Christmas in London is a blast, from pop-up markets to Christmas carols and festive films – here are the best things to do in the capital at Christmas time.
The Christmas season in London is hands down one of our favourite times of the year.
We recon London doesn’t get much better than it does at Christmas. You can’t knock it. Heaps of Christmas markets to explore, parties, pantomimes and festive dinners mean there’s no end to the fun you can have. Not to mention the lights make London look even more beautiful than normal.
On top of all this the city comes alive with festive activities. This year is no exception. The Nutcracker is back at the Royal Opera House. The gardens at Kew are lit up in full glory and one that we’re really excited about, you can spend Christmas Eve exploring Charles Dickens’ house.
Let’s get stuck in…
The Best Things to do to Celebrate Christmas in London
Take a Jaunt to one of London’s Christmas Markets
Nothing will put you in the mood for Christmas like wandering around a Christmas market, choosing the fattest bratwursts and sipping on mulled wine. London is chock-full of them too so you’ve got plenty to choose from.
First of all: King’s Cross will be setting up a huge range of activities throughout November and december up at Coal Drops Yard. That means Christmas markets, Club Curling, and an Apres-Ski bar serving hot toddies to warm you right up.
Other returnees include Christmas by the River at London Bridge and Pexmas in Peckham’s Copeland Park. The latter will run on the 2nd and 3rd of December, where you’ll be able to snap up gifts from their carefully curated range of indie boutiques and makers.
Alternatively Greenwich Christmas Market is another great choice if you want to stray from the centre – pop along to their Lantern Parade on 15th November for a magical evening.
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 you’d rather save a bit of money for presents and the pub but you still want some afternoon tea delights, the Biscuiteers has a (slightly) more wallet-friendly alternative.
You’ll be nibbling your way through a series of biscuits that are so pretty you might even be reluctant to take a bite out of them. That comes in at £55.50 per head.
Follow an Immersive Christmas Lights Hunt
We think the best part of spending Christmas in London is admiring the capital’s magical lights. And we can’t quite think of a better way to marvel at them than during an immersive scavenger hunt.
Enter CityDays: They’ve curated a stellar Christmas lights hunt that takes you around London’s sparkling streets.
Starting at Oxford Circus and ending near Covent Garden, Clause & Effect challenges you to a ridiculously fun wild goose chase as you solve an interactive festive adventure.
Better yet, they have a Gourmet version that includes scrumptious food & drinks and some partner food vendors along the way!
There’s a banging 20% discount on food and drinks at recommended pubs too – because nothing screams Christmas more than a festive tipple or three with your mates.
Don’t spend too long in the pub, though; there are clues to crack.
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 Winter Cinema at Kensington Palace will be showing Elf, Die Hard (don’t start that old debate about whether it’s a Christmas film – it just is), Home Alone, Love Actually – expect all the classics.
The perfect excuse to binge-watch all the Christmas films you could ever want.
Go Fully Festive with the London Transport Museum
A visit to London Transport Museum might not at first seem to be the most festive of days of the year, but hear us out. The museum is easily one of the most underrated in the capital and is helping visitors get in the festive season in 2023.
They’ve got a host of festive workshops for the whole family running at various dates throughout November and December. Thes include card-making workshops, festive trails around their exhibitions and a poster parade of festive transport advertising across the years.
Drink Christmas Cocktails at London’s Best Bars
Don’t you just love how things that are pretty fabulous anyway get even better in London 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.
Callooh Callay are doing some winter tipple with wild Christmas spins – one of which includes toppings of candy canes and (yes) a Christmas hat.
At The Little Yellow Door and its other coloured outlets they’re leaning right into the festive spirit with some wild decorations and a full menu of festive-themed drinks – some of which you can even shake with the bartender…
Looking to up the game a little. Pergola Paddington’s decor is always top-notch. They riff off apres ski style and what could be more wintery than drinking inside a log cabin after all?
