Hannah Drake

6 Things to Do in London at Christmastime

TravelHannah Drake4 Comments

There’s just something so magical about London at Christmastime. All year, there are so many shops and restaurants that have gorgeous seasonal displays. But Christmas is another level in London. There are twinkling lights, oversized baubles, pastel gingerbread houses, and beautiful window displays. Of course London is one of the most diverse and culturally rich cities in the world. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to eat no matter when you visit, but it truly outdoes itself in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You’re bound to find something beautiful and magical on every corner. It’s absolutely my favourite time of year to visit the city!

GO ICE SKATING

Two of the biggest—and most picturesque—ice skating rinks are at the Natural History Museum and Somerset House. You’ll see photos of skaters circling the Christmas tree in front of the beautiful buildings on any Londoner’s Instagram, but if you plan ahead, you can be one of those skaters!

The rink at the Natural History Museum is open for three months, from the end of October to the end of January, though it’s closed on Christmas Day. Times vary, but the website lists its operating hours as 10:00 to 21:00. Tickets are available from £12.65 for adults, from £8.80 for children, and from £39.60 for families. Museum members save 10% when tickets are booked onsite. You have to book 50-minute tickets in advance and certain days or times might be more expensive. The rink also offers upgrades, special packages, and fun events throughout the skating season.

The nearest tube station to the Natural History Museum is South Kensington on the District, Piccadilly and Circle lines.

The rink at Somerset House is sponsored by Fortnum & Mason and is open from mid-November to mid-January. The rink is also closed Christmas Day. Times vary, but it’s usually open from 11:15 to 22:15 and the full schedule is listed on their website. Tickets are available from £11.00 for adults and £8.50 for children, but a one-time booking fee of £2.95 applies online. Fortnum & Mason has set up a rink-side lounge with seasonal treats like champagne and fondue or mulled wine and mince pies.

The nearest tube station to Somerset House is Temple on the Circle and District lines, Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line, or Charing Cross on the Bakerloo and Northern lines.

No matter which rink you choose, you can definitely have yourself a merry time skating and enjoying everything the rinks have to offer.

SHOP ON (AND OFF) REGENT STREET

Regent Street is one of the most famous streets in London and lined with little shops and cafes. No matter the season, you’ll find it bustling with shoppers, but it’s something entirely different at Christmastime. The streets are lit up with twinkling Christmas lights, the windows are adorned with giant wreaths, and the shops have gorgeous window displays.

Just off the busy road is the quieter Old Bond Street, which is always worth strolling down, even if it’s just to gaze in the windows and see the decorations. Both years we’ve visited London at Christmastime, there have been peacock feathers above the street and gorgeous displays on the facades of some of the most luxurious shops in town. Last year, Cartier was covered in a giant red bow and it made all my big city dreams come true!

Down the cross street from Tiffany & Co. is Burlington Arcade, which is absolutely worth walking down. There are so many little shops and they all seem to be in competition with each other for who has the best Christmas decorations. The arcade itself is lit up by twinkling trees and the light bounces off the giant red baubles hanging from the ceiling. It’s certainly a wonderful walk and it goes on forever! There are other lovely arcades off Regent Street as well, but in my opinion, none as lovely as Burlington.

The nearest tube station to Regent Street is Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines, Piccadilly Circus on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, or Oxford Circus on the Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines.

SEE THE HOLIDAY INSTALLATIONS AT COVENT GARDEN

Seriously, nowhere does holiday installations like Covent Garden! They’re always oversized and over-the-top and I love them! On one end, you’ll find a towering Christmas tree with sparkling red and white lights. On the other end, you’ll find a gigantic prancing reindeer in a gigantic sleigh full of gigantic presents. This year, they also had a cool old car piled high with presents. And of course the three arcades in the centre are not to be missed. I love the giant mistletoe that lights up and the huge silver baubles. It’s definitely crowded, but there seems to be a photographers’ understanding that you keep a bit of a distance from everything to people can get photos without you in them. They’re usually quite good about taking turns and not taking an insane amount of time.

Covent Garden is like an outdoor shopping area, so there are also plenty of places to shop, which means there are plenty of beautiful shopfronts around the square and surrounding streets. Some of the best at Christmastime are Balthazar and Clos Maggiore.

The nearest tube station to Covent Garden is Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line.

