Christmas in London with the children: discovering the city of Peter Pan at the most beautiful time of the year!
Love it or hate it: for me it has always been a second home, so I can’t help but love this city.
Even before half of my family made their home there, I had always had a deep love for London. I discovered it for the first time over 20 years ago, on my first trip alone, a journey that has stayed in my heart and quite literally made me fall in love with this magical metropolis.
For 10 years now the love and feelings that lead me to travel here often have changed, but are just as important: the joy of being able to spend a few carefree days here is now combined with that of being able to hug Oscar, Gaia and Cosmo, my beloved nephews and niece.
This year I took advantage of a few days when Ascanio’s school was closed to take him to visit his cousins: from mid-November the city is lit up with thousands of lights and the best time to visit London with the kids has begun!
The joy of the children was irrepressible: 3 days together wandering through the city and no school. What more could they want!
What’s on offer for kids during the Christmas period in London?
Well, without doubt the possibilities offered by this city are truly endless, but having to make a selection, here are our favourite itineraries:
1) XMAS WINDOWS
Nothing is more festive than strolling aimlessly through the centre of London at Christmas time, (possibly not during the weekend, when the main shopping streets are literally besieged by shoppers!). From the smallest shops to large department stores, every shop window display is more spectacular than the last with the best decorations almost always contested between Selfridges, John Lewis and the charming Liberty.
2) COVENT GARDEN
This beautiful nineteenth-century square, the centre of cultural and artistic life in London, is even more beautiful at Christmas. The decorations this year are giant mirrored balls (some even in the style of disco balls) and huge bouquets of white berries suspended from above, tied by silver bows, that with a unique elegance make the atmosphere of the traditional Apple Market even more magical.
3) LONDON STREET SHOWS
London is always full of street artists, and especially in the centre (in the area between Leicester Square and Covent Garden) with a surprising show on every corner. During our long walks our kids had a blast, bewitched by the talented performers who entertained them for hours, with a variety of games and costumes.
4) PICCADILLY CIRCUS (with a visit to Ripley’s Believe It or Not!)
For many people Piccadilly Circus is the symbol of London, because of its enormous advertising neon signs that at the beginning of the twentieth century lit up this small but famous square in the centre of the city. This year visitors can also appear with their very own face on the most photographed building in the city.
I can hardly describe the excitement of my nephew Oscar when, having completely exhausted my cell phone data package, he finally appeared on one of the illuminated displays: it was an incredible feeling for the whole gang! Just off the square is one of the most “amazing” attractions in London, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum, a collection (over 700 artefacts spread over six floors) of the strangest things that the world has ever invented.
This for us is a must. By now we know by heart the Blue Zone of the Natural History Museum, which is home to mammals (like the unforgettable blue whale model), fish, amphibians, reptiles, but especially dinosaurs! This year Ascanio felt very proud that he was no longer afraid of the T-Rex (he always loved and feared it at the same time), even throwing in a “Mum, can I take a picture with him?”.
The National History Museum is one of the most family friendly museums that I know: for example the restaurant, with special menus for children and a microwave to heat milk or baby foods.
Outside the museum at Christmas time don’t miss a stroll to the beautiful ice rink, surrounded by a sea of twinkling lights, an antique and beautiful carousel and many stalls selling food, drinks and toys.
This is also an icon of the English capital. With its seven floors and over 300 departments, Harrods is in the realm of luxury and makes the heads of shoppers spin with its products, clothing, food and exclusive services.
Who has not been photographed at least once in front of the spectacular night lights of this famous department store? At Christmas it’s even more impressive, and for those who want to take home a souvenir of London, there are also many affordable gift items. The children had fun like crazy in the huge toy department, and for some Made in Italy we even popped to the Il Gufo corner within the store.
For hungry tummies, there is also the Disney’s Wild West Café, where Toy Story fans can choose from a great menu designed with kids in mind.
With the London Eye, the Sea Life Aquarium, the Hayward Gallery, the BFI, the National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall and the Tate Modern within walking distance, the Southbank is one of the most fascinating areas of London, full of pedestrian areas and easily accessible from Waterloo station: it’s perfect for a family day out.
The Southbank Centre Food Market offers the best of the capital’s street food, with a selection of some of the best restaurants in London. Since April of 2015, the Southbank Centre has provided a buffet of culinary delights, and has become one of the major food destinations in London.
During the Christmas season there is also a Winter Market at the Southbank Centre, a market with many wooden stalls (actual mini chalets) which in addition to food from around the world, offer mulled wine, handicrafts, gifts and delicacies of every type.
This year we were able to enjoy the Lord Mayor’s Fireworks Show, which ended with the spectacular firework display on the Thames: one of the oldest traditions in London, whose history stretches back more than 800 years! Shame about the rain, but this is London, and it’s still beautiful in any weather.
There are many itineraries and interactive activities for families with children proposed by the Tate Modern, the most important modern and contemporary art museum in London. This year it has expanded, inaugurating a new building, a pyramidal tower that is all sharp edges and high windows with as many as 10 storeys, known as Switch House. In the Christmas period and up to 2 April, 2017, the Turbine Hall presents to both young and old alike “Anywhen”: an immersive experience created by French artist Philippe Parreno, with a spectacular choreography of moving lights, sounds, images, flying objects, and two huge carpets to lie on to better experience the thrill of this amazing biodynamic installation.
This is also one of our regular haunts on every trip to London, and I have to say that this year the kids really enjoyed discovering the flavours and delicacies from around the world. The colourful Borough Market, the oldest food market in the city extends under the railway arches of London Bridge and is held every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Already by mid-November the stalls start selling traditional English Christmas specialities: as they say in London, this really is “food paradise”!
10) LONDON PARKS
Does it always rain in London? Despite what many people think, in London the weather can completely change from hour to hour, and the sun can come out (or it can start to rain) when you least expect it. On nice sunny days the London parks are irresistible: as well as being ideal for a relaxing break, they are all well equipped, with games for children, open-air theatres, concerts and even sports equipment!
Our favourites are: Richmond Park, St James’s Park, Battersea Park, Regent’s Park and of course Hyde Park, which at this time of the year becomes the centre of Winter Wonderland, the Christmas event eagerly awaited by families with children, when it is transformed into a magical wonderland!
This article appeared on IlGufo Magazine and is copyright of Il Gufo.