Should you fancy truly upping the game to a whole new level The Corinthia London is always a solid favourite of ours at this time of year. They deck out the back courtyard with Christmas lights and serve up a mean boozy hot chocolate. You can’t go wrong.
Attend the Smithfield Market Xmas Meat Auction
A favourite festive event of ours that’s sadly been missing from the Christmas calendar for the past few years is making a comeback for Xmas 2023. It’s the Smithfield Market Meat Auction, a truly unique spectacle.
It goes back to a time before fridges when you’d buy your turkey as close to Christmas Day as possible and is quite something to see. Auctioneering butchers flog all sorts of meat, calling out prices across a frenetic auction floor of the cash-waving crazed.
Meat is then chucked, yes chucked, at the highest bidder. You can grab some great bargains here too if you’re willing to stake your Christmas Dinner on your skill at an auction.
Tuck Into a Christmas Meal with a Difference
Cooking on Christmas day can be lovely but it can also be a hassle. There’s all that prep, and navigating it with a glass too many in your system. Don’t even mention the washing up. No wonder then, that some like to opt for a dinner out instead…
If that sounds tempting, The Dorchester’s never a bad choice, a decadent five-course Christmas menu from a multi-Michelin-starred kitchen? You know that’s going to be a Chritmas to remember.
The new opening Mauro Colagreco at the latest food hotspot in London, The OWO, is also offering a festive tasting menu on Christmas day with some tantalizing bites to say the least. Hello duck and spiced-apple agnolotti.
It’s not just them. Pretty much every restaurant you can name is running some kind of Christmas special. We’ve compiled a full guide to the best of them. You can see them here.
Take a Daring Sky-High Adventure
Fancy a thrilling new experience for Christmas? Something more than just your run-of-the-mill festive activity? Embracing your adventurous side and scaling the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium might do the trick…
Throughout winter at The Dare Skywalk they’re dishing out warm mugs of hot chocolate, mulled wine and flutes of prosecco alongside some of the best views London has to offer.
How do you reach the top? Strap in with a team of professionals and ascend nearly 50 metres above the pitch to the stadium’s crest. It’s a solid shout for office team building or even as a gift for any would-be thrill seekers you might know.
What’s more, if you really want to up the ante you can take The Edge back to ground level. What’s that you ask? Only a controlled descent to the pitch 42m below and the UK’s first stadium abseil…
If you’re looking to make it a Christmas to remember or perhaps spice up the New Year, you can’t do much better than this.
Take a Self-Guided Tour of the London Christmas Lights
Is there anything more magical than Christmas lights in London? Nah.
Obviously Oxford Street and Regent Street are the biggies – their lights are two of the most-visited Christmas attractions in London.
There really 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 are we kidding, it’s winter, it’s pretty much always dark).
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, we 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.
Looking for something a little more highbrow? There’s A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic with Owen Teale 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. It’s always a lovely place to explore at this time of the year. Especially if you’ve got some little ones in tow.
You can always pretend you’re shopping for a family member if you don’t. It’s OK, your secret is safe with us. It’s OK, your secret is safe with us.
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 us 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
You either love or hate ice skating – here at London x London it divides the team, though you should definitely visit one of London’s pop-up rinks if you’re feeling brave enough.
The rink at Alexandra Palace is always beautiful (and what a backdrop), the Queen’s House rink in Greenwich is a stunner too. Special mention for the iconic skating rink at Somerset House while we’re on the subject of gorgeous places to skate.
Sing Along to Some Festive London Christmas Carols
Which is your favourite Christmas carol? Low key O Little Town of Bethlehem? No, let us guess… the all out DRAMA of Hark the Herald Angels Sing – we 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.
Westminster Abbey has a string of concerts running from the 3rd – 25th of December. Most of the action happens toward the end of the month and it’s all very traditional. We love it.
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.
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 made of books…
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.
Over a million lights go into decorating the greenhouses and grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens – it’s nothing short of spectacular. 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 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 our 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 Gospel 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 concert.
