If you’re lucky enough to be spending Christmas in London, you’re in for a treat. The city comes alive at this time of year, with twinkling lights, festive markets and plenty of opportunities to get into the Christmas spirit.
If you’re short on time but want to make the most of Christmas in London, this insider’s guide is for you! I’ve listed all of my personal favourite things to do in the city at Christmas time, from the best markets and ice skating rinks to festive activities. I also threw in some practical tips for getting around and FAQs while we are at it.
Whether you’re visiting for a day or a week, you’ll be sure to find something to enjoy. And who knows, you might even discover a new Christmas tradition!
10 Best Things to Do in London at Christmas Time
Go Ice Skating at London’s Iconic Landmarks
As the Christmas season approaches, there are few better ways to get into the festive spirit than by going ice skating. And what could be more festive than skating in the shadow of some of London’s most iconic buildings?
When it comes to stunning ice rinks set against historic backdrops, very few places can compare to The Natural History Museum and Somerset House. Unfortunately for ice skaters and romantics everywhere, the rink at the Natural History Museum, with its beautiful fairy lights, trees and magical atmosphere, is now permanently closed. But it’s all for a very worthy cause: The five-acre gardens on which the rink used to sit will be transformed into an urban wildlife hub as part of the Urban Nature Project to help create an accessible and biologically diverse green space in the heart of London.
Luckily, this beautiful city is not short of world-famous landmarks offering a unique ice skating experience. Take Somerset House, located in the heart of historic London, and its rink is flanked by grandiose neoclassical architecture, for example. Whether you’re a seasoned skater or taking your first tentative steps on the ice, skating at Somerset House is sure to get you feeling festive.
If you’re looking for more places to ice skate in London, make sure to check out Europe’s only rooftop ice skating ring, Skylight Ice Rink! And don’t forget the classics: Tower of London Ice Rink, Hampton Court Palace Ice Rink, and Hyde Park Winter Wonderland Ice Rink.
Explore London’s Christmas Markets and Winter Pop-Ups
Another great thing to do in London at Christmas time is to explore the city’s many Christmas markets and winter pop-ups scattered all around the city. And don’t just stick to the big old well-known ones. The city is full of new markets and events all over town. Such a new addition to the list and a must-see is King’s Cross’ Alpine Wonderland, which draws inspiration from the Alpine slopes of France and promises a unique après-ski atmosphere. I don’t know about you, but I am sold!
Others include quaint Greenwich Christmas Market, bold Pexmas Festive Market in Peckham’s Copeland Park and subtle Christmas by the River at London Bridge. For something a little different, you can check out the cosy winter pop-ups such as Skylight’s cosy igloos and Alpine huts, Coppa Club’s riverside igloos or Vinegard Yard’s winter igloos. Or one of many from the pop-up maestro, Jimmy Garcia!
For more winter pop-ups galore, you may want to check out this page.
Visit Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
True, this one is a bit of a marmite among Londoners. And I get it, it’s crowded, it’s loud and it’s perhaps a bit too in-your-face. But come on, it’s Christmas! It should be bold, bright and merry!
In my opinion, no trip to London at Christmas time would be complete without a visit to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. This festive extravaganza (held in London’s Hyde Park each year) truly has something for everyone, from an ice rink and circus shows to rides and market stalls. It is also open from late November to early January, giving you plenty of time to get into and wean off of that addictive Christmas spirit!
So, go grab a bratwurst or mulled wine, lose some money in the arcade and wonder how on earth everybody else has a massive teddy bear but you… Then be secretly relieved that you didn’t win one, as there is no way you can fit it in your tiny London flat. Ah, Christmas bliss!
Enjoy Christmas Shopping in Covent Garden
There is just something special about Christmas shopping in Covent Garden.
This historic market is transformed into a winter wonderland at Christmas time, with twinkling lights, decorated shop windows and stalls selling everything from gifts to festive food. So whether you’re looking for that perfect present or simply want to enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas in London, make sure to add this area to your list!
