It’s that time of year again when everyone starts humming Michael Bublé and walks around with a slight spring in their step. The nights are getting colder and we start consuming hot choc by the gallon! Christmas is what brightens up the world and brings places alive with the twinkling lights, shop window decorations and notorious decorative coffee cups.
And London is no exception to this Christmas magic! With an array of festivals, ice rinks and traditional markets all poised to give you a taste of the Christmas spirit. Want to know what the best things to do in London at Christmas are? Well, look no further!
This article is written by Faraway Lucy writer, Emily Piper.
1. Go ice skating at the National History Museum
There is no shortage of ice skating rinks in London, but the most beautiful place to pirouette has to be the Natural History Museum’s ice rink. With beautiful views of the historic building, you will find a whopping 30ft Christmas tree in the middle, with cafes serving hot chocolate, cream teams, prosecco and cake.
If you’re not a fan of sliding up and down on the ice, there is a viewing platform which provides a glimpse of all the sparkling action below. It’s usually open 10 am-9 pm every day (except for Christmas day) until January.
2. Get festive at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland
Established in 2007, this classic Christmas event sees over 2 million visitors a year. One of the best things to do in London at Christmas, you can’t experience Christmas in the capital without taking a trip to Hyde Park. Winter Wonderland runs from mid-November to early January and features festive markets, over 100 rides, a giant wheel, live shows including figure skating and a circus, live music as well as numerous bars and restaurants.
Entry is free, but everything else is not. This means that you can tailor your experience to the budget you are on. If you want a fun place to drink try the Winter Wonderland bar where everything is made of ice including the chairs, tables and cocktail glasses themselves.
In the Bavarian Village, you can enjoy the many chalets that make up the Christmas markets. And in the Bavarian Hall, you can dance until your heart’s content with live music and DJs all day and night long!
3. Go for coffee at Elan Café
This pink explosion can be uncovered in five Elan Cafes located around London. You can find its rather impressive pink Christmas tree in St Pancras International Station. The special ‘tree of hope’ casts a magical pink glow over St Pancras. It is decorated with 1,200 meters of festive ribbon printed with quotes of love and hope from team members at St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, NHS Ambulance Service and the Royal Mail to celebrate the commitment, compassion and selflessness shown by key workers.
You can visit the station and enjoy Elan’s grab and go menu options from the newly opened café in the Arcade. Alternatively, you can visit one of its other locations. Its pink bauble wreaths, glittery fern branches and pink flower walls definitely make it one of the best London Instagram spots!
4. Wander around Kew Gardens
Kew puts on a stunning array of light and sound displays that can be marvelled at as you walk around the Christmas trail. Along this two-kilometre trail, you will find around one million lights twinkling in the tree branches and a glittering tunnel of bells.
There are mini doughnuts and marshmallows to munch on along the way, as well as cakes, roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate. Aside from the lights, there are also vintage fairground rides and of course Santa and his elves!
5. Eat at 34 Mayfair
Home to one of the most spectacular Christmas installations ever seen, 34 Mayfair is one of the most quirky places to eat in London! Seriously, this is not an over-exaggeration. This festive make-over, ‘Miracle at 34’, features 14,000 decorations, including 8,400 glittering baubles covering every inch of the walls and ceilings!
This steak and grill restaurants Christmas menu includes Japanese Wagyu fillet steak, white truffle and fontina pizzas and Peking duck with pancakes. They also do weekend brunches and private dining parties.
6. Explore the Winter Market at the Southbank Centre
As the days get shorter and the outdoors becomes frosty, the Southbank Centre’s Winter Market transforms its surroundings into a seasonal wonderland, bringing some warmth into the cold and wintry nights. It’s the place to go to find spiced mulled wine, cinnamon treats and handmade gifts.
Wander between the cosy alpine lodges and have a look at the cute fairy light lit view. Most stalls are open until 10 pm, so there is plenty of time to grab a hot drink and a bite after a long day!
7. Watch a Christmas film at the Luna Drive-in Winter Cinema
There’s nothing better than settling down on a winter’s evening to watch a Christmas classic! So why not do it in a car? Located in several arenas around England, Luna Drive-In Cinemas offer a number of movies right from the comfort of your vehicle. Showing festive favourites such as Home Alone, Love Actually, Elf and It’s a Wonderful Life, Luna is one of the best things to do in London at Christmas!
8. Listen to Christmas carols in Trafalgar Square
Hear festive songs ring across London with Christmas carols in Trafalgar Square. Over 40 carol groups sing for an hour throughout the build-up to Christmas to raise funds for charitable organisations. Make sure to wrap up warm and head to the impressive Christmas tree in the middle of the square to get a look. It’s the perfect spot to hear the beautiful sound of Christmas!
A tree has been given to the city of London every year since 1947 by the city of Oslo. This giant Norwegian gift is given in recognition of Britain’s support during the Second World War. The tree is usually around 25 metres (82 foot) tall and is dressed with hundreds of illuminating lightbulbs set in a vertical pattern by strings. You will not miss it!
There are often food and drink stalls dotted around the square. So why not grab a hot choc, huddle like penguins around the tree and listen to some Christmas carols?