Wrap Up Warm and Go for a Winter Walk around a Stately Home
London is dotted with gorgeous stately homes – many 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, for one, will be hosting Christmas events where you can wend your way through the 18th-century stately home gardens and scoff mince pies as the Rock Choir sings. It’s all slightly ethereal and rather wonderful.
Eltham Palace will also be all lit up. The stunning structure looks nothing less than spectacular under the influence of a Christmas display and a few glasses of mulled wine.
Kenwood House too will also be lit up this year from December up to January. They’ve got award-winning light choreographers in for the job so you can guarantee it’s going to look the part.
Spend an Evening at Winter Wonderland
Love it or hate it, Winter Wonderland is the ultimate festive hotspot in London.
Filled with overpriced drinks, huge queues, and the sounds of crying children in the air, we understand that it’s very much a Marmite situation, but there’s also nowhere as iconic to spend an evening.
Fairground rides, the smell of mulled wine, and the iconic ice bar, this is one of the best Christmas things to do in London. Grab yourself a sausage and get merry!
You’ll need to book tickets in advance, with many slots available for free. Though, you’ll need to shell out a fiver if you want to visit during weekends. Well worth it, we think.
Head to Westfield for Winter Celebrations
Westfield is giving Winter Wonderland a run for its money this year when it comes to festivities – the two locations (Stratford and White City) will be a hub for all things Xmas in London.
From the 17th of November, the shopping centres will be completely festooned in Christmas gear – get your cameras at the ready, your Insta feed will thank you.
Westfield London will be home to a gargantuan 1000m2 outdoor Ice Rink, and there’s even a breakfast with Santa option for those looking to treat their little ones.
Phantom Peak’s Wintermas Extravaganza
Even if you have already visited Phantom Peak in Canada Water, you might want to book yourself another ticket. Phantom Peak’s festive season looks set to be a highlight of London at Christmas 2023.
If you’ve not been yet, Phantom Peak is an immersive experience that sees you thrown into a Victoriana-esque village, meeting with characters and completing quests.
This time, step into the immersive steampunk world – which has been given a suitably festive makeover – and enjoy brand new trails, secrets, and an uber-cool winter grotto. Oh, and there’ll be plenty of treats to devour after you’ve completed your quests. What’s not to love?
Catch A Muppet Christmas Carol in Concert
What could be more wholesome than A Muppet Christmas Carol? It’s up there with the best of the festive season’s musical offerings. The show is touring the UK and has a one-night-only spot at The Apollo on December 3rd.
The Disney classic will play on the big screen, as a live orchestra helps to create the ultimate Christmas atmosphere. Tickets for this sells out fast so make sure you’re quick to get in there.
Dine at an Immersive Screening of Home Alone
You might have seen us writing about Taste Film in our guides before. We’re big fans. They do a very inventive cinema/dining experience. That being a screening of a movie that has plenty of food-related scenes in it, and then they curate a menu that reflects what’s being eaten on screen.
The result: you eat what the characters eat. They’ve done Pulp Fiction, The Devil Wears Prada and heaps more. Now it’s time for a Christmas edition. They’ve picked the all-time classic Home Alone.
Screenings take place at various weekends throughout December. The 2nd – 4th, 9th – 11th and 16th – 18th at The Refinery City Point by Drake & Morgan.
See the Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House
Another festive performance that always leaves a big mark in our London calendar is the Royal Opera House’s performance of the Nutcracker. The show is about as magical as it comes.
Scored by the great Tchaikovsky and performed by an incredibly talented team of dancers, the ballet will transport you to a magical winter wonderland through the story of Clara and her magical Christmas Eve adventure to the Kingdom of Sweets.
Ride a Horse and Carriage Through Richmond Park
There’s always a charm to the idea of riding in a horse-drawn carriage, but around wintertime, that charm seems to up itself to new levels. If you’ve got the itch to play prince and princess you can do so around Richmond.
Every year for Christmas Royal Parks offers winter rides through Richmond Park. The hour-long experience involves some rather majestic shire horses, mince pies and mulled wine.
