Christmas in London
Celebrating Christmas in London ranked pretty high on my #travelexperiencebucketlist and now I can cross it off the list. Yay.
If I were to describe the whole experience in one word then it has to be MAGICAL! London was decked out in pretty Christmas lights, giant trees and classic Christmas themed decorations. It legit felt like a Christmas movie came to life.
Tevan and I spent all of four days in London and we fell in love with the city; it has so much character, charm and history. I would love to share my experience in London with all of you with the hope that you will take away something from this, to plan your own holiday.
We landed at Heathrow on 23 December 2022 at approximately 2.45 pm. We were warned to expect delays at the passport control due to the fact that there was a shortage of manpower as a result of an ongoing strike. The whole process took us about 1.5 hours which was not too bad. We had sufficient time to check in to the hotel and freshen up before heading to the theatre.
Mode of transportation
We took the Underground from the airport to our hotel. We relied heavily on the Underground throughout our trip - it is so easily accessible and hassle free. I suggest that you get an Oyster Card if you plan on extensively using the public transport to get around the city. You can purchase a visitor oyster card at the self service kiosk at the station. The card itself costs about 7 pounds and you have to add credit to your card to activate/use it.
Pro tip: If your card has a balance of ten pounds or less you can obtain a refund. This can be done at the same kiosk that you purchased the card from. Click on the hyperlink marked as "refund" for more information.
The train ride from the airport to our hotel was approximately 52 minutes. We got off at the Holborn Station, nearest stop to our hotel and the hotel was literally 3 minutes away by foot. The journey was an interesting one cause people watching is my most favorite thing to do - not in a creepy way! It was so cool that we were able to recognize all the different languages that were being spoken . I definitely heard a lot of telegu, my mother tongue, being spoken.
London is a very walkable city and we found that the best way to explore the city is by foot. There was no train service available on Christmas Day so we walked to most of the attractions. On other days we only the used the train service to get to places that were too far to walk. Rest assured our step count was off the charts! If at any point you are to exhausted to walk you can just hop on a train as the city is dotted with Underground stations.
We stayed at the Z Hotel, Holborn Branch which is located in Central London. The hotel is great, location wise as it a three minute walk from the Holborn Underground Station and is in close proximity to most of the top attractions. The rooms are very modern, functional and clean but they are tiny - I am talking shoe box size. So if you are claustrophobic or have many bags then this place is not for you. We had two pieces of luggage - small and medium which fitted nicely into the room. We just used the space to shower and sleep so it worked perfectly for us. Click on the Hotel Link above for more information.
Day 1 - 23 December 2022
We checked into the Hotel, showered and made our way to the Royal Drury Theatre which was a short 5 minute walk from our Hotel. We had purchased tickets to the West End Musical, an experience that we always wanted to experience. We decided watch Disney's Frozen because Disney and Christmas is to us an embodiment of magic!
We booked our tickets online and I recommend that you look up the seating plan before purchasing tickets to secure best value seats. We chose to sit in the Grand Circle, we booked seats E24 and 25. The tickets were 139 pounds after tax. We had excellent view of the stage from our seats.
We were like two excited children, looking at the beautiful collection of art that was display along the hallway and just taking in the theatre scene. We learned that the Theatre Royal Drury Lane is the world's oldest theatrical site and has recently been refurbished to its former glory.
As soon as the show started, we were transported to the magical Kingdom of Arendell .We were in awe of the amazing performance that was unfolding before us. The stage was morphed into a magical ice place which left adults and kids alike gasping. The scene where Elsa transforms into snow queen and starts singing the iconic "Let it Go" song was pure unadulterated magic, it took everyone's breath away. The show was BRILLIANT from start to end. We left the show on such a high despite the little incident that took place mid-show.
Well we were abruptly snapped into reality when a brawl broke out between two blokes who were seated two rows below us. Things got ugly very fast -profanities, headbutts and drink throwing were involved. I am not sure what triggered such violence especially while watching a Disney show. Anyway the ground staff managed to diffuse the situation very promptly and the troublemakers were removed immediately. The rest of us seamlessly drifted back into the enchanting world of fantasy.
We were starving by the time the show ended so we headed to our next destination. We made dinner reservations at Duck and Waffle because we were feeling a little #bougie. Lol. Duck and Waffle is restaurant located on the summit of Salesforce Tower London in Liverpool Street with gorgeous aerial views of London.
We tried their namesake dish - duck and waffle which consists of waffle, confit duck with fried duck egg and mustard maple syrup.
