I’ve long wanted to do a winter trip. I’ve watched my fair share of Christmas movies and as an island girl, I’ve longed to see snow (and potentially meet my future husband in a hotel lobby). Don’t judge me. It happens so often on TV, it must be real! Seriously though, the idea of a wintry Christmas has always appealed to me. More recently, I’ve wanted to experience Europe’s Christmas markets which I’ve read so much about.
When an idea gets in my head, it doesn’t leave so I decided to take that trip last December. With the seasonal Thomas Cook roundtrip between Barbados and London only costing £370, I was sold. The cost was actually the deciding factor because I would never get a British Airways or Virgin Atlantic flight at the price, even when they have a sale.
My flight was scheduled for December 22, a day after the Gatwick drone chaos finally ended. I had an anxious couple days before the trip. For the majority of those 32 hours that Gatwick was closed to flights I was nervously reading everything I could find about the situation and whether it would affect me. I’m not sure whether constantly checking the Guardian’s live blog helped or not but it was good to have a steady flow of information. When the day came, my flight departed a little late but I was never so thankful to be in the sky!
I arrived on the morning of 23rd ready for my first Christmas away from home. I knew there would be no snow but I still expected a festive time. If I’m being honest, I hoped London would look like everyone was making it look on Instagram. I really didn’t want to be disappointed by reality!
I checked into the Travelodge in Covent Garden which I chose based on price and location. Since no public transport runs in London on Christmas Day, I wanted to be at least close to food options. You can often get rooms at Travelodge from £29 per night and I got lucky. The room was spacious and though there were no bells and whistles, it was more than adequate for my 3-night stay.
My first order of business after settling in was to go shopping for boots and a few other cold weather essentials. Then I got a quick peek at the lights on Oxford Street, had an early dinner at the hotel and prepared to sleep. With a four-hour time difference, an eight-hour flight and long immigration lines, I’d had enough for one day.
Christmas Eve was when it all really began. I started the day with Carols at Royal Albert Hall. Let me tell you that venue is gorgeous! The 2018 show included the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Choral Society, National Youth Choir of Great Britain and the fanfare team of the Coldstream Guards. They performed both traditional Christmas songs and modern arrangements and I enjoyed it all.
A new version of Silent Night composed by David Arnold of James Bond fame was revealed and there were also lots of opportunities to sing along. If you’re not in the Christmas spirit yet on Christmas Eve, go to Carols at the Hall in 2019 and you will be after you leave. Trust me on this.
After the carol session, I walked over the Natural History Museum to see the ice skating rink. I grabbed a hot chocolate and snack from the kiosk and watched the skaters do their thing.
Then, it was on to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. Winter Wonderland is often mentioned in lists of Christmas markets but it’s not just a market. There’a market section but there are also several rollercoasters, theme park-like attractions and shows. It’s a large event and it runs from late November to early January. It’s free to enter but you pay for the activities.
The only thing I opted to attend was Cirque Berserk since it has been many years since I went to a circus. It was okay but may be better for younger people or those who have simply never been to a circus. Obviously, I can’t do any of the acts so they were impressive but it was the typical circus offering: motorcycle stunts, tightrope walker, aerial performer and disappearing acts. I wasn’t bored but I wasn’t overly excited either.
Now onto December 25. When I was doing my research, I saw a lot of people saying nothing happens in London on Christmas Day. Even if this was the case before, it’s not the case now. The regular museums are closed and as I said before, there is no public transport but City Sightseeing were operating and Body Worlds was open as well.
Knowing that I was going to be pretty busy in Rotterdam and Brussels in the coming days, I didn’t do much. I went to church at St Paul’s in Covent Garden and then took advantage of a piazza that was quieter than usual. Covent Garden had lots of beautiful Christmas decorations on display so there were actually quite a few people out taking them in and taking photos.
In the evening, I went for a walk to take in the lights which were a big draw for me. At every turn, I happened upon colourful scenes which up to then I’d only imagined. Leceister Square was a hive of activity with lots of restaurants and the movie theater open. As we would say in Barbados, it was like Federation! It was actually a bit much for me so I didn’t stay that long. Coming from the Caribbean where most people would still be sleeping off a food coma, it was a culture shock.
If you’re considering London at Christmas, start your planning. There is still lots to do, especially outdoors, and that’s where the beauty of London lies at this time of year for me. I’d been before so the museums and some attractions being closed didn’t bother me. If it’s your first visit, just go a little earlier in the month so you can enjoy the regular activities before things slow down. I would caution against leaving on Boxing Day though. The lines at St Pancras were crazy! If possible, I would say leave the 27 or after if you’re planning to head elsewhere in Europe.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands was up next and I stayed at what was easily the coolest, most techy place I’ve ever stayed. Stay tuned for my review!
Have questions about Christmas in London? Drop them below and I’ll do my best to answer!