Just in case you weren’t already aware, it is Richmond Park that also boasts herds of wild deer – ten points if you can spot Rudolf among them.
Tour London’s Christmas Film Locations
London being so magical at Christmas time has captured the imagination of filmmakers for generations. Not surprisingly then, you can go and visit many of the places that have featured in their festive classics.
From the mews of Love Actually to the Notting Hill hangouts of Paddington Bear, and not forgetting the pub from Bridget Jones’ Dairy, there’s heaps to see. Taking a tour of the sites also makes for a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.
We’ve written a guide to exploring all of London’s Christmas filming locations so you can check them out for yourself. Find it in the link below.
Check Out the Nine Elms Advent Calendar
Each year for Christmas Nine Elms does its very own unique bit of festive decorating, turning vast swathes of the neighbourhood into an interactive advent calendar.
To do that the whole community gets involved, offering up shop windows and public spaces for a 24-night-long string of festive events. From the 1st – 24th of December each location unveils a new window to the calendar with the addition of Christmas-themed activities.
Those activities range from carol singing to mulled wine swigging. Making it down to even a few of these events is a great way to get excited in the countdown to the big day. Nine Elms, we have to give it to you: you know how to do it right.
See the Lights (and Grab a Pint) at The Churchill Arms
There’s one place we migrate to annually at around this time of year, and that’s the Churchill Arms in Chelsea. The pub is one of the most eccentric in London any given day of the year but come Christmas time, they really push the boat out.
The usually floral facade of the building (that’s genuinely so covered in flowers that there’s more of them than brickwork) is adorned with such an abundance of Christmas lights that we worry about the power grid for west London going down.
It’s a marvel to look at, and probably the only wintertime activity that requires sunglasses. Once you’re done admiring the outside, head in for a nice pint in the cosy inside. It’s the ultimate Christmas pub experience.
Hear Some Creepy Christmas Ghost Stories
It’s not all Christmas cheer in London – there’s plenty of Christmas fear going around too. No, we’re not talking about the panic of choosing the right presents for your loved ones. We’re talking about this spooky event at The Electric Elephant Cafe.
They’ve teamed up with South East London Folklore Society for an evening of storytelling. The subject? The ghosts and ghouls of London and their grizzly pasts. The event is totally free to attend (should you be brave enough) and is a guaranteed bit of fun for anyone looking to buck the usual cuddly Christmas trends.
Explore Dickens’ House on Christmas Eve
Who could be more entwined with the way the British view Christmas than the great Charles Dickens? His books have shaped the imaginations of children for generations, and probably fewer get as much attention as A Christmas Carol – the creepy tale of the reckoning of Scrooge and the ghost of Christmas past.
This year you can get into the swing of things with a Christmas Eve trip to the house this very author lived in. These days it’s been turned into an excellent museum dedicated to the power of his storytelling and picking apart the London that shaped the focus of his writing.
They’ve got adaptations of A Christmas Carol and The Muppet Christmas Carol playing in what they’re calling ‘the smallest theatre in the world’. On top of that and exploring the home of one of Britain’s most important authors, they’ll also be handing out mince pies and mulled wine to every guest.
Looks like they’ve not fallen into the same traps as Scrooge then…
Meet Santa on a Vintage Steam Train
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit from Santa. This year (before he’s off on his worldwide prezzie delivery tour) you can catch him on the Santa Steam Express.
It’s easily one of the most enchanting Christmas things to do in London. You’ll be embarking on a 1.5-hour train ride on an absolutely delightful vintage steam train. The journey takes you around London as Santa comes along and dishes out presents to all the passengers.
If you’ve got some little ones in your family this is likely going to blow their mind. We’re not going to lie, as fully-grown adults, we’re totally sold on the magic of this thing too.
Journeys run at various times throughout the day on the 15th, 18th and 21st of December. Tickets can be booked for them all below, but you’ll want to act fast – it’s obviously extremely popular and there are only a limited number of seats.