Even the prospect of a winter general election will do little to dampen Londoner’s spirits as they look forward to the Christmas season. The lights are going up, skating rinks are open and the West End is full of exciting shopping opportunities and entertainment options. Food and drink events are a great way to get together with friends and family while stocking up on those vital ingredients that give the seasonal celebrations that extra zing.
The Neo-Gothic backdrop to this ice rink gives things a pronounced Harry Potter vibe and visitors will enjoy gliding around its pristine surface, pretending to be flying wizards or Disney characters. The magical atmosphere is helped by the extravagant fairy lights, seasonal mood music and the proximity of the rink to all the big-name department stores of Kensington and Knightsbridge.
Special attractions include a mulled wine stall, a lively café and weekly acoustic nights with live music. There are also packages on offer which combine the skating experience with other activities. The Scoff and Banter package includes a three-course meal at a nearby restaurant, while the Bubble and Skate offer combines prosecco and cake – always a good match!
It’s no secret that the Capital’s festive displays are closely linked to the commercial activity that goes on in the background, but they also help us brave the Winter cold and make the retail crush a bit more bearable. There are, of course, the flagship lights of Regent Street, Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square. These are massive, mile-long extravaganzas that are designed to match the imposing buildings that they hang from.
There are also some smaller, funkier designs that seem more intimate and therefore more cheerful. Covent Garden and Carnaby Street are both centres of fashion and their themed lights reflect this independent vibe. For a glitzy overload, check out the Seven Dials effort which adorns the streets of Theatreland and really adds to the excitement that the audiences must feel as they queue up for their favourite shows.
The Royal Botanical Gardens continues to build on its run of Christmas successes with their winning mixture of light displays, spacious Victoriana and imaginative plant settings. New features this year include augmented “Will ‘o’ the Wisp” effects that simulate the natural luminescence that occurs during the longer nights. The Treetop Walkway is made up of hundreds of dazzling vine lights that guide visitors high above the ground.
Crowds will welcome the return of perennial favourites like the singing holly bushes installation, The Tunnel of Light and The Fire Garden. Mince pies, mulled wine and other snacks will be on offer and there’s even some non-seasonal fare available, such as sourdough pizza which is popular at any time of the year.
The traditional sites for viewing firework displays in London like Primrose Hill and Alexandra Palace are popular because they take place in elevated parkland, but they can become a bit oversubscribed. That’s why it pays to check out some less fashionable venues that have access to the same pyrotechnics, while having a bit more in the way of community spirit.
Battersea Park has the River Thames as a glittering backdrop, plus an after-hours club night, while Crystal Palace will be offering a “Stadium Rock” experience by employing the talents of a crew of effects experts. East London’s Victoria Park will be celebrating the anniversary of the moon landings with a space and astronaut theme. Venues in Harrow, Wembley and Barnet are combining Bonfire Night with themes from Diwali, the Hindu festival of light.
For sought-after antiques and other fine period pieces, knowledgeable collectors will be heading to Kensington Olympia where the last major fair of the year will be taking place. This doesn’t mean that non-professionals can’t have fun, though, as astute buyers will be looking for unusual Christmas presents that add value and prestige to the homes of their loved ones.
A long list of distinguished dealers will be exhibiting everything from glass automobile mascots to rare Georgian tableware and vintage travel posters. The focus is on the kind of quirky, yet expert, craftmanship that was allowed to flourish before the advent of mass production. There will be advice shops for novice collectors and the ever-popular Louis Roederer Champagne Bar.
As from last year, this event has been radically streamlined and is actually much better for it. Instead of an unwieldy regatta which tends to get cancelled in bad weather, there are two family-friendly festival zones in the Bloomberg Building and Paternoster Square respectively. Here, visitors can enjoy street food, art exhibitions and funfair rides. There will also be a full programme of live music.
The main part of festivities will be the procession which harks back from the days when the Lord Mayor had to journey from the City into Westminster in order to show loyalty and support for the Monarch. Today, the march is purely symbolic and is concentrated on showing off London in all its diverse and energetic glory. A three-mile-long cornucopia of floats, dancers and marching bands will turn the normally buttoned up streets of the financial sector into a mini carnival.
For those who want to break out of the “Turkey Trap” this Christmas, yet lack the techniques or imagination, the Eat & Drink Festival is a complete godsend. Top chefs are on hand to demonstrate the perfect method for cooking alternatives like roast breast of mallard. However, if you want to stick to tradition, Rosemary Shrager will show you how to stuff your humble turkey with duck, guinea fowl and pheasant in order to create a truly medieval showstopper.
Cooking demos aside, there is live music, an artisan market and a street food section. It’s a combination that will leave you inspired and ready to change things up this December with plenty of tips on how to combine food and drink. Don’t miss Fizz Wars: an exploration of how sparkling wines have evolved and influenced our entertaining habits over the years.
A much-anticipated event, Taste is where London’s top restaurants send out their best and brightest kitchen brigades in order to dazzle us with their technique, flair and presentation. Around 30,000 gastronauts of all persuasions and tastes are expected to attend the festival and they’ll be eager to try new recipes, pick up new skills while having a great time in the run up to Christmas.
With this in mind, the organisers have laid on a series of experiences that can allow visitors to get the most out of event. Hands-on workshops and demos include managing a fire pit, smoking your own meat and fish, mixing customised cocktails and putting the joy back into Christmas dinners. There will be live music and a champagne bar for those much needed chillout moments.
Winter Wonderland continues in its bid to be London’s dominant seasonal attraction by introducing new thrills while improving on established ones. Get ready to experience Paddington on Ice, A Christmas Carol-themed Magic Kingdom and the world’s largest mobile observation wheel: you can be sure that this extravaganza will be visible from all over the Capital.
It’s worth dedicating a whole day to a Winter Wonderland trip as it’s the only way that you’ll get to see the circus, enjoy the rides and shop at the Christmas market which are all within walking distance from each other. Of course, you might be a dedicated skater and just be there to throw shapes on London’s biggest outdoor rink. There are plenty of on-site food stalls, so you won’t have to stray far from your favourite attraction.
Fancy an early hour’s glide across the ice this Winter? If you’re a skating fanatic that just has to have a fix, regardless of the time of day, then the 24-hr rink at Somerset House is definitely for you. Celebrating 20 years since it opened, the facility is open round the clock which should ease the Christmas congestion at this popular venue.
A massive, bling-laden tree is being supplied by Fortnum & Mason’s who are also selling some of their luxury food range from a special Fortnum’s Lodge. Bailey’s will be sponsoring the Skate Bar which means that there is no excuse not to enjoy a warming Irish coffee. The round-the-clock theme is intended to dovetail with a special exhibition that seeks to reflect the non-stop nature of today’s modern cities.
Try watching a blockbuster movie without the accompanying soundtrack and you are guaranteed a sterile experience, which is why so much energy and resources go into film scores – no matter the budget. But how about watching a film while the score is being recreated in your very presence? This is the idea behind the collaboration scheduled at the Royal Albert Hall.
There is no cinema sound system on earth that can compete with a live orchestra in full flow. Something about the movement of air, the human dynamics and the spectacle of seeing artists working in perfect harmony with one another, creates a creative bond between audience, screen and music. The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra have become masters of playing along to epic movies and with Harry Potter, they certainly bring the magic.
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