There is something so magical about being on holiday in a big city at Christmas time. And if you have kids with you London is particularly enchanting.
The streets are sparkling with fairy lights, the store windows are alive with mechanical elves, dancing dolls and miniature trains whizzing around tracks and Santa is waiting for you to visit him in his Grotto.
But where do you start?
Christmas Events in London 2010
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park
Well, first stop for me, to really get yourself into the festive spirit would be Hyde Park, as from now until January 4 2011, the Royal park in the heart of London has been transformed into a Winter Wonderland. You can get your skates on on London’s largest open-air ice-rink, get a ringside seat at the circus or take flight in the giant observation wheel. Or perhaps you might want to hitch a ride on the traditional carousel, bump around on the dodgems or hurtle down the helter skelter? There’s also Santaland, where you’ll find mini fairground rides and Santa in his grotto.
If Father Christmas is too busy to see you here, however, he’s also hanging out at plenty other places around the Capital. Some of these are ticketed events so you shouldn’t find yourselves stuck in a queue for hours while the little ones put ‘why can’t we see him right now?’ on repeat.
Selfridges’ Grotto. Photo courtesy of Selfridges
Selfridges, the upmarket department store on Oxford Street, has a lovely Santa’s grotto. The trip starts off with a ride on Santa’s Express train, when you reach the station you’re greeted by elves and whisked into a special room to meet Father Christmas himself. Tickets cost £5 for adults and £3 for children.
Before leaving Selfridges take a stroll around its outside, as the festive window dressings are always a treat. You’ll need a map to follow these directions accurately, but from Selfridges take a wander over to St Christopher’s Place, a traffic-free shopping street, just around the corner from the store, where the Christmas lights will dazzle. There’s a cute little traditional kids clothes and toy boutique amongst the other stores here too.
From St Christopher’s Place stroll up to the huge world famous toy store, Hamley’s on Regent Street, continuing to admire the lights on route. The weather is unseasonably cold for London at the moment, and you might get real snow, but if not it will be snowing everyday at Hamleys between 5 and 6pm. But even though the windows are spectacular and the snow is magical, the kids won’t let you hang around outside for long. They will be too eager to explore all those floors full of toys. There is so much going on here from trains whizzing across the ceiling, to magic demonstrations and toys to try out they won’t know where to start.
Oh and if you get here earlier in the day you can have breakfast with Santa or tea a little later on.This special treat costs £45 and is suitable for children aged 3 and above. To book call +44 844 855 2424.
Covent Garden christmas tree by Soapbeard on Flickr
A Very Christmassy Covent Garden for Kids
That’s probably enough for one day, but if you have a little longer in London with your little ones, then make your way over to Covent Garden. Here you can get the 50 ft Christmas Tree to light up when you kiss someone under the mistletoe beneath it, listen to some of London’s most talented choirs singing Christmas carols, and munch on heart-shaped mince pies from the food market. And, if you’re here on a Saturday, with the exception of 18th December, you can pet Santa’s reindeer.
Finally, you can’t visit the Capital without taking in a show and Pantomime is a very British theatrical yuletide tradition that children adore. These comic takes on traditional fairytales rely heavily on audience participation, and if you’re anywhere near the front row you could easily find yourself joining the cast on stage. It’s a few miles from central London, but Jack and the Beanstalk at the beautiful hundred-odd year old Hackney Empire theatre is the production to book for this year.