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London: Christmas in London

"Christmas in London is nothing short of magical. Wander "The City Square Mile” decked out in lights and garlands. Tuck into a traditional roast with fresh-baked breads, mince pies & Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. And finish the evening with a performance of Nutcracker by the English National Ballet or a performance by costumed carol singers circling the imposing Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square. Regardless of the snow cover in December it's as if the whole city has been sprinkled in magic fairy dust. "

There’s no more magical time in London than Yuletide.

Ever since Charles Dickens immortalized London as the 1840’s setting of the classic “A Christmas Carol,” ye olde English capital has been the world’s most ideal place to celebrate a traditional Yuletide. Just being in London’s city center in the wintertime elicits nostalgic excitement thanks to the cheerful buzz on the streets, in the shops, the restaurants, at the special holiday productions and with the warm holiday hospitality of hoteliers who delight in creating special feasts, experiences and memories for guests.

From early November through New Year’s Day, “The City Square Mile” is decked out in lights and garlands, especially the lively West End. Grand department stores on Oxford and Regent Streets are filled with special merchandise and displays — including Harrods’ famous Christmas Grotto enabling meet-n-greets with Kris Kringle himself — while pop-up Christmas markets feature hand-crafted gifts and specialty foods for the season. Skaters glide in the ice rink at the Natural History Museum, the English National Ballet performs Nutcracker, and costumed carol singers circle the imposing Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square. For a good giggle, Monty Python-worthy silliness ensues with events like the Great Christmas Pudding Race in Covent Garden.

There’s a powerful sense of wonder throughout London at Christmastime, and nowhere more so than in the heart of fashionable Knightsbridge at the five-star Egerton House Hotel, ranked #1 in the UK for exceptional service. In in the holiday spirit, the hotel offers a Magical London package (November 29 – January 4) for a two-night stay with full English breakfasts, a festive welcome cocktail and afternoon tea, and a special Christmas turndown gift surprise. Children also receive an Edwin teddy bear and London activity book, and the use of mini bathrobes and slippers to lounge in while watching holiday classics like Frosty the Snowman in bed. Bringing your first-class pooch along? The Egerton has all sorts of holiday toys and treats for him too, plus dog-sitting and special dining menus. If you stay on Christmas Eve, try to book the Victoria & Albert Suite, a perfect choice thanks to its cheery red décor and private garden terrace which assures easy access for Santa and his sleigh.

Tip for travelers wishing to be near the glittering shops of Bond Street, Regent Street, and Piccadilly: The Chesterfield Mayfair, adjacent to Berkeley Square, also offers the Magical London package and has the added attractions of Butler’s Restaurant, The Conservatory (for high tea) and Terrace Bar (for warming Hot Toddies). For spacious, old-world pampering, you can’t go wrong with the formal Stanhope Suite or Duchess Suite.

Christmas is an extremely special time at Rubens at the Palace, which takes its tasteful decorating and menu-planning very seriously. The excitement here builds on Christmas Eve when a fantastic four-course menu is served in the two AA Rosette awarded Library Restaurant. Decorated to the nines for the holidays, the club atmosphere is complemented by award-winning English and international cuisine and the finest wines. For an even more intimate eve, private parties can celebrate in style with personalized decorations in smaller dining rooms, and dine on a customized menu with main options that include Gressingham duck, Bolton Estate lamb, plus, naturally, traditional Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. Guests can even book their own live music or entertainment and do as the English do on such occasions: pop poppers, sing loudly and eat heartily. That goes for Christmas Day too, when lunch (prime roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, anyone?) is served in the rich Old Masters dining room.

Guests staying nearby in Belgravia at the award-winning Hotel 41 also won’t have a chance to go hungry during the holidays. From arrival to departure, the kitchen staff provides guests with complimentary treats to drink and graze all day from the Champagne-trolley welcome to an afternoon tea to evening canapés and permission to raid the pantry for nibbles until 1 a.m. The selection is special for the holidays so you can count on roasted meats, fresh-baked breads and mince pies to keep dreams of sugarplum fairies dancing in your head, especially if you’ve booked the Conservatory Master Suite where a glass ceiling lets you watch for flying reindeer before dozing beneath twinkling stars.

The modern and sophisticated new Conrad London St. James offers the perfect solution for holiday gift-giving with its Shop the City by Conrad program that escorts suite guests for a day of shop-hopping in a chauffeur-driven Range Rover. (It’s the next best thing to Rudolph who’s otherwise occupied). Get ready for the ultimate in London VIP shopping, with door-to-door delivery to the Paul Smith flagship in Mayfair, Bremont for the latest in British luxury timepieces, Fortnum & Mason for hand-made chocolates, gourmet preserves and bespoke hampers — specially delivered to your lucky gift recipients by Conrad’s elves — and the fashionable Harvey Nichols department store guided by your personal style advisor. After all that splurging, spend the evening among the local government powerbrokers at Conrad’s Blue Boar Bar for the best in local ales (including inventive beer cocktails), fine wines, spirits, and reinvented pub grub menu (the open-faced steak sandwich and  are to die for). Head Chef Rob Stephens’ menus focus on farm-sourced meat and fresh seafood from Cornwall and Devon. The bar’s Private Drinking Room can be booked for those in need of a discrete table, a must in Westminster, with Parliament just down the road.

At the Montague on the Garden Hotel, festive dining takes on a whole new meaning when the Garden Grill is magically transformed into the Montague Ski Lodge, complete with pine trees, falling snow, ski racks, reindeer, snowmen and fairy lights. At the center of it all is a bar serving 12 holiday beverages to augment canapés, a party menu and, well, a party!  A DJ fills the dance floor, while party hats and Christmas crackers celebrate the holidays every night from November through New Year’s Eve. The Blue Door Bistro serves a traditional holiday menu, and on Christmas Eve it climaxes with a spectacular four-course feast with Scottish and Irish smoked salmon, rump of lamb, and hotel founder Bea Tollman’s legendary rice pudding with salted caramel sauce and candied mixed nuts. Christmas lunch welcomes guests with mulled wine or Champagne, followed by a five-course Christmas banquet with a Terrace Bar pianist tickling the ivories for Silent Night sing-alongs. For the ultimate experience, a Group Christmas Party Pass includes cocktails, lunch or dinner and private use of the Ski Lodge. Actual skiing not included.


Image one: Christmas themed afternoon tea at The Rubens at the Palace Hotel. Image provided by hotel.
Image two: The City Square Mile decked out in lights and garlands. Image by David Ramírez on Unsplash

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London, UK