Christmas in London is a blast, even if it is going to look a little different this year. It’s not all tears though, from pop-up Christmas markets to Christmas carols and festive films – here are the best things to do in London at Christmas.
Those of you who know me will not in any way, shape or form will be surprised when I say that Christmas season in London is hands down one of my favourite times of year.
What’s not to love? In a normal year, there are more Christmas markets than you could possibly visit, parties, pantos, Christmas lights – it’s like everyone forgets that winter in London can be kind of bleak and decides to roll with the festive flow. Even this year, as we enter December in Tier Two, there’s still plenty of opportunities for you to big up on the festive feels.
Add to that the excuse to drink Christmas cocktails (for the record, these are like normal cocktails but better and come with zero guilt because: Christmas), eat festive afternoon teas and dress up in ugly jumpers and you’re onto a winner. All that before we get to the real stuff, like…mulled wine and Christmas carols. So here it is: the best things to do in London at Christmas – 19 Christmas in London ideas for your festive December bucket list. Ho ho ho!
The Best Things to do to Celebrate Christmas in London
Take a Jaunt to one of London’s Christmas Markets
I remember the sad old days when there weren’t any Christmas markets – when you had to drink your mulled wine at home and do your Christmas shopping in boring old shopping centres.
Thankfully, those days are over. Well, kind of.
I shed a solitary tear when many of the city’s most famous Christmas markets were cancelled last month but there are still a few solid contenders to save the day.
First of all – there’s a new kid in town: Christmas Market On the Mews by Selfridges. Tucked around the back of the Oxford Street department store, it will pair festive fairground rides, decorations, gift-buying opps and some delicious street food from Street Feast.
Other returnees include Christmas by the River at London Bridge and Pexmas in Peckham’s Copeland Park. The latter will open it’s stalls mid-December where you can snap up gifts from their carefully curated range of indie boutiques and makers.
Rich Mix’s DIY Christmas Art Market promises a similar vibe – but with over 100 stallholders, it might just pip the others for the range of goodies on offer. Alternatively Greenwich Christmas Market is another great choice if you want to stray from the centre – pop into one of their series of Christmas market lates.
Feast at London’s Christmas Afternoon Teas
Afternoon tea in London is a year-round must. It’s a well-known truth that nowhere does afternoon teas quite like London – but in the run up to Christmas, they really step it up a notch.
Of course, you can go for a blow-out festive London afternoon tea somewhere incredibly fancy like Claridges, The Connaught or The Ritz.
The famous Ritz Palm Court is festooned with decorations, transforming it into a winter wonderland – plus the tea itself is pimped by the addition of mince pies, festive cakes and a glass of bubbly. If that’s a little on the expensive side – the Biscuiteers festive afternoon tea is a more wallet-friendly alternative. Feast on their signature biscuits (complete with Christmas decorations obviously) and a selection of other sweet treats – £30 per adult.
Watch a Film at one of London’s Christmas Winter Cinemas
Tempting as it is to bury yourself under covers and watch a few well-chosen festive classics from the safety of your bed, there are better options at hand.
The Luna Drive-In Winter Cinema has ALL the classics. Elf, Die Hard (don’t start that old debate about whether it’s a Christmas film – it just is), Home Alone, Love Actually.
Skylight London’s Christmas Cinema explodes onto the scene with a bang this year – the Christmas Cocktail Indoor Cinema is screening your faves – plus a few niche treasures (umm A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas anyone?).
The perfect excuse to binge-watch all the Christmas films you could ever want.
Cosy Up in a Christmas Igloo at Skylight
Who knew that pop up igloos were the London Christmas trend we never knew we were missing until it arrived. Well, now the igloos are here and we can celebrate. You can try and nab one of the grail-like spots at that well-known igloo spot on the river, but the one I’m excited about has got to be Skylight Christmas at Tobacco Dock.
