Had enough of Winter Wonderland? Rather skip the glitzy windows of the big department stores? Love it when the city is dead in the awkward bit between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve? Here are our favourite, lesser-known, festive haunts, activities and walks to occupy your London Christmas holiday (and satisfy your motley crew of friends, family and second-cousins from Canada).
1. Gather round carols by candlelight at St Martin In the Fields
It doesn’t get much more Christmassy than the uplifting sound of carols to an enchanting backdrop of atmospheric candlelight. Booking for this festive treat may have opened earlier this year in July, but there are tickets available for post-Christmas day performances such as chamber ensemble London Concertante performing Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite among work by Brahms and Strauss on Tuesday 27th December (book in advance, 7.45pm), a ceremony of choir carols by candlelight with young choral scholars on Friday 30th December (book in advance, 9.30pm), and children’s classics with carols thrown in for good measure in a Mini Maestro Family Concert on Saturday 31st December (book in advance, 11.30am).
2. Head to the Horniman Museum
If you’re yet to visit this South London treasure, now’s the time to go get your Horniman on. Stuffed full of extensive collections of anthropology, natural history and musical instruments and tucked away in Forest Hill, the museum is home to a stunning 16 acres of garden complete with views across London and a Victorian conservatory, as well as a highly acclaimed aquarium – and that’s before you even swung by the giant stuffed walrus in the taxidermy displays. Oh, and don’t forget to visit the museum’s furry and feathered friends on the animal walk, home to alpacas, goats, sheep, guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens and more. There’s also an free drop-in ocarina workshop on the history of the ancient wind instrument on Wednesday 28th, if you’re not too stuffed. Entrance is free, with a small fee for the aquarium and ticketed events.
3. Discover hidden London on foot
In a rare moment of being without fixed plans, take this treasured time to slow down and go for a big ol’ walk across London town. Walking across the capital London might seem like alien concept due to the usual mindset of ‘I need to get from A to B as fast as un-humanly possible’ at every other time of the year, but now’s the time to embrace our fair city at your own leisure, (rather than battle against moving through it). When half of London has left to celebrate Christmas elsewhere, now’s an opportune time to take in over 30 species of birds along the Lea Valley Walk and other green routes along the Lea Valley Regional Park, admire the beautiful canal sides of West london over a relaxed amble from Little Venice to Camden, or adventure over river valleys, heath and parks with a route across Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park. Best of all, it costs nothing and is one of the best forms of exercise you can do, don’t ya know.
4.Take a stroll in Postman’s Park
Fancy popping to something in the city? Nestled next to St Paul’s Cathedral and bordered by Little Britain (have a chuckle at this street sign), Postman’s Park is on the site of the former headquarters of the General Post Office and is one of the largest parks within the City of London; as well as one of the most beautiful. It’s enchanting gardens are home to the mesmerising Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice – a wall of 54 memorial tiles that commemorate men, women and children, who lost their life while attempting to save another. The touching stories of everyday heroism will really bring the true spirit of Christmas home. You might recognise it from the film Closer too. Just to bear in mind that it’s closed on the 24th, 25th and 26th of December, but if you’re in the area on Boxing Day, take a Victorian Christmas tour with your guide Hazel (book in advance) and delve into the history of our festive traditions.
5. A Christmas Carol by candlelight
Alas, what can we say, is it possible to do too many things by candlelight at Christmas? We don’t think so. Head on down to The Charles Dickens Museum in old London Bloomsbury for a very festive performance of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol performed by actor Dominic Gerrard. There’s also the opportunity to explore Dickens’s home, dressed lavishly for Christmas, and soak up the atmosphere as darkness falls. There are still tickets available for performances from 22nd Dec to 2nd Jan (book in advance).
6. Tour London’s Christmas lights on bike
Fingers crossed that it’ll be lovely weather for a bike ride together around town. Ideal for getting the body going after all that gloriously delicious sitting down, tours kick-off from the London Bicycle hire centre on Southbank, where you’ll get tooled-up with a bike, helmet and lights for your festive ride. Taking in a route via quieter streets and cycle paths, you’ll see all the glory of Westminster, palatial houses with tree in their windows on the back streets of Kensington and Chelsea, and the world-famous light displays of Sloane Square, Bond Street, Carnaby Street and Covent Garden, with a return that catches the particularly picturesque and iconic views from Waterloo Bridge. Tours take place from 3.30pm daily until 6 Jan and are suitable for children over 10.
7. Volunteer in the capital this Christmas
One of the best things you can do (at any time of year, let alone Christmas) is to give back. Whether it’s managing donations or working in a soup kitchen, brighten up someone’s day and hopefully even someone’s year by bringing them some cheer will a small act of kindness. Crisis organise the largest volunteering initiative in the country and looks for over 10,000 volunteers for a huge variety of roles. With just a day’s notice you can help transform a site with festive decoration or bring cheer late into the night. There are even roles to run feelgood activities such as massages, cooking and crafts, and you can volunteer with friends too. Team London makes volunteering in the city incredibly easy. Simply search from over 50,000 opportunities by interest and area and you’re guaranteed to find a role to suit you.
8. Go sledging on Hampstead Heath (if snow comes)
If the snow does grace us with its presence this year, then head to the highest point in the capital at Whitestone Pond in Hampstead (between the West Heath and Hampstead Heath) or check out Parliament Hill for some stellar views and great powder (probably). Or if you’re south of the river, try Brockwell Park in Brixton for a range of slope gradients so there’s something for everybody. It’s also near plenty of welcoming cafes to warm up in. This excellent guide will equip you with everything you need to know to choose the best spot.
Whatever you’re up to this festive season, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, from everyone at Farmdrop! x
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