So it’s Christmas time again, the presents are under the tree, the mistletoe is up and the mulled wine is brewing. But if you want to add a little more excitement to your festive season beyond the usual turkey dinner, Queen’s speech and inevitable EastEnders festive mayhem, then the good news is that there are plenty of ways to celebrate it in the capital – whatever your age. Whether you want to take advantage of the school holidays and have an outing with the kids, snap up a few festive bargains, show off your skating skills or find another way to spice up the season, there’s more than enough to while away the time between the first batch of mulled wine and the last ditch moments of celebration as we prepare to enter 2016.
If you’ve never been to London’s famous horticultural heaven, then now’s your chance, with certain free activities inside the grounds to keep all the family entertained. For the younger visitor there’s a Victorian-style carousel, face painting and the chance to see Santa in his woodland grotto (until December 23); after Christmas they’re offering you the chance to take your tree for recycling. Failing that, you can just take a wander through the grounds in a bid to walk off all that turkey.
9 Take a festive trip to the cinema
Christmas is traditionally a time for blockbuster movies to make their cinema debut – not to mention the appearance of the ‘awards season’ films which might just go on to win Oscars – and this year is no exception. If it’s blockbuster fun you’re after you could check out Star Wars: the Force Awakens or James Bond’s Spectre, currently showing at cinemas all over the UK. Or you could wait until Boxing Day to watch Snoopy and Charlie Brown: A Peanuts Movie or The Good Dinosaur with children.
8 Check out a pantomime
Everybody loves a bit of pantomime at Christmas (Oh no they don’t! Oh yes they do! etc), and as usual London is stuffed to the gills with famous faces putting on silly costumes and acting out some thinly disguised fairytale for the benefit of their shouty audience. Highlights this year include an enchanting and timeless trip to Neverland, with Hollywood star Verne Troyer, comedians Marcus Brigstocke and Jarred Christmas plus dance troupe Flawless starring Peter Pan at New Wimbledon Theatre. Stars of stage and screen Hayley Mills and Matthew Kelly will appear in this year’s panto Cinderella at the Richmond Theatre (until Sunday January 10) Jo Brand, making her panto debut, in Aladdin at the New Wimbledon Theatre (also until January 12), and Jack and the Beanstalk at the Beck Theatre in Hayes (until January 2).
There’s all manner of festive goings-on at London’s biggest shopping centre in White City. The main attraction is the ice rink, which is open until January 5, and allows skaters to take to the ice in 45 minute sessions (with helper ‘penguins’ also available to guide younger visitors across the rink). Let’s not forget it’s also the ideal place to finish off your Christmas shopping – not to mention be in pole position when the post-Xmas sales start, with the stores open from 9am-11pm on December 26, 27, and 28.
If you want to get in the festive spirit without actually breaking the bank, then a trip to Trafalgar Square’s Christmas tree should suffice. The tree, which is given to the UK as a gift from Norway, in memory of the refuge that the Allies gave members of the Norwegian government and royal family during World War II. As well as the tree itself – which is decorated in traditional Norwegian fashion and whose lights were switched on by the Mayor of Oslo on December 1 – visitors can also enjoy nightly carol singing in the square. Just don’t forget to wrap up warm.
5 Go for a dip
Yes we know the temperature may be sub-zero on Christmas Day, but a bracing dip in the Serpentine in Hyde Park has been a festive tradition since 1864 for members of the Serpentine Swimming Club – and with other swimming events happening around the country there’s no reason why you shouldn’t join in too. Although we recommend you try a warmer pool such as the one at Hampstead Heath, which is at least heated all year round.
4 Go to church
Let’s not forget there’s a more serious reason for all these festivities – the fact that Christmas, for all its gifts and Slade songs on a loop and TV specials and family-sized tins of Quality Street, is actually a religious holiday. And if you plan to mark this by going to Midnight Mass this year there are plenty of options to choose from, including the traditional service at St Martin’s In The Field just off Trafalgar Square. The fun kicks off on Christmas Eve with an afternoon service, followed by carols at 6.30pm and the main event at 11.30pm. Or you could head for Westminster Abbey, with carols at 4pm and the service at 11.30pm. An evening of Christmas carols is a surefire way to sprinkle some holiday spirit into the season. From grand affairs in majestic venues such as Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral to charity fundraisers with celebrity readings, London’s carol services are guaranteed to leave you with a warm glow.
Skating in the indoor rink at Westfield is all very well but if you want to skate under the stars (or even under the sun, such as it is), then the arresting setting of the Tower Of London provides the perfect opportunity to do so. The rink’s lit up after dark for added spectacle, and if you’re unsteady on your feet you can always ask one of the ‘ice guides’ for help in getting from one end of the ice to the other without coming a cropper.
The ever- popular Disney On Ice is returning to the O2 over the festive season (from December 27 – January 5) with new production Dare To Dream, which sees the Disney princesses donning their skates and joining forces with Mickey Mouse and his mates. Cinderella, Snow White, Princess and The Frog heroine Tiana and Tangled’s Rapunzel are among those taking centre stage in a show which promises glass slippers, enchanted forests and a generous dose of Disney magic. Your little ones will be thrilled (and you’ll probably enjoy it too).
This now annual spectacle in Hyde Park really has become a staple of the festive season, with all manner of goodies including the Angels Market, complete with over 100 stalls, and rides and attractions which this year include the Ice Kingdom – featuring an array of spectacular ice sculptures – and the Giant Observation Wheel, offering stunning views of the capital. Or you can just get your fill of Bratwurst at one of the food stalls. And with free admission (although you do pay for certain attractions) this is one you can’t really afford to miss.