Got a few days of holiday to use before the end of the year? Don’t shell out for expensive flights. Emma Hughes picks the places to enjoy all the fun of a festive break without leaving London
Go skiing in ‘The French Alps’
Proper London snow may be as rare as a free seat on the Northern line at 8am, but you can hit the slopes right here in the city – and eat your own body weight in melted cheese, of course…
1pm: Start with brunch at Colbert, the Wolseley’s French-inspired (and more affordable) little sister on Sloane Square. Order the croque madame, a luxe toastie filled with gruyère cheese and jambon blanc and topped with a fried egg – it’ll set you up nicely for your action-packed afternoon. 50-52 Sloane Square. Tube: Sloane Square.
3pm: Book a skiing or boarding session at Chel-Ski, which has state-of-the-art mats that really do feel like the white stuff. The friendly instructors will lend you all the kit you need, and everyone from beginners to seasoned pros are catered for here. 4 Sotheron Place. Tube: Fulham Broadway.
5.30pm: After an afternoon of perfecting your snowplough, grab an early dinner at cheese-centric pop-up Woody Bear. Swaddle yourself in a blanket and feast on a whole baked mont d’or, or Bermondsey raclette dolloped on to potatoes, ham, pickles and sauerkraut. 535 Oxford St. Tube: Marble Arch.
7.30pm: Free-flowing Jägermeister awaits you at the Archer Street bar in Soho, home of après-ski-themed hideaway Piste. With furry throws, a blazing log fire and plenty of cosy corners, it’s straight out of Courchevel – and things get plenty lively when the booze kicks in. 3-4 Archer St. Tube: Piccadilly Circus.
Visit the reindeers in ‘Lapland’
Finland’s most northerly region is home to the world’s woolliest socks, superfoods and Santa himself: according to Finnish folklore he lives in Korvatunturi, not the North Pole. Here’s how you can get a taste of Finn fun in an afternoon without even leaving Zone 1.
2.30pm: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and the rest of the gang have their hooves full at this time of year, but you can get to meet their cousins at ZSL London Zoo, where there’s a trio of reindeer. Look out for their velvety noses, which are designed to heat up chilly air before it gets to their lungs, and their knees, which click when they walk to help them locate each other in white-out blizzards. Regent’s Park. Tube: Mornington Crescent.
5pm: Finland is home to 3.2 million saunas among just 5.4 million people – enough said. London doesn’t have quite the same ratio of saunas to people, but luckily a Finnish Rooftop Sauna has just opened on the Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Terrace. During your 70-minute session, you’ll bask in 90C heat, then dash outside and drench yourself in cold water as you ponder the majesty of the Thames. It’s a totally authentic experience – except for the fact that you have to keep your trunks on at all times. Southbank Centre. Tube: Waterloo.
7.30pm: The Finnish word ‘kalsarikännit’ roughly translates as ‘drinking on the sofa in your pants’. Tempting though that may be after a steamy sauna, it’s worth hopping on the Bakerloo line for a trip to The Harcourt instead. The kitchen at this Marylebone gastropub is headed up by Finnish chef Kimmo Makkonen, who’s put a Scandi stamp on things. Order the prawn toast skagen, the arctic char for two or the reindeer carpaccio (sorry, Rudolph). 32 Harcourt St. Tube: Edgware Rd.
Get lost in a wintery forest in ‘Iceland’
London might not have the dramatic landscape (or the Northern Lights), but we’ve planned an afternoon of fire and ice that ticks all the boxes.
1pm: Get things off to a smoking start with a lunch of duck with lingonberry bacon jam, rib-sticking potato gratin and winter greens at Rök in Shoreditch. Save space for the birch-sap chocolate pudding – close your eyes and you could be eating it in a forest outside Reykjavík. 26 Curtain Rd. Shoreditch High St Overground.
4pm: Icelandic Christmas markets aren’t as chocolate-boxey as their German cousins – less tinsel, more trees. London’s back-to-nature equivalent is The Winter Forest in Exchange Square. Right in the middle is the pop-up Tipi Cinema, which is showing festive classics like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Home Alone’ throughout December. Exchange Square. Tube: Liverpool St.
