If you take the crowds out of the equation, London is truly magical at Christmas. It sparkles, glitters and gleams with festive cheer from Winterville to Winter Wonderland. Christmas, Yuletide, Noël, call it what you will – the festive season is my favourite time of the year, and I couldn’t resist pulling together a seasonal edition of this series. Last week, Laurence and I headed down to London for a day full of touristy goodness; we hit the streets instead of the sweaty underground trains, and clocked up a whopping 30,000 steps in the process. (More than enough to justify all the mince pies we ate later in the day.) Here’s what we got up to . . .
#5 Leadenhall Market | Call me a Grinch, but Platform 9¾ at London King’s Cross has lost its magic for me. Fortunately, there are plenty of other places where Muggles can get a Potter-fix in London. Enter, Leadenhall Market. Located on Gracechurch Street, this magnificent covered market is a marvel of maroon, bottle-green and cream façades, elegant beams and cobbled arcades, and is arguably as magical as Diagon Alley come Christmastime. Once a game, meat and poultry market, today it houses a mixture of eateries, gift shops and fresh food stalls. Just around the corner is The Swan, a cosy pub which serves light bites between midday and three; head there early if you want to be in with a chance of grabbing a seat before the city slickers descend on the place. Leadenhall Market is open Monday through Friday, from 10am to 6pm.
#6 Christmas Markets | Living in Alsace made me a Christmas market snob. (Sorry, but Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland isn’t a patch on the markets in Strasbourg, Colmar or Ribeauvillé.) That said, I still like to potter round London’s offerings. Come November, clusters of wooden chalets pop up across the capital, from London Bridge to Leicester Square. I spied tempting piles of schokokuss (a delicious confection similar to a chocolate teacake), star-shaped lights twinkling in the twilight and a stall selling beautiful hand-carved woodland creatures. (Choosing between the little piggy and the wild boar with tiny tusks was probably the toughest decision of the day.) For what it’s worth, I felt those in Leicester Square were the best of the bunch this year.
#7 Christmas Lights | (No Coldplay reference intended.) Over the festive season, London is illuminated by hundreds of thousands of LED lights: draped over trees; adorning the façades of high-end shops; wound round lampposts. Wherever lights can feasibly be strung up, they will be; London doesn’t do this by halves. Regent Street features a ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’-themed installation with dozens of graceful angels floating above the crowds, while peacock feathers are the décor of choice on nearby Bond Street. Carnaby Street, however, steals the show: this year, it’s gone for a carnival theme featuring palm trees, piñatas and parrots.
#8 Selfridge’s | I’m not a huge fan of retail therapy, so this one might come as a bit of a surprise – but it’s here for good reason. Selfridge’s has the best window displays at this time of the year, and it’s well worth battling the crowds on Oxford Street to see them. Mannequins were decked out in bells, sprouts and baubles; in other windows, giant balloons in festive shapes took centre stage. Think glittery floats, velvet banners and extravagant costumes, and you’ll get a good idea of what’s in store for you here (no pun intended). If you won’t be in London over the festive season, you can still see (some of) the displays from the comfort of your sofa.