WARM UP WITH TEA AND CAKE

When in London, you must stop for tea somewhere. There are a lot of fantastic places to have tea in London, including Sketch (an Instagrammer’s heaven) and Biscuiteer’s (home of the most beautiful biscuits), but in December, Peggy Porschen Cakes and Claridige’s are sights to behold.

Peggy Porschen Cakes is located in Belgravia, one of my favourite neighbourhoods. It might just be the most photographed facade in London, but there’s a reason. They never skimp on the seasonal decor and you can always count on them for stunning photo ops and the perfect flatlay on their little pink tables. But in all seriousness, come for the decor and stay for the lattes and cakes. They have beautifully decorated cakes and cookies available inside their tiny little corner shop and the baristas are talented with the on point seasonal latte art. Make sure to plan plenty of time for your stop here because the later it gets in the day, the longer the wait for a table is and they don’t accept reservations. (This is why I wholeheartedly recommend cake for breakfast!) The majority of their tables are outside too, so bundle up!

The nearest tube station to Peggy Porchen Cakes is Sloane Square on the Circle and District lines or Victoria on the Victoria, Circle, or District lines.

Claridge’s is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city and offers lots of holiday cheer in December and boasts a magnificent afternoon tea. In the hotel lobby, you’ll find a carefully designed Christmas tree that changes every year depending on the designer behind the tree. In recent years, they’ve had an upside down tree, a mirrored tree, and even a full on forest one year. It’s truly something! Their Festive Afternoon Tea is on the pricier end (and even more so on the weekends), but they certainly make it worth it.

The nearest tube station to Claridge’s is Bond Street on the Central and Jubilee lines or Oxford Circus on the Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines.

STOCK UP ON HOLIDAY GOODIES

Petersham Nurseries is just off Covent Garden and always worth a wander, no matter the calendar, but especially at Christmas. Pop in to pick up some holiday decorations, Christmas baubles, or even just general home goods. Wander to the back for the plant nursery and even next door to the deli!

The nearest tube station to Petersham Nurseries is Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line.

Fortnum & Mason is an experience. It’s located on Regent Street and is famous for its tea and hampers. Here, you can stock up on luxury grocery items, peruse their home goods floors, and even do some personal shopping in their men’s and women’s departments. Everything is located around a stunning spiral staircase between the first two floors, but the opening goes all the way to the top and they make sure you know it!

The nearest tube station to Fortnum & Mason is Piccadilly Circus on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, Leicester Square on the Northern and Piccadilly lines, or Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines.

Lavender Green Flowers is located in Chelsea and a great place to stop around Christmastime, especially if you’re looking for some DIY materials for a wreath or other home decor. You can stock up on everything you might need: cinnamon sticks, dried citrus, pine cones, greenery, and more. Just imagine how good it smells!

The nearest tube station to Lavender Green Flowers is South Kensington on the District, Piccadilly and Circle lines.

WANDER THE MOST FESTIVE NEIGHBOURHOODS

Normally, I’m all about Notting Hill when I’m in London. There’s just something about those soft pastel houses lined up behind the street market. But I’ve actually never been at Christmastime. I’m sure they do it up good, but I’m always drawn to other neighbourhoods this time of year.

Belgravia is where you’ll find the picturesque Peggy Porschen Cakes, but make sure to plan some time to wander around the streets as well. The shops and offices and cafes and even houses have great kerbside appeal all year, but especially at Christmas.

Chelsea is great to see some really fantastic displays outside shops and restaurants. Whether it’s springtime an there are lush floral displays or Christmastime and larger than life Christmas decor, Chelsea never disappoints.

Soho is the neighbourhood I’ve spent the least amount of time in, of these, but they have some great Christmas decor as well. Just don’t make the same mistake we did and not go into Liberty!

Mayfair is one of my favourite neighbourhoods all year, but it’s even better at Christmas. It’s also home to Annabel’s and nobody does installations like Annabel’s.

Check out my London in Bloom post to see London all decked out for spring.

PIN FOR LATER!

Christmas at Blenheim Palace

TravelHannah DrakeComment

Over the summer, Luke and I visited Blenheim Palace twice. First with my sister Sam, then again in August. The first time we visited, we converted our day tickets into annual passes, which was good because we barely got to see anything the first time we were there. Because we’re on the annual pass list, I got an email for their Christmas events and I immediately knew I wanted to go back for it. We still had to buy tickets for the events, but they were cheaper with our annual pass.

