Steadily punctual to its annual appointment of spreading festive cheer, London is certainly one of the ultimate Christmas destinations in the world. Luckily for Christmas aficionados, the city starts living in a festive mood a couple of months before the holiday season, transforming itself into a winter wonderland, modern and traditional at the same time, promising that the coming Christmas celebrations will be more special than any previous one. And somehow it always succeeds in that.
It’s not only the stunning street decorations, of a different theme for every area, with thousands of sparkling lights that make you constantly look up and point to them like a little child. Nor is it only the fairy tale window-shops that compete one another and that often spread their festive music across the pavements. It’s not just the open Christmas markets with the enviable, handmade decorations or the ice rings with the tall, embellished trees and the city’s most renowned landmarks as their background. And it’s more than the exquisite concerts given by church choirs and the festive music that you can hear everywhere and instantly cheers you up.
It’s that you’re spoiled with choice as you unwrap the glamorous packaging of Christmassy London, revealing a wealth of experiences available.
But to put first things first and before any joyful, festive activity, for most of us the Christmas season only begins when the first decorations hit the shop shelves. But in this case I’m not talking about just any kind of decorations. Besides classic glass baubles, bells and stars, you’ll find decorations and ornaments that even Santa’s elves would envy! From cute snowmen to ballerinas, from detailed carousels to lovely houses, from red phone booths to black taxis, from cotton candy to sausage rolls, from dinosaurs to spaceships and from pastel ice cream cones to dreamy unicorns,anything the wildest imagination could think of you’ll be able to see it hanging on your Christmas tree. And although you’ll find beautiful and unique embellishments in most shops, you shouldn’t miss the experience of Christmas decorations shopping in each of the following, spectacular shopping destinations:
Covent Garden market
You want Christmas garlands everywhere, hanging mistletoe, an enormous illuminated tree, festive dining, inspiring music, gift ideas for everyone and even from time to time a small ice ring? Well, you don’t ask for much if you have Covent Garden in mind! The favourite market in the heart of West End has it all. Nothing compares to wandering among the arcades, listening to performers who demonstrate their art skills, browsing both shops and counters with a cup of warm mulled wine or hot chocolate in hand.
As for gorgeous decorations, you’ll need to make a stop first of all at Sass and Belle on the market’s lower lever. This small, lovely shop is absolutely filled with fantastic traditional and themed ornaments, with felt animals being their big hit. How about a deer in a checked sleeping bag or a mouse on top of a piece of cheese? An octopus, a pink lion or a fuchsia parrot? For a more grown up theme you’ll find Santa delivering pizzas, glasses of cocktails, fast food or wine bottle shaped baubles, a big, fat burger and a coffee pot. From Tropical to Wonderland and from Woodland to Underwater magic, their tree decorations are fun and eye catching, guaranteed to make your Christmas tree unique.
The concept is similar in the much loved stationary shop Paperchase. For Christmas they let their imagination run wild and bring us hanging decorations like mermaid unicorns and dinosaurs, pizzas and stuffed turkeys, beer pints and pineapples, pink flamingos and purple aubergines, that match perfectly their colorful trees. Don’t leave before you check out their wonderful selection of Christmas cards and the funny, Christmassy headbands and glasses for a show stopping festive look!
For decorations of a more specific theme, worth checking out are the shops of the Royal Opera House and the London Transport Museum. They both enrich their merchandise with beautiful ornaments as the festive season approaches and make their shops an attractive destination for Christmas browsing. In the first one you’ll find ornaments inspired by famous operas and ballet performances, like baubles with embroidery attachments, sequins and feathers, ballerinas and nutcrackers, while the LTM’s shop is great for putting some of the iconic, British transport means on your tree.
Not very far from Covent Garden, on the street where London’s shopping heart beats, you’ll find this iconic department store with the characteristic Tudor architecture and the extraordinary products in their signature art nouveau prints . Before stepping in, take a close look at Liberty’s shop windows, featuring a different Christmas theme each year, with moving figures in amazing costumes and joyful music spreading the festive spirit all around. Inside, the magical environs of the Christmas shop is a place where you can spend lots of your time and money! The plethora of ornaments and the variety of decoration themes are endless and beautifully frame the shop’s characteristic atrium.
This, being the center of the store, holds each year a mostly impressive décor and from time to time has been the backdrop of a huge, colorful bonsai Christmas tree, a magical hot air balloon and enormous, elaborate baubles with big, bright bows. Under such an incredible scenery, in environs filled with Christmas trees and tall Nutcrackers, you will find the most amazing ornaments: glass, hand painted baubles with iconic London scenes, others in neon colours with a glittery Liberty’s logo, foxes with Santa’s hat and silver owls, kittens and deer, suitcases and donuts, shells and Cinderella’s court shoes…You will literally feel you’re lost in Wonderland!
If you have a limited budget or space in your suitcase and you absolutely must choose only a few decorations, my recommendation would definitely be the painted glass baubles with the traditional Christmas designs. They are an all-time classic and you can never go wrong with a few of these to add an elegant touch to your tree.
Fortnum and Mason
A short walk from Regency St. to Piccadilly St. under the gorgeous fairy street lights will bring you face to face with the spectacular shopfronts of this legendary shop, whose history begun in 1707.
Particularly dazzling in the evening when it’s bathed in a festive red light, the impressive 5 storey building is transformed into a huge advert calendar, sprinkled with festive magic.
Each year, their animated shop windows are the talk of the town, while festive music spreads across the pavement, welcoming the shoppers inside a totally Christmas oriented store. The central, spiral staircase is the best spot to stand and admire the festive decorations hanging from the upper to the lower floor, while everything around you –from eclectic festive food to exceptional gift ideas- is just irresistible.
As you’ll soon realise, the abundance of ornaments and decorative items for your festive home is incomparable here. And moreover the way they’re displayed, arranged on luxurious furniture, adorning tress, fireplaces and tables or overflowing their famous picnic baskets, justifies why F&M is called the House of Christmas. Arranged by theme, all ornaments are one of a kind. Colourful milkshakes, platers of macarons, ice cream cones and cakes in pastel and metallic colours will add some sweetness to your Christmas tree and thrill your children.
The astonishing collection of classic bauble designs in glistening gold and festively red and the traditional decorations will bring back happy memories of childhood Christmases past. And all of the iconic British symbols are there too: the crown and the Queen’s dogs, the guards and the palace, the red buses and the post boxes, together with the shop’s signature images such as tea pots, cups of tea, tea cuddies, their façade and their baskets, all in embroidered ornaments, embellished with golden stitches and studded with beads.
Choosing only a couple of them is just impossible! These are also the most easy to carry in your suitcase and keel forever, as they’re all made of cloth. But what exceeds them all, is the Eau de Nil collection with Fortnum’s most recognisable features in their signature light blue colour. A hanging tray with tea served, an air balloon, a snowflake or the façade clock will be the most enviable decorations of your Christmas tree.
If you’re in a serious shopping mood then Oxford St. is your destination, but keep in mind that its big department stores can tire even the most dedicated shopper. For a modern and fun touch to your decorations head to Selfridges, the more than one hundred years old store, that never stops reinventing itself. Behind its unusual Christmas shopfronts, that often challenge the traditional with ultra-modern creative ideas, Santa arrives in his shiny silver costume, rocks with his guitar bathed in neon lights and huge puddings are transformed into disco balls.
The extraordinary, festive atmosphere extends inside the store, with a whole floor transformed into a toy land for kids and grownups. Allow your children to wander among cuddly teddy bears and try their skills on the giant piano keyboard that lights up as you step on its keys, while you choose from the big range of ornaments available. The London themed ones include heart shaped baubles painted with the Union Jack and others feature London’s recognizable landmarks. The more fun ones include astronauts, taxis in Selfridge’s signature yellow, Santa in a space rocket or wearing sunglasses and surfing, jukeboxes, glittery headphones, even Frida Kahlo and David Bowie! If these won’t make everyone rocking around your Christmas tree, than I don’t know what will!
And finally…the icon! Everybody knows that any shopping experience in London is incomplete without a visit to the world’s most famous department store. As you’d expect, Harrods exceeds itself during the Christmas period, showing its most luxurious side, with glamorous shop windows, a vast variety of gift ideas and of course the most enviable festive shop in the city
Iconic old vans loaded with teddy bears of all sizes welcome young and older shoppers on a floor that feels like Santa’s workshop more than anything. Garlands, wreaths, glistening trees and the most imaginative and extravagant collection of ornaments give life to a shimmering Christmas dream. First come the amazing baubles: shiny, embellished, beaded, covered with peacock feathers, or hand painted with the most beautiful flowers, shine like precious gems as they’re displayed inside tall, glass vases.
Then it’s the endless range of cute, funny and unexpected ornaments: think cowboy hats and pretzels, abc cubes and stacks of books, packages of chips and slices of water melon, long lorries carrying presents and vans carrying trees, sushi trays and ginger bread houses, bears skiing and deer in feather costumes, anything you’ll dream of you’ll find it at Harrods Toy Town. Last but certainly not least, the exclusive collection of glass and crystal ornaments that justify Harrods reputation as the world’s leading department store. Be prepared to spend a lot for one of these treasures, that inevitably include all British icons like post boxes and Beafeaters, the shop’s signature bears, bejeweled ornaments and the collectable annual bauble. The latter is the perfect yearly keepsake and will always remind you of London Christmas trip. Before leaving the store don’t forget to give a warm hug to the lovely annual Christmas bear, which comes in a different costume and name every year to welcome the festive season.
If after all these hours of Christmas browsing and shopping you have any amount of energy and money left, then don’t hesitate to search for more: It’s absolutely certain that you’ll find more gorgeous decorations in all shops and open markets, guaranteed to give your Christmas tree a truly stunning look.