A visit to Santa’s grotto has been an essential stop for British Christmas shoppers for generations, dating back to the 1879, when the world’s first Christmas grotto opened at the Bon Marche store in Liverpool. Grottos are still going strong, but these days they’re just one part of a much larger spread of festive shopping experiences, with brands catering not just to kids but to grown-ups too, and putting on live entertainment and food and drink along with the more traditional offering.
Christmas in Leicester Square is a case in point. Children can hear a festive story from Santa in the North Pole-themed grotto, tell him their Christmas wishes, have a picture taken, and get a present to take home, but they can also see theatre and comedy shows and take part in a Christmas baby disco. Their parents, meanwhile – and unaccompanied adults too, of course – have got their own programme of entertainment, including cabaret, comedy and burlesque. There’s also European-style Christmas market for all your gift-buying needs (to 6 Jan).
It’s not a grotto experience per se, but Selfridge’s Breakfast with Santa events go one better, giving the whole family the chance to sit down with the man himself and Mrs Claus and tuck into fresh fruit, eggs, pancakes and more – it’s what the elves have to start the day at the North Pole, don’t you know. During the meal Santa shares stories about life in Lapland, and then leads a singalong, before posing for photos and giving out gifts. It’s a great way to start a day of Christmas shopping at the iconic department store (2-17 Dec).
Westfield London’s Snowflake Grotto is running throughout the day, meaning you can book a slot in advance to break up a busy morning or afternoon of gift-buying at the shopping mall’s 360 stores (to 24 Dec). Professor Snowflake welcomes children to the Snow Factory, where they can create personalized snowflakes, look through microscopes to see snowflakes up close, and play all manner of hands-on games.
Not all grottos are for children. The Whiskey Grotto at Nicky’s Imaginarium, for example, is strictly over-18s only, just one of several boozing opportunities at this debauched Christmas-with-a-twist experience taking place in a historic warehouse around the corner from foodies’ paradise Borough Market. In the parallel universe of the Imaginarium, Christmas has been banned and naughty St Nicky is holed up with Mama Claus and a band of rebel elves. Revelers can conspire with St Nicky as he plans his revolutionary ‘Christmess’, as well as picking up bespoke, vintage and artisan gifts at a makers’ market, and indulging in a decadent soul food Christmas feast (2, 9, 16 & 22 Dec, tickets £55). ‘Tis the season to be jolly indeed.