The holidays are coming, bringing a festive lineup of comforting confections, twinkling lights and classic sounds. When it comes to choosing how to spend your season in London, you’ll be spoiled for choices with ways to spread yuletide cheer.
Walk in a Winter Wonderland
It’s not Christmas in London without a stop by this Hyde Park favorite. Winter Wonderland (a holiday extravaganza of family-friendly activities running through January 6) is home to the some of the season’s most magical offerings, including a Bavarian Village for your mulled wine and bratwurst fix, Bar Ice for tipples and a Christmas Market with more than 200 chalets for shopping.
For the young and young at heart, Zippos Christmas Circus, Peter Pan on Ice and a giant observation turn up the festive factor, while live music, Santa’s Grotto and the U.K.’s largest outdoor ice rink offer more laid-back fun.
Keep an eye out for Penélope Cruz, who has cited this annual Christmas carnival as one of her favorite things to do in London.
Strap on Your Skates at Somerset House
A fine example of neoclassical architecture, Somerset House is a beauty to behold year-round, with a rolling calendar of contemporary art exhibitions and events (catch “Good Grief, Charlie Brown!” until March 3).
Dressed up for Christmas with a 40-foot tree and an illuminated ice rink taking center stage, it’s a particularly special spot for some open-air skating. And with festive décor and pop-up shops from iconic London department store Fortnum & Mason, you can have just as much fun without skates.
For winter warmers, such as cheese fondue and spiked hot chocolate, pop by Fortnum’s Lodge, or get some shopping done at Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade, open until January 6.
Insider tip: Head to the box office when it opens (9:30 a.m. most days, holiday hours vary), as every morning a small selection of tickets is available to walk-ins on a first-come, first-served basis. It means you’ll have a chance to nab one of the coveted spots that tend to book up early. The ice rink is open until January 13.
Be Enchanted by ‘The Nutcracker’
This magical performance by the English National Ballet — under the dome of the equally fabulous London Coliseum — will have you pirouetting out the door and whistling catchy Tchaikovsky notes for days after.
If you can’t get tickets to this perennially popular event (which runs from December 13 through 30), Royal Albert Hall hosts the capital’s biggest performance of the Christmas classic, with stage projections created by the same team behind some of the 2012 London Olympics’ Opening Ceremony theatrics.
Stroll Through Christmas at Kew
The 326-acre Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew — London’s largest UNESCO Heritage Site — is a splendid sight in any season, but it’s even more spectacular decked out in its holiday finest.
Visit after dark until January 5 to see the expansive grounds festooned in more than 1 million twinkling lights, laser beams, a flickering Fire Garden, a 328-foot-long Canopy of Light and a lake topped with 300 illuminated origami boats.
Preparations for this event started in February, with more than 100 people involved in putting the fantastical displays together. Suffice it to say, Christmas at Kew will not disappoint.
Savor a Seasonal Dinner for Two
‘Tis the season for fine food, wine and quality time with loved ones, and at Le Lodge d’Hiver, you can tick off all three with flair.
A secluded retreat adjacent to renowned restaurant Le Pont de le Tour, this intimate table for two is a refreshing alternative to the usual turkey affair. In the candlelit comfort of your private wooden lodge, you’ll dine on five courses of French cuisine, including caviar, tender beef tournedos Rossini and a warming rum baba.
Enjoy a bottle of bubbly, the services of a dedicated waiter and uninterrupted views across the River Thames and Tower Bridge at either lunch or dinner until December 30.
Go Carol Singing in Trafalgar Square
Since 1947, Norway has given thanks for Britain’s support during WWII with the gift of a Christmas tree, which stands pride of place in London’s Trafalgar Square. The spectacle itself is worth a visit, but the real holiday highlight is the nightly carol sessions happening here from December 10 through 21.
Following the lighting ceremony on December 6, a slew of singers from more than 40 local choirs take the stage throughout the month, singing yuletide favorites for all to hear.
After an enchanting afternoon, stroll less than a mile west to Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Brown’s Hotel, a Rocco Forte Hotel, where you’ll find a delightful Christmas display from British-owned jewelry brand, Boodles — the perfect accompaniment to your seasonal Instagram snaps.
Mistletoe and Champagne
After you’ve spent the day shopping and gazing at the Christmas decorations strung above Regent and Carnaby streets, warm up with a festive tipple at Soho speakeasy The Blind Pig.
This stylish spot above Social Eating House is getting into the holiday spirit in collaboration with champagne house Moët & Chandon, transforming the bar into a cozy winter cottage bedecked with mistletoe, fairy lights and wreaths.
Slide into a plush booth and order up one of the seasonal sips, including a Christmas pudding champagne and cognac cocktail, or a Cranberry Kir Royale through January 7.
Catch a Christmas Classic at Royal Albert Hall
For those whose Christmas isn’t complete without at least one revisit to the Macaulay Culkin classic Home Alone, the one-night-only screening at Royal Albert Hall is a definite do. As Kevin McCallister’s antics play out on the big screen on December 22, the film’s score is brought to life with a live orchestra.
Part of the something-for-everyone Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall series, the movie is just one offering in a lineup of merriment, including a live recital of A Christmas Carol on December 5 and Carols at the Royal Albert Hall from December 23 to 24. The latter features a specially commissioned version of “Silent Night,” created by James Bond film composer David Arnold.
For a guaranteed giggle, book a spot for the improv show Whose Line is it Anyway? The sketch TV classic is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a live performance that includes veteran comedian Colin Mochrie (December 15 and 16).
Cozy up at Claridge’s
Mayfair’s Five-Star Claridge’s never fails to impress on the Christmas-decoration front, and the annual unveiling of its trimmed tree consistently makes headlines for its celebrity collaborations — a who’s who of style mavens, including Karl Lagerfeld, Dolce & Gabbana and Christopher Bailey, has created breathtaking masterpieces for the season.
This year’s spectacle is the brainchild of designer and hotel regular Diane von Furstenberg, whose “Tree of Love” occupies the space of honor in the property’s festive lobby.
Soak up the magic a little longer by booking the Christmas at Claridge’s package, which gifts you with Christmas Eve storytelling, activities, stockings for the kids and a horse-drawn carriage ride around Mayfair