by Daisy de Plume, The Telegraph, November 28, 2017
Is your notion of Christmas a Dickensian delight in London - or a stroll down the Passage des Princes in Paris? Which European capital is more Christmasy? From ice skating to toy shopping, there's plenty to keep families entertained over the festive season - but which city has the best options? Daisy de Plume, mother of two and resident of both cities, lists the best Christmas-themed activites for families in London and Paris.
The labyrinthine 19th century covered passages of Paris is the perfect spot for Christmas shopping and nestled in the elegant Passage Jouffroy is a family-run toyshop called Pain d'Epices. Specialising in dollhouses, children marvel at the tiny decorated Sapin de Noel with miniature cadeaux.
The crème de la crème of the passages couvert is Passage des Princes, exclusively devoted to fun and games, from stuffed animals to art supplies and race-bikes.
Where Paris has those tiny little dollhouses, London focuses on the ginormous. At seven storeys of toys, Hamleys is the biggest toyshop in the world. It’s not to be missed for visitors, but at the height of Christmas shopping, we prefer the more intimate Pollock’s Toy Museum. Benjamin Pollock was a Victorian creator of toy theatres and the fascinating museum has been family run since the Fifties.
If you’re short on time, keep to Pollock’s ground floor shop where there are reasonably priced wooden toys.
After a festive meal, where better to burn off energy than on the rink in front of the Natural History Museum? London has plenty of other rinks to pirouette upon, including Skylight’s rooftop rink, with impressive city views, or cutting your crystal in the rink of the Tower of London, outside the Queen’s jewels. London rinks sell hot chocolate to warm hands and cockles after whizzing around the ice.
Usually Paris would win this one hands down, but this year there will not be a rink within the Eiffel Tower and all outdoor rinks have sadly been postponed. Instead, we head to the Zenith Theatre at La Villette to take inspiration for next year from Disney On Ice and marvel as our favourite characters perform impressive song and dance numbers on the ice. An awe-inspiring (and warmer) alternative.
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West London has the lion’s share of holiday fun, from Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland to the illuminated trails through Syon Park’s arboretum, and the dazzling light shows on the glasshouse at Kew Gardens. You can even sing “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” to the deer in Richmond Park; deer scouting gives London a leg up on this Christmas competition.
The City of Light is an apt moniker for Paris at Christmas. The illuminated cheer of Paris market streets is distinct, with family-run fromagerie and fishmongers hoisting decorated Christmas trees on top of their awnings. Excellent decorations can be seen on rue Montorguiel (2nd), rue des Martyrs (9th), rue Cler (7th) and du Commerce (15th). If you don’t mind a bit of jostling, there’s also the theatrical Christmas windows designed for tots at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, with raised platforms for the little ones to get a good, protected view. You don’t get that at Harrods.
Christmas on the screen
Hunkering down in the daytime to watch a Christmas movie is a delight of the holidays and London has lots of pop-up cinemas in unexpected places. After venturing through a glistening icy cave at Backyard Cinema’s Snow Kingdom you can nestle into a beanbag and enjoy family films including Home Alone and It’s a Wonderful Life.
A perfect way for the family to escape the cold (and the tourists) is to duck into a beautiful theatre to introduce the children to some hilarious silent classics. A gorgeous Art Nouveau theatre, Le Luxor has Egyptian-esque architectural features, while Le Balzac (off the Champs-Elysées) has plush red velvet seats and dramatic curtains. Both cinemas host children’s programmes, often including silent greats such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, in case you don’t speak French.
La Cuisine Paris has a fantastic selection of classes for the whole family to learn how to make a Bûche de Noël or a Galette des Rois. Children as young as five have fun getting their paws dirty kneading buttery French dough. The delicious treat to take home is a bonus!
Throughout December, Bread Ahead in London’s Borough Market hosts seasonal baking classes where you can learn how to bake mince pies, dense ginger cake and stollen together. London has plenty of places to simply ogle beautiful baked goods, including the snow-frosted gingerbread houses at The Savoy’s patisserie. While you’re there, be sure to count the baubles and crackers that festoon the glittering fir tree.
American expat, and mum of two, Daisy de Plume is the founder of THATMuse (thatmuse.com) which designs treasure hunts for families and adults around museums in London and Paris. The ‘Festive Feasting’ themed treasure hunt will take place at the V&A throughout the festive season. Learn more about these family-friendly scavenger hunts here.