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Rob Greig

12 ways to have the ultimate Christmas in London

By Time Out London editors

Not quite in the festive mood yet? Follow these simple dozen steps and you’ll be belting out ‘Jingle Bells’ in no time

1. Goggle in awe at the sparkliest Christmas lights in town


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There’s something magical about London when it’s all lit up. Oxford Circus’s lights arrived back in October, but you can’t help but forgive the premature arrival of Christmas when our iconic streets are made even more spectacular with sparkling gorgeousness. One of the most popular, and arguably prettiest, displays is in Covent Garden. As well as a stunning 50ft tree, this year the streets and arcades are decked with enormous, glittering sprigs of mistletoe. So when you’re fuzzy with festive joy and mulled wine, waltz across the twinkling Piazza and stop underneath a bunch for a smooch. Rosie Percy

Find London's loveliest lit-up spots at

2. Have a very patty Christmas


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In this post-Meat Liquor landscape, where you can’t move two feet without ending up knee-deep in charred flesh and cloche-steamed brioche, Christmas-themed burgers are ten-a-penny. But this year, forget those sad, dried-up turkey buns and head to Hawksmoor Spitalfields, for London’s meaty titan hath produced a seasonal sandwich that would sate Santa himself. It’s a thing of wonder: a sausage patty topped with crispy smoked bacon, sprout tops, spiced cranberry ketchup, a blanket of cheese and a pot of turkey gravy to dip it all in. More than one of these, and you’ll need some bigger stockings. Thomas Howells 

Hawksmoor Spitalfields, 157a Commercial St, E1 6BJ. 74264850. Christmas burger £15. Find more great festive burgers at 

3. Hunker down in a Christmassy bunker


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London pubs: find the right one and you’ll want to spend all of winter there. For full-on tinsel immersion, Covent Garden’s Cross Keys is where you need to head – the pretty frontage is covered in greenery and the inside is an explosion of tinsel, ribbons and fairy lights. If you’re after something a little calmer, and roaring fires and dogs snoozing under tables are more your vibe, then Hampstead’s Holly Bush is for you. And for those south of the river, check out The Plume of Feathers: a warm, boozy haven on the edge of Greenwich Park. Gail Tolley 

Discover the best toasty winter pubs at 

4. Munch on the best mince pies in London


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Ah, mince pies: the divisive cornerstone of Christmas. Festive ground-zero for some, an unholy mouthful of spicy-syrupy mush to others (we’re with the former, obvs). True believers should head to Brick House Bakery in East Dulwich. Their mince pies are half eccles cake, half mince pie: stuffed solid with currants, orange peel, nutmeg, allspice and – here’s the clincher – sloshes of rum. That’s right, rum! Tradition be damned! Forget fusty old brandy, this is the true spirit of Christmas. Thomas Howells

Brick House Bakery. 1 Zenoria St, SE22 8HP.

5. Get right rowdy at a panto


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I once saw ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ starring Su Pollard at the Birmingham Hippodrome and decided that pantomimes were not for me. Twenty-odd years later I realised the gaudy, Z-list celebrity-infested claptrap of regional pantos was as far away from London pantos as, say, what Americans call cheese from what we call cheese. Madly inventive, wildly subversive, peopled by actors, not celebrities, and a proud, unbroken link to the music- hall era, their topical humour means they’re probably the only art form to give us a laugh after this wretched year. Hackney Empire’s is one of the best: this year it’s doing ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as a hilarious pisstake of Brexit Britain. Andrzej Lukowski

Peruse our pick of the pantos at

6. Buy a Christmas Tree (then try to take it home on the bus) 


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Sending Christmas cards might be a dying tradition, but buying a tree is one Yuletide ritual that’s going nowhere. One of the best places to pick up a fir is the Christmas Forest. The business has concessions all over London but the market outside St Paul’s Church on the corner of Evering Road in Hackney has everything from six-footers to tiny trees, as well as wreaths, mistletoe and fairy lights. Best of all, a cut of the profits goes to a charity that plants trees in drought-stricken areas of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Ethiopia. Ellie Broughton