So last Saturday, on the 1st of the month, Luke and I got in the car and headed down to Oxfordshire, blasting Christmas songs on the way and trying to prefect our White Christmas duet. I also learned I really need to work on the lyrics for Wonderful Christmastime. It was hilariously fun and neither of us even minded it put us a bit behind on our podcasts. We bought tickets for both Cinderella - A Fairytale Experience inside the palace and the Illuminated Lights Trail on the palace grounds.

THE PALACE

The sun was already setting when we got there ahead of our 15:40 entrance time for the palace and we didn’t have much time to spare, so we bee-lined for the palace entrance. There was a long line on the steps as the staff was scanning tickets and making sure people were in the right order for their entrance times.

At 15:40, we were let into a small room they built just off the door before we were let into the entryway of the palace. The man just inside the door, was dressed like one of the staff members from Cinderella and told us to pay attention to the mice throughout the palace. Immediately, we were taken straight into a fairytale.

THE CHRISTMAS MARKET

In the courtyard outside of the palace, they had an extensive Christmas market set up with local vendors in each booth. I’ve only been to three Christmas Markets so far (in Birmingham, at Blenheim Palace, and in Nottingham), but this one was by far the best one. Okay, maybe it was because every other booth seemed to be a local distillery with dozens of samples. We walked around sampling gin, sausages, cheeses, chutneys, and more. They had local artists and people were selling their woodworking pieces, knitting, ornaments, beauty products, and just about everything else you can think of.

Back toward the entrance, they had some rides and food and drink stands. We got our first German sausage of the season and later went back for luxury hot chocolates and fresh donuts.

THE GROUNDS

On the grounds, they had set up the Illuminated Lights Trail that was absolutely magical. Each section was set to different music, everything from classic Christmas songs to The Nutcracker to the Harry Potter score. The lights twinkled and danced and lit up the night. Everything was so gorgeous and mesmerising. Halfway through the trail, they had more food trucks and some fire pits. Toward the end, we passed through the North Pole where Santa was putting on a show for some kids. The big finale was the light displays against the palace set to everybody’s favourite Christmas tunes.

Home Tour: 2018 Christmas Edition

At HomeHannah DrakeComment

Welcome back to Chateaux Drake, my friends! Grab your holiday beverage of choice (I recommend eggnog, hot cocoa, or mulled wine), cozy on up, and enjoy our Home Tour: 2018 Christmas Edition. Maybe I shouldn’t say this because it’ll jinx it, but if all goes according to plan, this will be our last Christmas in our first home, so while things might look kind of similar to last year, they’ll likely be pretty different in 2019!

Like last year, we’ve only decorated our downstairs. My family has never been one to decorate every room in the house, instead sticking to the main shared spaces, like the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Although, I think when we were younger, my parents let us have little trees on our bedside table. Who knows, I could be making that up. What about you, do you decorate the bedrooms as well? I’ve been seeing lots of home Instagrammers who have added garlands to their beds and little trees to their bedside tables, which I quite like, but isn’t happening for us this year.

My two favourite places for Christmas decor in the States are Target and Michaels. Both places have some really great stuff at reasonable prices and I’ve snagged a bunch of it on sale after Christmas. Because I had so much Christmas decor before I moved, I haven’t had the need to buy a ton of stuff in the UK which means I don’t really have a go-to spot yet. However, I’ve picked up a few things at stores like IKEA, Tiger, TK Maxx, and HEMA, as well as at our grocery store, Sainsbury’s. I feel like my Christmas tastes are in a constant battle of the red, white and green combo with knit textures and fair aisle designs versus the simple and elegant white and gold with metallic tones and lots of deer. Luckily, the two work fairly well together.

This year, our Christmas decor starts outside! I mentioned that we made three wreaths to hang up this year, something we wanted to do last year but never got around to. We hung the biggest one on the front door on December 3rd. (It was previously hanging on our kitchen door that opens to the living room. The plan was to put it up on the 1st, but we forgot and weren’t home much that weekend.) Here’s hoping it will last the whole month on our door and not get stolen.

Luke made the wreath itself by twisting together some flexible twigs we collected in the park one weekend in November. Because it’s so big, he secured it with twin in three spots around the wreath, but it’s pretty sturdy on its own. We added the fresh pine, tying each piece to the wreath, tucked in some fresh holly, and filled it out with these pine cone ornaments we got from the craft store. They already had a string attached, so we just cut it and tied it around the wreath. I made a bow from IKEA ribbon to add to the top and Luke suggested we hang it from the ribbon as well, but it’s also on a hook in case the ribbon comes unglued. In total, it cost £2 for 6 pine cones and 95p for the whole roll of ribbon, so not a bad deal at all!

