Snowy it usually isn’t – and it can’t exactly claim many wild elf sightings – but while London bears little resemblance to the North Pole, Christmas in London is still a magical time to visit with the family.
What the city lacks in scenic blizzards and beautiful carpets of snow, it makes up for with culture: nowhere else can visitors warble Christmas carols in an ancient cathedral, see the world’s best ballerinas perform in the Nutcracker, yell along to rowdy pantomimes, and break with a high-end shopping spree where you can meet Father Christmas or even spend an afternoon ice skating at Somerset House. Christmas in London, with its mingling of festive traditions and modern events, is perfect for kids and grownups – even without the “White Christmas” part.
First, the facts: it simply isn’t Christmastime without a trip to the ballet to see the Nutcracker. Luckily, Tchaikovsky’s melodies never lose their appeal (even after a dozen-odd years in a row), and when international ballet stars take to the stage, it’s sure to be special. The English National Ballet will host their acclaimed version at the London Coliseum, with star principles Alina Cojocaru and Tamara Rojo taking turns to play Clara as she journeys through enchanted kingdoms with her Nutcracker.
If the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy fails to inspire, perhaps a more energetic performance is in order. There’s nothing like a pantomime to get the kids fully involved, and the Garrick Theatre’s Horrible Histories is sure to up the energy levels. The show mingles characters from British history with a generous helping of yuletide cheer, plus gags that a six year-old can well appreciate – given that the show promises English history with “the nasty bits left in,” come prepared for bawdy jokes (and plenty of toilet humour). Alternatively, children can bellow “It’s behind you!” to their hearts’ content at one of London’s many pantomimes. The New Wimbledon Theatre’s performance of Cinderella is set to be a quirky seasonal highlight – alongside the ugly stepsisters and a handsome price, real Shetland ponies will also have their time in the spotlight.
Presents? Say the magic word and wait for the Pavlovian response. Children who’ve spent the past month camped out in front of the Christmas tree will find much to love in Hamleys, where they can pick out a teddy bear (or, for the technologically precocious, one of the season’s hot computer-linked toys). Afterwards, they can meet Father Christmas for high tea, while cheeky elves will be on-hand to assist with present planning.
Beyond the pomp and presents, Christmas in London is also beautifully traditional. While Frost Fairs on the frozen-over Thames may be out of the question (the river hasn’t frozen solid since 1814), those who fancy their chances as skating champions can take a turn around the ice at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, which hosts the biggest open-air ice rink in the whole of the UK. For something a little more low key, go ice skating at Somerset House on the Strand, which hosts its own, pop-up rink each year. And while door-to-door carolling would be an ambitious project in a city as large as London, the setting of St. Paul’s Cathedral provides a welcome alternative. Every year, the landmark hosts a special Family Carols evening that provides a musical celebration of the advent – without having to wander the cold singing for figgy pudding.