You can find all the details about the Christmas market, lights and art installations, festive dining, and exclusive pop-ups here.
Did you know?
Covent Garden is not home to The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet, but also to more than 20 theatres. So why not try and see a show while you’re there?
Enjoy the Winter Festival at the Southbank Centre
The Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival is a must-see event for anyone in London during the Christmas season. With a huge array of stalls, lights, and performances, it’s the perfect place to get into the festive spirit. The best way to experience the Winter Festival is to take a stroll along the Southbank, starting at the London Eye and making your way towards Tower Bridge. Along the way, you’ll see twinkling lights, carousels, Christmas trees, and dozens of market stalls selling everything from mulled wine to sustainable homeware and handmade Christmas decorations. The atmosphere is magical, and it’s sure to get you feeling festive in no time!
With the smell of delicious treats and mulled wine filling the air, joyous laughter echoing in every corner, and the lights shimmering on the river Thames against the backdrop of one of the best views around London, visiting the Winter Market at the Southbank Centre is truly one of the best things to do in London at Christmas time.
See the London Christmas Lights
If you find yourself in London during the Christmas season, be sure to take some time to appreciate the city’s famous Christmas lights. For generations, Londoners have decked out their homes and businesses in festive lights, and today the tradition continues stronger than ever. The best place to see the lights is along Regent Street, where a mile-long display of over 300,000 lights dazzles pedestrians night after night. But don’t limit yourself to Regent Street—you’ll find Christmas lights all around the city. Take a leisurely stroll down Oxford Street to see the world-famous department store windows decorated for Christmas. Or hit up New Bond Street, Old Bond Street, Carnaby Street, Covent Garden and Seven Dials. No matter where you go, gazing at London’s Christmas lights is sure to put you in the holiday spirit!
Did you know?
The Ever After Garden is a remembrance garden transforming Grosvenor Square into a sea of over 20,000 illuminated white silk roses.
Here you can take a moment to remember lost ones and dedicate a rose in their memory. It’s free to visit the installation, but there is a suggested minimum £10 donation for dedications. All the donations go to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity which raises funds for cancer research and treatment.
Photo Credit: Ever After Gardens
Feast Your Eyes at “Christmas at Kew”
Speaking of lights…
Held every year at Kew Gardens, Christmas at Kew is one of London’s most popular (family) Christmas events. Every Christmas, the world-famous gardens are transformed into a winter wonderland, with twinkling lights and festive decorations adorning the trees and plants, which are illuminated each evening from 5 pm until 10 pm. The music and light installations are something else. And there’s also an array of charming food and drink stalls to keep you fuelled as you explore, as well as a whole host of family-friendly activities to enjoy.
While here, you can also:
- Take advantage of the late opening hours of Victoria Plaza, and get your Christmas shopping on. From books to homeware, jewellery to toys, you’re bound to find something festive for your loved ones here.
- Enjoy the tasty treats from the independent street food vendors dotted around the trail.
- Take your visit to the next level with a mouth-watering Christmas dinner at The Botanical Brasserie.
As a Kew resident, as much as I hate the helpless crowds trying to navigate their way out of our teeny tiny tube station while blocking everybody else in the process, I have to admit, the variety of light displays, as well as music and entertainment at Christmas at Kew truly make up for it.
Running from late November to early January, Kew at Christmas is not only one of the best things to do in London at Christmas time, but also a great way to hold on to that festive feeling when January blues make an appearance.
Try the Best Festive Meals London Has to Offer
One of the best things about London at Christmas is the food. From traditional Christmas roast dinners in pubs to decadent menus in some of the city’s finest hotels, there are plenty of festive meals to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas meal, there’s nowhere better than a pub. During the festive season, most pubs will offer a Christmas roast with all the trimmings, and it’s the perfect way to warm up on a cold winter’s day. Prices often range between £20 to £40 per person, depending on where the pub is located and how fancy it is. Be sure to try The Churchill Arms, which is decked out with over 60 real Christmas trees every year, or The George Inn, which dates back to 1542.
