We are firmly in the eye of the twinkling, bauble-filled whirlwind known as Christmas but for some of you it might be the last thing you want to think about. If a hot, spicy sip of mulled wine makes you shudder, the idea of ice skating brings up embarrassing memories of a Bambi-style fall and the familiar chorus of ‘he’s behind you‘ has you shrinking into your seat then you might be interested in what we have to say. We’ve rounded up some festive-free experiences, events and outings that will make you forget all about the holly jolly time of year…
It doesn’t get less Christmassy than mind-flaying demons from a parallel dimension, an eerily-lit laboratory and a neon-drenched bar. Stranger Things: The Experience is the perfect place to escape to if you’re looking to forget the festive world outside for a while. Once you’ve stepped through the screen with the engaging immersive experience – complete with surprise guests and striking visuals – you’ll emerge into the 80s-style Mix-Tape Area for themed food, photo ops and even some classic arcade games.
2. Take a brave dip in an outdoor pool
In the bitter chill of winter, the last thing on your mind is probably going for a swim outdoors, but it can be just the thing you need to refresh your mind and body. You can forget all about wrapping presents and cooking a grand roast turkey dinner as you glide through the waters of Hampton Pool. They’re open 365 days a year, including Christmas day itself, and you can be sure you won’t come across tangled fairy lights when diving into the watery depths.
Forget Christmas cheer, Dopamine Land provides your very own happiness fix with a joy-filled multisensory experience. The interactive museum is an invitation to unleash your inner child, put reality on the back burner for a bit and have some fun. You can take a dazzling selfie in the hypnotic Infinity Room, unwind among the sights and sounds of nature in a bewitching digital forest and even burn off some frustration by swinging pillows around in a colourful cushioned space. Located on Old Brompton Road, this is a treat for people of all ages.
4. Step into a painting at Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
Escape the Christmas-jumper-wearing crowds and step into the wonderful world of Van Gogh at this beautifully immersive exhibit. It will feel as if you have fallen through a frame into a new reality painted by the iconic post-impressionist artist; where swirling brushstrokes and rich colours breath life into every gazing portrait or idyllic setting. Whether you fancy slipping on a VR headset for a stroll through some of his masterpieces or are blissfully content to sit in a room where the walls come alive with 360-degree projections of starry nights and butter-yellow fields, you are ensured a magical experience. Find tickets here.
5. Go for a walk in stunning Richmond Park
Swap the well-trodden high streets and dazzling Christmas lights for a peaceful wander bathed in the amber glow of sunrise. A chance to de-stress and hopefully forget about the endless mental checklist in your head can be a valuable thing and the sprawling expanse of Richmond Park is a picturesque reminder that there are things that exist outside the Christmas bubble. You’ll encounter trees not draped in tinsel and deer without a red nose or sleigh in sight. Santa who?
Fancy a dose of childhood nostalgia? Or maybe you want to make some magical new memories with your kids. Either way, you won’t be battling the Christmas crowds at Jurassic World: The Exhibition; there are much more monstrous things you need to keep an eye out for, such as the hungry-eyed raptors or the ruthless Indominous Rex. It’s not all panic stations though, they’re all safely locked away – for now. Instead, you can watch the incredible animatronics in action, take a picture with the much more adorable baby dinos and learn scientific secrets in Hammonds lab.
7. Eat your way around the world in the city’s markets
London has its fair share of markets, and there’s nothing better than ambling around one of the many that are here and tucking in to some tasty grub. Borough Market is one of our favourites, and there’s plenty on offer to tuck into here. Neal’s Yard Dairy are local royalty and they offer over 70 different varieties of cheese from the UK and Ireland, and mighty meaty offerings come from Cannon & Cannon‘s charcuterie stand and best-selling butcher Ginger Pig – who serve a much-hyped hot sausage roll to hungry punters. Nearby Maltby Street Market is also packed full of foodie spots offering treats from all over the globe, and let’s not forget Portobello Road, Model Market and Hackney gem Broadway Market either.
