So it’s Christmas time again, the presents are under the tree, the mistletoe is up and the mulled wine is brewing. But if you want to add a little more excitement to your festive season beyond the usual turkey dinner, Queen’s speech and
inevitable EastEnders festive mayhem, then the good news is that there are plenty of festive treats on offer in London this year.
Whether you want to take advantage of the school holidays and have an outing with the kids, snap up a few festive bargains, show off your skating skills or find another way to spice up the season, there’s more than enough to while away the time between the first batch of mulled wine and the last ditch moments of celebration as we prepare to enter 2013. And Metro’s top ten seasonal suggestions should provide more than enough food for thought.
10 Enjoy Christmas at Kew Gardens
If you’ve never been to London’s famous horticultural heaven, then now’s your chance as entry to Kew Gardens is free over the festive season from December 22-January 4 if you book online (although you will have to shell out for certain activities once you get inside). For the younger visitor there’s a Victorian-style carousel, face painting and the chance to see Santa in the Prince Of Wales Conservatory (until December 23); after Christmas they’re offering you the chance to take your tree for recycling. Failing that, you can just take a wander through the grounds in a bid to walk off all that turkey.
9 Take a festive trip to the cinema
Christmas is traditionally a time for blockbuster movies to make their cinema debut – not to mention the appearance of the ‘awards season’ films which might just go on to win Oscars – and this year is no exception. If it’s blockbuster fun you’re after you could check out The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, currently showing at cinemas all over the UK not to mention in selected IMAX cinemas including the BFI’s theatre on the South Bank. Or you could wait until Boxing Day when Tom Cruise’s latest effort Jack Reacher will be opening at a multiplex near you.
If if’s Oscar-friendly fare you’re after however then Ang Lee’s 3D epic Life Of Pi, which opens this weekend, is one to consider – or for festive offerings check out When Santa Fell To Earth, based on the novel by Cornelia Funke and showing at selected cinemas across the capital. Or there’s always the re-released 80s classic Gremlins, which is doing much the same.
8 Check out a pantomime
Everybody loves a bit of pantomime at Christmas (Oh no they don’t! Oh yes they do! etc), and as usual London is stuffed to the gills with famous faces putting on silly costumes and acting out some thinly disguised fairytale for the benefit of their shouty audience.
Highlights this year include Aladdin at The Theatre at the 02, which sees Paul O’Grady resurrecting Lily Savage in the role of Widow Twankey, Dick Whittington at the Hackney Empire - in a production which tips its hat to London’s momentous 2012 events – and Priscilla Presley taking over where Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff left off at New Wimbledon Theatre, to play the Wicked Queen in their production of Snow White. Altogether now – she’s behind you!
7 Take a trip to Westfield Shopping Centre
There’s all manner of festive goings-on at London’s biggest shopping centre in White City. The main attraction is the ice rink, which is open until January 6, and allows skaters to take to the ice in 45 minute sessions (with helper ‘penguins’ also available to guide younger visitors across the rink). Let’s not forget it’s also the ideal place to finish off your Christmas shopping – not to mention be in pole position
6 Go and visit a giant Christmas tree
If you want to get in the festive spirit without actually breaking the bank, then a trip to Trafalgar Square’s Christmas tree should suffice. The tree, which is given to the UK as a gift from Norway, in memory of the refuge that the Allies gave members of the Norwegian government and royal family during World War II.
As well as the tree itself – which is decorated in traditional Norwegian fashion and whose lights were switched on by the Mayor of Oslo on December 1 – visitors can also enjoy nightly carol singing in the square until December 22. Just don’t forget to wrap up warm. More info: www.london.gov.uk/priorities/art-culture/trafalgar-square
5 Go for a dip
Yes we know the temperature may be sub-zero on Christmas Day, but a bracing dip in the Serpentine in Hyde Park has been a festive tradition since 1864 for members of the Serpentine Swimming Club – and with other swimming events happening around the country there’s no reason why you shouldn’t join in too. Although we recommend you try a warmer pool such as the one at Hampstead Heath, which is at least heated all year round.
Go to church
Let’s not forget there’s a more serious reason for all these festivities – the fact that Christmas, for all its gifts and Slade songs on a loop and TV specials and family-sized tins of Quality Street, is actually a religious holiday. And if you plan to mark this by going to Midnight Mass this year there are plenty of options to choose from, including the traditional service at St Martin’s In The Field just off Trafalgar Square. The fun kicks off on Christmas Eve with an afternoon service, followed by carols at 6.30pm and the main event at 11.30pm. Or you could head for Westminster Abbey, with carols at 4pm and the service at 11.30pm.
3 Take in The Nutcracker
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Tchaikovsky’s classic tale of sugar plum fairies and dancing toy soldiers, and this year is no exception. There’s a choice of two productions in the West End – either the English National Ballet at the Coliseum or the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. And with the ballet celebrating its 120th anniversary this year (as recently commemorated in, of all things, a Google Doodle), there’s no better time to see it
2 Go ice-skating at the Tower Of London
Skating in the indoor rink at Westfield is all very well but if you want to skate under the stars (or even under the sun, such as it is), then the arresting setting of the Tower Of London provides the perfect opportunity to do so. The rink’s lit up after dark for added spectacle, and if you’re unsteady on your feet you can always ask one of the ‘ice guides’ for help in getting from one end of the ice to the other without coming a cropper. For more information visit: www.toweroflondonicerink.com/
1 Go to Winter Wonderland
This now annual spectacle in Hyde Park really has become a staple of the festive season, with all manner of goodies including the Angels Market, complete with over 100 stalls, and rides and attractions which this year include the Ice Kingdom – featuring an array of spectacular ice sculptures – and the Giant Observation Wheel, offering stunning views of the capital. Or you can just get your fill of Bratwurst at one of the food stalls. And with free admission (although you do pay for certain attractions) this is one you can’t really afford to miss. More info: www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com/