You may doubt that a break in London during the winter holds as much delight, excitement and soul-enriching nourishment as one during the spring, summer or even the autumn. But you shouldn’t. The UK capital is an outstanding place to visit all the year round–not least in the winter months. It’s a staggeringly cosmopolitan metropolis that’s always alive and thriving thanks to its unbeatable cultural diversity, rich history and world-renowned tourist attractions. Here aresomeof the highlights of what’s going on this winter…
Chinese New Year
With the biggest celebrations – outside China itself – of arguably the most significant event in the Chinese calendar, London’s ready for the New Year once again. Soho’s Chinatown,in particular, is primed to see in the year of the monkey, the main event being the parade down Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue on Sunday 14 February. Beginning at 10am, it’s set to reach Trafalgar Square from noon to 1pm, where it’ll conclude with performances from gravity-defying high-pole dancers, acrobatics from Szechuan Opera, a dragon and lion dance, fireworks and light-projection on Nelson’s Column.
If that’s not enough for you, be sure to pop down to Chiswick House and Gardenswhere the UK’s first Magic Lantern Festival is taking place (until Sunday 6 March). More than fifty giant hand-sculpted lanterns are on display, as well as a 60-metre-long dragon draped across the grounds’ lake. You’ll also come face-to-face with life-sized sculptures of flamingos, elephants, kangaroos and zebras and can check out enormous glowing mushrooms, plants and flowers –children can learn how to make their own magic lanterns too.
Address: Burlington Lane, London W4 2RP
Prices: £18 adult; £12 child; £16 concessions (in advance:£16 adult, £10 child; £14 concessions)
With a carnival theme this timeand a focus on Brazilian hybrids, the celebration of all things orchid is back for a second year at the supreme plant and flower showcase that’s Kew Gardens. Housed entirely in the winter-friendly glasshouse,the Orchid Festival’s (6 February-6 March) series of displays also promise to explore the fascinating science behind the orchid plant.
And if you want more Kew, then why not stay on into the evening? Between 11 February and 8 March, you can indulge in ‘Kew Lates’, a season in which different events grace the glasshouse each evening following the festival, such as inspiring talks, samba sessions, live music and, yes, botanical booze. Booking is highly advised for those wishing to be whisked away todreamy, sultry climes during their winter holidays in London.
Address: Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB
Day ticket prices: £16.50 adult; £3.50 child; £14 concession (online: £8 adult; £2.50 child; £13 concession)
The London Bike Show
For die-hard bike fans and the more casual cyclist enthusiasts alike, this annual show returns to the ExCel Centre (11-14 February)and promises not just 200 stands of exhibitors but also a pop-up velodrome, a test track and events such as performance training, spin sessions, stunt demos and, yes, even a‘fastest wrench competition’.Visitors are assured to find the finest equipment and be able to check out the best ranges of clothing and accessories, as well as meet top cyclists and coaches and have the chance to get their skills assessed and learn invaluable advice on how to best look after and get the most out of their two-wheeled treasure – whether it’s road bike, a BMX, mountain bike or a fixie.
Group and advance discounts are available and there’s also free access to The Telegraph Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show and The Triathlon Show, both of which are being held at the venue on the same weekend.
Address: ExCel London, One Western Gateway, Royal Victoria Dock, London E16 1XL
Prices: £15 adult; £3 9-16-year-olds; £9 concessions; free for under-8-year-olds
Away from the flagship winter events are some old favourites to throw yourself into, not least taking to one of the plethora of rinks that spring up throughout the capitalthis time of year – some at major landmarks, making for perfect meeting places in West End London. So why not skate in the grounds of the Tower of London or in the gardensof the Natural History Museum. Indeed, Kew Gardens’ (again) palm-filled Temperate House is not to be missed – a marvellously tropical venue for a 1000-square-metre rink.
Shopping and window shopping
When it’s cold outside the insides of the capital’s retail outlets are rarely more inviting – not least the major department stores of Oxford Street, Regent Street and Piccadilly. Indeed, they’re past-masters at enticing shoppers inwith lavish window displays drawing on the gloriously, even edgily artistic to the downright dramatic.
If you’re a fan of what such stores have to offer without as well as within, then look out for Selfridges’ high-tech exhibitions and, of course,Hamleys’ wonderful world of toys. The exclusive shopping area of Knightsbridge is certainly not to be outdone, though, where the windows of Harrods and Harvey Nichols are designed to draw the crowds.
Settle down in a cosy pub
There’s nothing on a cold winter’s day like cocooning yourself in a charming ale house beside a crackling fire, surrounded by good company and supping a fine beverage. Actually, it’s even better if you also get to experience a traditional pub lunch for sustenance. Highly recommended this time of year is a visit to the coals at the Star Tavern in the splendid Belgravia, while – if the country pub ambienceis more your thing – then you must head over to Hampstead’s Spaniards Inn (which dates as far back as the sixteenth century), following a brisk walk across Hampstead Heath, of course. Mine’s a pint!