The Churchill Arms, Kensington
Start by stepping into a Christmas tree. The evergreen Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street becomes one enormous conifer each December. This year the pub is strapping 80 Christmas trees to its exterior walls and decorating them with 18,000 fairy lights. The spectacular light show will be ceremonially started on Tuesday 6 December, accompanied by mulled wine and festivities. If you get peckish afterwards, go through to the Thai restaurant. The Churchill Arms was the first London pub to sport a Thai kitchen; the Pad Siew noodles are recommended.
The Harlequin, near Angel
Nothing warms the cockles like carolling. Merry gentlemen and merry gentlewomen should go to The Harlequin on Wednesday 14 December, where there will be a gathering around the piano to belt out an evening of yuletide favourites. Expect a Bohemian king, herald angels, five gold rings and a not very silent night. Vocal chords will be lubricated with mulled wine and those attempting the dog-whistle Ding Dong descant would do well to consult the pub’s superior malt whisky collection in advance. This cosy little wood-panelled “beer shop”, a free house, has been serving since 1848, and is popular with the pre- and post-theatre crowd attending events at Sadler’s Wells nearby.
Simpson’s Tavern, the City
If you would like to boil your neighbours with their puddings and bury them with a stake of holly through their hearts, your name is probably Ebenezer Scrooge. Close up your counting house on Christmas Eve and watch your clerk slide homewards along the ice slide on Cornhill, before slouching around the corner to take your “melancholy dinner” in the “usual melancholy tavern”. Or you could try Simpson’s Tavern on nearby Ball Court. Founded in 1757, this snug and steamy hostelry is the city’s oldest chop house and all its meals (mains from £5.75) are served with a complimentary sausage. Don’t miss the “stewed cheese” (£3.50) for dessert.
Argyll Arms, Oxford Circus
The Spirit of Christmas Presents walks abroad. The glowing doors of megastores are drawing us in with Pied Piped muzak and will-o’-the-wisp Christmas deals. A crowd flows along Oxford Street, and you may suddenly feel the need to escape. Look no further than the Argyll Arms on Argyll Street, next to Oxford Circus. This excellent 19th-century boozer has private mahogany snugs, with etched-glass partitions, so you can hide from the shoppers and enjoy a quiet pint (or cheeky gin, a house speciality). If you need to make a swift exit, however, hunt for the secret tunnel that is alleged to run from the Argyll Arms to the London Palladium opposite. You’ll pop up in Cinderella, next to Julian Clary’s Dandini (maybe).
Little Nan’s, Deptford
For something more hygge, pull up a doily at Little Nan’s on Deptford Market Yard and get snug in one of its deep armchairs. Little Nan will set things to rights with a warming teapot full of mulled apple juice, made to her family’s 106-year-old secret recipe. Savour the aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, hibiscus and miscellaneous spices, or, if you fancy some pep in your toddy, Nan might be persuaded to add a shot of the house spiced rum. Expect leopard-print mugs and cat-themed cushions.
The Wellington, Fulham
The Christmas meal is always a crisis: burnt potatoes, soggy parsnips, turkey grease on Uncle Norman’s sweater, and the annual outing of Satan’s mini cabbages. This year, take a break. Chef Aidan McGee has begun a residency at The Wellington on Haldane Road. Widely credited with the best Sunday roasts in London, McGee is now turning his hand to Christmas, rustling up trademark sharing platters of delectable festive viands (two-course Christmas menu £28, three courses £32). Begin with roasted cauliflower soup; progress to ham hock terrine by way of cured salmon in London gin; gorge on roast turkey with all the trimmings and polish off proceedings with plum pudding and cinnamon custard or a communal cheeseboard. Sorted.
The Antelope, Tooting
He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. Santa Claus is coming to town and you had better have your stocking ready. The Antelope on Mitcham Road has a choice of three open fires where you can affix your undergarments. The bar area has two coal fires, but my favourite is the wood-burning hearth in the spacious, panelled back room, where you can pull up a high-backed church pew and await the arrival of St Nicholas. While away the time by examining the pub’s impressive collection of antlers and assorted taxidermy. Don’t let them get their hands on Rudolph.
The Flask, Highgate
When your commute involves 212 million miles and 233 million households, you deserve at least one for the road. Everyone knows that Father Christmas’s tipple of choice is brandy, so Santa, if you’re reading this, we recommend you pause in The Flask on Highgate West Hill for a quick snifter. This historic coaching inn has retained its original stable block, with two 17th-century horseboxes that will do perfectly for Donner and Blitzen. The atmosphere inside is warm with reassuringly low ceilings: a cosy place to enjoy a quiet cognac. Or, if you feel like branching out, try a pint of Dapper Ales Doctor Brown, a delicious brown ale brewed in Herne Hill.
The Queen of Hoxton, Shoreditch
Start scanning the sky for signs of reindeer and sleighbells. The Queen of Hoxton, Curtain Road, is a good vantage point: its permanent rooftop wigwam goes through a seasonal facelift twice a year. This winter you’ll be stepping into Skye Halla, a Viking “Drinking Hall in the Clouds” with fire pits, driftwood sculptures and a Viking long boat. Peruse the Daily Feasting Menu: Hodhr’s Hotpot (from £5) goes particularly well with a horn of Gullveig’s Grog (whisky, mead, elderflower and pale ale, £8). Be sure you don’t mistake incoming reindeer for the Ride of the Valkyries …
The Roebuck, Richmond
After a hearty Christmas meal, there’s nothing better than a crisp country walk followed by a glass of amber refreshment. Go for a stroll in Richmond park, looking out for the deer, and wind up in the Roebuck on Richmond Hill. This historic pub catches spectacular sunsets: its view over Petersham Meadows is almost unchanged since JMW Turner painted it in 1815. It serves all the trusty Taylor Walker brews, as well as a selection of guest ales on tap. The food menu includes sharing platters (from £11.49), fish and chips (from £8.99) and classic pub grub (from £8.49). When the Roebuck was renovated in the 1950s, a cache of 18th-century highwaymen’s loot was discovered in the roof. Keep your eyes peeled and Christmas might just come early.
Henry Eliot is co-author of Curiocity: In Pursuit of London (Penguin Books, £30), a guide full of stories, ideas and itineraries, and maps drawn by artists including Isabel Greenberg, Steven Appleby and the Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell. To order a copy for £24.60 inc UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop