Four days before Christmas my daughter and I head to London to explore some of the Christmassy things which are happening there.
There will be 16 of us at our house for Christmas and only three of them won’t be staying the night. I love having a houseful at Christmas but I know from experience that the days before December 25th will be taken up with chores: the house needs cleaning, beds need making, presents need wrapping, food needs preparing and the garden table needs to come inside so that everyone can sit down and eat together. I also need to get a second pee sample from the cat (the vet lost the first one), take the youngest to the doctor about his asthma and find someone to fix our dishwasher.
So I want to get away from the house before all of that. My 16 year-old daughter has a rare free day and readily agrees to come to London with me. My husband and son have a date with the TV and Arsenal so they’re not going anywhere.
Southbank Winter Festival
First we head for the Southbank where a cheery Winter Festival is laid out in the pedestrianised area between the Southbank Centre and the River Thames. There are wooden huts with food from around the world and we buy some delicious handmade fudge which we eat as we stroll along. There’s a Christmas tree maze, a children’s train, a traditional carousel and a Macmillan Tree of Light where you can write a message in memory of a loved one who has died. The Tree of Light looks very pretty and it’s a lovely idea but I can’t take part as it will make me cry and I don’t want to cry today.
A little further along the Southbank by the London Eye we find an ice rink being prepared and swept for skaters. There’s a sign at the entrance saying that it’s all booked up for the day. We’d wanted to ice skate today and had tried to book online before leaving home but everywhere we tried was fully booked. We’ve skated before at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland but the place where we’d really love to skate is the ice rink at the Natural History Museum because the setting is fantastic. We decide to catch the tube there anyway to see what we’re missing.
Natural History Museum ice skating
The Natural History Museum ice rink is as lovely as we’d imagined it would be and I hope that we organise ourselves to skate there one day. The museum building opened to the public in 1881 and is a work of art with spires and arches and stone carvings inspired by nature. We’re consoled slightly for our state of not-skating by the chocolate we’re given at the Lindt stand next to the ice rink. You can also write a letter to Santa there and enter a competition to win a load of chocolate (my kind of competition, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll win).
V&A gift shop
From there we can’t resist popping next door to the wonderful V&A museum gift shop. This day isn’t about shopping but we’re handed a ‘25% off everything’ discount voucher as we go in to the museum so we can’t NOT buy anything. We find a couple of Christmas presents and my daughter persuades me to buy a tree decoration in the form of a penguin – I’m not quite sure where penguins fit in to the Christmas story but this one seems happy that evening when he joins the other animals on our Christmas tree.
Our next stop is Covent Garden. I’ve heard that there will be reindeer there this weekend and I’m curious to see these creatures so far from their natural habitat: I’m hoping that they’re well cared-for and happy. I’m relieved when the only reindeer that we see there are some amazing ones made entirely of LEGO bricks and pulling a full-size LEGO sleigh and Father Christmas. Covent Garden is looking gorgeous, extravagantly decorated with giant baubles. A huge tree twinkles with lights above the piazza and street performers are busy entertaining the crowds. We’re pleased to find two of the Paddington Bear statues which have been decorated by celebrities for the release of the new film. (The statues are to be auctioned for children’ charities and so your last chance to see them is December 30th).
We walk from Covent Garden to Trafalgar Square and another, huge Christmas tree. This one, famously, is donated to Britain by Norway every year in thanks for the help which we gave them during WWII. The tree stands between Nelson on his column and the giant blue chicken on the fourth plinth and below it is a group of Carol singers raising money for Cancer Research by belting out Slade’s So Here It Is (Merry Christmas) and Let It Go from Frozen.
It’s time for us to go home so we walk along the Mall to Victoria Station via Buckingham Palace and catch our train. Here’s a video about our day: