Q. We are going to be in London Dec. 20 through Jan. 3. What special things are going on then? We are most interested in events presented for the holidays. I have heard about castles that offer special dinners for Christmas.
London during the holidays is a magical place, with lights twinkling in Covent Garden and the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree aglow. Just be aware, warns Paul Chibeba of VisitBritain, that many attractions will be closed on and around Christmas and New Year's Day, including the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Tate Modern and the British Museum. Also, the London Underground and buses will not operate Dec. 25. But as Chibeba points out, London is a walkable city, so book yourself into a centrally located hotel.
Consult the bible of London goings-on, Time Out London (buy the magazine or go to www.timeout.com/london), for the latest info on holiday concerts and performances, including the perennial favorites at St. Martin-in-the-Fields (www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org; book tickets as far in advance as possible) and Southwark Cathedral (www.southwark.anglican.org/cathedral/whats_on.htm). Other holiday events include:
Trafalgar Square Christmas carols, 5-9 p.m. daily, Dec. 8-20. Choirs from across the capital participate. You can just make the last performance!
“Christmas Past: 400 Years of Seasonal Traditions in English Homes,” at the Geffrye Museum through Jan. 4 (closed Dec. 25-26 and Jan. 1); free. This quirky little museum, housed in a former pensioners estate in Shoreditch, features authentically decorated British living rooms through the decades. Details: www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.
Christmas day walks, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., leaving from Trafalgar Square; about $12.30. The popular London Walks tours are up and running on the big day. The morning walk follows the footsteps of the great diarist Samuel Pepys around Westminster; in the afternoon, it's all about Charles Dickens' haunts. Details: www.londonwalks.com.
Ice skating at Somerset House on the Strand, overlooking the Thames. A rink is open in the building's romantic 18th-century courtyard through Jan. 25; about $14. Details: www.somersethouse.org.uk/ice_rink.
Christmas pantomimes and plays. Check out the traditional panto “Hansel and Gretel” at the Barbican, Dec. 1-Jan. 4; about $18 for kids, $32 for adults; www.barbican.org.uk. For more on London theater: www.whatsonstage.com and www.theatremonkey.co.uk.
As for castles, tourism spokesman Chibeba says: “I'm not sure that there are any castles within an easy distance of London for a special Christmas dinner. (But) take a little trip out of London, and I reckon Christmas at Amberley Castle would be very special indeed.” The 900-year-old fortification in West Sussex, now a luxury hotel with 19 bedrooms and suites, offers a two-night Christmas package Dec. 24-26 that includes two dinners, bed and breakfast, and a four-course traditional Christmas lunch with wines. Cost runs from $1,989 to $2,728 per room. Details: www.amberleycastle.co.uk (click “Special Breaks”).
For more details on Christmas doings in London, check VisitBritain's Web site – www.visitbritain.us – closer to the holidays, when the site will list opening times and give advice on getting around the city.