Home to famously cozy traditions like afternoon tea, ice skating, fireside chats and some of the best holiday shopping in the world, London makes for an idyllic winter destination. This season, the city has new dining experiences and art exhibitions alongside its usual program of beloved cold-weather events. Here’s what not to miss this winter.
Dining Scene: Pop-Ups & Food Halls
Rooftop bars and seasonal pop-ups are no longer exclusive to summer. All over London this autumn, restaurants traded rosé for mulled wine and redecorated with fire pits and fur blankets. Some favorite spots for a festive meal include the pop-up Ethicurean set with chalet-style huts on a magical leafy rooftop (300 Oxford Street, through Dec. 24); the romantic terrace at the Babylon, where guests can indulge in melted camembert with homemade honey (99 Kensington High Street, through March 2); the Coppa Club, whose glitzy arctic igloos boast views of Tower Bridge (3 Quays Walk, lower Thames Street); the après-ski–themed bar at the Courthouse Hotel (19 Great Marlborough Street); and Skylight’s first-ever rooftop ice skating rink and lounge (Tobacco Dock at Pennington St., through Jan. 1).
For a more comprehensive dining experience, the heated market at Pergola Paddington Central (5 Kingdom Street) brings together five restaurants and two bars in a winter forest–like setting. There are also pop-up lunch and wine tastings at the Maltby Street Market (37 Maltby Street), across the Thames from the Tower of London. Also generating buzz is the Bloomberg Arcade, which opened in October and features 10 foodie-approved restaurants in the company’s impressive Art Deco headquarters (Queen Victoria Street). Another festive can’t-miss is the St. James’ Market installation of the Michelin-starred restaurant Aquavit (1 Carlton Street), recommended by Indagare contributor Elena Bowes: “Aquavit is getting a winter makeover with a little help from the fabulous florist McQueen’s. Silver birch trees, lichen-covered branches and a Narnia forest of snowy Norman spruce trees covered in white pea lights should enchant diners.” Elena also suggests visiting McQueen’s for their day-long wreath-making classes in East London, held the first two weeks of December and accompanied by mince pies and mulled wine (229 Cambridge Heath Road).
If you’re looking for the the most festive pub in London, Indagare insider Victoria Mather, the former travel editor of Vanity Fair, recommends the Churchill Arms in Kensington (119 Kensington Church St): “Built in 1780, it is marvelously mad, with some 20,000 lights, lots of memorabilia of our wartime Prime Minister—his grandparents used to go there—real ale and Thai food.”
Nothing could be more quintessentially British, however, than high tea. Whether you’re looking for a classic offering like that at Claridge’s—whose holiday decorations will be designed by Karl Lagerfeld this year—cozy vibes or a see-and-be-seen hotspot, our list of the best afternoon teas in London will point you in the right direction.
Related: Top Tables London
Art Scene: New Must-See Exhibitions
The art offerings in London are some of the most robust in the world, and this season welcomes edgy, new installations. Contemporary art lovers and politics junkies alike will enjoy Saatchi Gallery’s “Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism,” which displays a collection of protest works in honor of the centenary of Russia’s October Revolution (through Dec. 31); also notable is the Tate Modern‘s showcase of legendary modernist painter Modigliani’s work (in the eponymous exhibit) (through April 2018). The Barbican Gallery, meanwhile, is putting on the first large-scale UK exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work with the show “Boom for Real.” Open until January 28, the exhibition shares a dazzling selection of more than 100 works on loan from international museums and private collections (Silk Street).
The definitive exhibition of Princess Diana’s life through fashion—“Diana: Her Fashion Story” at Kensington Palace—includes both well-known classics and never-before-seen pieces (through February 2019). Nearby and through Hyde Park, the Victoria & Albert Museum is exhibiting a multi-sensory exploration of Winnie-the-Pooh, which will delight both children and their parents. Highlights include original manuscripts, pencil drawings, recorded readings by A. A. Milne from the 1920s and the hand-painted tea set depicting Christopher Robin that was presented to two-year-old Queen Elizabeth in 1928 (Dec. 9–April 8).
Visitors in January won’t want to miss the city-wide Lumiere lights festival, which returns on January 18 for its second year with a spectacular four-day installment. For the festival, international and local artists are invited to create works that light up buildings and monuments and transform the way that people interact with public spaces.
