As the mercury starts to dip in London, the days become shorter and darkness descends by 4pm. While some people find the dark, damp winters hard to cope with, others find cheer in the dazzling lights and merriment kicked off in anticipation of Christmas. There is something really warm about the way the holiday season is celebrated in London, making it one of the best places in the world to visit in winter.
If you are in London in winter, you cannot miss out on the Christmas markets that sell big Santa-bag fulls of cheer in the form of treats and trinkets. Most of these pop-up London markets usually open in mid-November and many stay open until the New Year.
One of the biggest Christmas markets in London is Winter Wonderland, set up in Hyde Park, with more than 100 wooden cabins overflowing with charming gifts and knick-knacks. Think handbags and woollen scarves;stocking fillers including a wide word of toys;candy, fudge and instant snow; handmade crafts like metal, glass or wooden décor;cheerful holiday mugs and delectable by the dozen. There are carnival rides and game booths, an ice skating rink, ice sculpting workshops, an indoor performance theatre, and even a Bavarian Village that serves Bavarian fare and beer.
Southbank Centre Winter Market is also not to be missed. The riverside is lit up with beautifully decorated Christmas trees, with over 60 little wooden chalets lining the bank between the London Eye and the Southbank Centre, a winter wonderland, with food and mulled wine and Christmas presents aplenty. Not far from there is Christmas by the River at London Bridge, set against the stunning views of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Beautiful huts lined along the river Thames arepacked with bespoke presents: jewellery and special Christmas puddings,with a side of mouth-watering treats such as waffles, crepes, churros, baked potatoes and sausages—all set alongside London’s most iconic skyline views.
If you choose to enjoy the festivities at the Leicester Square Christmas market, you can head to a comedy, cabaret and burlesque show later. For days when it’s cold and dark and damp and the thought of being outdoors gives you the chills, Westfield London Christmas Market is a great option. It’s indoors and warm and a shopper’s delight with every brand you can think of, all available under one roof.
If you are able to venture out a bit afar from Central London locations, the market in the ancient maritime neighbourhood of Greenwich is a good shout. Decked with glowing festive lights and goodies and warming seasonal food served up at the many street food stalls, it gives the feeling of being in a quaint little village tucked somewhere far away.
Dozens of light festivals hold sway every year around this time,designed to delight both locals and tourists. Winter lights installed on one of the grandest scales in London can be enjoyed at Christmas at Kew, as Kew Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is lit up with one million lights. Along the usual two-kilometre trail, this year will see the iconic Temperate House, the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world, illuminated with dynamic laser projections. A waterfall of lights cascading from the 18-metre-high Treetop Walkway, creating a sea of light, sparkling spiral trees, vines intertwined with little shards of light, alongside the glorious Tunnel of Light twinkling with thousands of pea-lights. No light festival is complete without festive food and drink and a few family rides, so brace yourself for a carnivalesque mood.
On a much smaller scale but much more accessible are the Winter Lights at Canary Wharf. This year the display will showcase 25 artworks and immersive installationsby some of the most innovative light artists across the globe.
If you’re not too keen on venturing out of your way, the West End is decorated with new light installations every year. Arguably, the most magnificent walk in Central London is across the curved length of Regent Street, from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Street. Bond Street, not far from there and home to the most luxurious stores in London, is draped in the grandest of decorations—LED light art along the length of the street, garlands and angels of light, stores jazzy with lit-up window displays. Carnaby Street and the cobbled streets of Covent Garden can be added to the list of pretty shopping haunts.
The Shard, the tallest building in London, is a great place to watch the brightly litskyline.The Shard also puts up its own Christmas lights show, transforming the top 20 storeys of the building into a colourful spectacle visible across the capital.
The capricious London weather doesn’t offersnowvery often, but when it does, the city is transformed into a winter wonderland.Suddenly the freezing temperatures redeem themselves by sending down the silvery-white crystals that brighten up the mood. Everyone hopes that the snow flurry becomes thicker and keeps falling without any meddling from the rain,covering everything in a blanket of milky white.
Two of the bestspots in London to enjoy the snow are Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park and Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. Just a gentle climb away, Primrose Hill at 63 metres above sea level, offers some of the most stunning views of the city. The city shrouded in snow and the park surrounding the hill, covered in white. The summit features a York stone edging with a William Blake inscription that reads, “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill”. At the 325-feet-high Parliament Hill, which affords equally stunning views, people come to have some fun with their sledges, catching good speed down the steep hill. You can also stroll through some of the gardens and enjoy the powdery snow delicately covering the trees and the string of ponds, slowly freezing over. Greenwich Observatory also has a famous hill, great for both taking in the views and for sledging.You might want to put away your dainty or expensive shoes as the snow can often get slushy in London. It’s best to wear water-proof, comfortable and functional footwear for a jaunt in the snow.
Once you have had your fill, you could head to a restaurant in the Shard or Walkie Talkie or one of the many other new skyscrapers that have sprung up in recent times to savoursweeping views while sippingon hot coffee or a winter tipple. Or else, find yourself a cosy- boozy pop-up igloo. The glass pods that offer insulation from the freezing temperatures also promise a good grub, and are in locations with great views. The Coppa Club, Jimmy’s Winter Lodge And Snow Globes and Aviary are some good options that require reservation.
While much of the winter entertainment is on-the-go, it’s advisable to book online ahead of time for some of these establishments, especially the ones with ticketed events. Prices can range between £12-20 /Rs 1,106-1,845.