Kicking off on 3rd December, Skylight Christmas brings an Apres Ski Lodge and Off-Piste Speakeasy to Wapping – but this year with the addition of magical igloos too! The igloos are for those in household bubbles, but there are also plenty of outdoors tables for ‘rule of six’ catch ups as well.
Drink Christmas Cocktails at London’s Best Bars
Don’t you just love how things that are pretty fabulous anyway get even better at Christmas? The humble cocktail being a case in point.
Now clearly, we all love a good cocktail at any time of year – and London’s packed with bars that just so happen to excel at making them (like ahem, these ones in Shoreditch).
But at Christmas? The gloves are off. The Snow Ho Ho at 70s pop up Bobby Fitzpatrick gives off all the retro vibes – cos nothing says Christmas like a creamy cocktail with some OTT flourishes.
Want to go all out? The St Nicholas’ Cocktail at Donovan’s Bar is a lip-smackingly good blend of raisin-infused Hennessey, tonka beans syrup, almond milk and kahlua. It’s like a big, warm, boozy hug. Let’s not forget the hugely hyped but totally brilliant Miracle at 34 – Mayfair’s glitziest, swankiest Christmas pop up (this year sporting thousands of baubles hanging from the ceiling to boot). The cocktail list itself might not be that festive but the setting certainly is.
Participate in a Long-Standing Tradition with the Christmas Auction at Smithfield Meat Market
I’ve really tried to keep the Christmas Eve auction at Smithfield Meat Market a secret as it’s such a cool little festive London event and I don’t want it to be ruined… But I’ve got a blabbermouth, so really, I’m just going to tell you anyway #bloggerproblems.
Smithfield is the UK’s largest meat market and one of the city’s oldest markets.
Great, great. But what’s that got to do with Christmas?
Every Christmas Eve, one butcher shop, Hart of Smithfield’s hosts a Christmas Auction on the street outside of the market. There are Christmas carols and a jovial crowd turn up to bid on a selection of cuts for the Christmas table.
Not only is it excellent value, but the cheeky quips, festive atmosphere and frenetic pace make it one of the quirkier things to do in London at Christmas.
*I haven’t been able to confirm whether the Christmas Auction is happening this year – check closer to the time.
Tuck Into a Christmas Meal with a Difference
It’s great to have the family over on Christmas Day isn’t it?
You get to spend all day (and probably a lot of the night before) slaving away over the stove, only to have your mum complain that the brussels sprouts are overcooked, your dad tell you that the turkey’s dry and then have them all mince away, leaving you with a gargantuan pile of washing up and congealed food to get on with on Boxing Day. And that’s in a normal year – this year we’ve got the ‘rona to contend with too.
No, I’m not bitter.
It’s no wonder that so many people choose to sack the whole cooking malarkey off and treat themselves to a blow out Christmas meal instead.
If that sounds tempting, The Dorchester’s decadent five-course Christmas menu with paired wines hits all the right spots: if you can’t trust The Dorchester to get Christmas right then who can you trust?
They can blimmin’ well deal with the dishes too.
Or Have a Christmas Meal Delivered to Your Home
One good thing to come out of this year is the mobilisation of restaurant delivery services, a.k.a how to have incredibly fancy dinners at home.
Now I’m as partial to cooking a Christmas dinner as the next person but I’m even more partial to the idea that I can order a Christmas meal kit lovingly prepared by an actual chef, do a few simple tricks in the kitchen and serve up a feast without breaking a sweat. Who the heck doesn’t like the sound of that?
Enter The Savoy – delivering a three-course Christmas banquet, complete with bronze Norfolk turkey, Cumberland sausage, chestnut & apple stuffing, pigs in blankets, honey-glazed carrots, Brussel sprouts with crispy streaky bacon, Maris Piper duck fat confit potatoes, oven-roasted parsnips and turkey gravy, cranberry sauce and bread sauce.
Oh, did I mention the Jerusalem and smoked tomato velouté and a traditional Savoy mince pie with brandy butter to finish? Drool.
