London is a great city to enjoy at any time of the year, but over the Christmas period, it becomes something really magical. Being a cabbie in the capital at this time of year is great fun. Obviously, it’s a busy period for us, which is always good; but it’s also a chance to pass on some festive cheer and impart some local expertise to make a visit extra special.
If you’re visiting London this Christmas, here are some places you should visit to celebrate what makes London truly unique at this time of year.
London is one of the world’s great shopping cities and while you’re here, you’ll probably be looking to pick up one or two last minute gifts. Rather than attempt to tackle the crowds of Oxford Street, why not sample some of the capital’s great Christmas markets.
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is the most extravagant Christmas market in London, but it’s also the busiest. I suggest you give that a miss and head on over to the Southbank Centre for a traditional market filled with plenty of riverside charm. Set along Queens Walk on the banks of the Thames, this market brings German-style wood huts and plenty of great gifts. Handmade wooden toys and arts and crafts can be picked up at reasonable prices and there is also a great selection of festive food and drink to enjoy. If you visit the Southbank Centre from December 16-22, you’ll find the exclusive Designers Makers Market, with various items sold by over 50 British designers.
Another great alternative Christmas market to check out is over in up-and-coming Hackney. The Hackney Flea Market, on Church Street in Stoke Newington is the perfect place to pick up a unique gift. Expect plenty of charm, carol singers, Christmas pudding, and mulled wine.
After all that shopping you probably need to recharge the batteries with a good hearty meal. You don’t have to look far in London to find somewhere serving traditional Christmas lunch, but that’s all been done before. Instead, why not try out something a little different?
Gymkhana is an upmarket Indian restaurant on Albermale Street in Mayfair. It’s not normally somewhere you’d associate with Christmas dinner, but this year the venue is offering up its own Christmas tasting menu, filled with festive delights such as turkey tikka and kid goat methi keema. At around £65 for a seven course meal, this Indian feast doesn’t come cheap, but, as it’s Christmas, you should definitely treat yourself.
Another restaurant offering up a seasonal menu is Potemkin, a stylish Russian venue on Clerkenwell Road in Islington. Naturally, being a Russian establishment, vodka plays a big part in festivities here, but the festive food menu is really excellent, starting off with a ‘Zakusi’ – salads, fish, smoked meats and blinis that must be completely polished off (it’s tradition), before moving on to the main course of baked fish, Cossack stew, or one of the various meat dishes.
No visit to London is complete without taking in some of the Christmas shows on offer. One of the best this year is the Pop-up Vauxhall Cinema. Organised by Vauxhall Village and the Rooftop Film Club, the pop-up cinema will be screening a selection of family favourites throughout December, with all proceeds going to the Thames Reach homeless shelter. Films being screened include Miracle on 34th Street, The Muppets Christmas Carol and a Home Alone double bill. Entry costs just £6 for adults and £3 for kids and everyone gets their own cosy blanket and festive treats.
If you’re still in town on Christmas Eve, then you should definitely head over take you over to St Paul’s Cathedral, where there’s a full carol service sung by the Cathedral Choir. It gets pretty busy inside the Cathedral, but don’t worry if you can’t get in, the whole thing is shown on a big screen in Paternoster Square.
One of the great things about our beloved capital is the public transport connecting everyone to everywhere. We all are familiar with how this isn’t quite the same over Christmas and are prone to finding oneself stranded in some place unfamiliar. Here’s a quick break down via Transport for London of the disruptions to transportation during the festive season.
Tube: There is a normal service on all tube lines, with the exception of Christmas Day when there will be no trains. On Boxing Day trains run a special service starting at 8.30 and finishing Sunday times. Be sure to double check your routes as there are a handful of closures. New Years, as always will see a very packed tube, with a free service from 11.45 until 4.30.
No service on the Overground on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Buses: Regular service on the buses with the exception of Christmas Day when there are, of course, none. Double check there are no amendments to your route, holidays are prime time for road works and disruptions.
Taxi: London’s reliable taxi services are in operation through out the Christmas holidays. If you’re struggling with disruptions to your journey or find your self stranded after the last tube, or need running somewhere on Christmas Day then a taxi is your best bet. Always make sure your taxi is licensed. Most taxi companies hike up the prices on Christmas Eve, Day and New Years so it may be worth asking before you start your journey.