London is simply sublime at Christmastime. It’s Christmas party London-style season, November through December. There’s London Christmas lights and many Christmassy experiences. Here’s a few things you shouldn’t miss:
Christmas party London
You can go to hotels, clubs, bars, markets – just about anywhere for a Christmas party London experience.
We were lucky enough to be invited over to Camden for the launch of FEST’s Christmas party London events. Take a look:
More places to relish in London’s Christmas spirit:
Harrods Christmas Grotto
A Christmas escape for Children, that leaves parents free to also escape… to do some shopping! It’s festive, magical and very Harrods. Various events happening throughout December. More at: harrods.com
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and Santa Land
Marble Arch tube
This gorgeous, annual one-stop Christmas spectacular includes rides, circus-like attractions, markets that sell sweets, Christmas treats and traditional German crafts and of course an ice rink. More at: hydeparkwinterwonderland.com
Westfield ice skating and grotto
Shepherd’s Bush tube / Stratford tube
There’s nothing that feels more like Christmas than spending a day in the warmth, shopping at Westfield London or Stratford City. Santa’s in store too, and there’s an ice skating rink – makes for a wonderfully spirited day out.
Southbank Centre Christmas Market and Winter Festival
A traditional German-style wooden hut market along the river – so charming! Toys, gifts, food, drinks – internationally inspired. Also features the Designers Makers Christmas Market, with over 50 British designers selling jewellery, ceramics, textiles, homewares and prints. More at: southbankcentre.co.uk
A Covent Garden Christmas
Covent Garden tube
The historic market piazza plays host to innovative digital installations, a super-sized LEGO snow globe, entertainers, festive lights and displays. More at: coventgardenlondonuk.com
Christmas Arcade at Somerset House
Temple or Covent Garden tube
The divine Somerset House‘s West Wing overlooks a lavish ice skating rink, and the setting features a Narniaesque corridor bedecked in lights and foliage. Dozens of airy rooms are occupied by pop-up-shops with an emphasis on British-made wares, so you’ll find the likes of Brora cashmere, Murdock grooming products, BoBelle London bags and leather goods.
Harry Potter Walking Tour
Indulge in a magical Hogwarts Christmas with a guided walking tour (also includes a boat ride) that takes you through Leadenhall Market and other Potter filming locations.
Christmas at Kew Gardens and Hampton Court Palace
Christmas at Kew Gardensis family friendly in a magical woodland setting, includes a Victorian carousel and vintage rides, Santa’s grotto, boutique Christmas market and live music. Over at Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII’s favourite ‘haunt’, not to mention a fabulous place to visit, there’s a divine ice skating rink in the front courtyard.
Christmas lights in London
Christmas lights by night
Famous throughout the world, each year there is a different theme throughout the city’s festive streets. Brave the chill and jump on an open bus sightseeing tourduring the evening, taking in all the classic sights including Harrods, Oxford Street, Piccadilly and the Tower of London all dressed up in their Christmas finery.
Where to stay: The Wellesley, for a little Christmas luxury
The Wellesley is set within prestigious Knightsbridge, and provides easy access to all the Christmas experiences listed above, and much more. It is not yet a year old following extensive renovations which transformed the property from musical venue to luxe townhouse hotel. Gatsbyesque glamour sets the tone, and this boutique property is worth the dollar outlay if you’re seeking luxury alongside unparalleled service while in London.
The Roaring Twenties carry on at The Wellesley through cleverly considered interiors like crystal chandeliers, original artwork, mirrored panelling and lavish cream and gold colour scheme. It’s also a romantic building for anyone keen on being immersed in history − indeed it used to be the site of the original Hyde Park Corner tube station in the 1920s, and telling architectural signs are evident upon the exterior of the property and from within.
The Wellesley attracts a high calibre of clientèle, but is accessible for anyone seeking a night or more of pure indulgence. The hotel is conveniently situated for shopping, up-market bars and a wander around Hyde Park. Beautifully restored in Art Deco style with a contemporary twist, The Wellesley is a feast for the senses, offering the discerning traveller copious luxury surprises and outstanding personalised service.
