Restore that festive feeling with a capital Christmas stay in Westminster

12 months ago, when the holiday season was not so festive, many of us were told that we might not be able to see our families and that the usual Christmas vacation would be cut short.

Although we are not yet out of the woods of the Covid, this year, we feel that Christmas is back, the streets of our great capital coming back to life.

And there is no place in London that is bigger and brighter than Westminster, where my wife and I enjoyed a stay in December with the determined aim of rejoicing and rediscovering the good old Christmas that was missing there. 12 months ago.

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Westminster lights up for Christmas. Image: Pasco Photography

Eager to make up for lost time, we excitedly hopped into a cab in King’s Cross before heading out to the bright lights of “the city” to begin our own festive walking tour.

There were pop-up tours of popular attractions like Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, but these were just “side shows” of what we were really there for: Christmas!

As always in London, you’re spoiled for choice of hotels, but if you’re looking to wallow in Westminster-esque style, two great central options are The Londoner in Leicester Square and The Mandeville near Marylebone.

We were based further away but didn’t mind taking extra steps as we knew we needed to burn the calories we would consume at some of the fantastic restaurants Westminster has to offer.

Renowned Temper Soho barbecue restaurant. Image: Lateef Photography

Before sunset and with the lights not on yet, it was time for an epic bottomless brunch at the famous Temper Soho barbecue restaurant, where we sat drooling over the huge chunks of meat sizzling in the open kitchen while waiting for our plate of beef skewers, smoked cheddar humita, cassava chips and pico de gallo (salsa). For non-Londoners the £ 39.50 per person might seem expensive, but you get what you pay for in drinks as the friendly waiters stocked us up on cocktails and wine.

With bellies full and darkness falling, we made our way to Berkeley Square, the upscale and well-known celebrity haunt that is always festively decorated. From there it was the heartbeat of the West End and the bright lights of Leicester Square, which transformed into a winter wonderland with a bustling Christmas market at the center of the dazzling mix of 1920s-style theaters and cinemas modern.

Our favorite exhibit was down the street in Covent Garden with its iconic decorations, legendary Christmas tree and giant mistletoe chandeliers. And one does not dream of a white Christmas here because they even manage to bring visitors a daily dusting of snow.

Most would agree that Christmas is thirsty work and by the time we got to Trafalgar Square, a mulled wine was to warm cold hulls and toes before a delicious dinner at Imad’s Syrian cuisine.

The Christmas market among the bright lights of Leicester Square. Image: Pasco Photography

Chef, entrepreneur and refugee who has run 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 has anything to do with it, he will be there for years to come as we have dined on several of his delicious sharing plates including Zahraa Harra (baked cauliflower), Baba Ghanoj (eggplant), Shish Tawook (grilled chicken strips) and the appetizing Sharihat Ghanam (lamb tenderloin).

Other attractions to check out this Christmas are the Mecato Mayfair Cultural Center on North Audley Street, where you’ll find two levels of food stalls and bars as well as a rooftop terrace with great views, and the Ever After Garden at Grosvenor Square, where there are thousands of illuminated white roses placed in exchange for donations to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Putting Covid in the back of our minds for a few hours at least, we were quickly reminded of its lingering presence as we walked past the gates of Downing Street on our way back to our hotel, just as the Prime Minister was holding a conference press release announcing new restrictions affecting the already besieged travel industry.

We’d worry about it later, but the next morning, before heading home, we resisted the temptations of a heavy breakfast to make sure we were hungry for our lunch date at the bustling Venetian restaurant Polpo, where we dined on mushrooms and Taleggio arancina, potato and truffle crocchette, zucchini fries, beef shin pappardelle and their delicious seafood pizza special of the day.

Reheat the cockles with mulled wine in Trafalgar Square. Image: Pasco Photography

If you have time, stop by to see Lightfield at Marble Arch Mound, a free light show by W1Curates and Anglo-American artist Anthony James, and there are also the pop-up shops “The Collect” and “Clean Power” at Oxford Street and Regent Street which are well worth a visit.

The only thing missing during our stay was the Big Ben chime, but in Westminster the time of day is crystal clear and it is most definitely Christmas.

For more information on Christmas in Westminster, click here.

Venetian restaurant Polpo. Image: Sister London

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