For a more upscale Christmas dining experience, book a table at The Dorchester or The Savoy, which offer sumptuous festive five or seven-course menus with elegant wine pairings.
If you’re looking for something truly unique, why not head to Petersham Nurseries for a festive meal in candlelit greenhouses, surrounded by twinkling fairy lights and seasonal evergreens? Or try afternoon tea with a festive twist? From The Ritz to Biscuiteers, plenty of places around the city offer festive afternoon teas, complete with Christmas-themed cakes and sandwiches. You can even take your afternoon tea to the streets, checking out the Christmas Lights whilst savouring delicious cakes on a Christmas Afternoon Tea Bus Tour!
Oh and in case you need your food with a side of entertainment, make sure to check out The Great Christmas Feast! Yet another fantastic production from The Lost Estate, where Dickens’ timeless classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ is brought to life with a delicious Victorian feast, captivating live music and theatre. Make sure to book in advance though, as these tickets sell out in the blink of an eye!
Can’t decide? Why not check out Taste: The Festive Edition, the Christmas jumper-wearing cousin of one of London’s greatest food festivals? With tons of stalls and cuisines to choose from, you are sure to find something to your liking!
In need of more inspiration? Why not check out “Christmas Restaurants in London for Fully Festive Eats”?
Head to a London Christmas Show or Concert
One of the best things to do in London at Christmas is to head to a festive show or concert.
Some of the popular choices for “Christmas in London 2022” include:
- “A Christmas Carol” – A classic tale of redemption that is brought to life on stage at the London Coliseum.
- “The Nutcracker” is another popular choice, and it can be enjoyed this year at the London Coliseum or the Royal Albert Hall.
- “The Snowman” is a charming option for families, performed at the Peacock Theatre at Sadlers Wells this Christmas.
You also can’t miss a Christmas panto if you are in London and you have never seen one! These family-friendly shows are always a hit with children and adults alike.
Another festive activity not to be missed is listening to Christmas carols at St Pauls’s Cathedral or in Trafalgar Square. There’s nothing quite like singing along to seasonal classics while taking in the sights and sounds of the city.
Watch a Film at one of London’s Christmas Winter Cinemas
One of the best ways to get into the holiday spirit is to watch a Christmas film. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for doing just that:
- The Luna Winter Cinema at Kensington Palace will show all the classics, from Elf to Die Hard (yes, it’s a Christmas film). They also have a Drive-In Winter Cinema for those who are feeling particularly nostalgic.
- If you’re looking for something a little different, the screenings at Backyard Cinema (the self-proclaimed “UK’s most magical cinema”) resume as usual and are not to be missed. Make sure to book in advance though, as these tickets sell out like hotcakes.
- There will also be some festive screenings sprinkled around at the Prince Charles Cinema (or should that be King Charles now?) and the Curzon at One Aldwych.
BONUS: Unusual Things to Do and See in London at Christmas
With all there is to do in London at Christmas, I couldn’t just leave you with 10 now, could I?
If you’re looking for some unusual things to do and see in London this Christmas, you’ve come to the right place. London is a magical city at any time of year, but it really comes into its own during the festive season. Here are just a few of the unique experiences you can enjoy in the capital over Christmas.
One of the most popular attractions at Christmastime is Hogwarts in the Snow. Every year, Warner Bros Studios Tours transforms their Harry Potter set into a winter wonderland, complete with fake snow, festive decorations and twinkling lights. It’s a must-see for any Potterhead!
For something a little more hands-on, head to Petersham Nurseries, where you can take part in one of their festive wreath-making workshops. With everything from traditional foliage to vibrant berries and baubles, you can create a truly unique decoration for your home.
And if you get peckish, there’s no need to worry – Gelupo, an award-winning ice cream parlour in Soho, will be serving up a selection of seasonal flavours throughout December. So why not treat yourself to a scoop of Christmas pudding or clementine gelato?
Looking for more unique Christmas events in London?
