Take the pain out of Christmas shopping by combining it with a weekend break at one of the capital’s top hotels, says Sarah Marshall.
Most children have been counting down the days to Christmas since... well, since last Christmas, and as December approaches, they’re probably reaching some sort of transient, tinsel-themed higher state.
Indulge their excitement with a visit to the capital and Hamleys. A trip to the toy Mecca is part of a new Dukes and Duchesses package at townhouse hotel Dukes, with young shoppers transported through Mayfair in a royal rickshaw. And after they’ve shopped out, they can visit M&M’s World, finishing off with a family trip to see Matilda The Musical.
To really make children feel special, they’ll also be presented with lavish outfits (a pink gown or a three-piece costume with sash and military hat) and an afternoon tea of cakes and flavoured milks.
Although Dukes is a polished five-star property, it’s also refreshingly relaxed and tolerant; a few sticky fingerprints on the mahogany banisters, or the sound of little feet thundering along plush carpeted corridors won’t raise any eyebrows.
Nigel Mendham’s THIRTY SIX restaurant welcomes young diners for breakfast, and after dark, parents can escape to the Perrier Jouet lounge to find some festive cheer of their own.
The Mini Dukes and Duchesses package costs from £390 (for a family of four) per night with breakfast; www.dukeshotel.com, phone 020 7491 4840.
Europe’s first grand hotel, which will be celebrating its 150th anniversary next year, is a short stroll from Oxford Street and the glittering window displays of Top Shop, Liberty and John Lewis. Paying homage to its past, the hotel still revels in its grandeur with plaques commemorating past guests, such as Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. The gift shop even sells its own leather-bound London guidebook, published since 1877, while the concierge can supply guests with a pre-loaded MP3 player for self-guided walking tours of the neighbourhood.
But the Langham also has some new accolades to shout about; its glamorous cocktail bar Artesian was recently voted World’s Best Bar for the third year running. After a day of contending with heaving crowds and renditions of Jingle Bells, retreat to the Art Deco enclave for mixologist Alex Kratena’s seasonal Pine Waiting to Become a Christmas Tree cocktail.
Or go the whole (roast) hog and book a table at Roux at the Landau, where a festive menu of spit roast sirloin beef and butter-roast farm turkey is likely to make both eyes and bellies bulge.
The Festive Break (available from December 1 to January 11) costs £295 per person and includes overnight B&B accommodation and free wi-fi; Langhamlondon.com/Christmas, phone 020 7973 7503
Shangri-La at the Strand
You don’t need to be based in the West End to appreciate London’s illuminations. As darkness falls, the city skyline beams brightly, putting on a year-round show to rival any Christmas display.
The best place to survey the dazzling scene is from one of the Thames-view rooms at the Shangri-La Shard hotel.
Occupying the upper section of the capital’s tallest building, the slick Bond-style rooms teeter high above some of London’s most famous landmarks. From the wall-length windows on all sides, guests can enjoy a panorama of Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the more modern Cheese Grater and Gherkin.
For a real taste of Christmas, head to nearby Borough Market. Even if you have no intention of doing a weekly shop, the food stalls piled high with artisan cheeses, organic fruits and exotic meats are a feast for the eyes.
Thankfully, all cooking needs are taken care of at Shangri-La’s TING restaurant, serving an elegant festive menu (a four-course lunch will cost £40; five-course dinner £65). But the real star on top of the Shard’s pointy Christmas tree is the 52nd floor cocktail bar, Gong.
Order The Nutcracker cocktail (a whisky and sherry blend with mulled wine), and perch on one of the low stools in a room that’s a cross between a Chinese emporium and a Seventies nightspot.
Rooms from £450 per night; www.shangri-la.com/london, phone 020 7234 8088.
Mondrian London at Sea Containers
A sparkling sea blue beacon on the South Bank, this eagerly anticipated hotel from the US Mondrian group is arguably the most striking decoration of them all.
Furniture designer Tom Dixon has turned his creative hand to hotel design, transforming the once drab and tired Seventies riverbank Sea Containers building into a shipshape work of art.
The nautical theme begins with a large replica of links from an anchor chain in reception and 68m copper hull that curves through the building into hotly tipped restaurant Sea Containers, where a yellow submarine is suspended above the bar.
The overall feeling, though, is modern and fun, with murals in the lift featuring a pearly king, and even Dixon himself dressed as a US astronaut.
That youthful personality extends to the Dandelyan bar where award-winning mixologist Mr Lyan has devised a menu based on modern botany. But it’s the hotel’s location that really sells it; close to the OXO tower and Borough market, it’s also a 10-minute walk from the Christmas market stalls that line the South Bank.
The hotel also boasts the serene but sexy Agua spa, set underneath the Thames, where there’s even a dedicated Boob Bar. An uplifting experience all round.
Rooms from £195, exc VAT. Visit www.mondrianlondon.com or call 020 3747 1000.