What we loved!
Live jazz that was in the hotel’s divine Jazz Lounge which boasts brilliant acoustics thanks to the venue’s musical roots.
The delicious cocktails on offer in the Crystal Bar.
Marble bathrooms and Hermès toiletries.
Courtesy Rolls Royce chauffeur service.
Fast, free WiFi and dozens of free movies available on-demand.
Dining and recreation
The Wellesley features several spaces for indulging, including the enthralling Jazz Lounge with its grand piano centrepiece; the award-winning Crystal Bar which boasts a large selection of fine cognac, champagnes and whisky, and the opulent Oval Restaurant where a delectable Italian-inspired menu is on offer.
The spacious 4-bedroom penthouse set across levels six and seven, with scenic views of Hyde Park, and featuring heated marble floors, heavenly bathrooms, balconies and a fire place.
“You know I love a London boy, I enjoy nights in Brixton, Shoreditch in the afternoon…”
It’s no secret Cooper and I are Swifties (the collective term for ‘fans of Taylor Swift’). He might not like me mentioning it too much in public, but trust me, we’re up there dancing with the best of them at her shows 😁
You’re likely to know by now that she’s released a new album – the 7th studio album in her excellent collection. Taylor Swift London Boy – we love this track on Lover! Don’t get your hopes up about running into her in the UK capital though. The song tells a story about where she spends time with her ‘London Boy’ Joe Alwyn. And they’re known for not advertising where they are.
But you can still take a wander around places that are obviously close to her heart. (and if you’re a super fan, you might have heard about this odd theory that her lyrics actually map out a heart around London. hehe)
Must say, I’ve read some rather cynical accounts of Swifty’s London Boy guide to the city. But, as someone who is also rather in love with London, I kinda like her guide.
Taylor Swift London Boy city guide
We’ve compiled some travel info for any of you other Swifties out there interested in taking in the experiences and areas she’s mentioned.
In Taylor Swift’s London Boy she mentions “Camden Market in the afternoon”. Ok so Camden is pretty cool and you’ll find a lot of things (probably stuff you don’t need) at the market. If you get tired of big crowds though, don’t go in the afternoon.
We’d suggest going later at night, or early in the morning. Camden Market is well worth a look, but time it so you don’t get trampled!
FEST is also a nice spot that decorates according to the season. Nice to go for a drink away from the crowds.
Highgate and Hampstead Heath
Taylor’s spent a bit of time in the suburbs of North London. It’s known to be a bit affluent, posh even. Granted, we like it. We house sat in Crouch End recently. We also enjoyed a house sit near beautiful Hampstead Heath that boasts miles and miles of parkland walks, lakes and stunning views across London.
There’s a number of tube/Overground stops that will take you right up to one of the entrances to Hampstead Heath.
Leafy Highgate is best known for its cemetery. It’s an old one, and also the final resting place for many well-known figures including another one of our music faves, George Michael.
Like Camden, it gets very very crowded. But there’s some cool experiences to be had here. Most of ours include food 😆
Sketch, pictured above, is pretty special (don’t miss going to the bathrooms – just trust us). For a bit of craziness in Soho, you’ll find us digging for an afternoon drink deal at Bar Soho. (Swifty mentions ‘drinking in the afternoon’… sure, it’s a thing on a sunny day 🌞). There’s plenty of food joints, bars and pubs in the vicinity of Bar Soho, if you can get yourself down that way.
And when you need a snack (yup, you know what I’m talking about), go here:
Hackney, Shoreditch and the east end
aww, our ‘London home’ side of the city. For a large part of the last century the east end struggled. Much of it was badly hit during WWII, and the poorest Londoners resided here.
A lot has happened in recent years. Shoreditch and neighbouring Dalston are arguably ‘trendy’. No doubt there’s a cool energy, lots of boutique stores, arty experiences and a surprising side of London to see.
Taylor Swift in London Boy mentions Hackney as a place to explore, over “Louis V on Bond Street”. Agreed.