Who needs the holly jolly workshops and grottos of the north pole when you’ve got a bioluminescent paradise? At Avora: A New World Cocktail Experience, you can slip on purpose-built jumpsuits to embark on a mission to lush new lands sprouting with unearthly plant life. You’ll be able to indulge in three cocktails along the way, each with its own magical twist, and see the wondrous woodland burst into glowing life when night falls. Fans of Avatar will especially be in their element; you might even want to pair it up with a visit to see The Way Of Water for a true immersion into another world.
9. Go on a walking tour of the city
Many Londoners tend to use Christmas and New Year’s Eve as a reason to scarper and get out of the city into the rolling hills of the English countryside. But that’s good news for those that are wanting to stick around, as you’ll have London pretty much to yourself. You could do a walking tour of all the big hitters – including the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament – with a leisurely amble along the Thames, or you could explore the labyrinthine streets and delve into the history of the old City with a local guide.
10. Dive into the ball pits at Ballie Ballerson
You might have to pretend you don’t see the staff wearing Santa hats or any of the festive props, but Ballie Ballerson is, at its core, not anything to do with Christmas. The thing with this holiday season is that it kind of gets its claws into everything – no matter how much you try and resist – so you might have to give us a bit of leeway when it comes to decorations. Instead, focus on the fact that this brilliant cocktail bar is a fun-filled experience year-round, entertaining the big kids of London with a basement pit filled with over 200,000 balls, a soundtrack of Techno beats and a bar menu of crazy retro cocktails.
11. Get to grips with some of London’s history
London is chock-full of history. After all, this is the spot that was founded all the way back in 47-50 CE by the Romans, so there’s plenty more to find out than just which wife King Henry VIII beheaded (clue, there were two of them). Why not see some of the capital’s spookiest sites or visit some of the English capital’s oldest pubs for a pint or two.
12. Indulge in some tea and cake
There’s nothing more quintessentially British than tea and cake, and London is *ahem* the best place in the world in which to enjoy it. Ok, so we may be a little biased, but you can’t argue with the quality of some of them. From bottomless afternoon teas with an endless supply of Prosecco, to a more traditional offering with cucumber sandwiches and homemade cupcakes, London comes up top trumps for its tea and cake. If you’re wanting to sample one of the city’s best, head to The Corinthia which was recently voted as ‘the best spot for afternoon tea in the capital’.
13. Go on a pub crawl around the city
London is world-famous for its pubs – in fact, at a whopping 1,327 pubs and bars, it lays claim to having the most anywhere in the world. That’s a hell of a lot of pints you could consume, but we say choose a few and plan your very own pub crawl. If the weather is playing ball, why not enjoy a pint or two by the Thames – plenty of these have heaters so you can grab your pint or glass of mulled wine without turning into an ice-block. You can also visit some of London’s ghostliest gaffs and see if you can have a pint with a spectre – this is, after all, one of the world’s most haunted cities.
With iconic spots including the Tate Modern, the Saatchi Gallery and the Wallace Collection, England’s capital is world-famous for its art, and there’s plenty of places – and a lot of them are free – in which to enjoy it. They’re dotted all about London and are a great way in which to get those creative juices flowing. Plus, if you fancy something outside the canvas, you could always give Neon Naked Life Drawing a go, it’s the perfect way to see your artistic talents truly come to life. sometimes it’s nice to get your mind off thinking up gift ideas and navigating family dramas right?!
15. Cosy up at home and binge a series
Who says you have to leave the house to find something to do? As is expected, many cinemas and film venues seem to have been overrun with a holly jolly case of the Christmas-movie-itis. You’re likely not the only one throwing up your popcorn in exasperation at the thought of snow-dusted rom-coms and wholesome family films, but luckily the simple solace of your television (or laptop) at home that means you can watch what you want – no Christmas spirit required. Glass Onion, the new Knives Out film, comes out December 23, or you could get gothic with a binge of Tim Burton’s new Wednesday series.
Words by Chloe Byrne and Sam Hopkins.