Oh how we wish it could be Christmas every day. Well, at least for the latter part of November and all through December it kind of can be, what with London’s love for a festive pop-up. It’s not all about just whacking up an extra set of fairy lights and a bit of that snowy window spray. Oh no. We’re talking lifesize edible gingerbread houses, urban ski lodges, magical winter forests, and most importantly, festive themed cocktails.
We all have that one friend who really, really loves Christmas. December 1st comes around and the questionable knitwear comes out, Mariah is on repeat and they have those elf-like rosy cheeks from sheer festive joy. Which is why you should embrace them and take them for a drink in one of the most immersive Christmas bars in town. Taking inspiration from the American’s obsession with over-the-top festivities, Miracle is a well-known pop-up across the pond which means you can expect everything to be bigger and better, like the themed-cocktails such as Jingle Bells Nog, Snoball Old Fashioned, and A Christmas Carol Barrel (aged rum, aquavit, amara pumpkin pie, lemon and angostura bitters served in a mini barrel.) Food follows suit with little Alpine snacks like Ibérico ham and truffle Croque Madame. Imagine a kitsch 1970s Christmas movie and you’ll be halfway to knowing what to expect. Visit on December 2nd and you can also take part in the world’s largest gathering of “ugly sweaters”. Now, which one to choose…
Christmas means one thing, going out on the piste. Which you can now do with even more festive cheer at Off Piste in Canary Wharf. Another après-ski themed bar, it’s all snuggly and cosy and heated while if you can brave the cold outside (AKA the smokers among you), then you can also enjoy a giant projection of the Northern Lights and mountains. As we all know winter is also about melted cheese, but forget your fondue, Radio Alice is providing their devilishly moreish sourdough pizzas to warm hearts and bellies. This forms the perfect backdrop to the bar offerings of all the big name classics (Pravha, Aspalls, Baileys, Amaretto), as well as some cocktails made specially for the occasion like The Snow Stopper (Baileys, Bacardi and ginger ale) which is yet another reason why we wish it could be Christmas every day.
The middle of The City is not exactly where you’d expect to find a forest of snow-covered pine trees yet here we are, standing in the middle of some feeling a little like Hansel and Gretel while deciding which sugar-fuelled cocktail from the Mrs Fogg’s pop-up we should order. Broadgate Circle is usually filled with the haughty laughter of those lawyers who inhabit the surrounding offices, but haughty turns “ho, ho, ho” with the magical Winter Forest that has bowled up for the festive period.
Twinkly lights abound, with wooden cabins churning out gin cocktails from Fever-Tree, festive tipples from The Botanist and food from the likes of Butterscotch and Bar Douro. It’s as exciting as when you’d go to visit Father Christmas in your local department store, except this time there’s booze and decent grub. Head into the giant central Tipi teepee for your early Christmas present, a giant pop-up carvery where they have one of the greatest inventions known to man: turkey in a Yorkshire pudding wrap. The tipi also hosts a mini cinema with classics like Scrooge and The Muppets Christmas Carol all on the schedule.
The Forest are also hosting weekly pub quizzes, live music and workshops including festive bouquet making with luxury florists Grace & Thorn. Ticket sales go towards mental health charity, Mind in the City.
Backyard Cinema are celebrating their first Christmas in their new permanent home, Capital Studios, with a wildly OTT immersive festive cinema experience. The Snow Kingdom tasks moviegoers with first finding the entrance through a wardrobe into a secret underground passageway, then navigating a traitorous ball pit river before finally finding the password to gain entry to the magical snowy kingdom in which they can watch all manner of Christmas classics, new and old.
Get snug on one of the giant beanbags, curl up with a mulled wine under a blanket, and settle in for a seriously festive affair. The line up is a nice mix of modern classics and… er… classic classics with Love Actually, Elf and The Holiday up alongside Die Hard and It’s A Wonderful Life. They’re selling out fast so move quick if you don’t wanna be stuck staring into the weird CGI eyes in Disney’s A Christmas Carol.
