Nov 212014
 

London is sparkling now as the Christmas lights are switched on and the ice rinks are open.

Trafalgar Square

The Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is the last to light up and the special evening there is on Thursday 4 December at 6pm. The tree comes from Norway every year as a thank you for our help during World War II and is decorated with simple white lights.

There’s a torch-lit procession for the Blessing of the Crib in Trafalgar Square on Sunday 7 December, and from 8 to 23 December you can enjoy carol singing in Trafalgar Square. (Nearer to the London Bridge Hotel, there’s an Annual Carol Concert at The Rose Playhouse on Monday 15 December.)

For indoor musical entertainment, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square has popular free lunchtime concerts.

Also nearby, Grayson Perry will be giving a lecture at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday 4 December. Who Are You? looks at portraiture and British identity, drawing on his current display of new work at the Gallery, and the people he met during this project.

GP-image

 

Christmas Movie

If you’re ready for a classic film, It’s A Wonderful Life is on at the Prince Charles Cinema throughout December. Starring a suicidal James Stewart as he struggles to ‘find himself’ it comes with a happy ending.

Its-A-Wonderful-Life

 

Another Christmassy idea, is the special candlelit readings of A Christmas Carol at The Charles Dickens Museum on Sunday 7 and 14 December, and Monday 8 and 15 December at 3.30pm and 6.30pm.

Shopping

For many, this is the season to indulge and the Southbank Centre Winter Festival has a Christmas market, cabaret, family events and much more. And, it would be hard to miss the Giant 7m high illuminated white rabbit sculptures by artist Amanda Parer.

© Rodney Campbell

There’s also the Magical Christmas Tree Maze made up of 300 real blue spruce Christmas trees and the Southbank Centre Express train taking passengers across the riverfront.

The foodies need to be there for the Real Food Christmas Festival on 19-23 December, and they should make a note of the Christmas opening hours at Borough Market.

Over in west London, there are Christmas shopping opportunities at the Chelsea Physic Garden from 2 to 12 December.

 

Christmas Past

The Geffrye Museum has an annual ‘Christmas Past’ exhibition, on from Tuesday 25 November 2014 to Sunday 4 January 2015,  where the 400 years of domestic interiors are adorned with traditional Christmas decorations for each era.

A good time to go would be on Thursday 4 December as there’s an open evening for A Georgian Christmas when the Christmas Past displays are lit by candlelight. Expect festive music and children can try a decoration-making workshop.

Christmas Past 1830

 

Walks

If you’d like to get away from the festive preparations for a while there’s an excellent guided walk in Kensington Gardens on Friday 12 December. This seasonal stroll will look at winter feasts, folklore and traditions. Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert introduced many of the traditions we recognise today.

 

Or you could choose A walk around Shakespeare’s London on Saturday 6, 13 and 20 December, at 10.30am. You’ll see the sights of Shakespeare’s London with a knowledgeable Museum of London guide passing many picturesque settings you might recognise from films.

There’s more Shakespeare at the Barbican with Royal Shakespeare Company – Henry IV Parts I and II from 29 November 2014 to 24 January 2015.

And more festive entertainment with Raymond Gubbay’s Christmas Festival including Glorious Handel by Candlelight, on Saturday 27 December, and Last Night of the Christmas Proms on Sunday 28 December.

 

Dinosaurs

From Thursday 4 December, The Natural History Museum will have on display the most complete Stegosaurus fossil ever found and the only Stegosaurus in a public collection outside the USA. This is the first complete dinosaur specimen to go on display at the Natural History Museum in nearly 100 years. The 150 million year old Stegosaurus stenops is the most significant dinosaur the Museum has acquired since the 1980s and will take pride of place inside the Museum’s Exhibition Road entrance.

© NHM, London

© NHM, London

Another good time to visit the Natural History Museum is for the Night Safari on Tuesday 9 December when you can meet three Museum scientists and hear them talk about their work on endangered species.

 

Buckingham Palace

This could make a very nice Christmas present: There are exclusive guided tours of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from 12 December 2014 to 1 February 2015. Each tour is limited to just 30 guests who will have an expert guide describe the paintings, furniture, sculptures and porcelains, before offering a glass of champagne served in the Grand Entrance.

 

The King Has Arrived

We may be singing Hallelujah in the Christmas carols but it’s not that king we’re referring to here. It’s Elvis! The largest ever retrospective of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll opens at The O2 on 12 December. The nine month exhibition will showcase over 300 artefacts direct from the Presley family’s treasured Graceland Archives, some of which have never been exhibited outside of Graceland in Memphis.

 

Paddington Bear

Paddington the movie opens on 28 November and there are 50 Paddington Bear statues across London for Paddington Trails. A lovely addition to the love for the bear is A Bear Called Paddington at the Museum of London which is on until 4 January 2015. This free exhibition includes lots from the author’s family archives that have never been displayed before. I’ve been already and loved it.

© Museum of London

© Museum of London

 

Looking Ahead

January is a great time to be in London if you don’t mind it being a bit chilly. We don’t often get snow so come and enjoy the capital without the crowds.

A couple of things I’m looking forward to in the new year are the London International Mime Festival (8-21 January 2015). It’s the longest-established annual theatre season of its kind with innovative visual theatre from around the world performing at many venues including the Barbican, the Royal Opera House, Sadler’s Wells and Southbank Centre.

