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.
Words by Chloe Byrne and Sam Hopkins.
1. Travel back in time at Titanic: The Exhibition
There’s not a sprig of holly or glittering reindeer ornament to be found at Titanic: The Exhibition. Rightly so, as the fascinating exhibit is a voyage back in time, enlightening visitors on the events of that fateful day back in April 1912 through audio guides, cabin recreations and survivor testimonies. The narrative experience helps to put you in the shoes of the people on the ship, plunging you into their worlds with a collection of handwritten letters, keepsakes, personal belongings and photographs, some recounting tales of heroic deeds. Get your tickets to this eye-opening exhibition here.
2. Live out your sweet dreams at The Chocolate Factory
You might have tins of Quality Street and Heroes lying around at home that are banned until the big day, but this photo experience whisks you away from the rich festive chocolates and into a sweet-filled wonderland. At The Chocolate Factory no one will be slapping your hands away from a well-deserved treat, you can savour delicious delights to your sweet-tooth heart’s content and take some colourful Instagram-worthy selfies while you’re at it. From a fluorescent ball pit and a lollipop forest to a row of giant gingerbread house, this is a candyland all ages will enjoy. Book tickets here.
3. 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.
4. 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 the endless mental check list 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 or lights and deer without a red nose or sleigh in sight. Santa who?
5. 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 butchers 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.
6. Soak up amazing artistry at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition
Witness one of the world’s most famous masterpieces up close without stepping foot outside London. Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition will have you envisaging the sunny streets of Italy: enjoying your ice cream in the giddy waves of heat while you stroll through Vatican City to see Michelangelo’s iconic work of art in the flesh. Now, London may be in the clutches of winter at the moment but it is no less magical. Plus, this exhibition has recreated the beautiful piece in its fully glory thanks a special printing technique that emulates the look of real paintings so you’ll still be able to soak up every brushstroke and detail of the stunning frescoes. Get tickets here.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Get to grips with some of London’s history
Speaking of history, London is chock-a-block full of it. 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). You can discover some of London’s LGBTQ+ history in Vauxhall – or ‘Voho’ as it’s affectionately called – see some of the capital’s spookiest sites and can visit to some of the English capital’s oldest pubs for a pint or two.
10. 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 gin teapots, 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’.
11. 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 (or picking up Omicron). 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.
12. Get your creativity going with a painting class
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 alot of them are free – in which to enjoy it. Better yet, why not channel your inner Vincent Van Gogh and brush up on your own painting skills with an expert during an immersive art class? They’re dotted all about London and are a great way in which to get those creative juices flowing. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to get your mind off turkey, wrapping presents and family arguments right?!
13. 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. The second series of The Witcher, (a dark fantasy filled with monster hunting, powerful sorcery and a silver-haired Henry Cavill) and fifth series of Money Heist (epic Spanish crime drama practically overflowing with suspense and thrills) both premiered this month on Netflix.