Home Tour: 2018 Christmas Edition The Dining Room

Last year I talked about how we had just started using our dining room thanks to finally putting some curtains up. (I also mentioned I wanted some lace curtains to hang on the bottom windows, but we never got them.) We’ve used the room a bit more this year, thanks to being able to entertain more frequently and no longer having a table in the kitchen.

I decided to put our Willow Tree Nativity set in the same spot as last year, this time on a bed of fresh pine and pine cones left over from our wreath forages. My mom got us the Willow Tree Prayer Angel last year for Christmas, along with a candle stick to serve as her stand. I would love to add the Three Wise Men, more shepherds, and more animals to our set in the future. Willow Tree is definitely an investment, but I think they’re gorgeous figures and they remind me of my favourite Christmas book, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.

For the sideboard under the front window, we got a mini tree from IKEA this year. It fit nicely into a pot we had for one of our bigger plants before it outgrew it. I added a short string of copper lights and made a bow out of some old Christmas ribbon I got from Target a few years ago.

The sideboard is also a great place to display our small Santa collection. My mom has the most amazing collection of Santas, adding a new one every year. She has wood Santas, metal Santas, paper mache Santas. She has rustic Santas, classic Santas, skinny Santas, even a bobblehead Santa. She’s got a drunk Santa, a pope Santa, a skiing Santa, an American Santa, a flying Santa. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! I’ve always loved her Santa collection and it was my favourite thing to set up when we got our Christmas decor out. Last year, while she was visiting us in the autumn, she bought us our first Santa from a Christmas shop in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I found this year’s Santa at TK Maxx a couple of weeks ago. The tradition at my mom’s house is that Santa brings the Santa every year and places the new one among the others on Christmas Eve. We’ll definitely take on that tradition in a couple of years—or maybe even next year—but I just couldn’t bear not having any Santas out last year or only one this year. Forgive me, Mom!

I finished the sideboard with one of our “Christmas Buddies”, Gary Frick Jr., some antlers, and some pillar candles from IKEA surrounded by a garland I got from the dollar spot at Target. I also added the hanging mitten tree from Target to our games shelf. And I finally got some faux poinsettias from IKEA to fit in my J O Y mugs from Anthropologie! I’ve been wanting to do that for years!

On our table, I have the birch tealight holders that I got from Etsy for me and my sisters a few years ago, some holiday placemats that I snagged on offer at Target, and a festive salt and pepper shaker. I mentioned at Thanksgiving that we added some boards to our tabletop to expand our table, which makes four place mats and a centrepiece fit nicely, but it also means we have to have a tablecloth down as well to hide the fact that it’s just boards.

Home Tour: 2018 Christmas Edition The Living Room

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. The ultimate compliment I can receive on my house is that it’s warm and cozy. And that’s definitely the goal for my living room, not just at Christmastime (or in the autumn), but all year round! I love the addition of the Christmas tree with its twinkling lights and the fact that it means rearranging the room ever so slightly. The lamp by the couch and the pile of cozy blankets next to the tree just make it feel exactly that: warm and cozy!

We usually have a white tray on the bench, but I switched it out for the green tray that I previously used for our hot cocoa station to make it a little more festive. I also switched out the Hello Fall candle from Bath & Body Works for the Flannel candle from Bath & Body Works. (They seriously need to start shipping to the UK because I’m always so hesitant to burn them lest they run out!) I also added the little red truck and tree that I got for $3 from Target and a knitted bauble garland, also from Target.

We got our tree from IKEA again this year because they’re all the perfect size for our house and they’re all £25 and come with a £20 voucher to use in the new year. (We remembered to use our’s last year on the very last day it was valid!) Last year we picked up some mixed metallic baubles from IKEA to fill in the holes on our tree and after Christmas, we grabbed the shiny and matte copper baubles from Sainsbury’s in a post-Christmas sale. Like my mom does with the Santas every year, we also got an ornament every year, so I have a decent collection combined with some ornaments from my dad’s house as well. Luke and I have started doing it as well, so he now has two! We decided to only put up my generic ones rather than adding the ones that are obviously mine or from my younger years when I was really into Disney and turtles. We put our tree in a red bucket from IKEA, which is what Luke’s family would always do. I’ve only ever had a tree stand and a tree skirt, but I like this way too and it’s certainly easier than trying to screw all those bolts in evenly!

