Norway’s festive gift to London might be doing the rounds on WhatsApp (Norway is considering a new one, following complaints) but, thankfully, the rest of London is looking a little more spruced up in the meantime. Claridge’s (snow-globe inspired) tree was unveiled last week, marking the official start of London’s festive season, and a wave of towering trees are springing up across the capital, from The Ned’s traditional Nordman to King’s Cross’ immersive installation made from its 2020 edition.
The best way to see them all: take a tour in one night (or full day, if you fancy a 12-hour cocktail crawl). There’s gluhwein galore at The Shard, The Edition has a charity cocktail in support of refugees, and there are hot rum cider stands along Christmas at Kew’s festive light trail if you fancy a miniature tree crawl through its illuminated gardens.
From The Connaught’s culture tree to Carnaby’s virtual butterfly canopy, this is an east-to-west Christmas tree crawl.
Admire the Nordman at The Ned
What to know: Size matters. The Ned’s tree might not boast a celebrity designer but it certainly beats Claridge’s in terms of height. The towering 22-foot premier Nordman tree has been created by its house florists and is dressed with 6,500 fairy lights, more than 1,000 gold, ivory and Champagne baubles and golden leather leaf ferns.
USP: The Ned’s giant “halo” wreath over its Nickel Stage. There’ll be live music performed underneath every day throughout December.
What to drink: The Ned’s Bramble Fizz, made with dry rose Champagne and bramble gin, with notes of chestnut and clove spices (£13).
27 Poultry, EC2R, thened.com
Come together at The Shard
What to know: British set designer Soutra Gilmour is the brains behind Aqua Shard’s tree this year - it’s made up of hundreds of golden paintbrushes in a touching tribute to workers in the theatre industry, after another tough year set back by the pandemic.
USP: A Christmas crawl without leaving the building. The Shard’s ground floor drinking spot, Bar 31, features outdoor chalets with fairy lights and gluhwein galore, while 34 floors up, above Aqua at the Shangri-La, architect Charles Holland has designed a sustainable festive fir as part of the hotel’s Austrian-themed apres-ski wonderland.
The top 20 storeys of the building are being lit up throughout December to celebrate this year’s theme: togetherness.
What to drink: Aqua Shard’s Centre Stage cocktail, a warming concoction of mulled gin, caramel and fermented apples, finished with chocolate bitters (£17.50). The edge of the glass is brushed gold and 50 per cent of sales are donated to the Theatre Support Fund.
32 London Bridge Street, SE1, aquashard.co.uk
Drop into a world of colour in King’s Cross
What to know: No, it’s not an alien spacecraft. It’s Coal Drop’s Yard’s Christmas tree - or rather, a 28-foot angular metal installation made from the core structure of last year’s ‘tree’, but reimagined as a kaleidoscopic structure called Prism. It’s been designed by creative light specialists This is Loop who say it signifies unity and a sense of being connected to each other through colour and light.
USP: You can stand inside it. Walk through the mirrored interior of the tree and you’ll be transported into an immersive world of light, reflection and colour, like being inside a giant kaleidoscope.
What to drink: A gin-based Rhubarb Spagliato at Spiritland in King’s Cross (£10).
Coal Drop’s Yard, N1C, kingscross.co.uk
Wander under the canopy at Carnaby
What to know: This year Carnaby lights have been inspired by a kaleidoscope: look up and you’ll see a canopy of 600 neon shimmering butterflies 10-feet up. It’s all part of the street’s collaboration with refugee charity Choose Love, which has a pop-up there, with the butterflies representing spiritual rebirth, transformation, change, hope and life.
USP: You can access Carnaby’s installation from anywhere in the world. If you’re isolating, abroad or don’t feel comfortable facing the madness of central London, just visit carnaby.co.uk/christmas/ for a 360-degree virtual tour of its butterfly canopy. Start under the pink sequin arch, glide through the butterflies at street level or 10-feet high in the sky, then explore Kingly Court and the surrounding streets or fly through the giant rainbow lightbulb installation on Ganton Street.
What to drink: A house wine or glass of fizz at Bar Crispin on Kingly Street (from £7). The new all-day wine bar is from the team behind Crispin in Spitalfields and serves seasonal small plates (the lamb sweetbread toast is a must-try) alongside more than 150 natural wines hand-picked by ex-Beaverbrook sommelier Alexandra Price.
Carnaby Street, W1F, carnaby.co.uk/christmas
Embrace the childhood Edition
What to know: Artist Ed Curtis describes his display for The London Edition is “the Christmas tree of my childhood dreams”. The 18-foot “art attack fantasy” is covered with playful decorations including sweet wrappers, candy canes and hand-painted paper lanterns dressed up as baubles.
USP: A hand-drawn feel. Curtis’ signature doodle designs include squiggles, faces and even a smiling star at the top of the tree.
What to drink: Savoia Le Fizz, a limited-edition Choose Love cocktail from the hotel’s lobby bar. A portion of the proceeds will go directly to the refugee charity (£16).
10 Berners Street, W1T, editionhotels.com
Be dazzled by Dior at Claridge’s
What to know: the unveiling of the Claridge’s Christmas tree marks the unofficial start of London’s festive season, and this year the theme is high-fashion and high-tech: a celestial snow globe, designed by Dior, featuring holographic projections that radiate around the lobby. The brains behind the 6.5 metre emotive masterpiece is Kim Jones, artistic director of Dior’s men’s collections, who has illuminated the tree with celestial sparkles and reflecting snowflakes that travel across its surface.
USP: Dog baubles. The tree’s decorations appear to float around the tree and include miniature perfume bottles in the form of Dior’s dog Bobby and a decorative replica of Jones’ dog Cookie at the top of the tree.
What to drink: A glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne from the hotel bar (£25).
Brook Street, W1, claridges.co.uk
Celebrate Christmas around the world at The Connaught
What to know: The Connaught’s 2021 tree is a collaboration with London-based artist duo Annie Morris and Idris Khan OBE. The rainbow display features nine brightly-coloured spheres, some of which include more than a thousand tiny lights.
USP: Solidarity. The base of the tree features an infinity mirror engraved with 100 different translations of ‘Merry Christmas’ as a way of celebrating the coming-together of cultures for the festive season.
What to drink: A Perlage cocktail combining quince, cardamom and champagne, from the hotel’s new Red Room bar (£21).
Carlos Place, W1K, the-connaught.co.uk
Join the Kew
What to know: You know the magic of Christmas at Kew by now: sparkling light tunnels, roaring fire gardens, singing neon trees and a sparkling trail through the illuminations.
New installations for 2021 include Spheric, a 15-metre-wide light dome set on the lake, and new displays lighting up the gardens’ iconic Temperate House.
USP: The northern lights in London. Aurora, Kew’s new 200-metre-long overhead illumination, is designed to replicate the visual phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis.
What to drink: A hot rum cider from one of the street vendors positioned along the walking light trail (£5.50).
Richmond, TW9, kew.org