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The John Lewis Christmas promo, Tesco's stuffing sandwich meal deals, and, most significantly, Mariah Carey saying it's time are all unmistakable signals that the holiday season has officially arrived. And, just as Cinderella's carriage turns into a pumpkin at midnight, London changes into a magnificent hive of yuletide delight on November 1. Streets shine with Christmas lights, hotels and stores are decked up for the holidays, and songs play out across the city.
While we're crossing our fingers for a genuine winter wonderland this season, we've compiled a list of activities to get you in the holiday spirit in the meanwhile. Without further ado, here are the top nine Christmas activities in London.
Purchase early: Because London is predicted to have an increase in tourists this season, most tickets, particularly for events, will likely sell out quickly; book in advance to obtain the finest seats in the house. Some winter festivities and eateries also need reservations.
Warm-up: As is customary in the United Kingdom, the weather may be unpredictable, with high winds one minute and a rain the next (sometimes both at the same time). Layer up and don't forget your waterproof gear.
Avoid shopping craziness: Christmas crowds are unavoidable, but you may reduce your stress by figuring out where you want to go first, avoiding peak hours, and shopping early in the day if feasible.
1. Take an ice skating lesson
This holiday season, glide over one of the capital's numerous open-air ice rinks. There are several options, but Skate at Somerset House is undoubtedly London's most famous. This year, it's turning up the heat (or, more appropriately, the freezing power) with a larger skate zone nestled in the estate's neo-classical courtyard. Food, beverages, and rink-side DJs will keep the party going late into the night. Lessons offered by certified teachers are also available for beginners or those looking to improve their skating abilities. Glide, a newbie at Battersea Power Station, is also worth a look. It's a peek of New York's iconic rink at Rockefeller Center, set against a stunning background of the city's most historic skyscrapers and centered on a 30-foot Christmas tree. Built by the same team that created Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland and the Natural History Museum's skating facilities, London's only riverfront ice rink has expansive Thames vistas and a plethora of wonderful activities for anyone to enjoy.
Go on a date, or gather your best friends and put on your skates. Here are some more of the top ice skating rinks in London.
2. Look at the Christmas lights
When it comes to Christmas lights, no other city does it better than London. Every nook is enchantingly lighted with elaborate decorations that make it an entire experience in and of itself - this is why catching the first light is so magical around here. Plan your evening in downtown London to provide enough time to properly see the enormous splendor of these exhibitions. Begin in Oxford Street, where 5,000 LED stars glitter beneath the night sky, then go to Regent Street to observe the shimmering angels before entering Carnaby Street to be mesmerized by the technicolor lights. If, on the other hand, you'd rather see the lights from above while taking in panoramic views of some of London's greatest, book an open-top bus trip instead. Head south to Crystal Palace Park for Lightopia, a multi-sensory neon lights display that will immerse you in a magical experience like no other, and don't miss Kew Gardens' annual light show.
3. Visit the Christmas markets
It's the Christmas market season, and people in town are spoilt for choice when it comes to the best street cuisines, drunken pop-up bars, and sparkling gifts. Many of these world-famous markets, including downtown London's Leicester Square holiday fair, the Covent Garden Christmas market with its iconic 60-foot tree, and the Southbank Centre's seasonal treats along the Thames, are returning this winter. It will be difficult to escape the seductive scents of fresh sweet churros, spicy bratwurst, and handmade mince pies while touring the markets, so we recommend simply giving in and munching your way through the food booths. While visiting gift booths offering hand-crafted seasonal delights, keep warm with a hot chocolate, mulled wine, or cider.
4. Dance your way through the winter festivities
The winter festivities, which run into the new year and simultaneously with some of London's spectacular markets and ice rinks, are jam-packed with live entertainment, Christmas foods, and funfair rides. The most prominent is Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, which has the UK's biggest ice rink as well as a wide variety of street cuisine, rollercoasters, and carnival games. There's even an ice-filled drink bar. Others include Christmas by the River at London Bridge City, which includes free outdoor cinema screenings, and King's Cross Après Ski Wonderland, which includes club curling, spectacular ice sculptures, and lots of hot toddies.
5. Look for ideas for your own Christmas tree
Stroll the streets of London or go into any store and you're certain to see a Christmas tree decked up in its finest garb. While the majority of the city's Christmas trees are yet to be displayed, keep an eye out for these iconic locations: Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Coal Drops Yard, and Leadenhall Market. Some of London's best hotels are also put on display, so look inside The Connaught, Claridge's, and The Ritz when the trees are up.
6. Attend a Christmas-themed performance
This season, sing your heart out at Elf The Musical at the Dominion Theatre. The play, which runs for just eight weeks, is based on the popular Christmas film Elf, so prepare to be transported to Manhattan and icy Central Park. The West End staging of Disney's popular Frozen and a fine-tuned rendition of The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House are both must-sees. For something different, go to the award-winning cabaret La Clique in Leicester Square. No Christmas would be complete without seeing at least one pantomime, and Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium promise to be nothing short of amazing.
7. Get creative
If making something for loved ones seems intriguing, consider taking a pottery class or making custom candles in seasonal aromas like cinnamon, cedarwood, and clove. The Covent Garden branch of Petersham Nurseries is also holding wreath-making lessons, just in time to display the DIY masterpiece besides the gleaming decorations. Spend the evening at a cocktail-making class organized by Mixology Events, followed by a nightcap at one of London's slickest cocktail bars.