Life is short, so when you have the chance to visit London during the festive season, even if just for a few hours, seize the opportunity to wander and experience the magic that this city has to offer.
We recently found ourselves with six hours to spare in England so we headed for central London, with the intention of experiencing the spirit of Christmas, viewing the amazing couture window displays and hopefully timing it right to see the Christmas lights come on at Bond Street.
Having previously lived in London for many years, I had a good idea of what could be done in a short amount of time, so we took the train to London Paddington and then caught the Bakerloo Tube line to Embankment Station, where we began our six hour adventure. Exiting to the south, we walked over the Golden Jubilee Bridge towards the Southbank. After a quick pit-stop to buy some delicious caramelized peanuts from a local vendor on the bridge, we continued along the Southbank, passing The Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye. If the London Eye appeals to you, be sure to pre-book your tickets online to save time queuing. The views are incredible and if you’ve never done it, it is a great way to get your City bearings.
Along The Southbank, we discovered a wonderful food market offering everything from the decadence of truffle burgers to the seasonal warmth of Mulled Wine. With more time, we would have been tempted to take our dining experience to another level by reserving a table in one of the heated ‘dining igloos’ (which seem to be everywhere in the UK), complete with fur chair covers and wonderful views across the Thames. Instead, we took our mulled wine to go and continued strolling by the Thames until we were drawn into a large crowd enjoying the talents of a local street performer. London offers amazing street entertainment from Southbank to Covent Garden and if you do decide to stop, remember to leave a gratuity as these performers often rely on your generosity to make a living.
From the Southbank we headed north across Westminster Bridge, passing by Big Ben eerily cloaked in Fog, Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, Downing Street and eventually arriving at Trafalgar Square. Feeling a little peckish, we stopped by the Christmas Market outside the National Gallery and enjoyed a tasty bratwurst from one of the local food vendors. Trafalgar Square is a great place to pause and enjoy some street food while people watching. With over 20 stalls, the Christmas market offers a variety of food and beverages, as well as creative, handcrafted goods.
Continuing north, we headed to Covent Garden and through the Apple Market, where festive music and an array of handcrafted gifts were tempting us to stop and buy, as we made our way through the main square. Conscious of time, we decided to jump on the Tube for a quick ride to Piccadilly Circus. Exiting on the west side we made our way along Piccadilly, weaving in and out of Taxi’s and Double Decker buses and arrived at one of our favourite destinations, Fortnum & Mason. Since 1707 this exquisite store has been offering the finest foods and incredible gifts. At Christmas time tens of thousands of people, both tourists and locals, flock to this store to check out their spectacular window displays and to purchase traditional gifts of tea, shortbread and for the luxury shopper, food hampers.
If afternoon tea takes your fancy, book ahead and enjoy an incredible experience in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Room. If you don’t have time to enjoy afternoon tea, you can wander through the multiple floors offering incredible displays of food, gifts and festive decor. Treat yourself to one of my favourites, strawberry/champagne jam or choose one of their artistically designed tins of shortbread biscuits (cookies) and maybe a speciality tea.
Reluctantly leaving Fortnum’s, we crossed the road to Burlington Arcade, which has been themed to commemorate James Bond’s upcoming 60th Anniversary and is fun to experience if you’re a Bond fan. At the end of the Arcade we made our way to the junction of Old Bond Street and New Bond Street. Known for its high end couture houses, this area offers spectacular window displays from Cartier, Dior, Chanel and Stella McCartney, to name but a few. A truly stunning display!
From New Bond Street we made our way to Regent Street and across to Carnaby Street and the heart of Soho, where we were rewarded with a whimsical light display and playful vibe. Filled with colourful stores, restaurants and bars, Carnaby Street is a fun place to stroll through anytime of the year but especially at Christmas time.
As the sky started to turn dusk, it was time to make our way back up Regent Street towards Oxford Street and Bond Street, so that we could complete our adventure by watching those famous street lights coming to life. Colourful rickshaws (also known as pedicabs) equipped with cozy blankets, whizzed past us, offering eco-friendly alternative transportation amongst the hustle and bustle of London life. Our walking adventure was coming to an end and it was time to head back to Paddington, this time taking the Bakerloo Tube line from Bond Street.
We covered a lot of ground in six hours, 22,000 steps to be precise, and the day seemed to stretch long enough for us to accomplish all that we set out to do. Despite the fog and chilly weather, London was and always is, worth the effort!
Linda Vellis Cunningham
Linda is a beach-loving professional photographer & yoga instructor, with a passion for adventure travel and living her best life on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.
View her adventures on Instagram: @yogiphotographer.