Nothing gets us in the Christmas spirit more than battling a horde of ear-muffed tourists through a makeshift tinsel-tinted market town on the bank of the River Thames. Yep, you guessed it, Southbank Winter Market is back, and despite our best efforts, we’re actually pretty excited to go mooching around the various stalls, scouring for handmade trinkets and trying to decide if we’ll be eating a bratwurst or raclette or both (if past years are anything to go by it’ll be both). Mulled wine and cider will be a’flowin’, as well as regular, non-festive beverages and generally good vibes.
Running daily till 5th January.
London gets pretty cold during the winter months, but unfortunately for the eskimos among us, not cold enough for an igloo. Which is why pop-up behemoth Jimmy has tried his best to recreate these icy tents. Situated right on the banks of the Thames in Southbank, four igloos (seating up to 10 in each) are perfect for staving off those arctic winds without having to sacrifice the view. If you don’t fancy the queue, there is also the hugely thematic Refuge Restaurant that churns out mulled wine and fondue like it’s going out of fashion (again) in the upstairs restaurant, with grab and go street food options from the bar below. We’ve never tried a raclette burger or venison hot dog before, but that hasn’t stopped us drooling at the thought. Who are we kidding, we’re heading straight for the Winter Feast (whole baked Mont d’Or, British flat iron steak, venison and red wine sausages).
If Winter Wonderland and Winterland were in a game of Top Trumps, we think Winterland may just have the slight edge; they’ve got hot tubs. And shuffleboard. An inner-London ski resort, there are igloos, log cabins, hunting lodges and fire pits all screaming at you to come and drink mulled wine in (maybe not the fire pits so much.) Surrounded by twinkly trees and an all-manner of Nordic paraphernalia, it’s festive AF. There are also live DJs Thurs-Sun, and street food offerings including mac & cheese, chicken wings and sourdough pizzas from The Pizza Shed, FEAST and The Moose Bar.
For somewhere that has absolutely zero mountains, London is not wanting when it comes to après-ski bars this winter. Some just offer up blankets and fondue, but others go all out with ski racks, pine trees, snowmen, piste maps, real log fires and twelve different kinds of Schnapps. Where is this wintery wonderland, we hear you cry. At the fancy schmancy Lanson Winter Lodge at Holborn’s gorgeous Montague on the Gardens hotel.
Buying a ‘ski pass’ for a somewhat reasonable £38 will get you three festive drinks (anything from hot mulled cider to boozy hot choc), access to the lodge, and a platter of Alpine treats that includes bratwurst, deep-fried camembert and mini turkey schnitzels.
Gingerbread. Does anyone genuinely like it? When it’s this ornate you just might. Another feather in Gordon Ramsey’s very expensive chef’s hat, York & Albany is a townhouse gastropub that’s fancy enough to bring your nan to, but not fancy enough to require selling off your PS4 to pay the bill at the end. As any self-respecting bar in London, winter brings with it the need to indulge in a spot of decorating; enter, the Gingerbread Cabin. You can expect candy canes, frosted icing and even a roaring fireplace. The canapé menu is ginger themed with treats like mince pies, sticky toffee bites and pigs in blankets, while the winter cocktails have little beauties like the Gingerbread Espresso Martini and gin-based Slim Santa. Not one for a rowdy one with your mates.
As we enter the long nights of cuffing season, the capital’s parks are responding by upping the romance considerably with all kinds of magical light shows. Syon Park’s Enchanted Woodland opens this weekend for the 14th year in a row, and for our money, is always the best (even making the short flight out to Richmond worth it). Take a stroll through the six-century-old woodlands illuminated by the glow of hundreds of lights, lasers projections, strobes and other modern marvels that’d have Thomas Edison weeping with pride.
The walk is about a mile long and takes up to an hour to complete, so wrap up warm if you’re intending to meander with boo. There are only nine days across November and December to visit so book now or risk a festive period tainted with regret.