Planning to be in London during the holiday season? How can you spend your time there the way a true luxury insider would? We asked our sophisticated friends to share their absolute favorite Christmas activities in the city. We’re sharing their recommendations based on their years of experience living in London (and tossing a few of our own, too). Here’s how to do Christmas in London like a luxury insider.
the dream of a holiday in london
Christmas in London. When we hear these three words, we think about Charles Dickens. And A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and figgy pudding. The 12 Days of Christmas, and a grand feast centered on a Christmas goose.
We imagine carols, and candlelight, hand-made toys and perhaps even a holiday message from the Queen.
How much of that is real, and how much is the stuff of daydreams? We decided to investigate.
the classics that are can’t-miss
If you’ve never been to London, there are some iconic things that you just have to do.
That list includes strolling along the Thames riverbank and seeing the Houses of Parliament. Having high tea and taking a tour of Westminster Abbey. Visiting the Tower of London with its famous ravens and Crown Jewels, and strolling through Hyde Park.
You can’t miss St. James Park, Green Park and Pall Mall; and seeing the Changing of the Guard. You should take in a show on the West End; visit the British Museum, the V & A, and the Tate Modern. And do some shopping at Harrods.
We’ve previously reported on the most romantic restaurants in town, and no matter what time of year it is, you should stop in for a meal at least one of them. Oh, and be sure to visit Hatchards, one of the best bookstores in the world.
the insider’s list of other Christmas must-do’s
Assuming that you’ve checked many of these iconic destinations off your list, here’s our list of the top 10 luxury insider experiences that we’d recommend for a full measure of joy in the London during the Christmas season.
1. Visit the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
Even if you’re not bringing along little ones, this is a magical holiday experience. The entire park is transformed for the season into an upscale, classy amusement park. There are rides, old-style Viennese and German-style market stands made of wood selling ornaments and handmade crafts, and proper restaurants where you can get a really nice meal. There’s also a beautifully-decorated outdoor ice-skating rink and ice sculpture display.
2. Do some shopping at charming local boutiques.
There are many wonderful stores and boutiques that you can only find in England. Here are some of the ones that our friends rank the highest.
This covered arcade off Piccadilly specializes in non-chain stores, so what you’ll find there is truly special and unique to London. They include N Peal cashmere, as well as silversmiths who create lovely table décor. While you’re in the neighborhood, visit Fortnum and Mason – its’ quintessentially British, especially at Christmas.
This wonderful toy store on Regent Street is a must-visit for anyone with a child in their lives. For the young, or the young at heart, it will be difficult to spend less than an hour here – you’ve been warned.
Pay a visit to the stunning art-filled townhouse of our Luminary, high jewelry designer Jessica McCormack.
On South Audley Street you’ll find LONB (Love or Nothing Baby), a luxury handbag and travel bag company that uses the same Italian factories used by Hermes, made with leather and exotic skins like crocodile.
Just around the corner is Mount Street, which has become the new designer street for high-end British fashion designers like Matthew Williamson and Roksanda.
You’ll find secret treasures mostly only known to locals on Elizabeth Street, which is lined with boutiques and cafes. There’s a shop that makes tablecloths and napkins that are customized with written messages in cursive – sometimes people request a favorite poem, or their family name – they’re just beautiful. You’ll find luxury fragrances at Jo Loves and Les Senteurs, and books and bespoke stationery from H.R. Stokes.
If you love shoes
The most fun shoes can be found at Lucy Choi, across the park in Bayswater. Lucy is Jimmy Choo’s niece, and she has started her own business.
3. Take in the iconic shopping streets of the city.
Regent Street and Oxford Street are fully closed to vehicular traffic during the holidays. They’re magical at this time of year, especially after dark. You’ll find twinkling lights overhead, and brightly-lit shop windows all around. Department store Selfridge’s always has a splendid display. There are stands selling mince pies and other holiday treats. In Knightsbridge, don’t miss The Food Hall at Harrods, and if you love fashion, you should also make a stop at Harvey Nichols.
4. Stop for afternoon tea.
We also love high tea at the Goring Hotel. And if you need something restorative after a hard day of shopping, the teas offered at the high-end department stores like Harrods are fun, too.
Fashionistas, take note – a great option is festive afternoon tea at Claridge’s, underneath their designer Christmas tree.
