Santa Claus is coming to town — and in London he doesn’t just hit the rooftops for one day only: he’s here from mid-November and charges upwards of a tenner for entry, just like a red-suited Love Islander doing a club appearance.
There are also countless iterations of Santa: he can be found at the north (pole) of the city, but all across the south, east and west too. So grit your teeth, get a ticket, stand in line, and keep reminding yourself that this will be the best day of your child’s year. Probably. Possibly.
Father Christmas sits pride of place in north London’s famous landmark this winter, and he can be found in the east Court from December 2 onwards. For £15, kids up to the age of 16 can be treated to a chat with Santa, a small gift, and the option of a quick photo too. If trekking up to N22 is a big ask just for Santa, time the Ally Pally trip to coincide with one of its many other festive events, which include a toy-making workshop, festive puppet shows, and ice discos on the ice rink.
£15, from December 2, Alexandra Palace Way, N22 7AY, alexandrapalace.com
ZSL London Zoo
What could be better than a trip to the zoo and visiting Santa? Well, likely a few things, but this one is set to be a hit with the little ones. Unfortunately, Santa and the zoo charge seperately, which is worth remembering before arriving at the zoo with a grotto ticket and nothing else. That said, the £15 ticket pays for a visit to Santa and a little gift too, with up to three children able to meet him at a time. The zoo has set up various festive activities for kids, including animal crafts, Christmas-themed animal talks, marshmallow toasting and a Polar post room, where children can send their Christmas lists to Father Christmas.
£15, from December 3, Regent’s Park, NW1 4RY, zsl.org
The beauty of Selfridges’ Santa is that he has always been free of charge — but the catch is that he must be tracked down, as he’s constantly roaming the store. It does mean time with him is often limited, but those who really want to lock down some proper time with Father Christmas can book Selfridges’ Breakfast with Santa package for £60 per person (kids and adults cost the same, sadly). The charge includes a meal with the big man, as well as a personalised gift.
Selfridges’ Santa is also likely the best excuses to tie in a grotto visit with some luxury shopping, too, as Harrods’ Santa’s Grotto isn’t running this year.
Free, from November 25, 400 Oxford Street, W1A 1AB, selfridges.com
The best known Santa in town also happens to be the longest running one, with his grotto already on and running until Christmas Eve, when his present delivering duties get in the way. The Hamleys Santa also provides a gift, and the store aims to personalise family’s experience — savvy parents should share names and interests beforehand. Kids attending are supposed to be between two and eight years old, but Hamleys says they welcome the whole family too. Careful if you have more than one child wanting to steal some time away with Santa, though, as one ticket costs £50 and only allows access for up three people. If more guests want to join, it costs £15 per each additional person up to a total of six people, applicable for all ages.
£50 (for three), open now, 188-196 Regent Street, W1B 5BT, hamleys.com
The Greenwich Market grotto is a stellar pick, being entirely free and situated in one of the best Christmas markets London has to offer. Father Christmas isn’t around everyday, though, so be sure to check out the dates and book before bustling over. Kids get a gift, while adults have the chance to head straight to the mulled wine and street food vendors as soon as the trip to the grotto is complete.
Free, open now, 5B Greenwich Market, SE10 9HZ, greenwichmarket.com
Christmas at Kew is in full flow this year and Santa is within its midst, waiting for any hopeful visitors that want to hand in their Christmas lists or just have a little festive chat. This is the perfect grotto for families that enjoy a Christmassy walk, as the main activity here is really strolling through Kew and taking in all the lights and displays. As guests can’t book in, it’s hard to guarantee a Father Christmas cameo, but if those wandering around the beautiful lights for long enough are sure to track him down soon enough (or tire the kids out so much that they forget).
£21.50 off peak, £28 peak times, open now, Kew Gardens, TW9 3AB, kew.org
In Winter Wonderland, Santa doesn’t just have a grotto — he has a whole themepark. Santaland promises kids rides, festive eateries and a chance to meet Santa. It also threatens to teach children a valuable life lesson because, as is traditional, apparently only the well-behaved kids get a gift. Entrance to the Grotto itself is free (once entrance to Winter Wonderland itself is paid for), but rides inside start at £2.
£7.50 for Winter Wonderland entry, from November 18, Hyde Park, W2 2UH, hydeparkwinterwonderland.com
Museum of London Docklands
For a more educational Father Christmas visit, take your kids to the Museum of London Docklands in West India Quay. The museum has also been decked out with festive cheer for the holiday season, so it’s looking extra Christmassy, and there are Victorian carol singers present too. Afterwards, visit one of the many exhibitions — perhaps on the Great Fire of London, London’s maritime history or, er, famous executions. Tis the season to be jolly...
£12.50, from, December 2, 1 West India Quay, Hertsmere Road, E14 4AL, museumoflondon.org.uk
London Transport Museum
For another educational Santa trip — and for the kids that cannot get enough of cars, buses and the Tube — head over to the London Transport Museum to see Father Christmas in his interactive sleigh. The grotto is free with museum tickets, and kids go for free to the museum as it is. Santa is around every day and well into the school holidays. There are Christmas craft workshops available for kids, and a family trail for any keen explorers.
Free with museum entry (free for children, from £18.50 for adults), 25 November, Covent Garden, WC2E 7BB, ltmuseum.co.uk
Royal Albert Hall
You can find this Santa in one of London’s fanciest grottos at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s not a traditional grotto with knee sitting and a gift list exchanged: instead, it’s a storytelling session where Father Christmas reads to groups of children at a time. Each get a little gift at the end. This year, Father Christmas will be reading Tiny Reindeer by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros to those who attend, with sessions lasting roughly half an hour, so children get a nice, substantial amount of time with Santa Claus.
£21.50 per child, grown ups go free (with max two adults per child), from December 2, Kensington Gore, SW7 2AP, royalalberthall.com