Do you remember the movie Hook? It’s one of my childhood favorites. Who doesn’t want to visit their grandmother in her perfect cosy snow-covered Kensington home for Christmas? Especially when that grandmother is friends with a fairy who takes you back to a magical land where you were once a champion for orphaned boys. I always dreamt that somehow I too would take that fairy dust flight over London’s snow-covered magical streets, and over the Big Ben until I finally was on my way to Never Land.
London is a wonderful place to book a cosy luxury vacation rental for Christmas, but you might find the streets a little more crowded than in the movie as you fly in to Heathrow or Gatwick. Christmas shopping is huge in London, and the famous attractions draw millions of people. Still, there’s a lot left to explore off the beaten track if you want to find it. Here are some of my recommendations to help you beat the shopping rush and find a little hidden magic.
During Victoria’s reign, a number of magnificent monuments were built in her husband’s name. All of them are seriously worth a visit; The Albert Memorial, The Royal Albert Hall, and the famous Victoria and Albert Museum. From the moment you enter the V&A, the giant glass Chihuly chandelier lets you know you’ve come to a special place. The V&A’s permanent collection is spectacular and a visit the museum restaurant is unparalleled; you sit under magnificent Victorian painted ceilings!
The inner courtyard is a beautiful and relaxing place to stop for afternoon tea, and once you feel revived you’ll want to see the magnificent Cast Courts: two giant rooms filled to the brim with some of the world’s most famous marvels including a life sized cast of Trajan’s Column. It’s like they transported this giant treasure from the Roman Empire, broke it in two and filled a room with it. It’s quite a site to behold!
OK, it’s not exactly hidden, and it’s not getting away from crowds. It’s cheating to recommend Borough Market in this article, but hey – nobody’s perfect. So why am I recommending a visit? Because you’re going for Christmas, and you want to eat foods that will satisfy, even as the coldest breeze penetrates right through your North Face jacket. Go to the market to find a toasted cheese sandwich, that while not the heart-healthiest of options will be sure to add a necessary layer of body fat to help you keep warm. Cheese is generously melted on both outer sides and well packed in the middle. It’s a splendid creation. You’ll find duck and pheasant sandwiches and a Paella that’s as delicious as it smells. Don’t forget to visit the cheese shop behind the market for a true taste of Quality that only UK cows can deliver.
Take the tube to zone 4; that’ll show those crowds! Kew Gardens is a beautiful, peaceful place to visit any time of year, but over Christmas you get the added bonus of seeing the Royal Botanical Garden covered in snow and lit up in a rainbow of colors. Check their website for special events. The Treetop Walkway is one of my favorite attractions and in winter the snowy tree tops are a real treat. Just note that the walkway will be closed for maintenance until December 2nd according to Kew’s website.
London is packed with hidden alleyways, cozy pubs and magical sights. If you’re willing to go off the beaten path a little you can avoid central London’s crowds and experience a city that always has something special to see and do. Stay just beyond the hustle in bustle in either Kensington or Chelsea to experience beautiful, quiet, snow-covered streets.
Photo Courtesy of Matthew Rees