Tevan had the foie gras creme brulle and we each had a cocktail. While the food tasted amazing, we just felt that the price did not at all justify the portion.
The restaurant had a trendy vibe to it and its elevated location offers gorgeous views of the city. It was certainly a nice experience to enjoy the view of Tower Bridge while dining. However, personally I feel that this is a one time experience.
Day 2 - 24 December 2022
We woke up bright and early the next morning. We decided to have breakfast at a cute charming cafe called the Drury Cafe which was close to the hotel. Luckily we were early because shortly after we were seated a line was forming at the door.
We opted for the classic English breakfast, and we were not disappointed, perfect toasts, crispy bacon, and poached eggs drizzled in hollandaise sauce. So yum! A hearty breakfast is mandatory in view of our impending shopping spree. hehe!
After breakfast we headed to Primark! Ah I was in heaven but my husband not so much. Lol. Everything was so nice and cheap! It took every ounce of self control not to purchase everything that I like because I am trying very hard to practice mindful shopping. I have a crazy shopping addiction that I am working towards keeping in check.
We then headed back to the hotel to drop of our purchases before going out again to make another big purchase. Hehe! I told you there is something about shopping that sparks joy! Our next stop was the Burberry Flagship store located in Regent Street which is 20 minutes away from our hotel. We decided to take a slow walk and at the same time explore the city.
On our way we passed Piccadilly Circus, wandered into random little shops selling a bunch of cute trinkets, souvenirs, goofy sweaters and a bunch of other stuff. Walked into a huge M&M store, paused in front of the enormous screen displaying ads and watched a few live performances. We made little detours along the way and explored each stop. I will share photos and videos of some fun some things that we saw along our journey cause show is often better than tell.
We were greeted by lit up angels when we reached Regent street. It sure was a sight to behold. We got so sidetracked with the vibe and the liveliness of the city that we almost forgot our original mission. Okay that is a white lie! Haha.
Anyway we finally walked into the Burberry store at 3 pm and were done with our purchase in no time. I knew exactly what I wanted so we were in and out of the store in about 20 minutes. We even managed to have a mini photo session to commemorate the purchase.
This was perfect, timing wise, as we had a reservation for afternoon tea at 4 pm at Swan at the Globe. We checked our trusted google map for directions and it indicated that the quickest way to get to our destination is via train i.e. from Oxford Circus to St Paul's Station. Swan at the Globe is located next to Shakespeare's globe and it is walking distance from the St Paul's Station.
We were greeted with one of London's most renowned sights, the St Paul's Cathedral as we disembarked. We chose to walk through the church to get to the restaurant. Since it was the eve of Christmas, throngs of people were queuing up to attend the Christmas Eve mass. We felt a sense of calm wash over us the as we walked. The air was crisp, the weather was lovely, a little squirrel was scampering about with church bells ringing in the backgrounds while we held hands and took in the serenity of the place. Gahh I can stay in that moment forever!
We then continued our journey towards the Millennium Bridge across Thames River. The view from the bridge was just spectacular. You will be able to get an unimpaired panoramic views of London, from the bridge; beneath us several speed boats were whizzing by. We just stood there for a while to admire the entire spectacle and of course to take photos and videos to immortalize the moment.
Our tummies started rumbling shortly after; signaling that we need to put food in our system stat. We arrived at the restaurant and we were shown to our a table by a friendly waiter. We ordered the Festive Afternoon Tea set that came with an assortments of sandwiches, pastries , scones, sweet treats and a refillable tea pot. We polished it all in seconds as we were famished from all that walking. We sat there with our teas and watched as the sun set against the skyline of London.
Our walk back was equally magical, the sun had set, it was dusk, the bridge was illuminated in pretty colors and lights on the huge Christmas tree in front of St Paul's Cathedral twinkled against the evening sky.
Our last stop for the day was Winter Wonderland. We went back to the hotel, took a quick shower bundled up and headed to Hyde Park. Winter Wonderland is a carnival meets an amusement park sort of an affair. The entire place is dotted with cute wooden chalets that sells food, souvenirs, ornaments and it offers a host of other attractions such as a giant ferries wheel, a circus, live music and etc.. So there is something for kids, shoppers, foodies, thrill seekers, party people and basically everyone.
We didn't go on any rides because we just wanted to chill after a long eventful day but boy we sure indulged in a calorie splurge. We grabbed a bratwurst from one of the stalls and enjoyed some live music. Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas" really did bring out the festive spirit in everyone. We then wandered around a little and snacked on almost everything in sight.
We had pre booked tickets to the bar ice - the entire bar and everything in it was made from ice. We slung back a couple of cocktails, got some buzz on and grooved to some tunes. The whole experience was dope.
We ended the night with a nice cup of warm apple mulled wine by the the fire and decided to call it a night.
If you are in London during winter, I highly recommend that you check it out cause it is an experience not to be missed. I am not going to bore you with the details but you can click here for more information about this experience.
Day 3 - 25 December 2022
Christmas Day! So the whole city is closed on Christmas Day save for a few restaurants and small shops. We decided to visit the historical and iconic sites of the city. It was a perfect day for photos and videos as the city was almost empty. We walked towards Covent Garden and made our way to Trafalgar Square where we took more photos.
I was getting a little restless at this point because I have not had my morning coffee fix yet. I practically jumped when I saw two ladies holding coffee in their hands, might have scared them a little but they were kind enough to point us to the direction of the coffee shop. We stumbled upon a cute cafe on our way and decided to have a sit down breakfast. It was a cosy little Italian place and the owner was very nice and friendly. The food was amazing too! After that we covered most of the top attractions i.e. the Big Ben, London Eye, Westminster Abbey, St James Park and Buckingham Palace.
It started drizzling and also it was time for us to get ready as my relative was supposed to meet us at our hotel. We were going to her place for Christmas dinner. Her family lives in Essex and it is about an hour's drive from London. We finally met each other after a decade. We chatted animatedly the whole way and caught up about each other's lives.
We were treated to nice comforting home cooked dinner consisting of roast, potatoes, brussels sprouts, Yorkshire pudding and vegetables. For dessert we had apple crumble and a delicious Philippines desert made by my grandaunt. We ate while the King's speech played in the background . No Christmas dinner in the UK is complete without Christmas crackers at the table, so we pulled the crackers, posed riddles to each other, wore paper hats throughout dinner and made merry. Ah another beautiful memory made.
In the end Christmas is about family and we are blessed to be able to spend it with family despite being so far away from home. To Kamala and Phil, if you are reading this, thanks for opening your home to us and for the wonderful hospitality!
Day 4 - 26 December 2022
Our last day in London and we still had not seen the Tower Bridge and it was boxing day! weee! First things first, we went to Pret A Manger, picked up a couple of pastries and coffee to go. Walked to the Tower Bridge and marveled at it. There was a park next to it and we sat there for a bit just to take in the view and contemplated whether we should go the Harrods or just explore the vicinity instead; seeing that we had to be at the airport at 2 pm.
We decided to stay put and explore the places nearby as we did not want to risk missing our flight. We popped into a few shops and did a little shopping. We realized that we did not get souvenirs for friends and family so we went souvenir hunting and that's when we stumbled into a super nice old Asian man selling a bunch of stuff. We bought some magnets and keychains. I also bought a cute bright red sweater with Rudolf's red nose jutting out! The kind man let me have it for ten pounds which was a steal. Other places were selling it for 15 pounds or more. Score!
We stopped by the Christmas Market at Trafalgar Square which was smaller than the other markets. We indulged in some really delectable hazelnut praline brownies - they were chocolatey, gooey, nutty and soooooooooooo delicious!
Somehow we ended up in Chinatown. Haha way to say that you are Asian without actually saying you are Asian. We had the best Peking duck rice and wanton soup. The duck was crispy on the outside and tender inside whilst the wanton soup was like a warm hug on a cold day. It was the perfect meal to wrap up the trip.
Our next destination was Amsterdam and were originally supposed to take the Eurostar but we received an email a week before the trip informing us that the service is cancelled due to an ongoing railway strike. So, I had to scramble and book us a flight . Thankfully I managed to get us tickets at the eleventh hour. sighs.
Our flight out was from Gatwick Airport so we booked a Uber to take us there as we did not feel like taking the bus as we we did not want to deal with the hassle of lugging our suitcases around. We were picked up in a Tesla which was super cool. The ride to the airport was little over and hour and I managed to get some shut eye.
So that was our trip guys ! Four days was sufficient time for us to cover the main highlights of the city and experience the festivities. Christmas is London is a truly magical experience and I think you should experience it at least once if you have not already. It sure puts the Wonder in Wonderful for me !
We loved every bit of London and intend to return to this city as there is just so much more that we would love to see and do. We also would love to explore destinations outside of London and experience all the amazing things this country has to offer.
Hopefully this post took you on a virtual holiday!
Speaking about holidays, Happy Lunar New Year to all those who celebrate. May the year of the rabbit bring you health, happiness and prosperity. Gong Xi Fa Chai!
Till next time, toodles!