London has had a fantastic year, with the Jubilee celebrations and a little sporting event called the Olympics, and judging by how festive it's looking already, it seems determined to send 2012 out with a bang. Here are five top festive tips guaranteed to get you in a Christmassy mood.
Photo: Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
The big department stores go all out at Christmas, from window displays that create queues to special Christmas departments that are unashamedly celebratory. Recommendations include Harrods, which has decorated the entire exterior of its impressive building in lights, the wonderful ye olde worldly Christmas shop at Liberty and the extravagant food hall at Selfridges, where you can get gifts from festive cupcakes to special edition marmite with gold flakes.
2. Eating and Drinking
All that shopping is bound to make you hungry and thirsty. A lovely treat during Christmas is indulging in that very English tradition of taking tea- and this is a tradition London excels at. There are some fine places to choose from, but the Ritz is highly recommended; its tea room makes you feel like a film star. Make sure you go with an empty stomach to make the most of the tea stand, laden with perfectly cut sandwiches, scones and cakes, ideally washed down with a glass of champagne- or better still, indulge in one of the tempting cocktails. The teas at the Wolseley aren't too shabby either.
3. Christmas Markets
London also excels at festive outdoor markets and events. Southbank's Christmas Market is a delight, as you can wander along the Thames and browse the little stalls of arts and crafts for gift ideas, while supping from some mulled wine to keep you warm. Its location means you can multitask, and have a quick look in between visits to the theatres or Tate Modern. The Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park also has a lovely range of stalls and food and drink options, as well as fairground rides, and a new attraction this year is an Ice Kingdom with ice sculptures. Winter Wonderland lives up to its name and provides awesome festive fun for all the family.
4. Theatre There are some great deals to be had in theatreland over the festive season, and Christmas is a perfect time to see a feelgood musical. Mamma Mia is still going strong and remains a firm favourite, its feelgood factor sky-high. Another recommendation for this year is Cabaret at the Savoy theatre, where you can also treat yourself to a cocktail in the luxurious hotel next door- or push the boat out and stay overnight, creating a sumptuous weekend theatre break. And then there's The Snowman, a dramatisation of the much-loved book by Raymond Briggs, which has become a Christmas institution and is a perfect Christmas treat for the children in your life (or relive your childhood yourself!).
As well as the world-class (and mostly free) collections at galleries such as Tate Modern, Tate Britain and the National Gallery, one of the best exhibitions in London over the Christmas period is Hollywood Costumes at the V&A. It's popular, it may be a hassle to get into, but it's so worth it. Featuring the original costumes from classics such as Star Wars and Breakfast at Tiffany's, this is a must for film fans. On show are costumes from many of the films associated with essential Christmas TV viewing- not least Judy Garland's gingham pinafore from perennial Christmas classic The Wizard of Oz. While you're there, go to the opulent cafe where, if you're lucky, a pianist or harpist will serenade you over your tea and cake.
London is a great place to be at any time of year, but at Christmas it is magical, for both residents and tourists.