Take a Tour of the London Christmas Lights
When I was a child, my mum used to take us on a DIY tour of London’s Christmas lights. You know what? I still love it now as much as I did then.
Obviously Oxford Street and Regent Street are the biggies – their lights are two of the most-visited Christmas attractions in London.
There really there are so many London Christmas lights that it’s best to put on a warm winter coat and walk to as many as possible once it gets dark (who am I kidding, it’s winter, it’s pretty much always dark).
Hit up Oxford Street, Regent’s Street, Carnaby Street, Covent Garden, Seven Dials and Bond Street for starters, then trek out to Kew, where the Christmas lights are something else.
Book Tickets for a Christmas Panto in London
“Who’s that behind you?”
Who said that panto is just for kids? Whoever it was, they were incorrect.
Now, I don’t know about you but the costumes, the drama, the cheering, the booing – there’s nothing like a London Christmastime panto to awaken that sense of childish glee that is just so Christmas. A trip to the panto is what Christmas fun in London is all about.A lot of pantos are cancelled (boo) but you can still catch a few treasures – Dick Whittington at The National Theatre being the biggie. Looking for something a little more highbrow? There’s A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic with Andrew Lincoln as Scrooge to check out too.
Unleash Your Inner Child at Hamleys
Hamleys is the oldest and the largest toy shop in the world, so it makes sense that they’re going to put on quite a show for Christmas.
Now, you can pretend that you’re just popping in to Hamleys because you need to pick up a present for your eight year old niece but you and I know the truth…
It’s OK, your secret is safe with me.
Make Like Harry Potter and Visit Hogwarts in the Snow
Hands up if you start re-watching all of the Harry Potter movies on repeat the moment that it hits December. Just me then? You’re missing out. It’s a real Christmas treat.
The Great Hall is decorated for the Yule Ball from Goblet of Fire (you know, the one in the Triwizard Tournament when Hermione turns up with Viktor Krum and shizz goes down big time). In fact many of the sets are given a festive makeover -and if you’re quick, you can snap up tickets to have dinner in the great hall.
Try Some Christmas Activities in London – Like Ice Skating
I’ll level with you. I actually hate ice skating – I’m infinitely clumsy and any time I’ve ventured onto the ice has generally ended with me spending a lot of time face down and up, close and personal to the cold stuff.
Just because I can’t get my head around basic coordination doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go and skate your little hearts out at one of London’s pop up ice skating rinks.
Canary Wharf’s is another popular option and, if you’re willing to hop on the train, Hampton Court Palace is still on.
Don’t worry, I’ll be there to cheer you from the sidelines, envy twisting my heart like a dark canker.
Sing Along to Some Festive London Christmas Carols
Which is your favourite Christmas carol? Low key O Little Town of Bethlehem? No, let me guess… the all out DRAMA of Hark the Herald Angels Sing – I knew it.
Not all carol concerts are created equal. Obviously having a choir that can sing helps, a magical setting is a big bonus – most important of all? A gung ho crowd willing to bob along with the old classics.
Want something a bit different? The Donmar’s Festive Concert in the Actors’ Church is streaming on the 16th December on the theatre’s YouTube channel and features some of the darlings of the London stage – Imelda Staunton, Minnie Driver and Giles Terera among others.
Visit the Christmas Tree at Trafalgar Square
The good people of Norway have been sending us Brits a Christmas tree to put in Trafalgar Square every year since 1947 as a remembrance of British support during WWII.
every year since 1947 as a remembrance of British support during WWII.
Let’s face it, Trafalgar Square is one of the places to visit in London during Christmas that seems to slip onto everyone’s festive calendar.
Seeing as they’ve gone to all the effort of sending over a huge Norwegian spruce, it feels like it’s only the polite thing to go and check it out as a small way of saying thanks. The 25 metre-tall tree sits in the middle of the square, festooned with lights and looking ever so Christmassy.
