London is special. It’s one of those cities that, despite hundreds of stays between work commitments and leisure visits, still gives me energy and joy! That’s why even this winter I couldn’t resist and decided to spend there a few days just before Christmas when its magic is complete for the pleasure of tourists, but also its citizens.
To fully enjoy the city, having already visited all the classical “must-see” sites, I opted to live it… I rented a small flat in one of my favorite neighborhoods, I strolled around, and I picked only a few visits and attractions that I had skipped before.
Christmas in London
For full immersion in London Christmas atmosphere, there are various spots not to be missed, though clearly, they are not all for all tastes… for instance, the most famous one is not for me:
- Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is an attraction-themed park, with a Christmas market, ice skating rink, and various performances, which can be accessed at the Marble Arch tube station high. Admission is free, and the queue on the lawn in front is truly impressive, as the ads spread from the speakers, like “drunk people will not have access to attractions, and an alcohol test is required at the entrance. If you are drunk, please leave the queue now”. The only way to skip the queue is to book for performance.
I absolutely love:
- the windows and the lights of Regent Street, where we could not skip a visit at Hamleys and where it was hard not to rob the LEGO department !!! I was not as excited as the hundreds of delighted screaming children on each floor, but…
- the Covent Garden Market, decorated on a grand scale and filled with the aroma of mulled wine mixed with the smell of roasted chestnuts and peanuts that seem to come out from the pages of a book. Here opera singers and musicians perform one after the other on the stairs to take advantage of the acoustics
- Christmas choirs accompanying passersby all around Trafalgar Square, the food stalls, and street performers along the Thames, especially in the stretch between Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge
Noteworthy sightseeing in London
Between one relaxing walk and the other in the side streets of Portobello Road and the Saturday morning inevitably dedicated to the market in Notting Hill, I dragged Ale in these adventures:
The London Dungeon
Shall I recommend it or not? But above did I like it or not?! Not completely, actually, and therefore I tell you something about it: the London Dungeon is a journey show lasting about 90 minutes and passing through the most violent and macabre episodes and periods of the British capital. Like a mini theme park in the heart of London, right next to the London Eye (Waterloo station), with good actors and nicely designed and crafted costumes and make-up, but not all locations are at the same level and then I found some passage really a bit too long despite my passion for history.
However, it is not suitable for impressionable people, small children, and especially for those who do not speak English more than well. For more information and reservations, please check their website.
Jack the Ripper Walking Tour
In this case, I have no doubt. I recommend it! An evening walk between the Tower of London and White Chapel, with a small foray into the City, retracing the steps and the crimes of Jack the Ripper. Callum, has been a very professional and passionate guide, and some details of the history of this myth of crime astonishing and frightening.
I will not describe details not to ruin it to those who decide to do it, but only for the organization of your stay: the tour starts at 6:30 p.m. from Tower Hill tube station, in front of the gift shop down the stairs. It lasts about two hours and a half and ends in front of the scary church of White Chapel, a few minutes walk from Liverpool Street tube station, which I recommend you reach passing by Artillery Lane, a historical well-preserved alley.
A walk from downtown London to Camden Town, along the Regent’s Canal
An oasis of peace that reminded me of the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris… from Little Venice, near Maida Vale, you can get up to Limehouse Basin, in the Docklands, even if we stopped in Camden Town for some not planned shopping and our failure to resist the culinary stands of Camden Lock 😛
Especially, I was struck by the sweetness, the precision of Caitlyn, and her yummy fudges. You can also find her at Cupcakes & Shhht and then how not to mention Francesca, an Italian girl who allowed me to imagine my own customized Converse and painted them for me while I was having lunch. Aren’t they fab?
Oh, during summertime you can do this tour along the canal on the waterbus!
Harry Potter Studios outside London
We also spent a morning at the Warner Bros Harry Potter’s Studios, and it has been simply magical (!), so to dream that the set around us came to life at any moment. I heartily recommend it!
The cheapest combination I could find to travel during the weekend before Christmas was with Ryanair (same flights also found on Skyscanner, but more expensive!). We left the tiny airport of Parma on Thursday afternoon to return to Pisa with the last flight on Sunday. In both cases, the London airport has been the one of Stansted. All this cost us € 37.90 each, buying the ticket in September.
Once in Stansted, we opted for the cheapest solution, the Terravision coach to Victoria Station (9 pounds each), with an intermediate stop in Liverpool Street (6 pounds each). Convenient and cheaper than the National Express (9-12 pounds each), but they offer the wifi on board. The journey takes between 50 and 90 minutes, depending on traffic.
On the way back, to avoid possible delays and enjoy London until the last second we decided to take the Stansted Express from Liverpool Street. Definitely more expensive (32 pounds), but quick and always on time. Wanting to pay a little less, you can take it in Tottenham Hale or go for an early online booking.
To visit London, the Oyster Card is the most practical solution because rechargeable at any time and because it automatically applies the cheapest fare of the moment. I recommend you buy it once downtown or online to give it back at the end of your stay and get a refund of any remaining credit (a credit card is required).
As said before, we rented a small loft-style London flat in one of my favorite neighborhoods, a short walk from Portobello Road Market and a few others from Ladbroke Grove tube station.
We found it on Airbnb. Very cozy, nicely decorated, and romantic, but certainly not suitable for everyone since the bed is set in an upper alcove reachable only by climbing the shelves of a former library. The cleaning is, unfortunately, the standard not-so-clean one… Anyway, we loved the experience and will certainly repeat it soon.
Where we had dinner in London
Start by saying that since I returned to live in Italy, I suffer from constant abstinence from Japanese cuisine, which is not existing in the Cinque Terre area. Therefore, as soon as I find myself in town, I don’t miss the opportunity to eat it. So…
- Yo! Sushi in Haymarket Street, not far from Picadilly Circus. The quality is not exceptional, but the food is correct, and you can order or pick a dish directly from the conveyor belt turning around the restaurant. The dishes have five different fixed prices (1 to 7 pounds, from the miso soup to a mixed sashimi portion) established by the color of the plate. Green tea has a fixed price and water is free, and you can help yourself from the drinking fountains on each table.
- Wagamama is the White Chapel market, at five minutes’ walking from Liverpool Street. Good quality and correct prices (18-20 pound for a dish, unlimited green tea, and a yummy dessert)
I also had several really delicious maki at lunch in Camden Lock… I couldn’t resist!
We also had Fish & Chips at Geales, in Farmer Street. A nice typical street next to Notting Hill tube station. Light and yummy.