9. See a Christmas show
London is known for its creative scene. Home to the West End, you will not be disappointed by the talent on offer! Some favourite shows include:
- A Christmas Carol (a tale of the life of Ebenezer scrooge from past, present and future) at the London Coliseum
- The Nutcracker (set in Edwardian London, it tells the story of a little girl who received an enchanted nutcracker as a gift) found at the London Coliseum as well as the Royal Albert Hall
- The Snowman (a story of a snowman that comes to life) performed at the Peacock Theatre at Sadlers Wells
You also cannot miss a Christmas panto in London! Pantomimes have a long theatrical history in Western culture dating back to 16th-century Commedia. It has said to have been developed by John Rich known as the ‘father of pantomime’ because he was the first to realise the potential of the Commedia characters. Today pantomime is based on popular fairy tale or folk legends such as Cinderella, Aladdin and Snow White. You can often watch a panto at the Palladium.
10. Gawp at the Christmas lights
With a stunning array of light displays, London arguably holds some of the best installations that Britain has to offer. One of the best things to do in London at Christmas is to simply gawp at all the Christmas lights! Here are some of our favourites.
One of the best streets that you can find these impressive bursts of sparkle is Oxford Street, London’s most famous lights and for good reason! This long street displays over 1700 installations to ogle over, not to mention being an ideal place to do some Christmas shopping.
Another one to visit is Regent Street which holds a star-studded switch-on event. The street goes traffic-free for the evening and nearby shops also hold events so it’s worth keeping an eye out for details about the performers.
One of the coolest shopping areas, Carnaby, lines the street with lots of boutiques. Each year they team up with a charity to bring awareness to the cause they support. In the past, they have partnered with ‘choose love’. They immersed the street with pink neon lightboxes with positive words on each box in the hope that it would bring some joy and encourage people to be kind to one another.
Finally, Bond Street, London’s luxury shopping district, is known for its legendary peacock inspired Christmas lights. Rumour has it that there are around 250,000 individual lights which make up the display. You may be wondering why they chose a peacock theme? These twinkling lights are inspired by Bond Street’s vibrant past. In the late 18th century, young men known as ‘the bond street loungers’, visited the area in overly flamboyant attire. They soon became the early fashionistas or ‘peacocks’ of their day, inspiring the gorgeous peacock lights we see today. The extravagant window displays of the designer stores are also worth a look at!
11. Drink a mulled wine at The Churchill Arms
Arguably the most festive pub in London, The Churchill Arms in Kensington is a popular spot for pictures, especially during the festive season. It displays over 21,000 fairly lights and has a wonderfully warm and cosy atmosphere.
Built back in 1750, this extravagant pub spends around £25,000 each year on flowers! If hay fever has stopped you from visiting in the past, make sure you visit around Christmas. At this time of year, flowers are replaced with around 80 Christmas trees.
The pub used to be called ‘church on the hill’, receiving its current name after the Second World War. It has a Winston Churchill interior theme and claims to be the first London pub with a Thai restaurant. So if you’re not a fan of a traditional British Christmas dinner, there is always Pad Thai!
12. Go on a Christmas cruise
If you’re feeling boujee, why not experience Christmas dinner with a difference – on a cruise down the Thames! The Thames Dinner Cruise offers freshly prepared onboard food which will no doubt tickle your taste buds. The ‘river room’ boat is unique to the Thames, with Scandinavian designed features.
It also has the largest open deck measuring over 250 square metres. This is perfect for capturing all the stunning views that London has to offer! Cruises leave embankment pier at 19:00 and return around 22:00 and the dining package includes a glass of sparkling wine on arrival, four-course set festive meal, half a bottle of wine and water and a live DJ all for £99 a head.
13. Grab a festive scoop
If you’re looking for some Christmas ice cream to satisfy a craving, Gelupo is the place for you! They serve a selection of festive-inspired ice creams such as Christmas pudding, panettone, clementine, caramel liquorice and maple pecan.
They’ve also got a delicious hot chocolate menu! Think traditional, deeply nutty Gianduja milk chocolate topped with whipped cream, and ‘gelato floats’ with hot chocolate poured over hazelnut gelato. They also serve a traditional Italian hot drink, made with espresso, chocolate and rum. If you want to get the party started early, Gelupo will make this happen!
14. Wander around Covent Garden
Another London landmark stuns as it lights up for the Christmas season. Covent Garden dazzles as the giant baubles and lights are hung and powered up. As well as the decorations, it is home to one of London’s biggest Christmas trees, which tops out at a whopping 60 feet tall.
Keeping in line with royalty, the Christmas tree comes from the same farm that the Queen’s family gets their trees from. It also wins brownie points for being sustainable! They plant three trees for every tree cut down. And at the end of the festive season, they recycle the tree to make woodchips.
Over 30,000 lights and giant baubles are hung on the tree by a team of 60, taking just over 300 hours to get the decorations sorted! Good luck trying to capture this masterpiece.
15. Try a festive slice at the Mayfair Pizza Company
Ever wondered what Christmas pudding pizza tastes like? Well, look no further! The Mayfair Pizza Company will enlighten your curiosity as they have created this pizza for just £7 with custard brandy and redcurrant compote. If sweet isn’t your thing, try the Christmas dinner pizza for £13. This beast brims with pulled turkey, pigs-in-blankets, chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes, root vegetables, redcurrant compote and bread sauce!
So there you have it! 15 of the best things to do in London at Christmas. If this post has inspired you to indulge in London’s festivities, please let me know in the comments below!
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