As we cracked open our festive Radio Times this year (other TV listings guides are available), highlighter in hand, we noticed something of a trend: a wave of documentaries going behind the scenes at London shops, museums and other institutions. And really, there's nothing we like better than going behind the scenes at a London gem, so we planned our holiday viewing accordingly — and now we're helping you plan yours.
There are plenty of other London documentaries available out there if you're willing to poke around — these are just some of the new additions for this holiday season.
Christmas Magic at Kew Gardens
Have we ever mentioned how much we LOVE the illuminations festival Christmas at Kew? We have, we definitely have. Nothing tops seeing it in person, but if that's not an option for you this year, you can get an insight into how the millions of bulbs are installed, using cherry pickers and abseiling equipment in Christmas Magic at Kew Gardens, a one-off documentary looking at how the team preps for the big opening night. The show also travels to Kew's country cousin, Wakehurst, home to the UK's largest living Christmas tree.
Christmas Magic at Kew Gardens. Originally show on Channel5 on 14 December 2021. Now available on My5 until December 2025.
Hamleys at Christmas
A Hamleys documentary tends to do the rounds in December most years, and there's not that much new in this one, except a few children waxing lyrical about the latest Harry Potter merch. Still, if you've not seen the previous incarnations (or read our article on Hamleys trivia) it offers an insight into the store's history — from earlier beginnings in Holborn to the present day Regent Street behemoth.
Hamleys at Christmas. Originally shown on Channel5 on 19 December 2021. Now available on My5 until February 2025.
Christmas at Liberty
If you've walked past Liberty in the last couple of years, you'll have seen it swathed in a huge fake frontage while renovation works go on underneath. This documentary gives a little insight into what's been happening, though main focus is on the retail side of festive preparations. Find out how the team plan and install those famous window displays, featuring thousands upon thousands of envelopes, and go behind the scenes at festive photo shoots and product planning meetings. Cue family arguments about how much is too much to spend on a single candle, even if it is from Liberty.
Christmas at Liberty. Originally shown on Channel 4 on 20 December 2021. Now available on All4
Harrods at Christmas
You're unlikely to ever say "how much?!?" in an hour as you will watching this documentary, a show in which we learn that the store can take up to £11 million a day in the run-up to Christmas. Beyond that, the show isn't entirely specific to Christmas, delving into the store's archives to tell stories of the ups and downs of its history, from an IRA bombing to Christian the lion. Again, much of it has been trodden in previous documentaries, but one particular story involving Justin Timberlake and a haunted books department is new — to us, at least.
Harrods at Christmas. Originally shown on Channel5 on 21 December 2021. Now available on My4 until December 2026.
Christmas at the Tower of London
Of all the London documentaries that grace our TV screens, Behind The Scenes At The Tower Of London is one of our favourites, for the pure trivia it just keeps throwing at us (no word on what this is yet though).
The Christmas special is no exception, giving us an insight into what it's like for the Beefeaters who live in the Tower at Christmas (including carol singing, and port — a lot of port), as well as showing the installation of this year's decorations, including lions, crowns, and a raven-proof Christmas tree.
Christmas at the Tower of London. Originally shown on Channel5 on 22 December 2021. Now available on My5 until September 2026 (find it under Season 4, Episode 6).
Madame Tussauds: The Full Wax
Flitting between the London and Blackpool locations of the world-famous wax museum, Madame Tussauds: The Full Wax goes behind the scenes to look at how the waxworks are made and maintained — as well who makes the crucial decision about which celebs warrant their own waxwork in the first place.
Madame Tussauds: The Full Wax. Originally shown on ITV on 22 December. Now available on ITV Player.
One Night In...
Comedians Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe pack their toothbrushes and spend a night in various attractions, with special guests in tow. The duo take Aisling Bea along to the Natural History Museum for a night among the exhibits (and in the gift shop). In another episode, Desiree Burch and Guz Khan join them at London Zoo to see what the animals get up to overnight. Alton Towers and Legoland also feature in the series.
One Night In... Originally shown on Channel 4 on 23 December (Natural History Museum), 30 December (London Zoo), and December 2020 (Hamleys). Available on All4 after broadcast.
Paul O'Grady: For The Love Of Dogs at Christmas
Slapbang in the middle of the current series of For The Love Of Dogs comes the festive special on Christmas Day. For those unfamiliar with the series, it's heartwarming half-hour episodes of comedian Paul O'Grady visiting the dogs (and occasional cats) at Battersea's animal home, befriending them, following their stories and generally spreading his razor-sharp wit around the place. An ideal easy-watch show for the festive period.
Paul O' Grady: For The Love Of Dogs At Christmas. Originally show on ITV on 25 December. Available on ITV Player after broadcast.
Secrets of London with Londonist
Don't forget, Londonist's YouTube channel is absolutely jam-packed with trivia about the capital. Our Inside London series has taken us inside Europe's largest Sikh temple, inside TfL's lost property office, and inside the beautiful Crystal Palace Subway, among others. And then there's our famous Secrets of the Underground series by Geoff Marshall, who tackled the network line-by-line to share all the secrets he could find, including a few that are hidden in plain sight.