From roaring fires to fresh morning strolls, champagne toasts to spa sessions, here's how to have your best holiday yet in the U.K.'s capital.
Christmas doesn't always mean turkey 'round the table with relatives, and if this year, you're doing it differently, this is a great time to visit London. It's more picturesque than ever with trees in every square, lights on every street, and spectacular shop windows, and there are fewer crowds, too. Many city dwellers hightail it out of town for the holiday, so you practically get it to yourself. Here's how to make the most of it.
Stroll Hampstead Heath
Ask any North Londoner what to do on Christmas morning (they typically stay for the holidays), and they'll tell you they go for a brisk stroll across Hampstead Heath. The air is always crisp, there's often a coating of frost on the grass, and the views across the city are stunning. Join the rest of the neighborhood for a little light exercise before the rest of the day's indulgence, not forgetting to do the very British thing of wishing Merry Christmas to all passers-by.
Go for Afternoon Tea
For something quintessentially British, how about taking tea against the backdrop of Buckingham Palace? Indulge in the Snow Queen afternoon tea at Conrad London St. James, a festive treat inspired by the enchanting Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Sweets include the Magic Mirror salted butter shortbread, glitter-dusted meringues, and blackcurrant and cardamom cakes, all accompanied by G.H.Mumm Champagne (the official champagne supplier to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II).
Toast with Champagne
One of London's top spots for champagne, Bob Bob Ricard, is open on Christmas Day, and that's reason enough to pop a bottle. The sophisticated Soho club is open 365 days of the year, and on this day, you've got a sound chance of getting a reservation. Get comfy in a booth and 'Press for Champagne' (the on-call buzzer on the wall). If you're in the mood for food, but overdid the turkey at Thanksgiving, Bob Bob Ricard is defiantly serving its regular menu (no Christmas specials here), including chicken and champagne pie, lobster macaroni cheese, and its signature beef wellington.
Eat a Non-Traditional Christmas Lunch
Chances are you've spent most every holiday of your life eating turkey, so why not do this year's a little differently? TĪNG, the oriental restaurant 35 floors up at Shangri-La, The Shard, will be serving a three-course Christmas Day lunch menu, with Eastern specials including slow-cooked iberico pork and Dover sole with miso. Those views and those flavors aren't cheap—it's $256 per person with wine pairings—but there's no doubt it will make for a special day
Pretend You're on the Slopes
Everyone else going skiing? Worry not. What London lacks in slopes and snowfall, it makes up for with ski resort vibes, so at least you can relate to your friends The Goring, an impeccably British hotel in Belgravia, has transformed its outdoor terrace into the St. Moritz Ski Bar, an alpine joint that oozes with old school glamour. Inspired by vintage photographs of his great-grandfather on the slopes, Jeremy Goring has recreated St. Moritz in the heart of the city, with cozy sheepskins, wooden sled tables, cashmere rugs, lanterns, a perfumed scent of pine, and even waiters in vintage ski jumpers. Chef Shay Cooper has put a Michelin-star spin on Swiss-inspired canapes such as tartiflette, potato rosti, and mustard and Emmental macaroons.
Bliss Out in the Spa
If you can get a couple of hours away on this day, plan for a little 'you' time at Mandara Spa, which is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the holiday this year. Reap the benefits of a little festive TLC with its Comforting Retreat, a one hour and 20 minute anti-fatigue package that includes an aromatherapy-reflexology foot treatment, and an invigorating full body massage. Complimentary mince pies and mulled wine will be served, too.
Go Truly British
If you want to go all out, go to The Lanesborough, where Christmas is a classic, luxurious affair. The hotel is sumptuously dressed in festive decorations throughout, and is warm and inviting, thanks to the roaring real fires. Christmas lunch is quite the spectacle; guests can choose between five or seven courses from a menu designed by sister hotel Le Bristol's award-winning Chef Patron Eric Frechon, and executed by The Lanesborough's Florian Favario, all to be enjoyed under a glass sky dome and accompanied by a live pianist.