Our Festive Favourites: Things to do in London at Christmas

We are unashamedly traditional at Tales of the City in loving all the timeless magic of Christmas in London. The key for us is walking, lapping up the splendour of our city’s illuminated architecture and design, and taking time to follow whatever we get drawn to – be it a pop-up Christmas market, an attention-grabbing window display, lights adorning a shopping or residential street, or the glow of a pub, bar, music venue or café that beckons us inside.

We love a little bit of everything that London offers on these crisp winter days and evenings, but we never describe our guides or articles as “definitive” or “ultimate.” Tales of the City is about stories, encounters, and the many different flavours London offers. So, in no particular order, here is a taste of what we love about Christmas in London.

Christmas lights at Kew Gardens

London’s green spaces are close to our heart at all times of the year, and, when decked out in lights after dark, nothing captures the romance of the festive season quite like the Christmas lights at Kew Gardens. They are fast becoming legendary for their genuinely magical displays. This is as good as date-night locations get.

We also love Kenwood House at Christmas. Projections, soundscapes, fire pots and Christmas lights transform this part of Hampstead Heath and set us up perfectly for a stroll afterwards down into Hampstead village to one of our favourite pubs, the Holly Bush. We go there for the mulled wine and carol singing to officially commence the season and then down the hill to La Creperie de Hampstead, where even waiting in line for a sweet, hot treat is a chance to soak up the villagey Christmas atmosphere.

Ski Sunday is a regular part of our winter routine but we also have our own ‘Tree Sunday’ every year. On the grounds that Christmas is the perfect excuse to embrace tradition and the classics, it starts with a trip to Columbia Road to pick up a tree and a morning spent decorating it, then down to Somerset House for ice skating. Given its proximity, it would be considered rude not to head for The American Bar at The Savoy for drinks afterwards.

This year, we are going to combine traditional and contemporary live music experiences, with the Vivaldi candlelight concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields in late December and a Christmas-week trip to see Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol at the Southbank Centre. The Queen of Country has re-worked Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and set it in the Mountains of East Tennessee, basing it on her own Christmas experiences and memories.

The festive season offers Londoners the chance to fall in love again with the West End. The Christmas lights remind us that this year-round busy hub is a labyrinth of architectural masterpieces.

This year, we particularly love the royalty and jewellery-themed designs adorning Old and New Bond Street.

There is something intrinsically Christmassy about window shopping and Mayfair is the epitome of this, with some of the finest exponents of the craft displaying their designs along these beautiful old streets.

New Bond Street. W1

Outside Ralph Lauren you’ll find our favourite Christmas Tree of London 2022. It’s a 16-foot gold and black Nordmann Fir ‘Giving Tree’ designed to embrace the spirit of kindness. Visitors to the store can make a donation to The Royal Marsden Cancer charity and create a personalised ornament to hang on the tree outside.

Staying, for a moment, on the theme of reflection, we highly recommend taking in, as part of your West End Christmas trips, a visit to the Ever After Garden in Grosvenor Square. You’ll see this London landmark lit up by more than 20,000 glowing roses. The Garden is a seasonal event which offers people the chance to either dedicate a rose to someone or simply to stop to remember absent loved ones in the run-up to Christmas.

A new favourite haunt of ours that is wonderful at Christmas is Fitz’s bar at the Kimpton Fitzroy in Bloomsbury. Fitz’s is chic, stylish and buzzing. The cocktails are out of this world (you can choose to navigate the cocktails list by using the theory of colour) and the atmosphere is everything you want on a Christmas night out.

Fitz’s bar at the Kimpton Fitzroy in Bloomsbury

Warmed by that experience, you can stroll north to the buzz of one of London’s great revamped localities, King’s Cross. Christmas at Coal Drops Yard provides a rich menu of shopping and eating out. You can also try your hand at Curling over the festive season or the Shōtengai pan-Asian Market on Lower Stable Street, while The Canopy Christmas Market runs until the 22nd.

While you’re there, remind yourself to book tickets for the amazing Hockney exhibition at the Lightroom in King’s Cross, opening in January. Then don your gloves, turn your coat collar up and stroll along the canal towards Islington and Hackney, two of our absolute favourite Christmas shopping locations.

We make our seasonal search for gifts and treats a local affair at Story of Home. The experience of wandering from one small independent shop to the next within a London village is one of contemporary London’s great attractions. This December we have been doing this in Stuart’s homeland of Hackney, Mathew’s beloved Belsize Park and Hampstead, and in some of the other areas we are currently selling homes for our clients; Chelsea, Highgate, Marylebone, Fitzrovia, Primrose Hill, St. John’s Wood, Holland Park, Stoke Newington and West Hampstead.

All across London, neighbourhood shops and streets geared up for Christmas add a new ingredient to all the things that make the place you live feel like home. The boutique shops and small eateries of all these London villages come into their own during the festive season.

All of which leaves just one hugely important question unanswered ­– where to go for the annual, seasonal, big screen viewing of Elf?

We’ll watch it at home, of course, at some point, probably more than once in fact. But we also need the full cinematic experience and the seasonal vibe of leaving a cinema with a big, stupid Will Ferrell-inspired grin on our faces and heading for a night out.

Christmas at Coal Drops Yard

This year we’ll be in one of our favourite South London neighbourhoods, Wandsworth, at the unbelievably atmospheric Backyard Cinema. It’s showing a great selection of both modern and classic Christmas films, Elf included, and is a truly magical movie-watching experience, as is a trip to The Alma Pub afterwards.

“I planned out our whole day. First, we make snow angels for two hours, and then we’ll go ice skating, and then we’ll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookie Dough as fast as we can, and then to finish, we’ll snuggle.” Buddy, in Elf.

Whatever your idea of a perfect day at Christmas time, and wherever your favourite London Christmas haunts are, all of us here at Story of Home wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas and a fantastic 2023.