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24 magical things to do this Christmas weekend in London

Alexandra Sims

It’s CHRISTMAS! That’s right, the big day is finally upon us. But don’t waste your four wonderful days of holiday in front of the telly with meat sweats. Watch hardy swimmers diving into the Serpentine Lido on Christmas Day, catch a panto or see how Christmas was done back in the ’60s at the Geffrye Museum. Whatever you get up to, have a very merry Christmas.


Hart’s of Smithfield Christmas Auction. Smithfield Market. Sat. Free. Prize thighs, legs, shoulders and rumps are up for grabs at this annual market where a traditional coin toss could see you walking away with a free hunk of top quality meat, if you call it right.

Southbank Centre Wintertime Market. Royal Festival Hall. Sat-Boxing Day. Free. If you’re looking for last minute pressies, make a beeline for these riverside chalets bursting with pottery, lanterns and sweets.

House of Burlesque at Christmas. Leicester Square. Sat. £22, posh seats £27. International burlesque stars led by Tempest Rose take to the stage to present glamorous and subversive adult entertainment.

Carnaby Christmas Lights. Carnaby Street. Until Jan 6. Free. Feast your peepers on the tropical-themed, twinkling displays lining the super-cute shopping street. Party poppers, palm trees and parrots will transport you to sunnier climes.

Carols for Christmas Eve. St James Church Piccadilly. Christmas Eve. Free. Get in good voice for this family-friendly telling of the Christmas story with a sing-along of well-known carols.

Christmas Lights Bike Tour. Meet at 1 Gabriel’s Wharf. Christmas Eve & Boxing Day. £25.95, £22.95 child. Join London Bicycle Company’s two-wheel trundle to see the best lights in the city.

Peter Pan Cup. Serpentine Lido. Christmas Day. Free to watch. See a bunch of hardy Londoners freeze their bits off at the Peter Pan Cup swimming race in Hyde Park. You have to be a Serpentine Swimming Club member to take part. But you can still watch all the teeth-chattering divers from the sidelines.

Christmas Lights Open Top Bus Tour. Starts in Victoria. Christmas Day. £30, £15 child. Skip the endless charades by spending Christmas Day touring London on an open top bus. See the glitzy capital in all its splendour.

The Big Big Christmas Day London Walk. Meet at Nelson’s Column. Christmas Day. £100. Wander an eerily quiet city on this five-hour long walk. It’s led by top London boffins Ed Glinert and Sue Grimditch. Plus, there’ll be prizes dished out through the day.

Sights and Sounds of London on Christmas Day. Starts in Victoria. Christmas Day. £39, £34 child. While everyone else stays home gorging on turkey, take advantage of town minus the heaving crowds on this tour peppered with facts about London history. 

Cyclists in Southwark: Christmas Day Ride. Various locations. Christmas Day. Free. Swap the sofa for a cycle through a very quiet London this Christmas Day with the cyclists in Southwark. The ride is open to all (including well-behaved children) and starts from the Cutty Sark Gardens before heading along to the Southwark Needle.

Strictly Winter Ballroom. Southbank Centre. Boxing Day. Free. Put on your dancing shoes and bop, hop and rock your way around the Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall. There’ll be live music, demonstrations, workshops and social dancing for twinkle toes of all abilities.

Pinocchio. National Theatre. Boxing Day. £15-£62. Catch the new stage musical version of the classic Disney film. It’s ravishingly weird.


The Twilight Zone. Almeida Theatre. Sat. £10-£48. See the stage version of the iconic supernatural TV series. Go for a mix of kitsch, hilarity and ominous satire.

Camden Christmas Wonderland. Proud Camden. Sat. £15. If you’ve finished your Christmas shopping and have time to kick back and enjoy the festive season, head to this day of disco, bingo, hot cocktails and alternative carols. Over 18s only.


Makers Presents Exhibition. Blackhorse Workshop. Sat. Free. The gang at Blackhorse Workshop are getting a name for themselves with their wacky immersive exhibitions. Their latest lets you spin a 'Nifty Giver' to find the perfect present for that special someone.

Christmas Past at the Geffrye. Geffrye Museum. Sat. Free. Get an eyeful of 1930s paisley upholstery and see how Brits set a Christmas table back in 1965 at the Geffrye. The ‘museum of the home’ is closing for two years in January, so make the most of the curtain-twitching while you can.

Gul & Sepoy. 65 Commercial St, E1 6BD. Pay a trip to our restaurant of the week, a modish Indian restaurant in a former Spitalfields townhouse. Get the potted pig head. In a plant pot. With grass poking out of the top.

Hackney Downs Vegan Market. Hackney Downs Studios. Sat-Christmas Eve. Free. Curated by food dude Fat Gay Vegan, this market is back for a three-day Christmas edition showcasing independent traders like Temple of Seitan, Young Vegans and Lazy Boy Kitchen.



Michael Armitage: The Chapel. South London Gallery. Sat. Free. See hallucinatory, violent and surreal paintings of East African life. This is beautiful, contemporary painting at its best.

Catherine Parsonage. Bosse & Baum. Sat. Free. See simple yet heavily layered paintings of anthropomorphic frogs and drinking vessels. Part of a rising group of contemporary British painters, Parsonage stands out with her mastery of line and movement.


Magical Lantern Festival. Chiswick House and Gardens. Sat-Jan 1. £16.50-£18, £10-£12 child. Catch this annual event packed with illuminated birds and beasts dotted around beautiful gardens.

Festive Horse Drawn Carriage Rides. Richmond Park. Sat. £125. Give yourself a Christmas treat as Richmond Park teams up with Operation Centaur to run carriage rides drawn by majestic Shire horses. It’s a festive foray that sleighs the competition.

Vintage Fairground. Kew Gardens. Sat & Boxing Day. £12.75. Go on a Victorian carousel and other vintage fairground rides outside White Peaks Café, which is putting on a delicious Winter Warmer menu.


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