Christmas In London / Markets and Fairs

I have great respect for people with artistic and creative talents, probably because I don’t have any.  The Mister and I joined the “shop small and local” movement a few years ago and do our best to support local artisans and small businesses, especially at gift-giving time.  Most of the Christmas markets have a wide variety of gifts and trinkets, but I just hadn’t found what I’m looking for …so, we headed out to Chelsea Physic Gardens for their annual Christmas market and fair to see what they had on offer.

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Chelsea Physic Garden was established in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries to grow and study medicinal plants.  It is a lovely, 4 acres hidden behind brick walls on Swan Lane in SW3 and to this day promotes botanical education, conservation and research.  This weekend, in addition to the lovely gardens, it hosted tent after tent of talented artisans and their wares…

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beautiful handcrafted wooden bowls and clocks…

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handmade soaps…

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gourmet chocolates (and samples)…

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jams, jellies and chutneys (and samples)…and so many other spectacular things I didn’t photograph.  There were children’s toys and games, cashmere and leather goods, Christmas greenery and spectacular gifts. Did I mention all the samples?Drinking chocolate-1

After we finished browsing and shopping, we fortified ourselves with a cup of hot drinking chocolate from Rococo Chocolates before wandering through the gardens.

Chelsea Physic Garden

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The gardens and greenhouses provide a lovely backdrop for a relaxing walk and plenty of inspiration for aspiring gardeners.

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London hosts number of fairs and Christmas markets between now and Christmas Day (see my posts on Southbank and Winter Wonderland/Hyde Park).

I’ll be attending the following fairs and markets:

We Make London   Thursday 13th December to Sunday 16th December   11am to 5:30pm (Sunday 4pm)  Riverside, London SE1 2DB  OR  Saturday, 22 December at Old Spitalfields Market

Real Food Christmas Market  14th December to 16th December 12-6   Southbank Centre Square

Secret Emporium Christmas Market   15h & 16 December  10:30 – 8   Hearn Street  Shoreditch

Also, while not a “fair”  per se, Gray’s Antiques market is hosting a Christmas Shopping Party on Thursday, 6 December from 5pm to 8pm.  An invite is required.  You can “like” them on Facebook or email them to request an invite. 

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Christmas In London…Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park

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I’ve been on a quest to sample as many London Christmas markets and activities as possible between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Today’s schedule included a visit to the Alpine/German themed Christmas market in the Southeast corner of Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland.

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I entered the park through the North entrance, close to the ferris wheel and tilt-a-whirl.  I really prefer the more traditional, low-key craft-type markets and this had a more…ummm…Santa-on-acid vibe.   I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first, but walking through the crowd watching little kids laughing, moms and dads sharing bumper cars and middle-aged couples dancing to Christmas disco music, it grew on me.

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 Mercifully, the fair organizers placed beer and wine huts at regular intervals throughout the ride and carnival section of Winter Wonderland.

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The food choices were endless…cookies, candies, sausages, kebab and various items ending in  -wurst.  Perfect for fueling up for a few passes around the ice rink.

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The Winter Wonderland rink is supposedly the largest outdoor rink in the UK.   The ice wasn’t very crowded early in the evening.  The area around the rink was crowded with spectators, clearly enjoying the spectacle of the very patient “ice guides” leading the tourists/novices lurching around the ice.  The skate hut rents skates for both kids and adults or you can bring your own.  I can’t wait to bring the Mister back with me.

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The ambience of the park changes at twilight.  As daylight fades, the crowds swell, the lights glow and “biergardens” and “pubs” throughout the market turn into happy post-work gathering places, filled with live music and free-flowing beer.

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Angel’s Market has row after row of chalets filled with things to sample and buy…

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I had a great time walking around Winter Wonderland with a cup of mulled wine to warm my hands. Entrance is free and it’s a great evening out even if you don’t plan on riding rides or hanging out in the biergarten…bundle up! It’s cold out there.

Things to know

Ambiance is best late afternoon or evening…probably more crowded as well.  Can’t have everything!

Entrance is free.  Rides are between 2 and 4 tokens (tokens are £1 each) and ATM’s are available.

Check times and information here…Winter Wonderland.

Christmas in London

My seasonal calendar is off-kilter.  No traditional Thursday Thanksgiving meal this year. The stores and streets have been decorated for Christmas since the end of October.  I’m conditioned to the cycle of Halloween, Thanksgiving and then… a manic post-Thanksgiving 3 1/2 weeks of shopping, cleaning, decorating and cooking. The Christmas season is rolling out gradually here, giving everyone time to enjoy the small things that come with the holiday season.  I like it.