Our mantle is different than I’ve done in the past. While I’ve still used the same items (the trees, the birds: Percy Chadburn and Julian Hawthorne, the deer head silhouettes I made), I went for an asymmetrical look instead of my usual symmetry. I also wanted to make a garland with the rest of the greenery we had for our wreaths, but I ended up just laying it on the mantle with the eucalyptus from Thanksgiving and trying to hide the ends. Luke also found these pine cones under a tree at our work. When he first showed me one, it was completely closed and so heavy, but since we’ve brought them home, they’ve started to open up from the bottom. To balance out all the green, I added a Christmas Spice candle from Sainsbury’s that smells heavenly!

We hung Luke’s wreath with holly leaves, dried lemon and orange, and cinnamon sticks from the mirror. He made the wreath itself like the one on our front door, but because it’s smaller it’s just holding itself together. We dried the citrus in the oven at 75°C for about 4 hours (check on them every hour or so). The house smelled amazing while they were drying out!

I finished off the mantle with our stockings (I think from Target) and a little garland I made with some of the smaller gold baubles I got from the Target dollar spot years ago. I also replaced our melted and unlightable pillar candles in the fire place with some fresh ones I used for our Thanksgiving table just to clean it up a bit. Well, that and so we could light a “fire” in December.

My mom sent us two classic Christmas books last year, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and The Polar Express. I wasn’t quite sure where to put them, so for now they’re on top of a crate. She seriously came through for us last year thanks to Amazon. Those books bring back ALL the childhood memories. I remember reading Jonathan Toomey with my mom for so many years (okay, even still) and The Polar Express at my dad’s house growing up. And it’s completely okay to be a child again on Christmas, if you ask me!

This year, I also got some festive cushion covers from H&M Home to switch out for the holidays. (And I’m still looking for the ultimate cozy throw. I’m thinking faux fur. Or a gorgeous plaid. Okay, maybe both!)

Home Tour: 2018 Christmas Edition The Kitchen

I kept it simple in the kitchen. I’ve been seeing a lot of Instagrammers add little touches of Christmas to their kitchen counters, but we just have so little counter space that it’s all so precious! Hopefully in our next home we’ll have more surface space in the kitchen. It would certainly come in handy this time of year.

I added the little candles we got from Sainbury’s last year to our window sill, along with the menu chalkboard that will forever have the four main food groups from Elf on it because it doesn’t wipe off. I also put up the two garlands I normally have on the mantle above our kitchen window along with a string of lights. I love seeing the glow from the living room when the overhead lights are off.

Over on the bar, I set up a hot cocoa station on a three tiered stand I got off eBay. Let me tell you, I’m OBSESSED! The last seven (or so) years I’ve done the same thing and kept it pretty standard with cocoa, mallows, and candy canes. This year I obviously went above and way beyond.

On the bottom tier, you’ll find some festive mugs I snagged from TK Maxx for £4 each, two different kinds of candy canes (but both peppermint flavour), Bailey’s, cinnamon sticks, jumbo marshmallows, and some caramels.

On the middle tier, we’ve got mini marshmallows, Amaretto (you gotta try it in your next cup of hot cocoa!), festive jelly beans, some chunks of chocolate, and the main event: hot cocoa mix.

DIY Hot Chocolate Station

On the top tier, you’ll find some festive paper straws, a little tin of peppermint hot cocoa, peppermint sticks, cayenne pepper (maybe that’s your thing!) and little mitten shakers that have cinnamon and nutmeg in them.

I got almost all of the jars from IKEA. The KORKEN jars are perfect! I got the 1 litre and the 0.5 litre, but the 1 litre proved to be too tall for the stand. I also got a pack of the mini KORKEN jars, a couple of the VARDAGEN jars that are 0.3 litres each. Tiger also had some great jars and the washed herbs and spices jars from Sainsbury’s were great too. Luke found the corked bottles for the liquor from Amazon. They came in a three pack in a couple of different size options. I also wrapped another string of copper lights around the bottom of each tier to make it twinkle a bit.

Home Tour: 2018 Christmas Edition

And to finish off the kitchen, I added our final Christmas Buddy, Melvin Crowley, and another Sainsbury’s candle to the bar! I also picked up some festive tea towels at TK Maxx that came with a Santa pot holder. We normally don’t have pot holders out and the tea towel on the oven is usually the most functional, but it’s Christmas and it’s time for festivity over functionality. (I’m mostly kidding about that.)

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