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Stories from our Travelers

London's Cool Winter Wonders

Skating at Somerset House

A bracing swim at London Fields

Columbia Road at night
by Isabel Clift

[From Winter 2010] Winter in London is quite a long way from the Dickens version of events: for one thing, snow is less a pretty backdrop, more harbinger of transport hell, and A Christmas Carol-style redemptive cheer usually gets replaced with widespread Christmas shopping and January sales-induced panic. Bravely, though, Londoners tend to go ahead and enjoy the city when it’s cold – and if this means sticking indoors behind a pane of foggy glass, all the better.

For the less faint of heart, there are plenty of cosy and cool things to do in London this winter. Some are Christmas-themed, some you can enjoy throughout the cold months, all are worth checking out. See the guide below for ways to enjoy London over winter without the chill-factor.

Snooping Around the Houses at the Geffrye Museum, Shoreditch...Occupying a set of stately Victorian mews buildings at the Shoreditch end of Kingsland Road in East London, the Geffrye is an open secret among Londoners as the best of the capital’s free museums. Exhibitions focus on the changing face of interior design in typical London homes from 1600 to the 20th century, with rooms either representing a single half-century’s style, or décor for individual decades of the 20th century.

Up until January 5th, rooms will be decorated in Christmas finery appropriate to their period, so you get a fascinating look at everything from a Mad Men-evoking 60s Christmas living room to a mistletoe-decked drawing room from the 1870s. Several Christmas events spruce up the museum’s calendar too, with a candlelight concert on December 14th and a Farewell to Christmas celebration on January 6th, where holly and ivy is burned in the front garden, carols are sung and Christmas cake and mulled wine is passed around – which somehow always tastes better outside on a cold night!

Ice Skating at Somerset House, Embankment...The setting for London Fashion Week, as well as year-round art and design exhibitions and cultural events, Somerset House’s Tiffany’s-sponsored ice rink is the classiest venue in London to earn your skating stripes. Taking over this river-facing building’s neoclassical cobbled courtyard, you can skate under the stars to live DJ beats, warm up with hot chocolate in Tom’s Skate Lounge and pick up cupcakes (or jewels!) at Tiffany’s Tuck Shop. The skating fun continues until January 23rd.

Afternoon Tea at Dean Street Townhouse, Soho...The latest London venture from luxury lovers’ favourite the Soho House group, Dean Street Townhouse in Soho mixes Georgian parlour grandeur with quirky modern styling. It also happens to serve a bang-up afternoon tea, one of the most decadent and yummy meals imaginable and perfect as a winter-warming treat. Sink in to one of the dining room’s jewel-coloured velvet armchairs and tuck in to stacks of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, fancy cakes and your choice of tea from the tea menu, all at a very reasonable £15.75.

Independent Shopping on Columbia Road, Hoxton...One of the only all-independent, no-chains shopping streets left in London, Hoxton’s Columbia Road feels like visiting a gilded version of fifty years past. A winding, cobbled road lined with colourful store fronts, shopping for Christmas presents or hunting out January sales bargains here is a total antidote to the typical cookie-cutter British high street. You can pick up anything from vintage clothes to luxury stationery to hand-made jewelry, as well as retro furniture, quirky garden goods and artisan cupcakes. On Sundays, florists pitch up their stalls for the weekly flower market, taking the street back to its roots as a jostling East End thoroughfare. Worth braving the elements for.

Winter Film Specials, Various...London is home to a choice selection of lovely independent cinemas, all the better for snuggling up in with a good film on cold days. Over December, the South Bank BFI’s (British Film Institute) Frank Capra retrospective continues, with showings of the ultimate Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life (December 16th – 30th), as well as classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (14th-23rd December) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (7th – 28th December). Afterward, you can cosy up on the low slung couches at the BFI’s bar, the best cinema bar in the city.

For those looking for something more cult-y, the Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square has an ongoing Cult Film season as well as Monday night double bills (sample: Christmas classics Home Alone and Elf on December 22nd), offering kitsch fanciness with gilded gold and red velvet seats in screening rooms. A more left-field option is the Akira Kurosawa season at the ever-cool Barbican Centre in Farringdon, showing the Japanese director’s epic Seven Samurai (December 19th).

Swimming in London Fields Lido...Ok, I put my hands up, this might only appeal to absolute nutters – but a swim in London Fields’s heated lido is something on my winter-in-London bucket list. It’s the only Olympic-sized outdoor pool in London, has attractive refurbished Art Deco surrounds and water temperatures topping out 25C – which, combined with a few brisk lengths, is enough to keep your bones warm. After a crisp morning swim in those conditions, you might even feel invigorated enough to survive the dash to the changing rooms afterward.

If You Go - Places:
Geffrye Museum, Somerset House skating, Dean Street Townhouse, Prince Charles Cinema, British Film Institute, London Fields Lido, The Barbican.

Isabel Clift is a writer, blogger and editor for AnyTrip. Like the sound of visiting London in winter? Book moderate hotels in London.
Photo credits: top to bottom, Clive Darr, Peter Smith, Isabel Clift.

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