Between the 17th and 19th centuries in London, wintertime funfairs, markets and parties were regularly held not only by the Thames, but on the river itself.
This period was known as the Little Ice Age, when around Christmas time the Thames would regularly freeze so firmly that people were able to hold events on the river, known as frost fairs.
Despite the chilly evenings we get now, London doesn’t get anywhere near as cold as it used to, so holding a festival on the river isn’t really an option. But the Thames remains a hub of Christmas action thanks to the wealth of festive fun spread along the Southbank and Bankside.
Here’s our pick of the best Christmas events and attractions by the river, right in our ‘hood.
This epic festive family show is back at Royal Festival Hall following a sell-out run last year. It will both pull on your heartstrings and tickle your funny bone, and is guaranteed to get even the most Scrooge-tastic of us into the Christmas spirit. Prepare yourself for the journey by tucking into our pre-theatre menu beforehand, including warming winter dishes such as 12-hour cooked Berkshire pork belly with braised cabbage, crackling and a garlic potato bake.
Join us for a glass of mulled mead on the terrace outside our restaurant. We’ve teamed up with Gosnells, London’s only modern day mead-makers, to bring a taste of this Shakespearean favourite – complete with cinnamon, nutmeg and anise flavours – to the riverside.
From candlelit love stories to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the atmospheric Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe has a seriously festive feeling. Enjoy a matinee followed by Afternoon Tea with us next door – we even have a very Shakespearean Midsummer Night’s Dream themed tea to keep the theatrical occasion going.
Southbank Centre Christmas market
Whether you’re shopping for gifts, decorations or cards, or simply perusing food and art from top quality producers, this market by the river has it all. Reward yourself by popping in for a Sunday Roast when you’re done, or cheat a little and take a break from the browsing by ticking off the list with one of our Swan restaurant gift vouchers while enjoying a festive tipple in our bar.
Sauna on The Southbank
Get a taste of a real winter wonderland at the Southbank Centre’s pop-up Finnish sauna overlooking the Thames. Get your day off to a great start with a morning sweat session, followed by breakfast at Swan. It’s up to you whether you decide to be good with a smoothie and some homemade muesli or choose to indulge in a Bloody Mary and Full English. We’re sure Santa will still come either way.