Go ice skating with friends, choose your Christmas tree and cheer-on the intrepid Serpentine Swimmers on Christmas morning – here are 10 of the best things you can do in The Royal Parks this festive season:
1. Winter Wonderland Hyde Park returns from November 22, 2013 to January 5, 2014 – for six exciting weeks of winter festivities with free admission and even more entertainment and new attractions than before. The UK’s largest outdoor Ice Rink will return, located around the picturesque Victorian Band Stand, from which live music will be played throughout the day and night. For those who want to gaze at the action from above, the iconic Giant Observation Wheel will illuminate the skyline. There will also be over 200 chalets in the beautiful Angels Christmas & Yuletide Markets and the ever-popular Bavarian Village will be ready to serve bratwurst and mulled wine. Book tickets in advance at the website.
2. Nothing beats choosing your own real Christmas tree. For the fourth year running, Pines and Needles will be selling a fine selection of fresh cut, sustainably grown Highland Christmas trees within Bushy Park, Richmond Park, and Greenwich Park. Lights and decorations will also be available, so you can get everything you need to make your tree sparkle. Open the weekends of 16 – 17 November and 23 – 24 November, before opening every day from Friday 29 November – Sunday 22 December. Money from the sales of Christmas trees goes towards supporting the work of The Royal Parks.
3. As the year’s shortest day approaches, join The Royal Parks Foundation Education team for a Lunchtime Ramble in the Park: Christmas with Victoria and Albert to look at the seasonal folklore, traditions and feasts that have developed to sustain us through winter’s darkest days. Meeting at the Statue of Queen Victoria in Kensington Gardens, we’ll explore some of the Christmas traditions introduced by Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, and still practiced today. Friday 13th December (12noon – 1:30pm, £4-£8)
4. Wrap up and wander through four of The Royal Parks, following the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk through St. James’s Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The seven-mile-long walk, charted by 90 plaques set in the ground, takes you within sight of famous buildings and locations associated with the Princess during her life. Download The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk route map.
5. For a winter’s day out, take the train to Blackheath, walk through Greenwich Park and visit the deer enclosure, stop at the newly refurbished Pavilion Tea House, open from Saturday 7th December for a cream tea, and take in the magnificent panoramic views of London skyline, before strolling down the hill to Greenwich Village.
6. For lovers of the Christmas morning walk, Hyde Park is a great place to take an invigorating stroll and cheer on the participants in The Serpentine Swimming Club Christmas morning race, which has been held every year since 1864. Author J M Barrie became associated with the 100 yard Christmas Day race in 1903 and donated the first Peter Pan Cup. This is a race strictly for Serpentine Swimming Club members only (people cannot just turn up on the day and swim) but spectators are welcome. The race starts at 9am sharp at The Serpentine Lido.
7. Walk off the turkey on Boxing Day with a guided tour of Richmond Park. Meet the Friends of Richmond Park at Roehampton Gate car park at 10am for a free guided walk (approx 2 hours.) Everyone is welcome. Guided walks will also be held on 7 December and 4 January.
8. Treat yourself to a hot chocolate from The Broadwalk Cafe in Kensington Gardens and stroll past the Palace over to the Albert Memorial, one of London’s most ornate monuments. Guided tours take place on the first Sunday of every month, offering exclusive access inside the memorial railings, so you can appreciate up close the craftsmanship and marble carvings.
9. Enjoy a Christmas experience to remember in Richmond Park in December with a timeless winter carriage ride, drawn by elegant grey horses, enjoy warm refreshments and a unique behind-the-scenes visit to the stables. All the while raising money for a very worthwhile cause: Equine Assisted Learning courses to help local children living with learning difficulties and autism, at The Holly Lodge Centre. Tickets cost £50 per person or you can book an elegant landau carriage for up to 5 people for £195. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays in December at 12.30pm and 2pm. Book early to avoid disappointment: firstname.lastname@example.org
10. For anyone who’s over-indulged over Christmas, why not sign up for the Serpentine Running Club’sNew Year’s Day run in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens? There is a 10k and a 3k run on offer and they are both open now for registrations.