For the ultimate guide to buying a tree, check out

 7. Admire Liberty's beautiful window displays 


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Here are two really festive things: beautiful ballet ‘The Nutcracker’, and the loveliest of London’s department stores, Liberty. This year they’ve come together like a mini-sausage and bacon rasher to create Christmas squared. For the first time in the store’s history, ye olde windows contain no desirable but unaffordable products, but have instead been fitted out with tiny theatre sets, complete with a hand-carved Clara and marching mice. You should probably still hit the stores afterwards, though – your grandma won’t want an iPhone pic of a shop front, however nice it is. Miriam Bouteba

Not sure where to start with your Christmas shopping? Take a look at our beautiful present guide at

8. Be more crafty this Christmas


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After Jimmy Stewart’s face, there are few sights as heartwarming at this time of year as a beautiful Christmas wreath on a front door. Workshops abound in the winter, like those put on by urban florists Grace and Thorn. But if wrangling with spiky holly leaves sounds a mite too dangerous, there are still plenty of opportunities to spend a boozy afternoon eating mince pies and wielding a glue stick. Sign up instead for wrapping paper-printing with Hato Press, a bobble-hat workshop at the Southbank Centre, or a session on making Christmas decorations at Farmopolis. And if anyone asks: it’s the thought that counts. Ellie Broughton 

We've listed all the festive workshops at

 9. Sing your heart out at a carol concert 


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Christmas! Tis the season for belting out songs like you’d never dream of doing the rest of the year. Those after something more civilised than ululating Mariah Carey at the office party should head to Union Chapel’s Carols by Candlelight service on December 18. Warbling along to ‘Hark the Herald’, basking in the glow of more than 1,000 candles, is the failsafe route to that warm, fuzzy, Yuletide feeling. And if you need any further incentive, there’s also a bar. Oh, and they do festive hits, too – so you can still get your Mariah fix. Matt Breen 

Union Chapel. Dec 18, 6pm for 7pm start. Free. For a full rundown of Christmas carol concerts go to

10. Line up for delicious cheese

Everyone knows the best thing about Christmas is it gives you an excuse to eat an entire wheel of brie. Ditch the sad supermarket cheddar and stock up at Cheeses of Muswell Hill, which is so popular at Christmas that there’s usually a queue to rival the Dominique Ansel Bakery. But it’s worth the wait. The shop is tiny, but it’s packed with pongy delights, as well as a festive window display complete with a Christmas tree, huge nutcracker models and a Christmas countdown (in case you need reminding). In December they sell a special brie with fresh truffles inside, which will make you want to skip the turkey and dive straight into the cheeseboard. Isabelle Aron 

Cheeses of Muswell Hill, 13 Fortis Green Rd, N10 3HP.

 11. Pop into a pop-up film night 


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Christmas in the real world can get a little fraught. Christmas on the big screen, however, is all magical, melt-your-heart-into-a-puddle- of-brandy-butter stuff. Fast-track to those mushy feelings of joy and goodwill to all with the dedicated escapism of a festive flick, especially when it’s screened in a lush pop-up such as Backyard Cinema’s Winter Night Garden. Cinemagoers head through a Narnia-style wardrobe and down a tunnel of snow-dusted trees before cosying under a blanket to spend a couple of hours in the company of George Bailey, Kevin McCallister or Buddy the Elf. Mug of mulled wine, optional. Switching off and getting in the Christmas spirit, mandatory. Ellie Walker-Arnott

Get your mitts on Backyard Cinema tickets at

12. Check out some seasonal art 

It’s easy to forget that Christmas isn’t about presents, arguing with your father about politics or eating so much that you literally risk dying: it’s about the birth of a special baby who a bunch of travelling mystics thought was the son of God so they brought him some incense. If you don’t look at Jan Gossaert’s ‘Adoration of the Kings’ at The National Gallery, a dazzlingly colourful and spectacularly busy painting, and think ‘Whoever came up with this story was high as all hell’ then you’re not seeing the real magic of Christmas. This gorgeous painting shows the moment the world changed for ever, the moment the messiah was born. Unless you’re Jewish, in which case it’s just a bizarrely well-attended birth. Eddy Frankel

See the best snowscapes at

Find more festive things to do in London.


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