Broadway Market is our absolute favourite experience in the east. Head over there early on Saturday for one of the best, loveliest local markets in the city. Around the corner is a fabulous bar/restaurant/pop-up store space called Mare Street Market. Highly recommended. Then, take your foodie treats, sit in London Fields (park) and people watch.
You can view east London in all its glory from this excellent rooftop venue:
High tea in London Boy
I read a news item saying that ‘purists’ will be upset with Taylor Swift for calling ‘afternoon tea’ ‘high tea’. Weird – that’s how I know it. And that’s how it’s marketed. All tastes the same 😋
Top London travel tip: before coming to London, sign up for a discount site like LivingSocial or Groupon. There’s plenty of awesome deals on high tea or afternoon tea! Buy one ahead of your trip and indulge.
Brixton and south London
Down to south London now. Brixton is famous for music, cool markets and lots of new fun things opening all the time.
Jump on the Victoria line and head on over to this side of the city. Culture Trip‘s published a helpful guide on things to do in Brixton.
“Stick with me, I’m your Queen…”
Ok so you’re coming to the capital. You’ve seen The Crown, Victoria… Get amongst some Royal action while you’re in town. Why not.
In London Boy, Taylor Swift mentions ‘Louis V’ (the store), but implies exploring the rest of London outside of the glitz is just as fun (true).
You do need to explore central London though. Why? Because it is lovely!
From the historical buildings in Bloomsbury to stunning St Paul’s and Thames walks – find out why people, including us and Swifty, fall in love with this place.
Bonus: get yourself to a good old fashioned English pub
A quintessential London experience: the pub. They’re different in England than pubs in other places. Cosy, chilled, good times.
Careful in London that you don’t get dragged into a touristy pub – nothing wrong with them, but they’re often more expensive and lack the authentic charm that your local neighbourhood pubs have.
One of our favourites is in Angel, east London. Take a look.
So you see, Taylor Swift views the city like many of us do. For those who don’t like it, tough. The visitor numbers can’t be denied, nor our fabulous city’s millions of fans all over the world. I’ll take my rose-tinted view whenever I can 🌈
Please do add your tips or questions in the comments below. See you in London!
Taylor Swift London Boy, image: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19
This past sunny Saturday we chose to make a day of it and find the best new things to do in South Kensington, London.
Our itinerary turned out to be fun, so I’m sharing it with you, whether you’re a local looking to explore, or you’re travelling and staying in Kensington and seeking newer cultural experiences.
London day out itinerary: Japan House Kensington and the best new things to do in South Kensington
Japan House Kensington
We are huge fans of Japan and our lovely sister-in-law, Asami, inspires us to seek whatever knowledge we can about this fascinating country.
When we read about Japan House Kensington opening, it was swiftly added to our ‘must do’ list, especially as we’d already had a look through the cool Japan Centre in Soho, we wanted to compare.
The space is sleek and clean, boasting design that pleases the eye.
Set across three levels, at the Japan House Kensington, you can shop for unique gifts, plan a travel trip, relax in the library, and soak up history within the exhibition area.
Japan House is intended to offer full cultural immersion through food, art, hospitality, events and carefully curated exhibitions.
Japan is famous for its cuisine and at Japan House, centrally positioned in a Grade II Heritage Listed Art Deco building on High Street Kensington, there’s a beautiful restaurant on the top level, and a cafe at street level.
I tried a Matcha tea shot (or ‘small tea’) – traditionally brewed in front of us – quite bitter to taste and very strong.
At first I didn’t feel so good because I hadn’t eaten in the morning, but I’m pretty sure the tea gave me a clean energy boost that lasted the entire day. I’m sold.
Japan House Kensington is one of three new cultural centres that aim to show the ‘real’ Japan, the other two being in São Paulo and Los Angeles.
Everything at Japan House is Japanese, from the floor tiles to the chefs preparing authentic cuisine.
It’s easy to pop in for a quick look around, or spend a while browsing the displays and books.
Under a ten-minute walk from Japan House Kensington is the fabulous Design Centre in its new SW London home.
