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February 20, 2023
London is famous for its Christmas lights, a free street show that turns a walkabout into an adventure – and one that stretches well into the New Year. Here’s our guide to the brightest spots in Central London and the best new year breaks.
The very first electric Christmas lights hit the mainstream market back in the 1920s. Before General Electric launched its pre–assembled kit of Christmas lights in 1903, only the very rich (or an electrical genius) could afford to throw away the candles.
Here in the UK, Selfridge’s (still famous for its seasonal Oxford Street window displays) put on its first display of lights back in 1935. The London illuminations we know today only really started in 1954 when Regent Street businesses got together and hung luminous angels over the traffic to brighten up a still-exhausted post–war Britain.
What a difference half a century makes. Our lights are bigger and brighter than ever, but LED energy saving is a priority. In The Strand, the lights are even powered by biofuels made of cooking oil collected from the local restaurants. It’s a greener festive season than anyone could have imagined back in 1954.
Stretching from Oxford Street down to Piccadilly, Bond Street was known in the 18th century as the haunt of fashionable dandies, nick-named “peacocks,” and it was this image of peacock feathers that informed its recent Christmas displays. But this year its decorations draw on our newsworthy royal family instead (and those fabulous crown jewels). Expect illuminated necklaces and tiaras strung across chic, luxurious streets.
Mayfair (Until January 6)
Just a stone’s throw from Bond Street tube Station you’ll discover the Christmas lights of Mount Street and South Molton Street (watch out for its famous blue arches). Also St Christopher’s Place and James Street. Shops and boutiques are aplenty in the district bordered by Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane.
Oxford Street Stars (Until January 8)
Pretty stars shine on London’s longest, well–trodden shopping street this year. Oxford Street first threw the switch on Christmas lights in 1959 and it has been glowing every Christmas ever since. This year there are over 1700 snowflake globes and stars to admire (and 750,000 LED lightbulbs) from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road. And of course, there is always Selfridge’s on Oxford Street, one of our most celebrated department stores, with its signature festive window displays and outdoor Christmas market and entertainment.
Regent Street: Angels at Christmas (Until January 3)
From Oxford Circus to Waterloo Place, Regent Street is known for its elegant Grade II listed buildings, usually festooned with angels at this time of year (the same theme as the very first display in 1954). It's uniform 5-storey buildings house some of our most famous names, including Hamleys and Burberry. The historic neighbouring district of St James’s synchronises its lights with Regent Street, taking in Piccadilly and Jermyn Street.
Carnaby Fashionista (Until January 8)
Made famous in the 1960s by boutiques that dressed the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and the Kinks, this delightful pedestrianised enclave lies behind Oxford Street and off Great Marlborough Street (the latter is also home to the world-famous Liberty department store) Carnaby is still a centre for many fashionable independent shops, and its imaginative Christmas lights are very popular. This year the theme is based on the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition: “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966–1970”. Prepare to be impressed.
Covent Garden Lets it Snow (Until January 8)
This historic piazza is filled with Mistletoe chandeliers and tiny pea lights reflected in mirror globes. Plus, guaranteed snow showers every day (fake snowfall in front of the Piazza’s 60-foot Christmas tree). There’s also a treasure trove of restaurants and shops. Take in Covent Garden’s Winter experience and Shop and Stay in Style: enjoy exclusive offers and discounts from fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands in these historic surroundings. Afterwards, it’s back to your hotel for authentic Italian food and a view of the Tower of London. A luxury one-night stay for two in Tower Suites’ boutique hotel in London, and 20% off Spa treatments.
The Strand Goes Green
On the South side of Covent Garden you’ll find The Strand (or just “Strand” if you prefer). It links Trafalgar Square with the City of London (the Monument, the Bank of England and the Tower of London lie just to the east of Aldwych and Fleet Street). Today The Strand is hung with Christmas lights that boast an eco-theme: the light comes to you from fuel made out of cooking oil, collected from its many local eateries.
Southbank Centre Style
The Southbank Centre illuminates its riverside location with an annual winter festival (street food and stalls) and its popular outdoor art show of light sculptures. Next door to the National Theatre and Hayward Gallery and just down from the London Eye. All are close to some of the best 5 star hotels in London.