Why not check out my post on alternative Christmas events in London?
If you’re planning a trip to London during the holiday season, here are some FAQs that will help you make the most of your trip:
Does it snow in London at Christmas?
While snow is not guaranteed, it does occasionally snow in London at Christmas. If you’re hoping for a white Christmas, your best bet is to head to the countryside where the chances of snow are higher.
When do London Christmas Lights start?
The dates vary from year to year, but the lights are usually switched on in early November, and they stay up until early January.
When do the London Christmas Markets start?
The dates vary from year to year, but the market is usually open from late November until just before Christmas Day.
What do people do in London for Christmas?
There’s plenty to do in London at Christmas time! You can go ice skating at one of the city’s many outdoor rinks, browse the stalls at the Christmas market, see a festive show or pantomime, or do some last-minute Christmas shopping.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous on Christmas Day, you can join the crowds enjoying one city’s quirkiest Christmas traditions: A long-standing annual swim race which takes place on Christmas Day in the Serpentine Lido, where courageous swimmers brave the cold for 110 yards to win the Peter Pan Cup. It’s a wonderful spectacle that unites people from all walks of life, bringing joy and cheers collectively throughout London as they cheer on their favourite athletes.
Is it fun to visit London in December?
Yes, absolutely! There’s so much to see and do during the holiday season. Just be sure to wrap up warm as it can be quite cold at this time of year.
Speaking of cold… Is London too cold in December?
It can be chilly, but that’s part of the charm of a winter visit! You’ll just need to make sure you pack some warm clothes.
Is it easy to get around London during Christmas?
The city pretty much comes to a standstill for a couple of days over Christmas. On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about fighting your way through the crowds on the tube or buses… However, this also means, you may be limited in terms of choice when it comes to public transport.
If in London over Christmas:
- Check out special Christmas timetables in place so you can plan your journey in advance.
- Some of the regular charges are suspended on Christmas day (ULEZ – Ultra Low Emission Zone) or the week between Christmas and New Year (the Congestion Charge). So, you may consider driving into London.
For the most up-to-date travel advice around Christmas time, check out this page by Transport for London (TfL).
What are the romantic things to do in London at Christmas?
There are plenty of romantic things to do in London at Christmas time! Start by visiting one of the city’s many iconic landmarks, such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral. Then, take a stroll through Hyde Park or Regent’s Park, before enjoying a spot of shopping on Oxford Street or Bond Street. End your day with a festive meal at one of London’s many Michelin-starred restaurants.
Before you head home, don’t forget to grab a glass of wine at Gordon’s Wine Bar or 10 Cases.
What are the best Christmas activities in London for families?
There are a number of Christmas activities that families can enjoy. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is a must-visit for families during the holidays. This huge winter festival has something for everyone, from an outdoor ice rink to rides and attractions, plus Santa’s Grotto and a Christmas market. Don’t miss the spectacular Hyde Park Winter Wonderland lights show, which is sure to delight kids of all ages.
Some of the best Christmas activities in London for families include going to see a Christmas pantomime, gingerbread house-making workshops, attending a Christmas carol concert, and ice skating in one of London’s many parks. Christmas is also a great time to visit some of London’s famous landmarks. Whatever you do, Christmas in London is sure to be a memorable experience for the whole family.
For more ideas about what to do in London at Christmas with kids, check out this post by Piccolo Explorer.
Is London expensive during Christmas?
Well, yes. Prices definitely go up during the holidays, but there are still plenty of things you can do on a budget.
Are there free things to do in London at Christmas?
Yes, there are plenty of free things to do in London at Christmas time! Visit Covent Garden to see the Christmas tree and watch the street performers, or head to Trafalgar Square to see the giant Norway spruce. You can also take a walk through Hyde Park or Regent’s Park to see the Christmas lights, or enjoy a festive concert at one of the city’s many churches.
Travelling on a budget? No problem!
Why not check out my post on free things to do in London?
I need some holiday inspo: What are some of the best Christmas movies set in London?
