Top 10 Christmas events in London

We scour the capital’s calendars to find the top 10 Christmas events you cannot miss this year

We love a good Christmas party here at The sparkle, the music, the food, the drinks – they’re what the season is all about.

But there’s so much more to do in London this time of year, so we’ve selected some of the most exciting festive happenings coming up in the capital for your yuletide delight.

1.       Late nights at Borough Market

Borough Market is irresistible at any time of year but if you’re on the hunt for unusual gifts or delicious food for the Christmas dinner table make sure you stop by to stock up. To make it easier on busy Londoners they’re holding two Thursday late markets on 12 and 19 December so you can swing by after work and listen to live performances by local musicians while you browse the stalls.

As a bonus, on Thursday 12 they’re showing the 2013 Sundance Film Festival favourite The Moo Man at 6pm, which features dairy farmer Steve Hook, from the market’s Hook & Son stall.

On Thursday 19, staff from Jamie Oliver’s 15 restaurant will be doing cooking demonstrations in partnership with Italian drug rehabilitation charity San Patrignano.

2.       St Paul’s Christmas services

St Paul’s Cathedral hosts a large number of events in the run up to Christmas, with many of them free and unticketed, so you can just turn up. However, events are extremely popular and St Paul’s recommends arriving early, as the cathedral can only hold 2,400 people - a fraction of those wanting to get in.

One of the most popular services held every year is the Celebration of Christmas, held on Thursday 19 December, which features celebrity readings and performances from the Cathedral Choir and City of London Sinfonia.

Another packed-out event is the Christmas Eve Carol Service, which starts at 4pm on Tuesday 24 December. For those who don’t make it into the cathedral, Paternoster Square’s big screen will show the service so you don’t  have to miss it.

3.       Christmas Chocolate Festival

Those with a sweet tooth may have already marked 13-15 December on their calendars, as that’s the weekend London’s Southbank Centre hosts to The Christmas Chocolate Festival. There’s lots to see and do, including creating your perfect chocolate bar and sampling the chocolate afternoon tea based on Joanne Harris’s bestselling novel Chocolat. If you have a chocoholic friend or relative, you need go nowhere else to fill their Christmas stocking this year. Or even better – bring them along.

4.       Peter Pan Cup Swimming Race

Peter Pan Cup swimming race

If you fancy a change from eating a selection box for breakfast on Christmas Day (or is that just me?), head down to the Serpentine Lake for the annual Peter Pan Cup Swimming Race. The race is truly a Christmas tradition, and has been held every year since 1864, with author JM Barrie presenting the cup between 1903 and 1932, hence the Peter Pan connection.

Swimming the race is only open to Serpentine Swimming Club members, so that can be your excuse for not plunging yourself into the occasionally sub zero water, but the race is quite a spectacle and, combined with a bracing walk round Hyde Park, puts you nicely in the mood for Christmas dinner.

5.       Immerse yourself in Christmas at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

If there’s such a thing as tacky when combined with Christmas then Winter Wonderland is probably it. However, there’s scarcely a more festive place in London this time of year and if you’re able to look past the gaudy rides and big crowds, it’s almost quaint. The German Christmas market is huge and filled with handmade gifts, mulled wine and sweet and savoury treats, while the whole range of seasonal songs play out as you pass by the stalls. It’s free entry and well worth a visit if you haven’t been. If you’re prepared to spend the extra cash, the Magical Ice Kingdom showcases some impressive ice sculptures, from £7 per adult and £5 per child.

6.       Classic cinema screenings

If you’re like us and think they don’t make Christmas films like they used to, there’s a chance to see your old favourites instead. Sure, we all taped Home Alone off the telly in 1994 and we’ve still got a copy of The Muppets Christmas Carol on VHS somewhere but there’s nothing like seeing those classics from your childhood on the big screen again.

There are a number of pop up cinemas around London showing a variety of films but we’ve heard Pop Up Screens has decked Notting Hill’s 20th Century Theatre out with snow, with only one entrance – through a wardrobe. Tickets don’t come cheap at £16, but watching a pair of burglars get smacked in the face with a red hot iron has never seemed so magical.

7.        Panto

Jo Brand and Matthew Kelly in Aladdin pantomime in Wimbledon

If you’re looking for something to entertain the kids you can’t go far wrong with a panto (though if you’re with children I’d carefully avoid many of London’s adult versions). There are a number of excellent options this year, including Dick Whittington in Stratford, Puss in Boots in Hackney and Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyric Hammersmith. But we like the look of Aladdin at Wimbledon Theatre with its star-studded cast. Matthew Kelly has had fantastic reviews and was called “dame of the season” by Time Out, and it’s a chance to catch Jo Brand in her first outing on the panto circuit. The theatre is well known for consistently bringing in the crowds so you’re in a safe pair of hands.

8.        Santacon – leave the kids behind

One of London’s more unusual events gathers thousands of strangers, all dressed as Santa, for an afternoon of merriment in celebration of Christmas. The event attracts a great mix of people, all of whom refer to each other as “Santa” as they joyously amble around London, calling into a few pubs along the way. This is not one for children, but if you’re out and about with little ones on Saturday 14 December and see a bunch of Santas, do say “Merry Christmas” as some of them bring along treats for good little girls and boys.

The route is not publicised in advance, but the organisers (no one knows exactly who they are) publish the meeting points on Twitter and Facebook.

9.        Christmas at Kew

Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens has Christmas down to a T, with a mile-long illuminated trail highlighting the Arboretum and taking visitors through Kew’s wintry landscape after hours. What makes this year special is it’s the first time the gardens have been open after dark and the organisers have gone all out to impress.

Kew has set up a boutique Christmas market housed in traditional wooden chalets, which is only open on Thursdays, Fridays and the weekend, which promises “traditional stalls, festive music, tempting treats and vintage rides” but we hear it has already sold out all weekends before Christmas. There is also a chance to meet Santa.

Adult tickets are £16 but children under 17 are free, with late night openings running until 4 January.

10.    Gawp at Trafalgar Square’s Christmas tree

Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree

The 20m tall Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is world famous and is worth a visit at any time during the festive season. It arrives every year as a donation from the city of Oslo, Norway as a token of gratitude for British support during the Second World War. It is decorated Norwegian style, with vertical strings of lights – energy-saving bulbs of course.

In the evenings though, the tree becomes the site for some of London’s best carol singing groups. Between 5pm and 9pm, singers line up beneath the tree, often to raise money for voluntary and charitable causes. Take a detour on your commute and you’ll be rewarded with top-notch Christmas spirit.

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