It’s December, which means it is officially OK to start looking forward to Christmas. And for a whole variety of festive fun in one place, look no further than the South Bank Winter programme. Chock-a-block with theatre, film, activities, shopping and (very important) eating around the lovely South Bank area, it’s a splendid place to spend a day filled with seasonal cheer.
Slava’s Snow Show at Southbank Centre: 17 December - 5 January 2015
Returning to Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall for the fourth year running (and having visited over 80 cities across the globe), Slava’s Snow Show is a hefty dose of Christmas magic for children aged 8+. Featuring balloons, bubbles and full-blown blizzards, the seasonal spectacle is sure to get you in the festive spirit in the most energetic, anarchic, rambunctious way (a quick search on YouTube will give you an idea of what to expect). Tickets cost £20-£90.
Puppets at Christmas at BFI Southbank, 9 December
One for kids (or big kids) who remember the 60s and 70s British TV schedules, Puppets at Christmas is a look back at the beloved puppet entertainers who dominated our screens during this time. From Basil Brush to Pinky and Perky, Lamb Chop to Lord Charles, the puppets of yesteryear are back on the big screen at BFI. Parental guidance is advised (some material may be risqué), tickets cost £6-£11.50.
Penguin Father Fishmas at London Aquarium, 15-28 December
If you’re planning a day out at London Aquarium, make sure you pay a visit to Penguin Father Fishmas. This cuddly fellow is making daily special appearances in the Ice Adventure area to spread festive cheer alongside the aquarium’s resident colony of Gentoo penguins. At midday every day (except Wednesdays) there is also a penguin talk and feed, so little ice adventurers can learn a host of penguin-y facts while the Gentoos gobble up their dinner. If bought online in advance, tickets cost £18.36 for adults and £13.52 for kids (family group rates available.
Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival, until 11 January 2015
A day out for all the family, Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival takes over the entire centre and features a variety of festive events, many of which are free. Take a look at the website for full listings, but highlights include their giant Christmas Market (more on that below), a Christmas Tree Maze and, excitingly, the Southbank Centre Express — a miniature riverside railway that runs from Hungerford Bridge to Festival Pier and back. Christmas Tree Cafe offers hot drinks, snacks and, crucially for families, toilets. And if the grown-ups get a break, there are festive tipples to be found at the Rekorderlig Cider Lodge.
Christmas Movies at House of Vans, 3-14 December
If you haven’t yet visited House of Vans on South Bank, then this may be the perfect time to pay a visit. The skate park-cum-art gallery-cum-performance space-cum-cinema is putting on a series of Christmas classics including Home Alone, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Scrooged — entirely for free. Yes, FOR FREE. Capacity is only 100 and it’s first come first served so we suggest you get there in good time to nab yourself a spot.
BFI Southbank screenings, 17 December - 8 January 2015
You’ll need to be quick if you want to get tickets to any of BFI Southbank’s Christmas screenings. Their showing of Scrooge is already sold out (bah, humbug) but there are a few tickets remaining for the golden oldie It’s A Wonderful Life (17-28 Dec) and the musical Meet Me In St Louis (28 Dec). There are also various screenings of Guys and Dolls which, while not strictly being a Christmas film, is still blimmin’ brilliant (19 Dec - 8 Jan 2015).
Grimm Tales at Bargehouse, until 15 February
Enter a world of good, evil, princesses, kings, witches and haunted woods. Grimm Tales takes over Bargehouse this season and transforms it into a fairy tale landscape where the audience wander from story to story. The tales themselves are played out in separate spaces and the various sets are nothing short of spectacular. Read our full review here and be sure to dress warmly! Tickets cost £45 for adults and £25 for children (suitable for ages 8+).
Treasure Island at National Theatre, 3 December - April 2015
Swap your ho ho hos for yo ho hos, as Treasure Island begins its voyage at National Theatre this month. Get ready for dark stormy nights, starry skies, terrifying strangers and sea chests full of secrets. Tickets cost £15-£50 (suitable for ages 10+).
Christmas History Tours at The Old Vic, 13 and 20 December
The Old Vic’s history tours get a festive twist in December. Discover the secrets of this historic building, including the ghosts lurking backstage and the mysterious “fourth level” of the theatre, alongside a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie. Tickets cost £20/£18.
