘oh no it isn’t!’ can only mean the great British pantomime season has arrived. Theatre stages fill with cross-dressing dames and romantic heroines bullied by their wicked stepmothers, played by soap stars and family entertainers. Audience participation is all part of the fun.
The major department stores around Oxford Street
, Regent Street
entice shoppers with lavish window displays from the artistic to the downright dramatic. Look out for Selfridges
’ high-tech exhibitions and Hamleys
’ glittering world of toys. Over in Knightsbridge, the windows of top department stores Harrods
and Harvey Nichols
draw the crowds, and might even put you in the mood for the popular post-Christmas sales.
A pint in a cosy pub
Cocoon yourself on a cold winter’s day with a pint of ale in front of an crackling fire – even better with a traditional pub lunch for fuel. Relax by the coals at the Star Tavern
in west London’s fashionable Belgravia, or the country pub ambience of Hampstead’s 16th-century Spaniards Inn
after a brisk walk over Hampstead Heath. Rest your feet after shopping in the winter sales by the the huge chimney-less fire at Cittie of York
not far from Oxford Street.
A winter break in London wouldn’t be complete without a large dose of festive merriment. From early December, Christmas markets
throng the South Bank, selling traditional wooden toys and hand-made jewellery in the shadow of the London Eye, as the smell of roast chestnuts wafts by. Hyde Park
is transformed into a winter wonderland with live music and fairground rides.
Seasonal performances like Handel’s glorious Messiah and religious arias ring out under St Paul’s Cathedral’s
huge dome, and through Westminster Cathedral
where royalty and poets are buried. Smaller settings create an intimate seasonal ambience. Look out for free carol services at city centre churches like St Martin in the Fields
. At the close of its period Christmas interiors exhibition, East London’s Geffrye Museum
celebrates the traditional end of Christmas with a twelfth night carol concert by bonfire light.
New Year celebrations
Crowds gather to cheer the New Year’s Day parade
on 1 January, with over 10,000 performers and marching bands weaving through London’s famous landmarks like Admiralty Arch and Parliament Hill. In January or February, vibrant dragon dances and fireworks light up Chinatown and Trafalgar Square for Chinese New Year