Whether you’re flying over for the first time or heading ‘home’ for the festive season, the British capital has a ton of tinselly treats. We asked Maggie Bolger – Londoner, mum-of-four and founder of Repulse Bay family club Maggie & Rose – for her top tips
What makes London so special at Christmas?
I love the festive atmosphere as the city comes alive for Christmas – as a family it is great to do fun outings like late night shopping, Christmas markets and ice-skating that are uniquely available in winter. London is just magical around this time of the year, it’s so full of love and festivity; coming from NZ where Christmas is not so cosy, being here you can wrap up warm which to me just makes that festive feeling more engrained. Also London’s Christmas lights are crazy cool and second to none.
Where’s all the action for kids at this time of year?
Anything indoor is a bonus for those extra cold days! London has amazing art galleries – the Tate Modern is great for kids of all ages – they always have something interesting going on, and it’s amazing to see how engaged the kids can be there; it’s a huge space to run around in and they do lots of cool exhibitions there.
Windsor Castle is a great day trip for anyone wanting to see the Royal home surrounded by snow. For outdoors, our parks are awesome: Hyde Park, Holland Park, St. James’s Park, Regents Park, and particularly Bushy and Richmond Parks as they are abundant with deer!
London has so many stunning backdrops for ice skating rinks – our closest is at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, or the Bandstand at Hyde Park is great for a quick spin – it’s so festive as the Winter Wonderland fair is happening right next door!
What will you and the kids be catching in the West End this winter?
We have amazing shows at our fingertips in London – School of Rock is fantastic – we actually run classes and camps at Maggie & Rose Hong Kong inspired by this very theme! Matilda is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, as I love Tim Minchin who created it. It’s unbelievably clever and funny. Lion King is a classic – the set design is just stunning and it’s great for little ones to be able to follow the story, having seen the movie or read the book.
Any secret shopping spots for kids presents?
For me I mostly buy on-line as I don’t have a lot of time to spend wandering through stores – it’s a combination of Hush, Cox & Cox and H&M – this usually covers all bases for my gift needs! If you wanted to trek into the Christmas shopping mania then Harrods is definitely the place to go, you cannot beat it for festiveness, or brave the crowds in Hamleys for every toy you could ever imagine to choose from!
Which are your go-to family-friendly restaurants?
We actually don’t eat out that much as a family at restaurants, we love to eat at home. I cook, and that’s a novel thing for us at the moment – being together in one place and staying in.
If we have to go out, we go to places like this fabulous new burger destination called Patty & Bun – their interiors are very cool, right up my alley, and my 7yr old says they have the best burgers ever! Ottomezzo in Kensington is this cute little restaurant in the back streets run by these guys from Italy. It also has a sandwich bar right next to it where you can get toasted paninis to take up to the park. The food’s really authentic and we’ve been going there forever, so my kids have grown up on it. Wahaca has been a long time favourite, the kids love choosing lots of little plates of Mexican delights to share and the staff are super good with kids.
Any recommendations for Christmas lunch?
We always eat at home and I gather all the family around to ours. This is what cements Christmas for us – a home-cooked meal and family time together. There are some great places open over Christmas in London though like the very cool Orange Public House & Hotel just off the King’s Road and the super trendy Hubbard & Bell in Holborn – great for family-sharing food. Maggie & Rose also has special Christmas parties and events taking place this year – both here in London and in Hong Kong (which also opens on Christmas Day!).
What are your family’s favourite things to do at home this time of year?
As Christmas lunch is a big thing for our family I feel that the design applied to the table makes all the difference in enjoying the meal and lingering for as long as possible… so we make a few of our own decorations like place mats made out of silver cake boards with lengths of ribbons criss-crossed all over, making sure each strip is secured with glue and wrapped over the edge.
We also make napkin rings using toilet rolls cut into 10cm wide rings, wrapped in strips of ribbon, just like the place mats. We also create our own scrapbook each year, getting the kids to take polaroid’s of festive gatherings and paste them into the book along with small mementos and hand written stories/guest messages.
How will you be spending Christmas day?
For me, if there is a time to get together and make an effort – this is the day, so I always make sure to make it as immersive for all my family as possible. We all chip in and cook the Christmas lunch, lay the table, when family arrives the kids will all entertain each other and then we all sit down together, young and old. After the lunch is over, there is nothing better than curling up on the couch with a family Christmas film. We also have this mad present stealing game that we play that gets everyone’s competitive juices flowing! After this hectic year for me I am definitely looking forward to switching off the emails and phone for a few days to be present for my family.
All lit up
Oxford Street has got the Christmas party started with 1,788 decorations and 750,000 LED lightbulbs, which this year are inspired by falling snowflakes. Until Jan 6.
Wander over to trendy Carnaby Street where the inventive Christmas decorations are complemented with live music and instore promotions. Lights go on at 6pm, until Jan 6.
Ooh and ahh over giant illuminated peacock feathers on Bond Street at this already glamorous end of town, until Jan 2.
Enjoy a mistletoe theme with over 40 mistletoe-bedecked chandeliers hanging over the cobbled streets and market buildings of Covent Garden, until Jan 5.
Garlands of lights strung across Regent Street will form part of a larger display that runs from Oxford Circus to Waterloo Place via Piccadilly and St James’s, until Jan 5.
Over in the west of the capital, a mile of twinkling lights trail through Kew Gardens, illuminating the historic buildings and plants. Enjoy singing trees, a flickering fire garden, kaleidoscope projections and giant-flora inspired installations, plus Santa and his elves at the North Pole village, until Jan 1, christmasatkew.seetickets.com
Roll up! Roll up!
For the first time, historic Greenwich will be hosting a Winter Time Festival in the Old Navy College beside the Cutty Sark in London’s east. Enjoy a covered ice rink, Christmas market and visits with Santa, until Dec 31, 15 pounds/adult, 8 pounds/child, book at greenwichwintertime.com
Leicester Square will be hosting Santa and a grotto in the centre of the ‘square’, plus a Christmas market and vintage Belgian Speigeltent hosting Black Cat Cabaret, The Showstoppers’ Christmas Kids Show and Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Medicine, until Jan 7, christmasinleicestersquare.com
Stroll the south bank of the Thames enjoying mulled wine, carols and a Christmas market at Southbank Centre’s Wintertime event. 10am-10pm, until Jan 4, closed Dec 25.
Shop for Christmas by the river with views over the Tower of London and Tower Bridge at the London Bridge City Christmas Market. Crafts from over 60 independent traders plus pop up food stalls.
Winter Wonderland is back in Hyde Park, with ice skating, winter markets, grottos, gluhwein, plus new for 2017 the Magical Ice Kingdom Deep Sea Adventure with ice sculptures, an alpine-style village with karaoke huts and Cinderella on Ice. Plus Zippos Christmas Circus, The Sooty Christmas Show and a giant observation wheel. 10am-10pm, until Jan 1, closed Dec 25, free entry, show bookings at hydeparkwinterwonderland.com