The Design Museum was housed in a former banana warehouse on the Thames at Tower Bridge for 27 years, before moving to Kensington and becoming one of the best new things to do in the area.
Upon entering the building in South Kensington, we learn that the place was founded by Sir Terence Conran in the belief that design has a vital part to play in shaping and understanding the world.
Honestly, visiting here was a highlight of our day out finding the best of contemporary Kensington attractions.
The museum celebrates creativity and innovation, and all that has shaped the world around us, including design we might not even see or consider, such as digital design.
The Design Museum, like Japan House Kensington, is picture-perfect in shape and design. It’s mostly free but there are paid exhibitions that might interest you too.
Aside from being visually engaging across all exhibitions that range from fashion to typewriters, transport and political posters, the Design Museum asks us to think about the world around us. How did we get to Kensington – bus or train? Have we looked at a map today; touched a phone; put on shoes; posted to social media?
All of our activities involve design, and usually a manufacturing process developing goods for a specific end-user.
This immersive and interactive experience offers a glimpse into familiar objects of the past and present like cameras, computers and calculators. It also showcases futuristic 3D-printed objects, virtual products and a projection of the world’s transport, immigration and healthcare systems as time ticks on.
A thoroughly enjoyable reminder of the creativity and innovation we are surrounded by each and every day. It’s time we stop taking it all for granted, I think. Drop by the Design Museum for a visit – I dare you – it’ll make you think differently.
Time for lunch at Zuaya in South Kensington
In keeping with our theme exploring the best new things to do in South Kensington, visiting Japan House Kensington and the Design Museum, we made our way to a new restaurant, Zuaya.
Zuaya is a short stroll from Japan House or the Design Museum and is opposite an entrance to Kensington Park – perfect for walking off a big meal later on.
It’s a fabulous South American themed restaurant, with a chic rainforest-themed interior.
The menu draws on influence from Mexico, Argentina and Peru and all dishes are absolutely photo-worthy.
Service at Zuaya was excellent, and we enjoyed our dining experience.
There’s a range of sharing options at Zuaya, as well as an a la carte menu, all reasonably priced. If you’re up for ditching the usual high-street chains which are plentiful in this area, give it a go.
I particularly liked the vegetable cau cau, a stew of sweet potato, butternut squash, mint and Peruvian potato (pictured above).
The dessert menu is tempting too, but we highly recommend the smooth and creamy home-made mango ice-cream. Yummy!
Take a look at the website or Instagram feed for more London foodie inspiration.
V&A Museum: the future starts here
Your afternoon itinerary could vary greatly in Kensington, depending on the weather and your interests.
As mentioned, a wander through the neighbouring parks of Kensington and Hyde is entirely viable; you could visit Kensington Palace too, or the shops on the high street.
We chose to catch a bus about five minutes up the road and got off at the Albert Hall stop with Exhibition Road in our sights.
This road is pretty busy – understandably – it houses a number of London’s most popular museums that are all free to enter, including the Science Museum and Natural History Museum.
Today however, we wanted to go somewhere new and found ourselves inside the very excellent Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum. Dubbed ‘the world’s leading museum of art and design’, it’s also free to enter, however we being particularly technologically-curious, decided to pay for an exhibition called The Future Starts Here.
This exhibition showcases ‘100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow’.
This includes robots, social bots and wearable tech; digital avatars keeping you around upon death; emails to trees; and bracelets designed to revive you after death (pictured above) if you are one of the couple of thousand who have signed up for cryonics and wish to be frozen but woken when we figure out how to do it!
Most fascinating is a live project that tracks a young Nigerian living in LA who has faced homelessness and trauma through years of hiding from immigration officers, knowing that if his meagre income as an Uber driver were to cease in America, his family back in Niger would be totally ruined.
He agreed to be part of this project that tracks his insomnia as well as use of WhatsApp and Instagram so he can keep in touch with his much-loved and missed family and friends back home. Pictured above, when the curtains are open it means he’s using these services and they also show where he is within his sleep patterns.
