Things to do in London over Christmas
December 7, 2009 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations for things to do in London. Asking on behalf of a colleague, who is visiting from America for a week over Christmas.

Relevant details:

-Traveling with his wife, and daughters aged 11 and 13.
-Jewish (so no carol concerts)
-Assume a decent budget
-Seasoned travelers, so would rather avoid the obvious tourist traps
-Like contemporary culture, shopping, art, music
posted by Conductor71 to Travel & Transportation around London, England (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
british history museum is a classic. You might consider it an "obvious tourist trap" but I think its a great day.
posted by H. Roark at 12:58 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not sure if the Churchill War Rooms are tourist-trappy, but it's a fantastic tour, and the Churchill museum has won a ton of awards and is very well-done.

Shopping-wise, I very much enjoyed Camden Market; lots of stuff for the daughters to check out there.

I enjoyed the Great Park in Windsor quite a bit; even stumbled onto a polo match there. Not sure what it's like in the winter though.

Go see some plays.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:12 PM on December 7, 2009

If they are a fan of the Christmas season in general, a simply day walking about London would suffice, with stops along the way of course. Nothing prettier than London at Christmastime.
posted by bamassippi at 1:12 PM on December 7, 2009

Also... might want to consider a jaunt to The Holly Bush in Hampstead Heath. One of my favorite pubs in the world, and it's far enough out of the city center to feel authentic England-ish. While you're there, a walk to the park, and the secret garden (don't tell anyone where you found it) is sure to be a break from the norm.
posted by bamassippi at 1:16 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had a lot of luck with the places people suggested for my recent question.
posted by MsMolly at 1:27 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Science Museum is my absolute most spankingly favourite place to visit in London. I could lose a day in there easily and still want to look at more stuff.

(The website makes it look a bit shallow and trendy IMO. It really isn't. It's ace.)
posted by Dali Atomicus at 1:44 PM on December 7, 2009

I said it four years ago, and I'll say it again: skate at Somerset House. (Here's another previously from December '05.)
posted by holgate at 1:49 PM on December 7, 2009

London is indeed great at Christmas. Even better than New York City, IME.

Camden, Portobello and Smithfield markets are each lovely enough to consume a day of wandering, but even just wandering over the bridges or stumbling through Covent Garden can be rewarding. There's always a big Christmas "thing" in Hyde Park, too.
posted by rokusan at 2:09 PM on December 7, 2009

For market shopping (if it's raining I'd avoid though): Brick Lane or Greenwich market are both worth a few hours wandering around. Camden Market is also OK but those two are less well known to the average tourist.

One of the nicest small museums in London is the Geffrye Museum and because of it's random, eccentric collection I can't go too many years without visiting the Horniman Museum.

Again if it's not raining, there's several nice parks in London. Among them Regents Park and Holland Park are great places to stroll and relax - they're also both very centrally located and still look nice in the winter.

I know it's boring and touristy, but as others have (and will still probably) suggest. The 3 South Kensington Museums (Science, Natural History + the Victoria & Albert) are within a stones throw of each other and could each be 2 day destinations in themselves - a few hours in each will make you wish you could spend more time there. I also love the British Museum: the stuff stolen acquired from around the world has to be seen to be believed.

The Imperial War Museum or the (as already suggested) the Churchill/Cabinet War Rooms are also both excellent.

Most British museums are free, but I have a feeling the Churchill one is not: it may have changed since my last visit though - so I'd budget $60+ for a family of four and then be delighted to be proved wrong.

Really avoid Piccadilly Circus & Leicester Square: unless you want to be trampled by tourists. Who are each wondering what it is they're supposed to be looking at apart from a 2 foot high Eros statue and some cinemas.
posted by selton at 2:37 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm a fan of Pollock's Toy Museum.

Also, the British Museum, the V&A, and the Natural History and Science museums have thrilled me every time I've ever been in London, whether I was a child or an adult. If they're tourist traps, it's only because they are among the greatest museums on the planet.
posted by scody at 2:44 PM on December 7, 2009

Columbia Road Flower Market (also here) on the edge of Hackney/the City/Tower Hamlets.

An incredibly lovely, bustling market full of life and character and market patter (and flowers and plants, but worth it for the atmosphere and food even if you're a tourist and can't take plants away). Open 8am to 3pm-ish every Sunday, but get there early to avoid the worst of the crowds.

If you struggle to find it, just look for the people carrying plants twice their own height back to their cars/the bus stop in a spirit of blind optimism that, against the odds, they will find a way to get the 8ft banana plant they just fell in love with back home.