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I met The Mister at Southbank on the first day of the Southbank Christmas Market.  The Christmas lights were on, tempering the gloom of the misty, foggy dreary London afternoon.  We walked past the little huts, decorated with greens and sparkling Christmas lights, past the street buskers playing Christmas carols  and stopped at the hut selling mulled wine and warm, roasted pecans.  A perfect way to kick off the Christmas season.

Stay tuned for more Christmas in London posts 🙂

Vintage London

I had a mild case of the expat blues just before the weekend so The Mister decided to surprise me with a man-planned day out to cheer me up.  Knowing my obsession with all things vintage (vintage jewelry, dresses, houses (especially falling-down houses), maps, etc.) he did a little internet surfing and found the Primrose Hill Vintage Fashion Fair at the Cecil Sharp House.

This isn’t necessarily the largest vintage fair in London, but it is very well-curated.  No plowing through piles of musty 1980s shoes and moth-eaten jumpers to find the one treasure at the bottom of the pile.  I managed to find a bespoke 1940’s party dress (perfect for the Gin Palace!) and a gorgeous leather handbag for a song and mourned my inability to stuff my big feet into a pair of tiny, fabulous designer shoes.  I also had a painful epiphany…some of the things I used to wear are now considered vintage.  Ouch.

This vintage fair comes to the Cecil Sharp house again on 11 November and 2 December.  If you can’t catch them here, you can try and catch them on the 3rd Saturday of every month at Spitalfields Market .  If you are fortunate enough to have any money left over after paying for your vintage treasures, make sure you stop in to the downstairs cafe.

The Nice Green Cafe offers simple, comfort food and a cozy atmosphere all for a very reasonable price.  We chose a table tucked into the corner, adjacent to the dance studios (lunch and a show!). I felt like I was sitting in my Nana’s kitchen on a rainy, Sunday afternoon.

We enjoyed a bowl of homemade vegetable soup, bread and tea, while the ladies next to us enjoyed coffees and gargantuan slices of cake.  Delicious.  This was a great introduction to the myriad of vintage options in London.  I can’t wait to explore the options around Spitalfields, Brick Lane and Clerkenwell.  If you have a favorite vintage haunt, please let me know!

To Market, To Market

I’ve actively avoided Portobello Road Market  because of its reputation as a crowded tourist mecca on the weekend, but the daughters were home and it seemed like a good time to go. The shops along the market route are actually open 6 days a week, while the market is only open Saturdays, beginning at 8am.  We had a late morning start and arrived a bit late (10!) and the streets and stalls were already packed. Now, I am not a crowd averse person.  I will stand in an endless Disney World queue in the August heat for a 5 minute ride without complaint.  This…this was something different.   It was literally ass to elbow from the beginning of the Notting Hill Gate tube exit to the end of the market at Ladbroke Grove.

You can start at either end of the market (Notting Hill or Ladbroke Grove).  The Notting Hill end tends to have more established antique and high-quality vintage dealers, while the Ladbroke Grove end has a large number of new-to-the-market dealers and vintage clothing stalls.  If you start at Notting Hill, you’ll be traveling from the ££££ end of the market to the £ end of the market (Ladbroke Grove). Regardless of where you start, there are endless opportunities for treasure-hunting and price-haggling.  We wandered in and out of the lovely antique shops and galleries along the way, vowing to return during non-market days to examine the goods at a more leisurely pace.

In addition to the more established shops, there are numerous arcades and galleries that wind in, around and behind the market stalls.  I walked into what I thought was an art gallery and ended up wandering a labyrinth of small antique stalls, manned by incredibly knowledgeable dealers. We tried on vintage fur hats, picked through piles of British tchotchke, examined WWII memorabilia and bought a great pair of faux converse.  I wanted and clearly needed the Windsor Castle fire bucket hanging from the ceiling in one shop, but wasn’t sure it would go with our current decor. You could pick and search for hours and we did before deciding we were wildly hungry.

The Mister and The Girls decided to sample the lovely strawberry crepes with whipped cream.  I decided to sample a little bit of almost everything from the fruit stands.

We managed to work our way through the whole market in about 5 hours, but it could easily be a full-day outing.

Check the website for details and download a map before you go. Wear a helmet and a cup.  You’ll need it.