What’s on in London this Winter

By Amy Rosoman for British Airways Holidays

Photography by SolStock

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Updated May 2018

Lights sprawl over Harrods and ice rinks coat the courtyards. Hole up in a pub, discover outdoor wonderlands and don’t miss the best events with our guide to the best things to do when the nights draw in.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Where the wild things are

The emerald quills of a quetzal’s tail, a squirrel hunched on a cold day, a tiger cub caught in a snare – the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards are magical, familiar and horrifying glimpses into the animals of our planet. Wildlife photographers around the world camp out in the back of beyond to get that perfect shot. Of the tens of thousands of entries the competition receives ever year from over 100 countries, only a few are chosen to fill the dark rooms of the Natural History Museum, where their animal subjects shine out of the darkness. Prize categories include urban photography, landscape, invertebrates, and the people’s choice – go cast your vote.

When? All winter

Where? Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD

Nearest Tube: South Kensington (District, Piccadilly and Circle lines)

Where to stay: The Ampersand Hotel is a five star boutique in Kensington with a lovely tea salon.

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Londoners know that it’s not Christmas until you’ve seen at least one production of The Nutcracker, which is why there’s always more than a couple of rival productions on in the capital at once

Christmas at Kew 2018

Wrap up warm and head to Kew Gardens for their winter festivities. As you wander through the iconic gardens you’ll find singing trees, giant baubles, light shows and plenty of warming treats – don’t miss the Palm House’s laser spectacular. Tickets are on sale from 26 June 2018 and we recommend booking early to avoid disappointment. 

When? 22 November 2018 – Saturday 5 January 2019

Where? Kew Gardens (30 minutes from central London)

Nearest Tube: Kew Gardens Station (District)

Where to Stay: The Rembrandt in the west of London is a tube ride away from Kew. Its Knightsbridge location affords a certain elegance; and the hotel, with its historic façade and afternoon tea, fits right in.

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  • A phoenix rising from the ashes in a 13th-century bestiary, part of the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition. ©British Library.

    Treasured texts

    The British Library has 150 million items in its collections, in most of the world’s languages, stored on hundreds of kilometres of shelving. The Magna Carta and Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook are stored here. You can’t rent these out – and even if you could, the library fines would be formidable.

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  • The Power of The Matriarch, one of the entries for Wildlife Photographer of The Year. ©David Lloyd - Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

    A familiar face

    Famous for his amazing portraits of African wildlife, David Lloyd visited the Maasai Mara in Kenya and followed an elephant herd to their waterhole in the evening light. Their leader, a female, posed for this brilliant, watchful image.

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  • The skate path at Ice Rink Canary Wharf.

    Kept on ice

    East London’s Canary Wharf rink is a relative newcomer on the skating scene, and a cool alternative to Somerset House.

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Ice Rink Canary Wharf

The River Thames might not have frozen over for centuries, but London still has plenty of skating spots in the winter, from Somerset House to Hampton Court. Canary Wharf’s ice rink is one of the newest and most innovative. Last year, LED lights under the ice made the rink extra magical. This year, the massive indoor ice rink is back, but we recommend you head straight to the outdoor skate path, which takes you on a winding ice route through the trees. Popular across the world skating, trails are a welcome break after getting dizzy skating circles on the main rink. For afters, warm up at the bar.

When? November – February (dates TBC)

Where? Canada Square Park, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AB

Nearest Tube: Canary Wharf (Jubilee line)

Where to stay: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London - Docklands Riverside in east London has views over the towers of Canary Wharf.

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Winterville has returned to London after a year off. Billed as London’s alternative winter festival, it’s a supersized funfair, glowing with fairy lights and pink-faced patrons. Take the whole family along to enjoy the rides, crazy golf, a 250-seat immersive cinema, food stalls and entertainment on Clapham common. There are also two great ways to fall over – a roller disco and an ice rink. It’s smaller than Hyde Park’s massive Winter Wonderland but the food stalls have a hipster edge – they’re run by food truck magnates Street Feast. Book a show at the Spiegeltent for afters – the setlist is a stuffed stocking full of family shows, cabaret and comedy.

When? November – January (dates TBC)

Where? Clapham Common

Nearest Tube: Clapham Common, Clapham South

Where to stay: Park Plaza Westminster Bridge is right by Waterloo Station, making it easy to hop on the Northern Line or the bus to Clapham. It’s a chic, contemporary hotel with an indoor pool and spa.

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  • People enjoy the ice rink at Winterville.

    Common people

    On Clapham Common, Winterville promises delicious street food after a turn on the ice.

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  • The Nutcracker. Artists of The Royal Ballet as the Snowflakes. ©ROH, 2015. Photographed by Tristram Kenton.

    A cracking success

    The Nutcracker debuted in St Petersburg in 1892, but it wasn’t an instant hit. Now, however, in the US alone, sales of tickets to Nutcracker performances account for around 40% of all ballet ticket revenue.

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  • Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House and Gardens.

    Lighten up

    More peacock lake than swan lake – the larger than life animal designs shine in the landscape of Chiswick House, an 18th century garden designed around a Roman-style Palladian villa.

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Magical Lantern Festival

Don’t miss the chance to see the spectacular illuminated outdoor installations of the Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House and Gardens. Enjoying its third year in the capital, this year’s exhibition takes you on a journey through the night. With a Christmas theme, look out for an eccentric collection of life-sized animal lanterns, air-bound sleighs, and scale models of famous monuments. Make sure you sample the street food along the way, too, before taking little ones to see Santa wrapped up in his Christmas grotto. Take your coat and boots – this night time adventure through the gardens can get chilly.

When? November – January (dates TBC)

Where? Chiswick House and Gardens, W4 2RP

Nearest Tube: Turnham Green (District line)

Where to stay: The K&K George is set in a typical West London townhouse. Pretend you’ve lived on this columned street all your life.

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The Nutcracker

Londoners know that it’s not Christmas until you’ve seen at least one production of The Nutcracker, which is why there’s always more than a couple of rival productions on in the capital at once over winter. The Royal Ballet’s version, directed by Sir Peter Wright, is one of the most respected. The set design by Julia Trevalyan Oman is traditional and sparkling, perfect for the 1892 ballet, and Tchaikovsky's score twinkles with magic. Look out for the charming Christmas tree, which grows on stage before your very eyes. The little girl Clara is given a nutcracker shaped like a soldier who comes to life. After fighting off the Mouse King, together they go on an adventure through the Land of Sweets, where they finally meet the glorious sugar plum fairy.

When? 3 December 2018 – 15 January 2019

Where? Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden

Nearest Tube: Covent Garden (Piccadilly), Leicester Square (Bakerloo, Northern)

Where to stay: Waldorf Hilton, a grand affair that even has columns round the indoor pool. High tea is served in the Grand Palm Court.

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Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year falls on Tuesday 5 February so expect events that week end. There’s a parade of dancers and musicians through central London. Spot dragons with cow ears, the feet of tigers and the eyes of demons. Lucky red decorations adorn the streets, whilst firecrackers cause havoc. In 2019, it’s the year of the pig. Celebrate at the main stage in Trafalgar Square, but also follow the crowds to the Hong Kong Stage on Charing Cross Road and the Family Stage on Shaftesbury Avenue. For heaven’s sake, book a restaurant afterward, you won’t be the only one thinking that some dim sum in Chinatown is a good idea. A volley of fireworks round things off come evening.

When? New Year falls on 5 February 2019

Where? Trafalgar Square

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square, Charing Cross

Where to stay: Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street is on Seven Dials in Covent Garden – a shopping hub not far from the delights of Chinatown.

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