- Five days in London: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
- Things to do in London during the holidays
- Holiday lights and sights
- Trafalgar Square Christmas tree lighting
- Oxford Street and Knightsbridge shopping
- Covent Garden
- Handel’s Messiah at St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Christmas markets
- Day trip to Windsor
- How we got around
- Where we stayed
- Where we ate and drank
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Five days in London: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Happy Holidays to all!
Mr. TWS and I have had a tradition for the past 14 years that we hope to continue for years to come. We’ve been kicking off the holidays (and celebrating Mr. TWS’s birthday) by traveling to festive destinations in early December. We’ve visited European Christmas markets, cruised along the Danube, discovered Christmas traditions in France, celebrated right here in the USA in Chicago and New York, and had many other memorable experiences. This year we went back to a destination we’ve been visited several times before and where we also kicked off the holidays one year — London.
Things to do in London during the holidays
Since we’d visited many landmarks and historical sites in the past, the focus during our five days in London this time was to embrace the English holiday spirit, eat, drink and be merry!
Holiday lights and sights
Decorations on the streets, storefronts, and iconic London attractions really put us in the holiday mood, and we especially enjoyed the festive vibe in the pubs where Christmas partiers filled the air with lively conversations, laughter, and songs.
And you just might see Santa(s) playing football in the park.
Trafalgar Square Christmas tree lighting
We had the experience of being at the Christmas tree lighting many years ago and found it so meaningful and so much fun that we made a point of being in town for the event again. Norway has been giving the people of London a tree each year since 1947 in gratitude for British support during World War II. We particularly liked how the crowds joined in singing with the choirs and bands.
Oxford Street and Knightsbridge shopping
Oxford Street is a bustling area with festive decorations and upscale places to shop, including the landmark Selfridges department store.
Designed by Daniel Burnham and opened in 1909, Selfridges is a wonderful place to shop especially during the Christmas season. There’s plenty of holiday spirit here and we enjoyed the live musical entertainment at the café. Many of you will also know of a famous scene in Love, Actually that was filmed here. It’s the scene in which the Alan Rickman character buys a necklace for his assistant while Mr. Bean overdoes the wrapping process. However, we didn’t find the actual spot because areas and merchandise have moved around over the years.
Knightsbridge is an upscale residential and shopping neighborhood that includes famous stores like Harrods and Harvey Nichols.
Harrods is almost a mini-mall of many luxury brands in this huge department store. The exterior of the building is decked out with lights, but we didn’t get a chance to see the store at night on this trip. There are several escalators for getting around including the very impressive Egyptian escalator.
Covent Garde is a famous shopping and dining area of London’s West End and is one of the must-see areas at Christmastime. Beautiful decorations and busy pubs. restaurants, shops, markets, and festive holiday revelers make this perfect for a few fun hours.
Handel’s Messiah at St. Paul’s Cathedral
I was delighted we would be in London in time for a performance of Handel’s Messiah by the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir and Chorus, and the City of London Sinfonia. Anytime you visit London, make a point to visit the cathedral and attend Evensong or other musical events if you can. It was a real joy to hear the performance in such a beautiful historical setting.
There are many Christmas markets and event venues in London and we just scratched the surface taking in Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park (with a ice skating rink and amusement park), “Christmas by the River” market at London Bridge, Borough Market, Southbank Centre, and Covent Garden.
The Christmas markets we visited are newer and perhaps not quite as large or picturesque as ones we’ve been to in Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and other countries, but there’s still a lot of holiday spirit and places to have a taste of mulled wine, and shop for gifts, crafts, and souvenirs.
Day trip to Windsor
I’d visited Windsor Castle before, but it was a first for Mr. TWS. We toured the castle and paid our respects to the late Queen Elizabeth II who is interred at St. George’s Chapel on the castle grounds. The castle was decorated for the holidays, but we weren’t allowed to take photos inside. We also strolled around the town and had a delicious lunch at a cozy pub with a roaring fire near the castle.
London public art tip: Along the South Bank between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, you’ll be treated to striking animal sculptures by renowned artists Gillie and Marc. This public art project is designed to bring awareness and funds to protect endangered animals.
How we got around
Tube – The London Underground is a fast, easy, affordable way to get around. Check out fares, discounts, passes, and travelcards.
Train – Our hotel was a 10-minute walk to Waterloo Station where we boarded our train to Windsor. At Windsor, it was a short walk up the hill to the castle. The train is a good way to take days trips from London to many surrounding cities.
Walking – Walking is a great way to see London on both sides of the Thames especially at Christmastime with all the decorations. I don’t keep track of steps, but Mr. TWS does, and he reports 22,000 steps on at least one of our days in London, and an average of 18,000. By walking, you’re likely to spot shops, cafes, pubs and landmarks that you might want to visit.
Taxi and ride-sharing — We didn’t take any of London’s iconic black cabs on this trip, but they are another reliable way to get around and we’ve taken them in the past. Athough we use Uber in many cities, we don’t have experience with the service here.
Where we stayed
Bankside Hotel, Autograph Collection, 2 Blackfriars Rd, Upper Ground — We loved the location which was convenient to Blackfriars and Southwark tube stations and Waterloo Station. It was also close to the Thames path with easy access to the bridges and a short walk to attractions such as St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s a lovely hotel with an artistic vibe and artwork throughout nicely-appointed modern rooms and its very good restaurant and bar.
Where we ate and drank
From pubs to fine dining, we had some great food and drink experiences in and around London. Here’s a list of pubs and restaurants we enjoyed on this trip.
Sherlock Holmes Pub, 10 Northumberland Street, Charing Cross
Churchill Arms, 119 Kensington Church Street, Kensington — This pub goes all in for Christmas, covering the exterior with 80 trees and extensive decorations on the inside. The surprise here was that the food served was Thai, which ended up being a good change of pace from the usual pub fare.
The Horniman at Hay’s Galleria, Southwark
Punch and Judy’s, 40 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden
Doggett’s Coat and Badge, 1 Blackfriars Bridge
Founder’s Arms, 52 Hopton Street, South Bank
Shaws Booksellers, 31-34 St. Andrew’s Hill
Horse and Groom, 4 Castle Hill, Windsor
Trishna, 15-17 Blandford St — Michelin-starred Indian restaurant in Marylebone. We made a point of doing Indian food in London since there are so many good ones here. This was a real hit for Mr. TWS’s birthday.
Brasserie Blanc, 9 Belvedere Road — lovely French restaurant near Southbank Centre (they also have other locations in London and elsewhere in England)
Sticky Mango, 33 Coin Street — Pan-Asian cuisine near Waterloo Station (other locations in London including one with views at Tower Bridge)
Albie at the Hoxton, 40 Blackfriars Road — Casual, modern lobby restaurant in the Hoxton Hotel, Southwark
Bakery tip: Instead of large English breakfasts, we decided to have coffee and pastries in our room while getting ready to start the day. There is a Gail’s Bakery right around the corner from our hotel and they have good coffee and a wide selection of tasty bakery items. There are about 65 Gail’s Bakery locations in London and other English cities.
Cheers to you all from the TWS duo for happy travels in 2024!