As festive illuminations twinkle into Oxford Street puddles, London winters glow through dreary autumns. There’s no better time to visit the British capital than the closing months of the year. Londoners understand the pleasure of embracing bad weather, welcoming the early nightfall, and injecting seasonal cheer into all pursuits of leisure. London is a big city – the third largest in Europe, with a population over eight million. With so many neighbourhoods, nooks and crannies, it’s a challenge to navigate at any time of year. Visitors should know that the pop-up reigns supreme. London’s finest attractions appear fleetingly, scattered across the map, revelling in the hype that only scarcity can create.
Winter welcomes the very best of seasonal attractions. In London for a weekend? Here are five you shouldn’t miss.
1. Christmas floating film festival, St Katharine Docks
During December, St Katharine Docks are populated with a forest of beanbags and a big screen to host a seasonal movie extravaganza. Guests are encouraged to bed down with a blanket and a warming beverage to view a selection of Christmas classics. This year there’s a choice between Elf, Home Alone and Love Actually (amongst others) – visitors are advised to book well in advance.
2. Skate at the Natural History Museum
From October to January, this charming rink entertains skaters of all ages, on all manner of occasions. Alfred Waterhouse’s museum buildings provide a majestic backdrop and a gigantic Christmas tree makes a fine festive centrepiece, right in the middle of the ice. It’s great for dates and family days out, but packages can also be booked for school trips, children’s parties and corporate events.
3. Dine in an igloo at Coppa Club
Between the Shard and the Tower of London, this cluster of glass bubble-huts has been lauded as London’s most Instagrammable winter hotspot. You’ll find them on the roof of Coppa Club, an upmarket venue and community space. Sheepskin rugs, blankets, and lanterns lend a homely touch to each igloo and unfussy menus cater for comfort food cravings.
4. Window shop at Harrods
This superstore for the rich and famous is best experienced from the streets outside. During Christmas shopping season, price tags are sky high and crowds are frenzied. However, visiting the spectacular window displays won’t cost you a penny. Harrods has established a specialist team to curate the artworks behind each of the store’s street-facing windows: the Department of Surprise and Delight. This year Dolce and Gabbana bring us diamanté- encrusted leftovers and Elie Saab showcase couture gowns for a party set in a golden bauble-pit.
5. Lumiere London
The UK’s largest light festival briefly blazes through January with a four-night exhibition split across six areas in central London. Luminous umbrellas and a psychedelic rendering of Westminster Abbey enchanted visitors in 2018. Canary Wharf offers its own take on this festival of lights with a smaller, independent show, running over two weeks in January. Best of all, both are totally free.
To and from
London City, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Luton, and London Stansted all offer convenient access to the city. If you’re travelling from the continent, the Eurostar, Channel Tunnel and ferry are great to travel. You can also check the Trainline for cheaper fares. If you bring your car, park it cheaply with YourParkingSpace and take public transport during your London stay as traffic is really bad.
Budget: London’s hostels are really expensive. I recommend Generator at King’s Cross for a jazzy atmosphere and relatively spacious rooms Mid-market: Airbnb is great – definitely the best way to experience the city like a local Premium: the Town Hall Hotel is a wonderful 5-star masterpiece of British humour and flair with a great wine bar.