London is wonderful for families at any time of year but it’s simply magical at Christmas: carol singers on Burlington Avenue, a giant tree in Trafalgar Square and the scent of roasted chestnuts filling the air. If you’re visiting London with kids over the silly season, here are the suitcases&strollers travel tips for family holiday activities to do with kids from where to visit Santa in London to how to find a flying snowman.
1. Sit on Santa's lap
For a spot on Santa’s knee at Harrods, the most popular department store grotto, tickets vanish like pixie dust every year (join their Rewards programme to stay ahead of the curve). But don’t worry, there are plenty of opportunities around town to cuddle the big guy in the red suit. Why not book in for an afternoon at the gorgeous Enchanted Christmas House for an immersive experience of playtime, performance and a personalised meeting with a very realistic Father Christmas? Or head to a Westfield (stores in Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford City), where elves spirit you away on the Santa Express train into Santa’s 5D grotto for a short animated film and a “starter gift” from Santa. You’ll also find Santa parking his sleigh at London Zoo, Hamleys toy store and Duke of York Square grotto in Chelsea.
[For travel tips on how to visit the real Santa in the North Pole, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
2. Watch a Christmas Show in London for Kids
London’s West End is bursting with Christmas spectacle, as fun shows like Stick Man by Scamp Theatre pull the matinee crowd. For a more traditional Yuletide tale, try the heartwarming Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas at the Lyric Hammersmith for children ages 6 and under. And over at Sadlers’ Wells, the spellbinding adaptation of picture book The Snowman is a seasonal favourite for families who return year after year. Watch your kids’ faces light up in wonder as the Snowman and his boy companion take flight.
[For more travel tips on live shows for kids in London, see the suitcases&strollers story Broadway & West End Shows.]
3. Pet Live Reindeer
Did you know that male reindeer lose their antlers in winter? So Rudolph is most likely a she! Catch Rudy and (her) buddies at Covent Garden in December when younger visitors can meet and greet live reindeer in the plaza at weekends. For the past few years, there’s also been a giant topiary reindeer by the market, complete with shiny red nose. At London Zoo younger visitors will enjoy meeting the resident sleigh-pullers, as the herd takes a daily stroll around the zoo throughout the Christmas period.
[For more family travel tips on London with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story London Insider.]
4. Go Ice Skating in London With Kids
One of the first signs that Christmas is approaching is when the London ice rinks open in late October/early November. All the way through to the first week of January, you can skate around the Christmas tree at the Natural History Museum ice rink or in the shadow of the historic fortress at the Tower of London ice rink. Most of the ice rinks provide bob skates (two blades on one shoe) for toddlers and stabilising seals or penguin aids to help younger skaters glide around more safely. Somerset House ice rink, possibly the coolest ice skating rink in London for kids, offers a Skate School for beginners and a Polar Cub Club for kids under 8. And if you fancy leaving the babes with a babysitter for an evening, there are live DJs playing tunes past midnight while you skate under the stars.
5. Take a Trip To Hogwarts and Beyond
Just 20 miles north west of central London, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour featuring Hogwarts at Christmas is a must-see for Harry Potter Fans. This year the Hogwarts castle model will be draped in a shroud of snow and you can see the Great Hall decorated with actual props from the movies. For a truly out-of-this-world adventure for your little ones, journey to Lapland UK (in Berkshire) where they can travel through snowy forest pathways, meet huskies, visit the elves’ toy factory and share their most secret wishes with Father Christmas. [For more travel tips on how to have the ultimate Harry Potter experience in London, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
[For more travel tips on day trips from London with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
6. See London’s Shop Windows Come Alive
Window dressing takes on a whole new life at Christmas for kids in London as the big department stores compete to razzle dazzle gift hunters. Against the backdrop of sparkling Christmas lights on Oxford Street and Regent Street, kids will be delighted by the Christmas window displays in Selfridges, John Lewis and Fortnum & Mason. Previous themes have included surreal fairy tales (Selfridges), reindeer sculpted from vacuum cleaners (John Lewis) and the story of Dick Whittington (Fortnum & Mason).
7. Visit a Winter Fair With Kids
Thousands of visitors make their way to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland annually for attractions like the Magical Ice Kingdom (wrap up extra warm as it’s well below freezing inside), Zippo’s Circus, fairground rides and sky-high views across London from the Giant Observation Wheel. This year there’s a new contender on the scene: Winterville in East London’s Victoria Park that also offers an indoor roller disco rink, a Wall of Death daredevil stunt show and horse-drawn carriage tours around the park.
8. Shop at the Christmas Markets in London With Kids
There are few feelings more Christmassy than walking around with a small gloved hand in yours, munching on mince pies, sipping mulled wine and listening to carol singers. Wrap up in your woollies and head outdoors to browse some of the pop-up Christmas markets and fairs around the city. Stroll along the Southbank Centre Christmas market where 60 chalets line the riverbank selling handmade gifts, spiced drinks and delicious street food. The Southbank Centre is a fantastic spot for families and this year they promise a Christmas maze to get lost in and a Southbank Centre Express train to ride on, all part of their Winter Festival. More German-style Christmas markets can be found at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and Winterville (see above).
9. Laugh at a London Pantomime for Kids
He’s behind you! London at Christmas means pantomime season, a time when B-list celebrities shine in drag and wacky costumes, adapting popular legends and fairytales with a cheeky spin and plenty of audience interaction. The best-loved pantomimes are staged at the Hackney Empire where this year’s mayhem is all about Mother Goose. Also check out Dick Whittington at the Lyric Theatre and Jerry Hall hamming it up as the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at Richmond Theatre.
10. Catch a Christmas Movie for Kids
There’s nothing like snuggling up with the whole brood and watching a Christmas movie in a cosy setting. Head to luxury venues like Everyman Cinema or the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill and Shoreditch where there are front row beds and two-seater sofas to relax in while you watch classics like It’s a Wonderful Life. And owing to insane demand, Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square is showing the Frozen sing-along movie on repeat – for kids who just refuse to let it go.
By Uju Asika of Babes About Town; Images: Simon Winnall, Visit Britain