Well, aren’t you lucky? As it happens, I have a whole list of the best Christmas movies set in London for you to check out!
Where to Stay in London During Christmas
If you’re planning a trip to London during the holidays, and you want a hotel that looks the part, then look no further! Here are a few of the best, most luxurious places to stay during Christmas in London.
The Connaught is one of the city’s most iconic hotels, located in the heart of Mayfair. With its elegant decor and top-notch service, it’s the perfect place to stay if you want to feel pampered during your trip. Each year, it goes all out for Christmas with beautiful decorations and festivities. Think Christmas carols, festive afternoon tea, and themed menus (and did I mention Michelin-starred dining?)… Even a horse-drawn carriage ride! A very merry Christmas indeed!
The Dorchester is located right in the heart of Mayfair, making it the perfect base for exploring all that London has to offer during the holiday season. The hotel is renowned for its impeccable service, and you can expect nothing less during your stay. The rooms are spacious and elegantly appointed, and the Christmas decorations add a touch of magic to the already-glamorous setting. In addition, the hotel’s restaurants are some of the best in the city, so you’ll be able to enjoy festive culinary delights throughout your stay. If you’re looking for a traditional British Christmas experience complete with afternoon tea by the roaring fire, The Dorchester is sure to make your Christmas dreams come true.
If you’re looking for something a bit more modern yet equally luxurious (with opulent décor and world-class amenities), Claridge’s Hotel is a great choice. This stylish hotel is located just steps from Bond Street station, making it easy to get around London… and more importantly, to the Christmas Lights! But let’s be honest, it will be hard to drag yourself away from their stop-in-your-tracks Christmas tree, which, so far, has been designed by the best of the best: Burberry, Dolce and Gabbana, Christian Louboutin and Dior.
Covent Garden Hotel is another excellent option for those who want to be centrally located but opt for a more low-key luxury experience. As the name suggests, this hip hotel is situated in the heart of Covent Garden, making it easy to access all of the best Christmas shopping and attractions in the area. And of course, West End!
Last but not least, The Zetter Hotel is a great choice for those who want to live their best Victorian London life or those who want something a bit different. This funky hotel is located in a Victorian warehouse in Clerkenwell, a hip and central neighbourhood, making it easy to explore all that London has to offer during the holiday season. Nearby Exmouth Market is full of great cafes, bars, and restaurants, while Clerkenwell and King’s Cross offer plenty of shopping options. So whether you’re looking for a festive getaway or a shopping trip to remember, the Zetter is the perfect place to stay.
Each hotel on the list offers its own unique take on Christmas, from traditional decorations and menus to more modern celebrations. And no matter which one you choose, you’re sure to have a festive and memorable Christmas in London.
Not quite what you were looking for? No problem!
Why not check out my post on the best areas to stay in London instead?
Final Thoughts: Best Things to Do in London at Christmas Time
Christmas in London is a truly magical time. The city comes alive with festive lights, decorated trees, and cheerful shoppers bustling about. If you’re lucky enough to be in London during the holidays, there are plenty of wonderful things to do and see.
One of the highlights of a London Christmas is ice skating at one of the many pop-up rinks that appear around the city. Glide around under the stars at Somerset House, skate surrounded by fairy lights in Hyde Park or take a spin on the outdoor rink at Hampton Court Palace. After working up an appetite on the ice, head to one of London’s many Christmas markets for some seasonal shopping and delicious food. From arts and crafts to traditional German Christmas decorations, you’ll find everything you need (and more!) at these festive markets. So you can pick up some holiday gifts (or treats for yourself!) as you stroll through the stalls. Finally, no Christmas in London would be complete without seeing the world-famous Christmas lights. Oxford Street always has an incredible display, and Covent Garden is also worth a visit. Be sure to bring your camera – these lights are truly breathtaking!
No matter how you spend your Christmas in London, you’re sure to have a magical time. Make sure to soak up all the festive vibes and enjoy being a Londoner for a few days!
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