Travel Review: A festive 48 hours in London
Kate Mason finds out why Holiday Inn Express at Southwark Â is the perfect base to discover Â the best festive treats London has to offer during a 48 hour visit to the capital'¦ Â Â Â
Watching in awe as ice skaters swirled and twirled Â past the towering, bejewelled Christmas tree I felt like I had glided straight onto the set of a classic Christmas movie.
My skating skills may not have merited the leading lady in this festive blockbuster but after a few laps around the rink at Somerset House (holding onto the edge for dear life)Â I soon felt like I was at least ready for a supporting role.
I was no Jayne Torvill but the mulled wine I'd consumed for Dutch courage at the welcoming rink side bar gave me the push I needed to pick up some speed and soak in the magical Christmas atmosphere.
With twinkling lights, festive tunes and a stunning backdrop the ice rink at Somerset House was the perfect place to kick off my festive 48 hour trip to the Capital.
During my stay I would sample some of the best seasonal activities the city had to offer from the comfortable and convenient base of the Holiday Inn Express in Southwark.
The hotel places you in the heart of London and near local attractions including the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
Just a short walk from Southwark and Blackfriars Tube stations, the hotel is the perfect base to explore the city.
The hotel boasts stylish rooms offering all the amenities you needÂ to recharge your batteries and make the most of your time in London. FromÂ comfy beds, free Wi-fi,Â a flat screen TV, and buffet style breakfast with takeaway option '“ the hotel is the perfect place for guests on the go.Â
After working up an appetite skating it was onto the Tandoor Chop House a fusionÂ restaurant where North Indian communal eatery meets a classic British chop house with Â stunning results.
We worked our way through a veritable feast of starters. The unlikely beetroot seekh kebabÂ was the star of the show, with both the texture and taste of meat we were left baffled and impressed by this vegan offering - pure culinary genius.
Main dish highlights included theÂ tandoor chicken and butter chicken naan.
Feeling suitably full it was onto the Prince Edward Theatre in Soho to watch one of the West End's most magical shows - Aladdin.
I had already had the pleasure of seeing the production a few months earlier so wondered if it would be as big aÂ hit with me the second time around - let's just say I am now an Aladdin super fan and would happily watch it every few months given half the chance.
The production literally sweeps you away on a magical carpet ride to Agrabah with breathtaking sets, songs you can't help but sing along too and a stellar cast - lead by the magnificent Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie - this is a show not to be missed.
Singing my way out of the theatre it was time to return to my comfy bed at the hotel and recharge myÂ batteries for another jam packed day.
After a breakfast of bacon, sausage and egg from the self service buffet and a handy take away coffee it was time to set off to the wreath making workshop in Chelsea.
As we entered the workshop set in the stunning surroundings ofÂ Chelsea Physic Garden the scent of dried oranges, limes and cinnamon filled the air - I instantly felt Christmassy.
It was then time for Georgina Wolsey from Studio Smudge to give us our instructions and explain how we would transform the worryingly bare wire circle in front of us into a full and luscious Christmas wreath, the type one may find on the pages of a glossy interior design magazine.
After wrapping our ring in moss it was time to strategically place our foliage on the wreath - no mean feat. It was at this point as my wreath continued expanding before my very eyes that I began to panic about how my gigantic creation would fare on the train ride home.
Deciding to forget about the logistics, at least for now, I pressed on adding bronzed leaves, eucalyptus, limes, orange slices and pretty much anything else I could get my hands on. I'd gone for the rustic look (or at least that's what I told myself when my creation was slightly less than perfect) but I was impressed with the finished result and even more impressed that my wreath survived the train journey home, relatively unscathed.
Feeling like the next Kirstie Allsop it was time to venture back into the heart of London to John Lewis inÂ Oxford Street and MYPIE rooftop gardens.
Over the years I've come to think of myself as quite the pie connoisseur and my minced beef, pan roasted onions and cheddar creation was definitely up there. The indulgent chocolate and peanut butter brownie that I shared with my fellow journalists was equally as good.
After a bit of retail therapy and a walk to see Carnaby Street Christmas lights (and burn off some of the calories I had consumed) it was time for another festive treat.
We escaped the buzz of Central London and made our way to explore London's most spectacular Christmas lights display at Kew Gardens.
Mulled gin in hand we made our way through the enchanted forest trail, each light section had a different theme and each more breathtaking than the last.
Walking through cascading cathedral style light tunnels and navigating through the mystical trail it was truly a magical experience.
Just when I though it couldn't get any better we arrived at the finale - an expertly choreographed display of lights and images projected through the waterfall with the iconic Victorian glasshouse (Palm House) backdrop. The perfect evening out and something I am already planning to take my daughter too next year.
Still on a high from Kew gardens it was onto No.1a Duke St in Richmond a stylish eatery with an enticing seasonal menu. I couldn't resist the Christmas turkey dinner with all the trimmings followed by sticky toffee Christmas pudding with lashings of butterscotch sauce and brandy cream - sublime.
Deciding to end the evening quite literally on a high we ventured to the 12thÂ floor ofÂ the Mondarin to the Rumpus Rooms. The uber stylish rooftop bar is the perfect place to enjoy drinks with London's spectacular skyline as a backdrop .
The interior of the bar resembled something out of a chic Mad Men set and in true Don Draper style I felt it only fitting to end my time in London by sipping on an Old Fashioned.
Kate Mason travelled to and stayed in London courtesy of IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) and Holiday Inn Express.
'¢ Holiday Inn Express London-Southwark is located at 103-109 Southwark Street, London. Breakfast is included in the cost (Rooms from Â£216 per night plus offers available)