Way back in the summer (did we really have one this year?) we were supplied with an ultimate list of tips for visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando by Chris Cox, multi award-winning entertainer, magician and mind reader who can't read minds. Now he's back on his home turf and playing the big kid again, by helping us out with a guide to all the festive family fun activities on offer in London right now...
A Very Merry London Christmas
Christmas time, mistletoe and wine, or if you’re in London, it’s more like mistletoe, wine and a hell of a lot of people stressing out over what the hell they’re going to buy for their mum after finding out she’s already got the Michael Buble album. However if you look beyond the crazy shoppers on Oxford Street you will find some true festive delights for all the family.
Have a Father Christmas
Although he lives in Lapland, or The North Pole (depending on which source you trust), he makes a yearly visit to various grottos throughout London so your children can tell him what they want for Christmas and receive an early gift, while you get the classic child on Santa’s lap photo - always useful to embarrass them with come their 18th birthday. There’s a wealth of options for visiting Father Christmas in London, with certain places (such as Harrods) having almost sold out of their Santa spots, but never fear because here’s some more of the best places where you can still see the big man with the beard.
The world-famous department store offers a 30-minute visit through an Ice Grotto filled with cheeky snowmen and a gift from Santa. It’s open daily until the 24th December, from 10am – 6.30pm (12pm – 4.30pm on Sundays) £7 adults/ £3 children. Book in advance at Selfridges.com.
Westfield Shepherds Bush
Multi-task your Christmas shopping and a visit to Father Christmas in his 5D Grotto, where you'll get to see a Pixar-style 3D film of Elbow The Elf and receive a Christmas gift. He’s there until Christmas Eve from 9am to 7.25pm. It’s free, but gets busy so book in advance for a £1.25 fee.
Combine seeing some penguins in the Regent's Park Zoo with a pressie from Santa. Starting today, for an additional £5 you can visit him in his Reindeer Lodge. He’ll be there with four of his reindeers, Rudolph, Dancer, Prancer and Blitzen who will also take a daily walk through the zoo. Book online to avoid the lines.
In Kent, forty miles outside of London, you’ll find a multi-million pound immersive experience that transports you and your family to Lapland. The kids will get to help elves in the toy shop, see reindeer and huskies, ice skate, decorate gingerbread with Mother Christmas then visit Santa in his snowy woodland hut. It’s a truly magical adventure that your children won’t forget. Prices range from £44.50 to £62.50 and the visit lasts around 4 hours.
Have an icy Christmas
Londoners love to skate - especially after a mulled wine or two - and there are more ice rinks than ever popping up around the capital right now, so there's no excuse for not setting aside some time to glide over the frozen water with your family, accompanied by blaring Christmas songs. You won’t get any closer to feeling like you’re in a Dickens novel than this. Here are some of the best spots to get your skates on...
Natural History Museum
Home to dinosaur bones and now a 1,000 sq metre ice rink outside its Gothic-style exterior. Trees full of fairy lights add to the dramatically festive atmosphere. It’s open until the 8th January next year, often as late as 11pm. Prices vary but a family of 4 can skate off-peak for £31.
Fly on the London Eye then skate directly in its shadow on the South Bank. Be sure to check out the Christmas Market just down at the Southbank Centre while you’re there too. The 45-minute sessions are £7.50 for kids and £10.50 for adults, with free access to a 4D London Eye Experience. Save 10% by booking online.
With an impressive backdrop this huge rink offers lessons, club nights, English National Ballet-led Ice Dance Workouts, storytelling sessions for the little ones and a huge Tiffany decorated Christmas tree. It’s open until 22nd January, including New Years Eve, so you can skate and see the fireworks at midnight. Tickets cost between £7 and £15; book your time in advance.
Have a theatrical Christmas
Get out from the cold and experience one of the best things London has to offer - live entertainment in a West End theatre. There are some incredible shows lighting up London stages at the moment and all of them have performances over Christmas (though none on the big day itself).
Matilda, Cambridge Theatre
The best-reviewed new musical for years, this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin is a phenomenal delight, full of laughs, love, warmth and joy. By the end, you'll be on your feet cheering for more.
Slava’s Snowshow, Southbank Centre
Running until the 8th January, this international smash hit is a visual feast combining clowning and spectacle to create a dream-like world which ends with the whole audience knee-deep in snow.
Crazy For You, Novello Theatre
Indulge in a bit of Christmas glamour with this classic musical full of glitz and hits, song and dance, colour and delight which will have you tapping your toes throughout and dancing on the way to the tube.
War Horse, New London Theatre
See the National’s acclaimed production of War Horse before the Steven Spielberg film comes out. This thrilling production set in the First World War takes the audience on an unforgettable journey, and features some astonishing puppet design.
Have a free Christmas
There’s no denying London can be expensive, but there’s plenty of ways to feel all Christmassy without having to fork out too much cash.
Hyde Park has filled itself full of white knuckle and family friendly rides, two circuses, a big wheel, a beautiful ice rink and loads of Christmas markets for this year's Winter Wonderland. You can pick up some last minute gifts and enjoy some German food in the markets before heading into Santa Land to see the man in red. While you'll obviously pay for the rides, the circuses and some other attractions, a visit to Santa is absolutely free.
Check out some of the free light displays throughout London, marvel at their glow and delight in the fact that you don’t have to pay the electricity bill. Here’s a nice little evening walk: starting at the top of Oxford Street with its twinkly snowflakes, pop down under the big baubles of St Christopher’s Place, cut across to Carnaby Street to see the giant lit-up holly leaves, then take a peek at Regent Street for its super bright Arthur Christmas display. Just be sure to wrap up warm...
Sing your heart out across London and fill yourself with Christmas cheer. There is carol singing by the Christmas tree (which is a yearly gift from the Norwegians to Britain) on Trafalgar Square until the 22nd December - remember to check all the times. There's also a carol service on the 23rd December at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Both are free but require booking online: St Paul's and Westminster Abbey.
Photos: Header shot © Anizza | Dreamstime.com, Selfridges © Eric Flamant | Dreamstime.com, Natural History Museum © Wendy Leber | Dreamstime.com, Christmas lights © Anthony Baggett | Dreamstime.com and thanks to rvacapinta on Flickr.com.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.