London: Christmas is coming…

Posted on December 8, 2006


by jnoelbell

It’s a well worn cliché, but there really is something magical which settles over London at the holidays. During the rest of the year, the urban qualities of a large city are characteristics you either love or hate: the throngs of cityfolk, the non-stop lifestyle, the concrete buildings, the public transportation, the touristy attractions. No matter how much you love city living, it’s bound to drive you mad from time to time. So as the end of the year approaches, it becomes all too easy to spend your commute cocooned in your iPod, or walk to your destinations with head down and shoulders squared against the world.

As the daylight gets shorter and the damp fog of autumn descends over both city and dwellers, it can get downright dreary. But it doesn’t have to be this way…

Just as things start to seem bleak, the holidays arrive in full force, and those who’ve slogged their way through the year find themselves rewarded for their endurance. The twinkling lights emerge, the air freshens with a hint of cheer. There is a palpable mood shift which lifts the spirit. The holiday party season begins as diaries fill with drinks dates and social appointments. Pubs put up trees and light the fireplace for the shopping-weary that straggle in. It feels like an entirely different place.

For Londoners, the festive glow also brings with it a renewed appreciation of just what it is visitors see in this city. Even the most jaded urbanite finds it impossible not to catch the holiday spirit, and look forward to the decorations and activities that make up the quintessential “Christmas in London” experience. Annual traditions that recall the sense of wonder and awe which make London so special. Things which mentally revive us just in time for the coming New Year.

Here are a few favourites, that are popular with good reason:

Fresh air skating.
Londoners aren’t usually much for winter sports – it rarely gets cold or snowy enough in England. Which is why skating at Christmas is so popular. Whether Somerset House, Hampstead Heath, or Canary Wharf, ice skating has become synonymous with the holidays, no matter where you choose to strap on your skates. The lights and music combine to transport your imagination to a frozen pond in the woods… well, perhaps not. But it’s pretty and wintery and good fun if you don’t fall too much. Be sure to warm up with some hot chocolate after.

A crisp walk along the lighted Thames.
There’s something about seeing all the familiar landmarks lit up at night which just takes your breath away – or maybe that’s the cold! The bridges, St. Paul’s, Southwark Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament set dramatically against the evening sky – it’s a gorgeous sight which often goes unappreciated. Turn the lack of Tube service to your advantage and take a stroll along Southside or Bankside for some stunning scenery. Pop in somewhere for a mulled wine along the way. It doesn’t get any more romantic than that.

The annual Leicester Square funfair. Take a break from the shopping madness on Oxford street, or tear yourself away from the pubs and clubs for a little carnival fun. Rides, lights, and candyfloss are sure to bring out the Christmas kid in you. Who can resist a bejewelled carousel? Or just grab a popcorn and watch the excitement.

A cozy Christmas Eve in the pub. Whether you fancy the ambience of a hot toddy in front of the hearth, or a martini at a swank see-and-be-seen bar, Christmas Eve isn’t complete without a nightcap or two before Santa’s visit. Get a few mates together, make merry in your sparkliest clothes, and enjoy what Christmas is really all about: family and friendship. Stumble home in time to put out the stockings. Fall into bed to dream of visions of sugarplums.

Photo credit: Manel