Food and Drink
There's a variety of great eateries on South Bank which will be glad to host your Christmas party. Park Plaza not only offers the traditional festive fare at Brasserie Joel, but also an Italian option at L’Italiano, where diners can swap potatoes for pizza and parsnips for panacotta. For stunning views and great British fare, Skylon may be the option for you, while those with a sweet tooth will prefer Candy Bar at OXO2. The pop-up South Bank Ballroom (behind National Theatre) is going for a Vegas theme complete with magicians and showgirls, and the new Mondrian hotel offers big spenders a luxury option — to hold their Christmas party in the impressive Sea Containers private dining space overlooking the Thames.
For an alternative Christmas dining experience, National Theatre’s rooftop venue The Deck invites you to step through the wardrobe into a winter wonderland (last year there was snow, chalets, robins and fir trees) where you can enjoy afternoon tea, a standing reception or five-course banquet. Or you can swap a festive feast for a festering feast (yum) at London Dungeon’s Tudor banquet, where we're promised fly-infested kitchens, dodgy cooking decisions and a history lesson on the most horrible Christmas characters to grace London’s past. How could you resist?
For a more civilised, traditional English practice, why not opt for a Christmas afternoon tea? London Marriott Hotel County Hall boasts spectacular views over the river to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament from their library. Guests can enjoy their tea and cakes while admiring the view. Or swap the crockery for cocktails — choose from four dessert plates with accompanying bespoke cocktails, at OXO Tower Brasserie’s Not Afternoon Tea.
The Real Food Christmas Market at Southbank Centre is open between 19-23 December offering foodie treats, top quality ingredients and enough festive fancies to keep your dining table stocked throughout the Christmas period. Wrap up your Christmas food shopping early on, and don’t forget that mince pie for Santa.
Private Capsule at London Eye
Enjoy London on high with friends, colleagues or a loved one, aboard your very own private London Eye capsule. Catering for up to 25 people, each capsule booking comes with priority boarding, complimentary guide, entry to the London Eye 4d cinema and of course the 30-minute rotation period on the world's best big wheel. You can also add champagne and canapes, or a winter cocktail with nibbles, if you really want to splash out.
Hotels along South Bank London
Coming down for the weekend? Choose from London Marriott Hotel County Hall, Park Plaza County Hall, Park Plaza Riverbank, Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, Plaza on the River, and the new Mondrian London. Each has wonderful views across London and is within easy walking distance of the South Bank’s many attractions.
Southbank Centre Christmas Market, until 4 January
Year on year, Southbank Centre’s Christmas Market is a popular option for anyone looking for a unique Christmas gift, seasonal snack, mulled wine pick-me-up or simply a festive kick in the right direction. To get some gifts ticked off your shopping list, there are handmade crafts, trinkets and foodstuffs to choose from.
Dazzle at gallery@OXO, until 11 January
Purchase a piece of bespoke jewellery as the Dazzle exhibition returns for a second year to gallery@OXO. As well as 90 jewellery designers displaying their wares, there’ll also be handmade leather bags by Steven Harkin and Wolfram Lohr and handwoven scarves by Japanese design group Nuno.
Christmas Gift-Making Workshop at House of Vans, 3-12 December
For gifting on a budget, DIY presents are not just economical but can also make for thoughtful and personal gifts. These free gift-making workshops at House of Vans feature make-your-own Christmas crackers and shoe customisation on the agenda.
Gabriel Wharf’s Magical Christmas, 6 December
On 6 December, all the independent design, craft and art shops at Gabriel’s Wharf will come together to create a Christmas atmosphere (Chrismasphere?) full of seasonal treats such as festive music, gift ideas, delicious snacks, complimentary mulled wine, free craft activities (1.30-4.30pm) and the all-important Christmas light switch-on at 4.30pm.
Love it or loathe it, London has embraced ice skating to the max, with an array of places to find your ice legs across the capital. South Bank’s offering is Eyeskate: situated right next to the London Eye, skaters have the big wheel and Thames as their backdrop as they
glide gracefully across the ice cling on for dear life. Tickets cost £10.50-£12.50 for adults and £7.50-£9.50 for children although you can save 10% when booking online.
South Bank is a wonderful place to spend Christmas Day. A peaceful walk down the deserted Queen’s Path is an ideal way to burn off that Christmas turkey, and there’s a rather beautiful eeriness to watching the usually-bustling spaces cloaked instead in Christmas calm. But not all is empty. Skylon, Park Plaza and Gillray’s all offer lunches and/or dinners on 25 December, where you can enjoy those views over peaceful London in the warm, with seasonal fare in your tummy and a glass of sherry in your mitt.
For more festive ideas from South Bank London, visit their South Bank Winter microsite — there’s plenty to choose from.
Londonist is proud media partner to South Bank London. Over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring what they have to offer and helping you make the most of a South Bank Winter.