Epitomising London at Christmastime by Chloe Hodge


as a chilly evening breeze flicks off the rocky waters of the Thames, glowing with the red and and gold reflections of city lights, it picks up the syrupy scent of roasted chestnuts and it is that time of year again. During the festive season there are very few places in London as romantic and intriguing as the Southbank, lined with stalls all the way from the London Eye to Gabriel’s Wharf and its views offering a welcome retreat from the claustrophobia of a crowded Christmastime London.

Part of the Southbank Centre’s Christmas Market, this promenade of eighty stalls gives Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland a run for its money – the atmosphere is not touristic but relaxed, with that German twist which now seems to characterise festive fairs across the country. You can warm chilly fingers and blue lips by sipping on a hot Gluhwein and nibbling spiced gingerbread – or the less traditional, but equally tasty, cinnamony Spanish churros with devilishly rich chocolate sauce – whilst perusing stalls of handmade reindeer gloves and knitted hats, delicately crafted silver jewellery and all-natural bath time treats as well as many other unique gifts.


More about experiencing the festive spirit than shopping, there are also handiwork stalls and a golden carousel for the little ones; whilst for the bigger ones, a seasonal alternative to the pub – chalets set up as Alpine ski huts offer an interesting venue for that postwork drink or evening out. Punters can sit inside cosy booths and look through tiny windows at pasted-up scenes of mountainous slopes and deep pine forests, whilst drinking a litre jug of German beer. Meanwhile, Voicelab provides the musical accompaniment as they’ll be singing Christmas carols and hymns at 1.30pm and 7pm every day of the festival which runs from mid November until Christmas Eve.

Visible from Pimlico to St Paul’s as a twinkling of amber bulbs atop low peaked roofs, the Christmas Market is Southwark’s most prominent Yuletide event, although away from the riverside in the courtyard behind Royal Festival Hall the festivity continues. Spending the rest of the year selling ethically conscious produce from artisan traders, for December the market takes a seasonal swing and holds not only a Christmas Market but a Chocolate Festival too.


The Chocolate Festival was set up by admitted chocaholic, Yael Rose, and this year from the 13th- 15th December it returns with fifty of the UK’s top chocolatiers to sugar-coat our teeth for the eleventh time. After a cinnamony Gluhwein on the front, wander down to the sheltered courtyard and indulge in every kind of chocolate treat you could imagine – perhaps even a chocolate cocktail to continue the heady haze whose permanence is acceptable come mid-December!

Budding chefs can also learn sweet and savoury chocolate recipes, bake with the experts and design their own bespoke chocolate bar too. The following weekend of the 19th-22nd December then sees the courtyard transformed into another gluttonous feast of traditional and also more innovative Christmas goodies. Stalls selling artisan-made glazed hams, Christmas puddings and mince pies in every shape and form provide a twist which frees you from an identikit Christmas, not to mention the hectic crowds of the supermarkets.

The winter months see Southbank’s promenade come into its own, as Londoners slow down and begin to appreciate strolling through the city and admiring the sights rather than racing through at full throttle. The Christmas market is an ideal excuse to appreciate a beautiful city at its best whilst also picking up handmade gifts for loved ones (and yourself), all fuelled by hot mince pies and a mulled wine or two!

“The winter months see Southbank’s promenade come into its own

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