London doesn’t get as much attention as other destinations this time of the year, but the British capital makes for a spectacular Christmas experience.
For a thoroughly religious experience this Christmas there are the Advent and Christmas services at magnificent old churches and cathedrals, including all the famous ones. There are also the churches you have never heard of before, including the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace, Temple Church and St. James, Garlickhythe.
Then there are countless concerts with some of the finest holiday music, both religious and secular, and a growing number of markets.
Markets range from Southbank Centre’s Winter Market to a new one this year at Trafalgar Square, which also hosts a Christmas tree gifted every year by Norway. There is even a Nordic market at the Swedish church. (I wrote about the church in a previous column.)
Best of all, you can experience London during the off-season, which means fewer tourists than other times of the year. Just be aware that some places, including the shopping meccas of Oxford and Regent streets, will always be busy.
You won’t regret making your home away from home the Bankside Hotel, which falls under the Autograph Collection brand. Because it is a Marriott brand you get the amenities and service consistent with Marriott and the unique design of an upscale boutique hotel.
The hotel, which opened in 2018 and still has the fresh paint smell, is located a stone’s throw from Blackfriars Bridge and within eyesight of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is also within walking distance of almost everything to see and do.
One of my favorite activities was walking along the River Thames to nearby Borough Market, which is abuzz with butchers, cheesemongers, market stalls selling fresh produce, hipster food trucks and excellent people watching.
Next to the market is Southwark Cathedral, as the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie is more commonly called. Treasures include the tomb of Lancelot Andrewes, the 17th-century Anglican bishop who oversaw translation of the King James Bible.
While I could recommend countless London restaurants, I really enjoyed Caxton Grill, a short walk from Parliament in the heart of Westminster. The restaurant has a design that has the look and feel of a classic British dining room — think creaky wood floors — with inspiration from an American steakhouse. Service was impeccable. You also won’t regret dinner at the Bankside’s in-house restaurant, Art Yard Bar & Kitchen.
If you want something more organized and planned consider a five-day tour from CIE Tours. Prices start at $679.