Restore that festive feeling with a capital Christmas staycation in Westminster
In the words of the great Bing Crosby... 'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas', which is certainly the case in the heart of London right now.
Going back 12 months when the festive season felt not-so festive, many of us were being told we may not be able to see our families and that the usual Christmas holiday would be dramatically cut short.
Although we are not out of the Covid woods yet, this year there is a feeling that Christmas is back, with the streets of our great capital city bustling with life once more.
And there’s no-where in London that’s bigger and brighter than Westminster, which is where my wife and I enjoyed a whistle-stop December staycation in a determined bid to make merry and rediscover the good old Christmas spirit that was missing 12 months ago.
Eager to make up for lost time, we excitedly jumped in a taxi at King's Cross before heading for the bright lights of 'the city' to begin our own festive walking tour.
There were fleeting visits to popular attractions like Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, but they were just 'sideshows' to what we were really there for - Christmas!
As always in London you are spoiled for hotel choices, but if you're looking to wallow in some Westminster-esque style two great central options are The Londoner at Leicester Square and The Mandeville in nearby Marylebone.
We were based further afield, but didn't mind taking the extra steps as we knew we'd need to burn the calories we’d be consuming at some of the fantastic restaurants Westminster has to offer.
Before sunset and with the lights yet to be switched on, there was time for an epic Bottomless Brunch at renowned barbecue restaurant Temper Soho, where we sat drooling at the enormous joints of meat sizzling away in the open kitchen as we waited for our platter of beef skewers, smoked cheddar humita, cassava chips and pico de gallo (salsa). For non-Londoners, the £39.50 per head might seem expensive, but you do get your money's-worth in drinks as the friendly waiters kept us topped up with cocktails and wine.
With bellies full and darkness falling, we headed to Berkeley Square, the upmarket and well-known celebrity haunt that is always festively decorated. From there it was on to the West End's heartbeat and bright lights of Leicester Square, which was transformed into a winter wonderland with a bustling Christmas market the centrepiece to the dazzling mix of 1920s-style theatres and modern cinemas.
Our favourite display was down the road in Covent Garden with its iconic decorations, legendary Christmas tree and giant mistletoe chandeliers. And there's no dreaming of a white Christmas here as they even manage to bring visitors a daily sprinkling of snow.
Most will agree that Christmas is thirsty work and by the time we made it to Trafalgar Square a mulled wine was in order to warm the cockles and cold toes before a delightful dinner at Imad's Syrian Kitchen.
A chef, entrepreneur and refugee who ran several successful businesses in Damascus, Imad opened his London restaurant on the top floor of Kingly Court, Carnaby, earlier this year. And if his friendly nature and truly unique cuisine is anything to go by he'll be there for years to come as we dined on several of his delicious sharing plates including Zahraa Harra (baked cauliflower), Baba Ghanoj (aubergine), Shish Tawook (grilled chicken strips) and mouthwatering Sharihat Ghanam (lamb fillet).
Other attractions to check out this Christmas are the cultural hub of Mecato Mayfair on North Audley Street, where you will find two levels of food stalls and bars as well as a rooftop terrace with some great views, and the Ever After Garden in Grosvenor Square, where there are thousands of illuminated white roses placed in return for donations to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
Putting Covid to the back of our minds for a few hours at least, we were soon reminded of its lingering presence as we strolled past the gates of Downing Street on the way back to our hotel, just as the PM was holding a press conference announcing new restrictions affecting the already beleaguered travel industry.
We'd worry about that later, but next morning before heading home we resisted the temptations of large breakfast to make sure we were hungry for our lunch date at lively Venetian restaurant Polpo, where we dined on Mushroom and Taleggio arancina, Potato and truffle crocchette, Zucchini fries, Beef shin pappardelle and their delightful daily special seafood pizza.
If you have time drop in to see Lightfield at Marble Arch Mound, a free light exhibition by W1Curates and British-American artist Anthony James, and there's also 'The Collect' and 'Clean Power' pop-up shops on Oxford Street and Regent Street which are well worth a browse.
The only thing that was missing during our stay were the chimes of Big Ben, but in Westminster its abundantly clear what time it is, and that it is most definitely Christmas time.
PLAN YOUR STAY
For more information on Christmas in Westminster click here.