Indagare contributor Elena Bowes also recommends Alan Kane’s “Home for Christmas” light installation, commissioned by Tate Britain. Says Elena: “The whole exterior of the museum will be aglow. This is a first for Tate Britain.” Elena also recommends “Monochrome: Painting in Black and White” at the National Gallery (through Feb. 18) and “Cezanne Portraits” at the National Portrait Gallery: “Paul Cézanne painted almost 200 portraits during his career, including 26 of himself and 29 of his wife, Hortense Piquet. This show includes over 50 of those portraits, many of which have never been seen in the UK before and contrast with his better known landscapes.” (St. Martin’s Place, through Feb. 11)
Strolling and Skating: Winter Wonderlands
Through January 1, a sparkling trail of over one million twinkling lights illuminate the flora and lead to a vintage fairground at Kew Gardens (Richmond, UK). Indagare can arrange for members to have cocktails at the Botanical Restaurant before a tour, and mulled wine and canapés afterwards. Another can’t-miss is Chiswick House’s Magical Lantern Festival (Burlington Lane, Chiswick, through Jan. 1), where the gardens glow with multi-colored lanterns in the form of zebra herds and Chinese dragons. Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland has been a celebrated tradition for locals and travelers alike for over a decade and offers a dazzling array of attractions, including an ice rink, roller coasters, an observation wheel, food stalls, bars and live music (through Jan. 1).
London’s open-air ice-skating rinks are widely beloved by both kids and adults. The rink at Canary Wharf is open through February 24 (Canada Square Park), and our favorite—at Somerset House—offers the chance to skate in the shadow of the regal 18th-century building to the music of live DJs. Visitors can also enjoy snacks like minced pies and chocolate fondue along with Champagne and mulled wine at Fortnum & Mason’s holiday lodge by the rink. (Strand, open through January 15.)
For the ultimate holiday shopping experience, Indagare contributor Elena Bowes suggests a visit to Chelsea over the weekend of December 2nd: “Over 50 stores and restaurants in the area around Sloane Square and the King’s Road and Sloane Street will offer holiday promotions. There will be horse and carriage rides, complimentary style consultations, festive food and drinks and gifts with purchases throughout the whole weekend. Traditional carol singers will help get people in the holiday spirit.”
Theater News: Hot Tickets and Holiday Classics
In theater news, Ferryman is generating major buzz upon its return from a five-star, sold-out run (Gielgud Theatre, through Jan. 6). Other recommendations include the British installment of Stephen Sondheim’s acclaimed musical Follies and James Graham’s Ink, which is about the newspaper industry (National Theatre, through Jan. 3; Duke of York’s Theatre, through Jan. 6). Victoria Mather shares that both shows are “highly intelligent and the hottest tickets in town.” She also recommends Matthew Bourne’s revisionary ballet of Cinderella, which is set in World War II (Sadler Well’s Theatre, Dec. 9–Jan. 27). The immersive, interactive production of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby at a secret speakeasy venue, meanwhile, encourages the audience to travel back to the Roaring Twenties. The location of the show is revealed to guests upon booking (through Dec. 30, ages 18+). Indagare contributor Elena Bowes’s can’t-miss picks are the “the Danish children’s theatre company Teater Refleksion, which is staging their Night Light show from December 19–31, and the Norwegian ice-instrument pioneer, Terje Isungset, who will perform his dreamy ice music on December 15.” Both are taking place at the Southbank Centre (Belvedere Rd, Lambeth).
Victoria Mather also recommends catching the opening of A Christmas Carol (Nov. 20–Jan. 20, 2018 at the Old Vic, Lambeth), with Rhys Ifans of Notting Hill in the role of Scrooge. Says Mather: “The director, Matthew Warchus, has turned the entire theatre into a set with bell ringers, carol singers and fruit sellers. The cast, wearing velvet top hats, mingle with the audience and hand out satsumas. It’s not to be missed.” The show is best preceded by a drink at the Ivy on Chelsea Green. According to Mather, “the restaurant has the most ravishing Christmas decorations, so lavish they virtually obscure the restaurant, outside on the King’s Road and in their enormous garden. Quite the hot spot for the ladies who lunch.”
Finally, Scrooge himself would agree that nothing can be more holiday spirit–filled than attending the Nutcracker (English National Ballet, Nov. 29–Jan. 6), or a caroling performance in Trafalgar Square (Dec. 11–Dec 22).
Related: London’s Coziest Season