Plus, Churchill’s Scientists opens at the Science Museum on 23 January 2015.

 

Do check out the latest offers as London Bridge Hotel has weekend rates from as low as £99. You can sign up for special offer alerts here. And when you can’t be at the hotel, you can try making the Quarter Bar’s cocktails with these recipes.

Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and contributes to many other publications while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival that of our Queen. You can find Laura on twitter as @AboutLondon and on Facebook as @AboutLondonLaura.

Jul 252014
 

July was an amazing month for sporting fans with the Tour de France coming to London, as well as the Wimbledon Tennis Championships and the World Cup.

For more sporting memories head to the Museum of London where a new gallery opens in the courtyard on 25 July called Designing a Moment: The London 2012 Cauldron. This new pavilion was built by the same technical team behind the London 2012 Cauldron and is the first permanent addition to the museum since 2010.

© Heatherwick Studio

© Heatherwick Studio

The gallery includes two huge sections of the Cauldron – including the original steel stems and test versions of the copper elements. Combined they are some of the largest objects the museum has ever acquired. One section presents the Cauldron in an upright position, as it was for the majority of both Games. The other is the Cauldron in an open formation, as if frozen at that climactic defining moment of the opening Olympic ceremony. Yeah, I expect it’s going to be quite emotional seeing this one but I’m looking forward to it.

The big cycle race this month is Prudential Ride London – a two-day festival of cycling on 9 & 10 August. On the Saturday there’s an eight-mile traffic-free cycle around London and on the Sunday a race from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for a 100-mile challenge. There will be large screens to watch the action in Green Park and on The Mall, and there will be festivals in Wimbledon and Hampton Wick in west London.

PrudentialRide

 

There are many reasons to go to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this summer – and not only for the fountains which seem to keep many families entertained all day.

fountains

The Great British Carnival on Sunday 27 July is a day of dance, music and performances from midday with a grand finale at 8.30-9.30pm of The Carnival of the Animals: a magical twilight crescendo of costumed performers, 300 dancers, giant carnivalesque creatures and extraordinary illumination.

Shademakers Horses

 

And it’s National Paralympic Day on 30 August so the QE Olympic Park will be the place to see Paralympics GB medallists in the London Aquatics Centre, plus international athletes competing in Boccia, Goalball and Wheelchair Basketball at the Copper Box Arena. There will also be loads of free, family-friendly entertainment plus the Mayor of London’s Liberty Festival with deaf and disabled artists performing street theatre, dance, live music, and much more.

 

If you have the kids with you, and it is school holiday time, Eltham Palace has activities for young explorers every Sunday to Tuesday throughout the month. Events range from Awesome Archaeology, to the Ugly Bug Safari, plus a Knights & Princesses Academy. I’ll admit, I’m tempted myself.

IMG_7568

 

As this month is the centenary of the start of World War One there is a suggestion to turn our lights out at 10pm in the UK on 4 August as a time to reflect. Another interesting project is The Letter to The Unknown Soldier at Platform One at Paddington Station where the statue is reading a letter and we’re all invited to write to him. But the biggie in London is the reopening of the Imperial War Museum with new First World War galleries as well as the new objects in the redesigned and larger atrium. (My review.)

IWM

 

Another centenary celebration is at ZSL London Zoo during the Little Creatures Family Festival from Friday 29 to Sunday 31 August as it was 100 years ago that Winnie the bear arrived at the zoo. The black bear was a mascot for the Canadian regiment and was given to London Zoo at the start of World War One. The author A.A. Milne often brought his son, Christopher Robin, as the young boy really loved the bear.

Winnie the bear and Christopher Robin. © ZSL London Zoo

Winnie the bear and Christopher Robin. © ZSL London Zoo

 

The Geffrye Museum in east London is celebrating its centenary this month and the tri-centenary of the opening of the almshouses for the poor and elderly. It’s a museum of English domestic interiors and has period room-sets to admire from the 17th century to today. The summer events will be indoors and out as they have period gardens too, and there’s lots of fun planned including a free family day on Sunday 17 August.

 

As this is now truly summer time it’s good to plan more outdoor time and the Books About Town trails are fun for all ages. Fifty benches have been placed around London – grouped into four trail areas – designed by local artists and famous names to celebrate London’s literary heritage. Enjoy finding the benches, or simply sitting in the sunshine to read a good book. There are events happening at the benches throughout the summer. For example, the That’s Not My… bench has a photo booth on Wednesday 6 August. The benches are staying until 15 September and will then be auctioned for charity.

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 11.36.34

Planning Ahead

If the Londinium grilled rib eye steak makes you salivate you’ll want to know about Meatopia on 6 & 7 September. And if you want to feel more connected to the famous Thames river that divides London, Totally Thames is a festival running throughout the whole of September.

 

Do check out the latest offers as London Bridge Hotel has weekend rates from as low as £99. You can sign up for special offer alerts here. And when you can’t be at the hotel, you can try making the Quarter Bar’s cocktails with these recipes.

Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and contributes to many other publications while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival that of our Queen. You can find Laura on twitter as @AboutLondonand on Facebook as AboutLondonLaura.