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Children looking at coloured lights in trees in winter time

Ditch the kitsch: how to have a swanky Christmas in London

Let’s face it, part of the fun of the festive season is revelling in the tackiness of gaudy decorations and flashy Christmas trees but, if you’re after something slightly more refined (and perhaps a little different) in the UK’s capital this year, there are plenty of options for that, too. London experience expert Alice Saville rounds up the swishiest Christmas experiences on offer this season…


DJs and skaters spin at Somerset House (Luke Dyson)

Skate to ice-cool sounds at Somerset House

A spin round Somerset House’s prettiest-in-London ice rink is just the thing to see in the festive season, but there’s no reason to listen to naff Christmas tunes while you’re at it. This year, the venue’s Uniqlo-sponsored Skate Lates offers skating to a box-fresh soundtrack, with highly danceable takeovers from the likes of female-led station Foundation FM and Glasgow newcomer Clyde Built Radio. Even if your showiest move is ‘clinging to the rail trembling’ you can be sure you’re doing it in style. Runs from 18 November to 14 January 2022.

Take to the rink

Winter world of wonder at Kew (also opening image) (RGB Kew)

Branch out at Kew Gardens’ light trail

As the wintry darkness falls, a new kind of beauty blossoms at Kew: thousands of glimmering lights that emphasise the sculptural forms of its branches and leaves. This year, the attractions include Spheric, a 15m-wide dome of light, which will create a mesmerising visual illusion in the centre of Kew’s lake. Sky installation Aurora will set the northern lights twinkling overhead. And there’s the opportunity to warm up with snacks including spiced cider and waffles. Book ahead – these tickets sell like hot cakes. Runs from 17 November 2021 to 9 January 2022.

Experience the lights of Kew

DIY decorations with Biscuiteers

Pipe yourself an edible masterpiece

Yes, a liberal shake of sprinkles and silver balls can cover a multitude of baking sins. But don’t your eyes (and teeth) deserve better? Elevate your seasonal cookie game at Biscuiteers’ piping workshops, which offer tuition in small groups over a warming cup of coffee. Classes are organised by theme and include Christmas Tree Decorations, Hampers, Snowmen and Christmas Wreaths – though we quite like the sound of Après Ski, which will tutor you in the art of creating immaculate edible Alpine lodges, mittens and even ear muffs. Classes from 4 November 2021 to 8 January 2022.

Up your biscuit-making game

An unlikely Christmas hit at Rivoli Ballroom

Be thrilled at a plushy pop-up cinema

It’s official: Die Hard’s writer Steven E de Souza has declared that his 1988 action classic is a Christmas movie, pointing out that it’s set entirely at a Christmas party, features four Christmas songs and involves an appropriately festive act of self-sacrifice (Bruce Willis running over broken glass). Less controversially, it’s also totally uncutesy. Decide where you stand at this pop-up screen at Rivoli Ballroom, which boasts gorgeous original 1950s décor that’s featured in countless films, including the season three finale of another much-loved thriller, Killing Eve. 17 December 2021.

Join the party, pal

No fake snow at the open-air Globe

Wrap yourself in fir

There’s nothing wrong with panto but sometimes you just want to sip your wine without it accumulating a thick surface layer of fake snow. For a traditional dose of festive magic, make for The Fir Tree at Shakespeare’s Globe. The wooden Elizabethan-style playhouse is marking Christmas with Hannah Khalil’s reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, told by candlelight. Wrap up warm and let your spirits be lifted by this story of nature’s triumph, suitable for audiences of all ages. From 20-30 December 2021.

Experience festive family fun

 Fabergé’s Third Imperial Easter Egg from 1887

Revel in sophisticated sparkle

The Russian master jewellers at Fabergé knew a thing or two about festive bling. This V&A exhibition of their work explores the artistry that went into making ingenious trinkets such as a cigar cutter in the shape of a silver carp, or the elaborate Easter eggs that once delighted the Russian royals. Romance to Revolution also explores the social history of 20th-century Russia, and Fabergé’s struggle to survive: a note of seasonal darkness among the sparkle. From 20 November 2021.

Discover fancy festive design

Festoon your front door with the Flower Appreciation Society

Weave an everlasting wreath

Craft a Christmas wreath that will last long after the last of the cold turkey has been snaffled from the fridge. Where once fashionable florists relied on imported flowers to keep bouquets blooming throughout winter, now there’s a growing trend towards sustainability. The Flower Appreciation Society’s workshop uses dried British flowers including clematis, willow and hydrangeas to make a delicate wreath that will brighten your door for years to come. 2 and 8 December 2021.

Make your own door decoration

Steven Devine conducts the Mozart Festival Orchestra and Chorus

Raise the roof at a traditional carol concert

The Barbican’s annual Carols by Candlelight concert is performed in full 18th-century dress: think choristers’ robes, velvet suits, and even periwigs. The line-up includes a few songs you might remember croaking along to at kindergarten, but there are plenty of lesser-known gems, too, performed by the Mozart Festival Orchestra and Mozart Festival Chorus. Plus, there’s a chance to join in and sing hymns that’ll ring through every corner of the Barbican Centre’s vast, wonderfully comfortable auditorium. Joy to the world, indeed! 19 December 2021.

Sign up to carol singing

A winter warmer in La Clique’s spiegeltent

Step inside a spiegeltent for alternative cabaret

Alt cabaret monger La Clique has been entertaining and titillating London audiences for nearly 15 years. This Christmas, it’s back in Leicester Square in its signature spiegeltent: it’s a round travelling tent that originated in 19th-century Belgium, with a sumptuously welcoming red interior lined with mirrors. This year’s show is light on festive cliché and full of tantalising acts, including sword-swallowing, circus, comedy and torch songs accompanied by La Clique’s house band. From 13 November 2021 to 8 January 2022.

Try out Christmas cabaret

Twelfth Night cake at the Museum of the Home

Travel through Christmases past

Time travel is extremely festive – just ask Scrooge! – and you can step into the history of Christmas past at Bethnal Green’s Museum of the Home. A succession of period-accurate rooms takes you through centuries of lost traditions, from the mediaeval Midwinter Festival, to the lavish Victorian family Christmas, to the millennium parties that erupted in the year 2000 (for anyone who wasn’t hiding from the millennium bug in an underground bunker, that is). Head to the gift shop afterwards to introduce some new-old traditions into your own Christmas. From 9 November 2021.

Experience Christmases past

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