And just like that, the troublesome 2022 begins to draw to a close. Bar any last-minute disasters, this year happily sees Christmas back to something like full health across town: the concert halls are packing with orchestras, the theatres are welcoming the crowds.
From naughty-but-nice fun for adults to the best family fun — plus a few suggestions for the Grinches out there — here’s what to get up to across town this December.
Some naughty, some nice
The Royal Albert Hall (SW7, royalalberthall.com) is the North star of Christmas celebrations. Highlights this year include a Christmas Gaiety on December 3 — which sees drag star Peaches Christ lead the likes of RuPaul favourites Cheddar Gorgeous and Pixie Polite in a singalong backed by the BBC Concert Orchestra — while Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas on December 9 is a long-standing, feel-good hit of an evening. Look out for carols and film screenings too, including Home Alone. Rick Astley is back as well, which makes sense — they were never going to give him up.
Elsewhere, the Curling Club (SE1 and TW9, thecurlingclub.com) is one for apres-ski vibes: there is, of course, curling — surprisingly tricky — but expect plenty of food and drink, and a roster of live bands and DJs alongside. Plenty of partying is on the cards. The Bankside Frost Fair (SE1, banksidelondon.co.uk) calls back to a curious run between 1605 to 1814, when the Thames froze over some 24 times; with river trade stilled, locals held “frost fairs”. The 2022 version features dozens of arts and crafts stalls — think gifts galore — and plenty of pop-ups with mulled wine, beer and festive bites. Seasonal sreet art, cinematic screenings and augmented reality installations complete the celebrations. For a hands-on December party idea, the London Art Bar in Holborn (WC1V, popuppainting.com) is hosting a festive edition of its Sip and Paint evenings next Thursday, December 8. Book in with your colleagues or a group of friends, grab a mince pie and a glass of prosecco and London Art Bar’s friendly team will guide you through Wyland Tondelier’s fun Reindeer In Lapland painting as you each attempt your own version on canvas (yours to take home afterwards). Christmas jumpers are optional but encouraged.
On first glance, a Muppet Christmas Carol singalong might seem one for the children — until Sh!t Theatre is factored in. This strictly adults-only bona fide hit, now in its tenth year, is back at the Battersea Arts Centre (SW11, bac.org.uk) from December 8-19; performances include free whiskey and are, they say, “relaxed”. Read this as code for a kind of Christmas chaos.
Mayhem tends to also get a look in on the Santa Run; hundreds of red-suited joggers (the kit is free) will be running the best part of 5km from outside Tate Modern on both December 7 and 8 (SE1, santainthecity.co.uk). A good way to burn off the mince pies and Christmas booze; watching is always a laugh too. Similarly eccentric is the Christmas Day Peter Pan cup. From 9am, witness the hardy — or perhaps foolhardy — members of Serpentine Swimming Club dive into the icy waters of the Hyde Park lake (W2, serpentineswimmingclub.com). It is bonkers but its longevity stands of proof of its draw: the competition has been going since 1864.
Aside from squiffy sessions in the pub, feeling festive usually has something to do with family. As ever, arguably the biggest thing for kids is Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park (W2, hydeparkwinterwonderland.com): the smell of sugar has been floating from it since the middle of last month. Most parents will have a tactical Wonderland survival plan already in place, but just a reminder that tickets must be booked and off-peak entrance, which is free, is almost over; standard tickets are a fiver, peak times cost £7.50. The ice slide is perhaps the most fun, the ice sculpting classes can joyfully be a touch quieter than some of the bigger rides and the Fire Pit, where there is frequently a band on, is somewhere for a sit down (and has a bar, which tends to be increasingly necessary as the hours go on).
The Southbank Centre is another seasonal smash (SE1, southbankcentre.co.uk). Parents and children alike — well, those older than eight — should find something fun in Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol, which is running at Queen Elizabeth Hall for a month from December 8. The brand-new show, which is set to fresh music from the Jolene singer, is billed as a “Tennessee twist” on the Dickens’ favourite. For a complete guide to all the best Christmas shows, head to standard.co.uk/culture.
Beforehand, on December 4, is Christmas at the Movies, where the Philharmonia Orchestra play festive hits from the likes of ET, Elf and It’s A Wonderful Life. On December 10, composer Jonathan Cohen leads the London Concert Chorus in A Christmas Carol Singalong — but also expect some of the biggest festive hits to get an exuberant airing, too. Somewhat more traditional is the December 23 carol service at St Paul’s, EC4, stpauls.co.uk), which is open to all and free.
The capital’s ice rinks are mostly all frozen over and good to go — there’s a full list on standard.co.uk/Reveller but notable is the new one at Battersea Power Station and the long-standing Hampton Court venue, always a stunner. Similarly, head to this page for a guide to all the best festival lights; be warned the gorgeous trail at Kew Gardens (TW9, kew.org) has only a very few tickets left. Others that are particularly good (and with more availability) include Lightopia at Crystal Palace Park (SE19, london.lightopiafestival.com), which runs until January 2, and the stunning light trail at Kenwood House (NW3, christmasatkenwood.com), which opens Thursday and runs until New Year’s Day.
For the most magical festive family snap of all, head to Richmond Park, where community horse-riding club Operation Centaur is running traditional Christmas carriage rides pulled by the same horses that were responsible for removing the Queen’s flowers from Green Park a few of months ago. Snuggle under a blanket with some sloe gin and a mince pie and sit back for a magical 75-minute tour of the park in the crisp winter air, finishing with a behind-the-scenes visit of the working stables. Proceeds will help to fund sustainable conversation initiatives with the working Shire horses in London’s Royal Parks (TW10, seetickets.com). Double the feel-good factor.
Something for the Scrooges
What with the heating permanently off, the endless rail strikes and the ongoing saga that is the British Government, it’s easier than usual to think this really might not be the most wonderful time of the year after all. Fortunately, not everything this month involves mandated Christmas cheer. Swap the red and white trim for black and head to The Cure, playing Wembley Arena on December 11, 12 and 13 (HA9, ovoarena.co.uk). It should be just like heaven. Last minute tickets are also available for Holly Humberstone, playing the O2 Academy Brixton tomorrow (SW9, ticketmaster.co.uk); despite the melancholy of tracks like London Is Lonely, she has a rare, glittering talent. Still, likely more uplifting will be the W3 Funk Sessions at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho on December 11 (W1, ronniescotts.co.uk); go for perfect Manhattan’s and to hear some first-rate players get up for the down stroke.
The Comedy Store (SW1, thecomedystore.co.uk) is always good at this time of year — it gets rowdy but shows tend to always have room. The modestly-monikered Best In Stand Up shows are running almost nightly and keep an eye out for the Best In Improv slots on Sunday evenings; Whose Line Is It Anyway? stars Josie Lawrence and Greg Proops are among those gleefully making it up as they go along.
Still, those who take pride in the coal in their stockings might prefer to visit the Satanic Flea Market, which is running its anti-Christmas fayre at Electrowerkz on December 11 (EC1, electrowerkz.co.uk). Tickets are on the door only; once inside, the more than 80 pop-up shops are promising everything from fortune telling and vintage clothes to, er, human skulls and taxidermy. Do they know its Christmas time at all?