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 are our team’s insider tips on the best things to do on a luxury Christmas holiday vacation in London, including where to stay, shopping, dining out, music performances and more.
the dream of a luxurious Christmas holiday vacation in London
Christmas in London. When we hear these three words, we think about Charles Dickens and Ebenezer Scrooge. And A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and figgy pudding. The 12 Days of Christmas, and a grand feast featuring Christmas crackers and a Christmas goose.
We imagine carols, and candlelight, hand-made toys and perhaps even a holiday message from the King.
How much of that is real, and how much is the stuff of daydreams? We decided to investigate. We asked several of our friends, as well as the concierge at our favorite boutique hotel, what the true and best luxury experiences are essential on a luxury Christmas holiday vacation in London. Here’s what they recommend.
classic Christmas holiday luxury experiences in London
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 Berkeley Square and St. James Park.
You can’t miss Hyde Park, Green Park and Pall Mall, and seeing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. 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 in Mayfair or at Selfridges. Oh, and be sure to visit Hatchards, one of the best bookstores in the world.
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.
10 essential experiences for a luxury Christmas holiday vacation in London
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 London on a vacation during the Christmas holiday season.
1. Visit the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
Even if you’re not bringing along little ones, the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park 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. Festivities begin in November, and there are new attractions to enjoy each year.
2. Shop for gifts at the charming local boutiques.
There are many wonderful stores and boutiques that you can find only in the U.K. Here are some of the ones that our friends rank the highest.
This covered arcade off Piccadilly specializes in boutique specialty stores, so what you’ll find here 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 nearby Fortnum and Mason – its quintessentially British, especially at Christmas.
Hamleys Toy Shop
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.
Mount Street, Mayfair
Mount Street in Mayfair is one of the most beautiful and serene shopping streets in all of London. Unlike New Bond Street, the vibe is discreet, with much less vehicular traffic. In this refined precinct, you should pay a visit to the stunning art-filled townhouse of high jewelry designer Jessica McCormack.
We love the Roksanda store, in no small part because their staff is wonderful. You’ll also find the global luxury brands Balenciaga, Loewe and Oscar de la Renta here.
On nearby South Audley Street you’ll find designer Melissa Morris’s exquisite luxury handbag and travel bag shop, Métier London. The brand uses the same Italian factories used by Hermes, made with leather and exotic skins like crocodile.
When you’re done with shopping, take a stroll through the Mount Street Gardens, And when you’re ready for some refreshment, we strongly recommend a stop at the charming Marchesi 1824, the Milanese Pasticceria part-owned by the Prada Group. The vibe is fun, and the pastries are delicious.
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 contemporary keepsake lockets at Loquet London. If you get hungry, you may want to take a peek at the fairytale world of Peggy Porschen Parlor, where you can sample some of their delectable pastel pink desserts.
3. Stroll the iconic shopping streets to see the holiday lights and windows.
Regent Street and Oxford Street are fully closed to vehicular traffic during the holidays. They’re magical for luxury Christmas shopping. But at this time of year, make a point to visit 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 just outside. In Knightsbridge, don’t miss The Food Hall at Harrods, after you’re done admiring the lights and shop windows.
4. Make time 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 stores like Fortnum and Mason are fun, too.
Fashionistas, take note – a chic option is afternoon tea at Sketch London.
5. Sample some outstanding cocktails.
Dukes Hotel St. James is a great stop for pre-dinner or pre-theater. It’s extremely British, and we have it on good authority that 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 another great place to go for drinks – they have eight restaurants in total, and there’s live jazz music playing every night.
And for a hot new option, head to Velvet by Salvatore Calabrese, which opened less than a year ago. They’re a luxurious champagne and cocktail bar, infusing all your favorite drinks with impeccable craft and fresh innovation.
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 in Britain. Chef Claire Smyth serves farm-to-table food in Notting Hill; here you’ll find elegance, but not stuffiness.
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’son Piccadilly – it’s the best casual Italian dining — they serve amazing small plates, so it’s great for lunch if you’re visiting 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’s Savoy Grill is good, too.
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 personal favorite 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 at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel. 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. If you are museum-hopping with little ones, The London Transport Museum is another great stop. They transform each year into a winter wonderland, offering card-making, sleigh rides, and other favorite holiday activities. 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 London Bureau Chief has this advice about the surrounding area: “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 ideas for a luxury Christmas vacation in London?
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.
best luxury Christmas holiday vacation in London
That’s our take on the best luxury Christmas shopping, dining and things to do in London on a Christmas holiday vacation. 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.