How to: Christmas in London

Hey y’all, Merry Christmas! I hope you’re having a good holiday season, fill with love and joy, good food and maybe some presents 🙂 I’ve taken a few days off but now it’s time to spread some Christmas love – via unsolicited advice!

I’m lucky enough to live in the best city in the world (no arguments please, everyone knows it’s true!) and one of the things London does best is Christmas. The lights, the smells, the frenzied consumerism… people travel from all over the world to be a part of it.

But the other side of Christmas in London isn’t so awesome. The stress, the busy streets, the cold, the people… it can really ruin your Christmas spirit when you’re trying to walk down the road and you’ve got some angry numpty with a billion John Lewis bags coming up behind you. Similarly, it really takes the sheen off your lovely Christmas purchases when you have to get onto the tube and smell someone’s armpit for 40 minutes.

With all this in mind, I thought I should share some of the tips and tricks my family and I have gathered over the past 20-odd years about making the best of Christmas in London. To be honest, none of this is new advice and all of it could be applied to any city… nonetheless, I think it’s good to be reminded sometimes of how to make your Christmas as relaxing and festive as possible.

Shopping

Christmas is the time of consumerism. There’s no avoiding it. You have to be a particular kind of sadist to enjoy going into town to actually do your Christmas shopping. I haven’t been to Oxford Street since early November in order to do shopping – I am sensible.

However, there are many advantages to going into town around Christmas. The lights are beautiful, the atmosphere is great, and the displays in the shop windows are often magical and really special. I treat going ‘Christmas shopping’ as a euphemism for something much better: Christmas people-watching. The fundamental rule of Christmas people-watching is simple: don’t buy anything which you aren’t going to eat straight away. It’s not worth it. This is what Amazon is for. My very favourite places to Christmas people-watch are:

  1. Marylebone High Street. This is a very wealthy area with beautiful restaurants and shops stretching from Euston Road down to Wigmore Street. Everything feels very artisan and desperately expensive. If the weather is good you can get a hand-made, exceptionally branded coffee and watch the worthies in their fancy clothes and designer handbags loaf around and toss their expensive hair.
  2. Regent’s Street. This is the sensible man’s Oxford Street. It has all of the lights but much wider pavements. When you’re done with the people, nip off to the side and wander through the dark streets of St. James, or take a turn around the many arcades.*
  3. Covent Garden. The classic, the old favourite. I’m not saying there won’t be crowds, but you won’t find anywhere more authentically decorated and unfailingly bound to make you feel squishy and happy and full of Christmas cheer. This year they had huge baubles hanging from the ceiling. I mean, come on.

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Places which used to make the cut but are gone now are:

  • Seven Dials: too much traffic
  • Camden Market: too tacky
  • Hampstead High Street: too arrogant.

*nice, old fashioned shopping arcades, not silly amusement arcades.

Evenings

As you may be able to tell from my photos, I do all my London Christmas-ing at night. This is because I work now (ergh) and I’m not released until everything has gone dark. This is good though, because the lights are fantastic and very Christmas.

What I’d actually like to talk about now though is the Shows. Everyone should go to a Christmas Show, whether it’s a play, a panto, a musical, some comedy… there’s nothing like putting on your glad rags and heading to the warm embrace of “culture” to make you feel like the holidays are here. I go to the theatre a lot, so I am a bit of a snob, but this also means I have plenty of hints and tips to make the best of your Christmas outing.

The first thing I’d recommend would be to book in advance. Like, well in advance. Ideally at least 6 months before, if not a year. This means you will be able to pick the tickets which straddle the careful divide between crazy expensive and “I can’t see there’s a column in my way”. A night out at the theatre can cost hundreds of pounds, but if you get those nice tickets at the front of the circle just to the side it will only be ÂŁ50 each (trust me, it’s a bargain).

Alternatively, go for something more obscure. My favourite new find (I know it’s been there for ages!) is the Leicester Square Theatre. It’s been around for years, and this year it has a particularly dirty panto on. I want to go – who will come with me?

My other recommendation has to be a well-earned piece of knowledge – don’t drink too much before. Like, just please don’t. You spend the whole first act feeling like you need to pee, and you can’t really hear anyway because everything is just so spinning. There’s always plenty of time to drink afterwards!

Christmas lights in Covent Garden, London

What about you? What do you do to keep you sane through the holiday season? Let me know!

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