7pm: The mercury in parts of Iceland stays well below zero around Christmas. To experience your own big chill, take the Central line and head for Winter Wonderland. Give the ice rink a swerve (skates + a pint of mulled wine = a night in A&E) and seek out Bar Ice – everything, from the cocktail glasses to the chairs and even the bar itself, is frozen solid. Hyde Park. Tube: Hyde Park.
Gorge on sausages in ‘Germany’
At this time of year, Germany is basically one giant Christmas market, awash with mulled wine and hot chocolate. Here’s how to feel like you’re there within the confines of the M25.
2pm: Christmas trees came to the UK from Germany in the nineteenth century (ta, Prince Albert). Pay homage to their spiritual home at The Christmas Forest in Highbury, where you can pick up your very own fir or spruce. If that’s not enough to make you feel all warm and fuzzy, you’ll also be doing your bit for charity as for every tree bought, they’ll plant a tree in Africa’s drylands through Tree Aid. 83 St Paul’s Rd. Tube: Highbury & Islington.
4pm: Nothing warms you up after stomping around in the cold like schnapps – and the German Gymnasium in King’s Cross is well stocked with the stuff. Grab a window seat and order one of each of their three flavours from the Black Forest: hazelnut, williams pear and kirsch. 1 King’s Boulevard. Tube: King’s Cross.
5pm: Gingery, melt-in-the-mouth lebkuchen biscuits are the building blocks of a German Christmas. London’s best come from Konditor & Cook – baked in Bavaria, they’re glazed with sugar or dunked in melted dark chocolate. If you’re organised you can also pre-order one of their mighty stollens, enriched with dried fruit, hazelnuts, almonds and a good slug of rum. 10 Stoney St. Tube: London Bridge.
6.30pm: For dinner? Sausages, obvs. Winterville on Clapham Common has a cornucopia of Christmas crafts, comedy and cabaret, plus the best bangers this side of Berlin, courtesy of Pop Dogs. Whether you go for the Bad Santa, which comes smothered in cranberry chutney and chestnuts, or the cheddar, spinach and pumpkin seed veggie version, we can think of wurst ways to round off your day. Windmill Drive. Tube: Clapham Common.
Try your hand at curling in ‘Sweden’
Forget hygge – a Swedish winter weekend is all about lagom, or ‘just the right amount’. As far as we’re concerned, that means a little gentle exercise, a lot of shots, and as many cardamom buns as you can stuff in.
3pm: Next to Abba and Alexander Skarsgård, sticky, fluffy, sugar-dusted kardemummabullar (cardamom bread) is Sweden’s greatest export, and is enjoyed during fika, the traditional coffee-and-cake-break. Fabrique in Hoxton has the best in town, and its coffee beans are top-notch too. Arch 385, Geffrye St. Hoxton Overground.
4pm: Curling, the Winter Olympics sport where you shove stones across ice toward a target, is huge in Sweden – in fact, the World Curling Federation Championships are being held in Ostersund next year. Give it a try at the Social Fun & Games Club at Roof East, which has six lanes and cocktails on tap. What could possibly go wrong? Stratford Multi Storey Car Park, Great Eastern Way. Tube: Stratford. Book tickets at www.timeout.com/curl.
6pm: Stop by the Scandi Kitchen in Fitzrovia and pick up a bottle of glögg – Sweden’s spicy take on mulled wine. The Blossa brand, brewed with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger and orange, is deservedly popular – serve it sprinkled with raisins and flaked almonds when you get home. And if you like it, come back for a two-litre box. 61 Great Titchfield St. Tube: Oxford Circus.
8pm: Thaw out at Aquavit in St James’s Market. The marble bar has one of the UK’s largest selections of the aromatic spirit it takes its name from, plus a Nordic cocktail menu and smörgåsbords of herring, gravlax and pickles. If you’re planning a Monday visit, book a spot in their hour-long aquavit masterclass (£15) on December 4 and shake things up, Scandi-style. St James’s Market, 1 Carlton St. Tube: Piccadilly Circus.
Want more festive fun? Check out our ultimate guide to Christmas.