Canary Wharf Winter Lights (January 18–28)
A special mention for this award–winning free show of illuminated art installations, an art trail of installations and interactive displays. Giant mammoths, a fibre optic tunnel and more. Plus street food, bars and restaurants. Some favourites as well as newly commissioned work, while others have never been seen before in the UK.
A rewarding Christmas trail that takes in festive displays and gleaming white lights across Motcomb Street (8-minute walk from Knightsbridge tube station), Elizabeth Street (5-minute walk from Sloane Square and Victoria Stations), Pimlico Road, Halkin Arcade and Eccleston Yards (a 5-minute walk from Victoria Station and the Wellington and Rochester Hotels on Vincent Square, Westminster).
Gracechurch Street, EC3
Leadenhall Market is the perfect Dickensian Winter setting. Amongst the most picturesque of London covered markets, it was made famous by the Harry Potter films and can be found near The Monument and London Bridge. Famous for its shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes, it is a stone’s throw from some unique affordable luxury hotels London. A beautiful Victorian-covered market with wrought iron arches, at this time of year it's full of Christmas trees and tastefully decorated shops, bars and restaurants.
Outdoor ice rinks are always popular. Principal among them is Skate at Somerset House on The Strand, Covent Garden. Until mid-January 2023 you can skate around the illuminated Neoclassical courtyard, and then enjoy a cocktail at the Moet et Chandon Skate Lounge. Christmas shops, DJ, and food too. Plus the Courtauld Institute. Information here.
On the other side of town is the Canary Wharf Ice Rink, Canada Square Park. This attractive venue is open until the end of February 2023. Flanked by some of London’s tallest skyscrapers, there is a rink–side bar and lots of nearby restaurants and watering holes. Information here.
The Gunpowder Plot
Tower Vaults (next to the Tower of London)
Until March 31
The plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 goes for the big–budget immersive theatre treatment – to good effect (live actors and VR). Using some of the best names, including writer Danny Robins (of “The Battersea Poltergeist” and “2:22 – A Ghost Story”). Revisit the complex class and religious conflict of Jacobean England. Impressive and thoughtful. With a virtual Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) starring as Guy Fawkes. Get a feel for the experience here.
Hogwarts in the Snow/The Making of Harry Potter
Warner Bros Studios Tour, Watford
Until 15 January
Harry Potter devotees can see a whole range of props and film sets here. Travel to Warner Bros Watford is remarkably convenient thanks to the Shuttlebus from London’s Victoria Station. Blue Orchid has two hotels near Victoria station if you are looking for a renowned 4 star hotel in central London - within easy walking distance and perfect for a holiday family package. Also convenient for Buckingham Palace, St James’s Park, West End Theatres and the Museums of South Kensington.
My Neighbour Totoro
Barbican Theatre, EC2
Until Jan 21
The magic of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli transfers to the Barbican stage courtesy of the RSC. The music, and the enduring appeal of the creatures including Totoro, protector of the forest. Puppets and actors.
The Woman in Black
Fortune Theatre, WC2
Until 29 April
Susan Hill’s chilling tale of Eel Marsh House and the shadows of the past. An audience of seven million has been scared by it so far.
New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve Fireworks London
31 December 2022
Midnight fireworks on the River Thames can be seen for miles around. They last for just over ten minutes, focusing on the Southbank Centre area and London Eye. Tickets are sold for the main display, although you might find a (busy) free space on Westminster Bridge or Victoria Embankment. Or get yourself a comfortable rooftop vantage point like the Skyline London terrace bar and restaurant on Minories, overlooking the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
NYE at Somerset House
The Strand, WC2
Music, food and drink and that famously pretty ice rink. Pop-up experiences and a surprise at midnight.
NYE River Cruises
Great views of the city and various options for parties, food, festive cheer, and families.
London New Year’s Day Parade
Piccadilly, Regents St, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall
Sunday 1 January
A Room With a View
From Edwardian grandeur near Buckingham Palace to a 50-metre roof terrace overlooking the Tower of London, find the best Central London hotel deals with Blue Orchid hotels. Join the crowds or opt for a romantic getaway. Take in fabulous views and historic tours. It’s party time in London and Blue Orchid Hotels has the perfect festive plan.
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