A study hailing all the way from our home of Queensland was featured too, and upon donning this attractive headset, you’re dropped into the middle of an extraordinary colourful coral reef to explore as if you’re in the waters just off Cairns.
I won’t give the rest of the secrets of this exhibition away. You really might enjoy it for yourself. If you miss it though, there’s plenty of other options at the V&A. I’ll definitely return soon.
Final stop: dessert at Maitre Choux
A shout-out to our friend Lisa for suggesting this little spot, about five minutes walk from the V&A.
Maitre Choux bakes fresh eclairs and chouquettes every day, made by none other than three Michelin Star pastry chef Joakim Prat.
For a decadent little treat (or two) to get you through the rest of your day, this will hit the spot.
There’s a colourful array of delicious goodies, but the place is small so choose a time when it’s likely to be a bit quieter. Saturday around 3pm was fine, and you can take-away or dine in for respite from the crowds outside.
Find this place on Instagram for a regular dose of prettiness.
That’s our day itinerary in SW London – from Japan House Kensington to a host of museum experiences and delicious, adventurous food. The activities are mostly indoors so perfect if it’s getting a little chilly outside or it’s raining.
We recently heard whispers about a place called The Piano Works that’s reported to offer some of the best fun in London.
Big talk. London is a cool place!
Curious, we investigated further, only to discover that a new Sunday brunch menu was being launched at The Piano Works just in time for autumn.
For only £20 guests can enjoy bottomless Prosecco for two hours on Saturday; £15 on Sundays; or bottomless Bloody Marys for £20 on Saturdays and Sundays. The food menu is reasonably priced and good quality.
An inexpensive weekend bottomless brunch in the middle of the city! How can it get any better?
It actually does get better than just great food and drink deals though because The Piano Works is indeed London’s only non-stop live music venue.
So, no matter what time of the day you venture inside this fabulous restaurant/bar in Farringdon, central London, you’ll have the pleasure of listening to superb singers and musicians.
When we were there, a male and female singer took the lead, both playing piano and dazzling us with an array of contemporary and classic hits. Surprisingly, they even played a sweet 90s track by Aussie pop group Savage Garden (my fave!).
The live music element totally changes the energy of the place and your mood. We absolutely loved it.
The Piano Works is bigger inside than you might imagine from looking in the front entrance, and it can get very very busy, especially later in the day.
It’s actually perfect for getting together with friends for a day or nighttime catch-up and celebration, but we’ve been advised you should book a table in advance.
There’s a number of cosy spaces on offer, including band-view tables near the bar, booths and private areas. For more, take a look at our clip at the bottom of this blog.
The bar here is lovely, as are the staff, and you can order a range of yummy cocktails and drinks.
The Piano Works has attracted its fair share of celebrity clientele too, and has even been featured in an episode of television’s Made in Chelsea (another of my guilty pleasures).
After having the chance to go once, we have already encouraged friends to book brunch and a day or night (or both) here too. When we shared some snaps on Facebook during our time there, other local friends commented saying The Piano Works is their favourite place to go out for food, a drink and a dance. Can’t believe we didn’t know about this spot before now!
The Piano Works really is fun, and for all ages (important for those of us who get a bit uncomfortable in the club scene these days, as much as we feel young at heart).
Throw in delicious food, upbeat live music and bottomless bubbles and I’m sold, obviously.
To top it off, you can even request songs on their napkins – and, the band play all requests that they can squeeze into their sets.
We feel really lucky to have found this place – it’s beyond your average bar or restaurant and definitely a cool London experience. One that won’t break the bank either. Cheers to that!
Would you like to try brunch at The Piano Works? Quote ‘Sarah’s social‘ when you finalise a booking for Sunday brunch at 12pm or 2pm and your party (no limit on number of people) will enjoy FREE bottomless prosecco for two hours. Just pay for your food! Call 0207 278 1966 or book via the website and use the promo code. Enjoy!
Have you been and did you love it like we did? What are your favourite London dining and dancing experiences? Let us know in the comments.
