While almost everything grinds to a halt on Christmas Day, London’s still a magical place. Dressed in your most garish Christmas jumper, set out on foot or by bike: with its quiet streets and jolly residents, the half-empty city is a delight to explore. The heroes of the day are the Hyde Park swimmers, who strip off and dive into the Serpentine’s freezing waters. Don’t worry if you can’t quite muster their courage: it’s the perfect excuse to stay ensconced in a deep armchair, a cup of tea or cocktail in hand. Follow our five-step guide for a lovely Christmas, in true London style.
Leave your Oyster card behind: on 25 December, the city’s best explored on two wheels. Take advantage of the nearly empty roads to whizz through the heart of the city, from Oxford Circus to the Tate Britain. Lime, Mobike, Jump… London has several bike sharing options, with or without docking stations. Have a look on social media before you choose: last year, Santander bikes were free on Christmas Day.
Catch the start of the Peter Pan Cup at Hyde Park on 25 December at 9am. Held every year on Christmas Day, this swimming race is for hardy spirits only. You have to be a club member to dive into the icy waters of the Serpentine, but onlookers are always welcome. Wrap up warm to cheer the competitors on, then go and admire the statue of the young hero who gives the race its name.
Settle onto the red leather banquettes of this chic brasserie and soak up the genteel atmosphere. The menu’s tempting: feast on lobster Thermidor pie, roast turkey with cranberry sauce and meringue-topped mandarin cheesecake. It’s worth booking ahead. If you’ve left things to the last minute, you can always prop up the bar with a smoked Negroni and a dozen freshly shucked Scottish oysters.
Follow in Charles Dickens’s footsteps on a guided tour of Victorian London, inspired by his timeless tale A Christmas Carol. Start at the foot of the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, then explore the secret alleyways of Covent Garden. Get to know the places and people who sparked the famous writer’s imagination. Whether you take after Scrooge, or root for Tiny Tim, there’s festive cheer here for everyone.
End the day at the hideaway bar of this 18th-century townhouse turned hotel. The decor’s eccentric, with its artful mix of brightly coloured tapestries, velvet chairs and porcelain cats. Infused with foraged plants, the old-school cocktails are equally intriguing. Should you feel peckish, the bar’s sharing plates always hit the spot: nibble on caviar, lobster rolls or cauliflower fritters.
The city embraces fairy lights, decorations and seasonal spirit.
From artisan cheese to Fortnum’s finest truffles, here’s what to bring home for Christmas
Big Ben will bong its bongs at the stroke of midnight, but where will you be celebrating?