It's near Dennis Severs' House (mentioned in MsMolly's thread) and Brick Lane/what's left of Spitalfield market, if you want to roll them all together.
posted by penguin pie at 3:36 PM on December 7, 2009

And if they think they might go to Brick Lane, they could pack this as holiday reading - a fascinating history of the area's rich immigrant history (including a wave of Polish Jews, who replaced Hugenot weavers, and have in turn been replaced by Bangladeshis). The book includes a walking tour taking in all the places mentioned.

In fact, I must finally get around to doing the walking tour myself this Christmas...
posted by penguin pie at 3:49 PM on December 7, 2009

We enjoyed the V&A, and the Science Museum was GREAT!

Depending on the weather, the on and off tour buses are fun. We also enjoyed a DUK tour on an amphibious bus. It went all around the regular city tour areas, then went into the Thames! Really fun!

We took a walking nighttime Jack the Ripper tour, that was fun for us.

Hubby enjoyed the Imperial War Museum while I was shopping. There were a LOT of places we wanted to go but just didn't have time!

You might get a variety of brochures and books with things to do from a few good hotels, and let THEM spend an evening choosing what they want.

We also hired a driver to take us to Salisbury, Sarum and Stonehenge and Avebury. That was fun!

The Sherlock Holmes Pub was a fun dinner, and we enjoyed Ben Crouch's, but we're weird....

The Globe Theatre was neat, with historic clothes and costumes on display.

Walking around a pretty residential area, especially if there is snow, is a great way to get into the spirit of the season and city.

Harrod's may be a crazy time, but it's so pretty with the lights on it!
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 3:53 PM on December 7, 2009

The south bank of the Thames is worth a wander, and whilst there they can check out the Tate Modern - great building, great collection. And if they want to be a little bit touristy if you go up to the top of the building there's a view almost as good as that from the London Eye, and you don't have to pay for it.
posted by Artw at 3:55 PM on December 7, 2009

If you do the Jack The Ripper tour try and see if Donald Rumbalow is still doing them - he's by far the best. A very fun area to explore as well.
posted by Artw at 3:56 PM on December 7, 2009

Also... might want to consider a jaunt to The Holly Bush in Hampstead Heath.

My (american) wife and I used to live down the road from that, always super popular with American visitors we took there.
posted by Artw at 3:58 PM on December 7, 2009

If you do Portobello Road market, get there early, start north and work your way south. The crowds will be crazy as you are ready to leave. Harrods is a madhouse and they close the tube station when it is too crowded. Cabs are impossible to find from there if it is raining. I'd recommend the Portrait Gallery for the adults (history + art!) and the Eye for the kids. The Imperial War Museum has a kid-appropriate exhibition on the WWII experience. A day trip to Stonehenge is definitely worth it.
posted by Morrigan at 4:15 PM on December 7, 2009

Oh yeah, the Jack the Ripper tours are surprisingly fun, even if they're a mite touristy. Definitely try to get one with Donald Rumbelow if you're interested.
posted by scody at 4:28 PM on December 7, 2009

The Southbank Christmas market has a carousel and candy merchants for the kids, as well as cheesy chip and poffertje stalls for all.
posted by Morrigan at 4:31 PM on December 7, 2009

Seconding Tate Modern, which is a fixture on my semi-regular jaunts into London. Also the British Museum and Natural History Museum. The British Library is worth a quick look, at least - they have an excellent free exhibition with things like an original Magna Carta and some of the Beatles' original lyrics sheets.

Skating at Somerset House, as mentioned upthread, is really fun - beautiful place, and the facilities are great. The National Gallery is also well worth a look, I could spend hours in there. Even though it's a bit of a tourist trap, you can't really go to London and not go to Trafalgar Square at some point.

One word of warning - if you're travelling by Tube at all, do not get off at Covent Garden - there's no escalators, and you'll be waiting ages for a lift in a crush of people. Stay on the train and get off at Leicester Square or Holborn instead, they're about 5 minutes' walk each way.
posted by ZsigE at 4:42 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are some brilliant walking tours you can take. They tend to be small groups led by incredibly lively and knowledgable guides. has a great selection, including some aimed particularly for families. The Harry Potter walk could be great if the kids are into it.

One thing to bear in mind is that almost everything closes down on Christmas Day - last year a friend was doing the tourist thing over Christmas and said she struggled to find anything to eat in central London on Xmas day itself - hardly any shops or restaurants will be open. It's worth researching and making bookings for that day, rather than leaving it to chance.
posted by sleepy boy at 8:31 AM on December 8, 2009

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