UPDATE: since we did this fondue London review, Androuet has turned into Abondance, but is still run by the same awesome team. Read on…
Two cheesy posts in a row, as we discover Fondue London at its best, Androuet, now Abondance (2019).
(Cooper did owe me after taking himself off for halloumi fries while I was at work!)
He redeemed himself by connecting with the energetic and passionate owners of Androuet in London, French brothers Alex & Léo Guarneri (also the authors of A Year in Cheese).
Fondue London: cheesy learnings
We have a confession to make – and it’s a little embarrassing. As cheese fans, we’ve never, ever had fondue.
Disgraceful, I know. Coming from a hot climate though (Australia), it’s not something we would have thought first to have. We missed out in Switzerland too, but I’m quite glad we started right here!
When Cooper was chatting to Alex this came up, and he very kindly offered to share the ultimate cheese experience with us, which is how we discovered London’s best fondue at Androuet (now Abondance).
On Friday afternoon, we hopped on a train into Liverpool street, and wandered across to Spitalfields.
Alex’s brother, Léo, had put a little time into his packed schedule (along with running the restaurant and being a chef, this cheese connoisseur also hosts external events, and researches all wine and produce being sold in their business) to show us the ropes.
Passion and produce
Alex and I love what we do and we want people to have a great experience. Good chefs and good people make good ingredients.
What became immediately obvious was how passionate this man is about what he does.
When he said he loves his job, we could tell he means it.
We discovered that we have some things in common – we’re expats who love our wines and cheese, and we believe in doing a job you love, because then it doesn’t matter about the hours you put in. Quite the opposite – we’re all really lucky.
Léo shared with us that they have a good relationship with their suppliers, and they choose to promote produce that comes from people who respect the land. The wine he paired with our first extraordinary cheese, Heublumen (Swiss cheese) was Pipeño blanco from Chile.
While we explored the taste, as instructed (bit of cheese, sip of wine for a rich, delicious flavour experience), Léo explained that the wine is produced as part of the biodynamic movement. That is, biodynamic wines are made using the principles of biodynamic viticulture which takes organic farming to a more spiritual level, with authentic respect for the land and natural cycles of the earth. It also means no pesticides, and in fact the lovely white wine we tried was a little cloudy in colour due to its natural production.
On that note, two things we learnt during this dining experience as the main delights including Androuet’s classic fondue were served: always white wine with cheese dishes, and when enjoying fondue, be sure to keep stirring the pot vigorously as the colour should always be white, not go back to yellow.
We had been tentatively dipping straight into the dish so as to save the cheese, but no, get stuck in. It’s only manners.
The traditional fondue blend we tried at Androuet is made from Comté 12 months and Emmental ‘Grand Cru’ with dry white wines. Comté is from Jura (east of France, at the border of Switzerland) and Emmental is from Savoie in the Alps mountains, south of Jura. The ‘Grand Cru’ is known as the best type of Emmental, Léo has shared with us.
Alex and Léo research their wines and cheese (tough gig, but someone has to do it); to be fair, they obviously do an excellent job. They’ve also grown this business from a market stall at Spitalfields around eight years ago to a gorgeous restaurant dining experience, and cheese and wine store.
We’d encourage you to keep an eye on their social media (Instagram and Facebook) for special events like wine and cheese pairings, weekly restaurant deals and experiences around London like cheese discos.
We’ll definitely be back to Androuet for the food, service and genuine enthusiasm for life (in between serving guests, explaining fondue to us and running the business, Léo was also chatting to his mum on site last night). See you all there!
AbondanceSpitalfields Arts Market, 10 Lamb street, London E1 6EA
Welcome to Travel Live learn, where we are passionate about living a life full of great adventures. We are Sarah + Cooper, and here we share our advice and stories about expat living in the UK; pet and house sitting around the world; wellness travel and creative living, no matter where on the planet you are. We have worked in media, communication and creative roles for 20 years, and have spent over 10 years living and working abroad. We hope you find value in our content. Please do connect by leaving a comment or find us on social media.