5. Sample some outstanding cocktails.
Dukes Hotel St. James is a great stop for pre-dinner or pre-theater. It’s extremely British, and they have the best martinis in the city. They wheel a cart to your table and prepare it in front of you. The Ned Hotel is a hot place to go for drinks right now – they have eight restaurants in total, and there’s live jazz music playing every night.
6. Have a holiday meal – traditional or modern.
Our London friends highly recommend the following fine dining establishments.
Core, the first and only three-Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by a female Chef – Clare Smyth – it’s in Notting Hill, farm-to-table food, and very elegant, but not stuffy.
Spring in Somerset House – it’s light, airy, and beautifully-designed and is also farm-to-table – the chef is Skye Gyngell.
Chutney Mary in St James – it’s the best elegant restaurant serving Indian food.
Cicchetti’s on Piccadilly – it’s the best Italian casual tapas — amazing small plates, so it’s great for lunch if you’re doing the Burlington Arcade.
For a full British traditional dinner, with classic dishes, attentive service and even the great silver domes that cover all of the dishes, the best place in town is The Ritz Hotel. The Savoy Hotel is good, too.
For a lovely lunch, head to Jean Georges at The Connaught in Mayfair.
7. Stay at a 5-star hotel.
The city is full of wonderful hotels. Number Sixteen is an incredible boutique hotel – it feels like being someone’s home. The Lanesborough is very posh. The Covent Garden Hotel is really popular, especially with people who work in media. The Bulgari Hotel is in Knightsbridge, and it’s walking distance from Harrods and Harvey Nichols, so it’s perfect for those who love to shop.
We also love The Goring, a wonderfully charming boutique hotel just steps away from Buckingham Palace and St. James Park (it’s where Princess Kate stayed the night before her royal wedding).
However, our new personal favorite – one we just discovered this year – is the chic Beaumont Hotel in Mayfair.
8. Attend a choral music performance.
St. George’s Hanover Square in Mayfair, St. Paul’s and Royal Albert Hall are wonderful places to hear holiday music. There will be performances of The Messiah, holiday brass, choirs, and even sing-alongs.
If you plan well in advance, or have friends with good connections, the “concert of the season” is held every year at St. George’s in mid-December: it’s called The Story of Christmas, and it’s hosted by Dame Judi Dench.
The evening begins with a service of Nine Lessons and Carols with readings from famous celebrities, like Benedict Cumberbatch. That’s followed by a champagne reception and auction in the ballroom of the Dorchester Park Lane. First held in 1978, it’s a fundraiser hosted by the property and construction industries, and has become a star-studded event, with tickets nearly impossible to get.
9. See as many museum exhibits as you can.
We think the must-do museums in London are the British Museum, the V&A and the Tate Modern. But at this time of year in particular, the National Gallery is a wonderful stop. We love the Natural History Museum, with or without little ones in tow. And the Churchill War Rooms are incredibly compelling, even if you’re not much of a history buff. Especially at the holidays, to see the historical record of the sacrifice and courage of the Allied troops during World War 2 is truly inspiring.
10. Take a day trip to the Cotswolds, Oxford or Cambridge.
Our Bureau Chief advises: “If you want to make a day trip outside of London, the Cotswolds would be the best place to go. You’ll find gorgeous little villages – it’s like stepping back in time. The houses have thatched roofs. Oxford and Cambridge are also filled with old, beautiful streets and churches.”
want even more?
Want even more insider ideas? Our London-based team also suggests that a lovely way to end your holiday visit would be to go ice skating on the outdoor rink at Somerset House. Or you could pay homage to Charles Dickens by seeing A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic.
If you don’t mind the cold, a stroll through Kew Gardens at Christmas is a wonderful experience. Also, you might be surprised by how much fun a spin on the London Eye is, even for a sophisticated urban dweller. We were totally skeptical and expecting something cheesy the first time we did it, but it’s a fantastic way to see the entire city from a birds-eye view.
two hours or less
If you’re really pressed for time, check out our recommendations for what to do in 120 minutes or less: Two Hours in London.
Whether you actually make it to London this year, or see it only in your dreams, from all of us here at Dandelion Chandelier, we’re wishing you a joyous holiday.
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