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It’s beginning to look at lot like...Christmas, in London. The festive season is a magical occasion - it really is the most wonderful time of the year - and what better place to spend it in than one of the best cities in the world? The trees are up, the lights are on and London really comes alive at this time of year. There are festive decorations wherever you look, fun activities for all the family, and bustling crowds of unusually happy people.
Did you know that since 1947 the people of Norway have given London a Christmas tree in gratitude for help received during World War II? It stands each year in Trafalgar Square and is just one of the hundred's of Christmas traditions in the capital. There’s so much going on, and lots to do to entertain people of all ages, from ice rinks, to magical grottos, carol concerts, light displays and present shopping. So here’s our top five favourite festive suggestions for ways to entertain babies, toddlers and families in the capital this Christmas, and help you have a cracker of a time.
Gillian Crawshaw's guide to family festivities in London
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Wrap up warm and head on over to Hyde Park in central London, home to the Winter Wonderland. A giant Christmas spectacular, Winter Wonderland has a Christmas market, magical ice kingdom and ice rink, a circus and a Santa Land - everything you could need to help you get into the festive spirit. There are rides for children, and a Bavarian Bar for parents. You can view all the festivities from above on the giant wheel that towers over the park. It’s Christmas every day throughout December.
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No child’s Christmas is complete without a visit to see the great man himself, and Santa’s grottos don’t get much bigger or better than the world famous one at iconic department store Harrods. Children can meet Santa and have their photo taken with him in a magical library setting. The shop windows and festive displays of the store are also worth a look - they take over 500 hours to build. And mums and dads can pick up some last-minute luxury Christmas presents, and check out the legendary food hall for some festive dinner inspiration.
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Christmas lights, Oxford Street and Soho
Small children love lights and sensory play, so the bright and visual spectacle of Christmas illuminations offer perfect entertainment. Regent Street and Oxford Street have big, themed light displays, and the major department stores will also all be lit up. You can head over to the less busy but equally magical lights on Carnaby Street. And to avoid any tears before bedtime, head down to Regent Street and take your children Christmas toy shopping at the best place in London, Hamleys.
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Ice rink at Somerset House, The Strand
Are there many things more festive than an open-air ice rink? There are several throughout the city, but the ice rink set in the courtyard of Somerset House is one of the most magical. Small children can join in and have lessons at the Penguin Club, where they can take their first steps on the ice with the help of a colourful penguin stabilizer. Even if they are too little to go on the ice it’s still fun to watch from the side with a hot chocolate. There’s also a rink-side bar, and special after-dark skating sessions for adults with a DJ. If you’re lucky, it might even start snowing.
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The London Eye, Southbank
At the stroke of midnight, the fireworks at The London Eye spectacularly mark the start of the New Year and are seen the world over. If you'd like to watch the festivities unfold, good viewing spots for adults and children alike include the north bank of the Thames, and the major bridges (Waterloo and Westminster offer good vantage points). Make sure you get there in enough time though, as it tends to get busy early on in the evening. Have a happy new year!
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Main image by Jo Mundyay
Image 1 by Ben Sutherland
Image 2 by Michael Caven
Image 3 by Magnus D
Image 4 by oatsy40
Image 5 by Chris Worden
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