And Check out the Other Christmas Trees Dotted around London
Believe it or not, Trafalgar Square isn’t the only Christmas tree that brings the spirit of festive cheer in London. Oh ho ho no (sorry, couldn’t resist) – there are gorgeous trees dotted all over the city.
A train station might feel like an unlikely place to start your Christmas tree odyssey but there we are – the tree at St Pancras is always on everyone’s lips when it comes to choosing their favourite – this year it’s a striking “Tree of Hope” decked out with a pastel pink carousel at the bottom.
Luxury hotel Claridges has a more contemporary (but no less wow-worthy) take on things… and if that’s not enough, you should also swing by Hays Galleria (pictured) The Connaught, Somerset House and Wembley Park for more Christmas Tree fabulousness.
Head to Christmas at Kew
Kew Gardens is one of London’s prettiest spots all year round but when it comes to Christmas, they really pull out the stops. Christmas at Kew is a dazzling display of lights, sounds and art that just gets better each year.
Let me put this into perspective for you. The extensive grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens are lit up by over 1 million lights each night for the Christmas at Kew season. In other words, festive doesn’t even begin to cover it – this place is magical.
Enjoy a Christmas Concert
Much as a carol concert is Christmassier than me eating mince pies and dancing badly in ugly jumpers, there’s a whole world more to explore when it comes to festive music.
Hunting out the city’s best Christmas concerts has become one of my new favourite things to do during the Christmas season in London.
The Royal Albert Hall is the natural place to start. They’ve been celebrating Christmas for quite a long time now and have really worked out how to totally nail it (clue: it includes lotsa carols, swing Christmas concerts and Handel’s Messiah).
Another cool spot and long-time favourite, The Barbican has a couple of Christmassy events to throw in the mix, including a Choral Christmas.
Wrap Up Warm and Go for a Winter Walk around a Stately Home
You might not know it, but London is dotted with gorgeous stately homes that are open to the public. They’re interesting enough the rest of the year round but many take Christmas as their time to shine (literally – there are often a LOT of fairy lights involved).
Chiswick House have been holding their lantern festival for a couple of years now and this year’s promises to be even bigger and better. Wend your way through the 18th-century stately home and its surrounding gardens following a trail of light and music – it’s all slightly ethereal and rather wonderful.
Practical Tips for Making the Most of London at Christmas
Make the Most of all the Free Activities
London can be a brutally expensive city – but one of my favourite things about the Christmas season in London is that it brings with it a whole host of free activities and things to do. Seeing the lights, spying out the Christmas trees, Christmas carol concerts – so many of these things are free, meaning you can save your pennies for pressies and Christmas cocktails instead.
Book Ahead for the More Popular Christmas Attractions in London
I hate to be the voice of reason here (really, I do, I wanna be like go wherever the wind takes you my Tinkerbells) but this is Xmas in London. Stuff gets booked up. People get disappointed. Children start crying into their hot chocolate.
Christmas isn’t about bad feels so make sure you book tickets for some of the more popular pantos and events (cough Christmas in Kew cough) well in advance to avoid disappointment.
- Wear warm clothes – though London rarely gets below freezing, it’s cold enough that you should make sure you wrap up warm!
- The best way to explore London is on foot – the central attractions are in a surprisingly small area and easily walkable.
- Christmas is a peak period for London’s hotels so it takes a bit of insider info to find something reasonable. Find the best places to stay in London in my guide to the best areas and hotels to stay in London.
- Coming from out of town? Check out my winter city break packing list.
So, there we are – the most fun things to do in London at Christmas. Go forth and eat all the mince pies, washed down with lashings of mulled wine.
I hope that you enjoy and, if I don’t get to speak to you before – Merry Christmas!
Love This? Save and Share on Pinterest
Looking for More London Christmas Guides?
Check these out…
London’s Best Christmas Markets
Exploring the Best of London in Winter
Everything You (N)Ever Needed to Know About Trafalgar Square