There’s nowhere quite like London at Christmas.
England can be chilly during the winter months, but as you wrap up in scarves and coats and walk around sipping a glass of mulled wine, you wouldn’t want it any other way.
I’m a London local, and I’ve spent most of my Christmasses in the capital of the UK. So, when it comes to festive activities in London, I know what to recommend!
Whether you’re a Londoner looking for some new things to do or are on holiday to the city during the festive period, you’ll find some fantastic recommendations here.
So read on, and I’ll tell you all about London at Christmas!
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Things to do in London at Christmas
Here are some of the most iconic attractions, places to eat, Christmas lights and festive markets in London at Christmas!
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park
Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is one of the best places to visit in London during the festive season.
With one of the best Christmas markets in Europe, fair rides, a Bavarian village with live music, plenty of bars and an ice rink, there’s tonnes to enjoy here.
Winter Wonderland is usually free entry, but in 2021 it cost a small amount to reserve tickets (this policy was put in place due to Covid19). It has not yet been announced what the policy will be for 2022.
The attractions, food and drink inside can be quite pricey, however, so make sure that you come with some money!
There are drink stalls, festive gift stalls, and rides for people of all ages and tastes. Whether you want to go on the adrenaline-boosting rollercoasters or soar down the real ice slide, you could easily spend all day here!
If you’re a group of adults, it’s also a fab place to drink, with plenty of live music and bar areas like the fun Alpine Lodge, and even some beer tents.
Leicester Square Christmas Market
Another one of London’s most popular Christmas markets is in Leicester Square.
Encompassing the entire area, this is one of the best markets to visit to buy some Christmas presents and get merry on mulled wine.
There is also a range of stage productions at Leicester Square throughout the festive period, so you could make a night of it – see the markets, and then catch La Clique cabaret show or something similar!
Christmas Services at Westminster Abbey
If you fancy traditional carol services, head to Westminster Abbey.
There are typical carol concerts and religious ceremonies here throughout the month of December. Plus, you’ll find lots of decorations like a traditional nativity scene with Jesus in the manger.
It’s free to visit Westminster Abbey if you are going to a service. However, you can only stay for the service and can’t look around after.
If you want to go in to look around the whole abbey, it’s a pricey attraction at £24.00 per person.
However, there’s a way to get two tickets for the price of one.
If you have a train ticket (this can be any train ticket, even just going one stop) you can make use of the ‘National Rail days out deal’ which gives you two tickets for £24.00!
Christmas Cheer at Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a fun place to visit any time of year, but especially during Christmas!
There’s always something going on in Covent Garden. Throughout the festive period, there’s a huge tree in the middle of the square.
Entertainers gather around the tree, and there’s also a Christmas village, different varieties of mulled wine to try and a lego installation.
We don’t often get snow in London, but once a day in Covent Garden, there’s a fake snowfall!
There are activities that change every year too. In 2021, there was a free Frozen experience, perfect for kids.
There are plenty of restaurants around Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum, which is a fun indoor attraction to visit.
It’s close to Charing Cross, so it’s easy to reach from other places in London.
Lights at Regent Street
Regent Street is one of the most romantic places to visit in London at Christmas.
With glow-in-the-dark angles soaring high above the street, and the opportunity to walk on a pavement in the middle of the road, you can take some epic festive photos here.
This beautiful street is close to a lot of other London attractions, so it’s easy for you to check out while you’re exploring!
Christmas at Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens are the biggest and most famous botanical gardens in the UK.
They were founded in 1840 and have more than 50,000 plants on show.
You can enjoy these gardens at Christmas by buying tickets for the Christmas at Kew exhibition.
This is a stunning winter trail with beautiful Christmas lights, different festive illuminations, food and drink stalls and even an appearance from Father Christmas!
Tour London’s best light displays
Central London is a dazzling display of lights throughout the whole festive period, and you can take an open-topped bus tour to see all of it.
From extravagant window displays to street lights to the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, there’s plenty to marvel at here.
You’ll go past Tower Bridge, The Strand, the London Eye and many more remarkable London attractions, all lit up for the festive period.
This is the best way to ensure that you take in London’s most Christmassy attractions!
Away from Central London, some of the best festive lights are at Eltham Palace in the southeast of the city.
This display is called Enchanted Eltham, and it is a light and music display. Here, you can enjoy the beautiful gardens of Eltham Palace bedecked in fairy lights and listen to some Christmas carols and music.
Eltham Palace was visited by Henry VIII, and in later life, it was owned by the wealthy Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, an interesting couple who travelled the world and had a pet lemur!
You can’t visit the house in the evening while Enchanted Eltham is on, but it’s worth coming back in the day for another trip.
If you’re looking for something else to do in Eltham after visiting, we did an escape room at Eltham Escape Rooms which was really fun.
To get to Eltham from Central London, take a train from Charing Cross.
London’s best festive afternoon teas
There’s nothing that screams London like afternoon tea. You can enjoy these with a festive twist while you’re in London over Christmas.
Here are some of the best afternoon teas that you can enjoy in London:
- Claridges: The festive afternoon tea here has festive finger sandwiches with seasonal fillings and their famous Christmas pudding.
- Mr Fogg’s House of Botanicals: If you want to enjoy some drinks with your afternoon tea, Mr Fogg’s tipsy teas are legendary. Plus, they offer a Christmas-themed option!
- The Dorchester: This is one of London’s most prestigious hotels, serving up amazing afternoon teas – and the Christmas-themed one is even more remarkable!
See a pantomime
Oh no, you didn’t!
Pantomimes are one of the best things to do in England in winter.
They are family comedy shows that are popular throughout Christmas and New Year.
Pantomimes play all over the country, and you’ll find a few on offer in London, particularly in the West End.
These are an integral part of British culture at Christmas, so make sure you visit one while you’re in the country!
Christmas shopping at Oxford street
Oxford Street is the largest shopping street in London (and potentially the whole country).
While high street shopping in the UK has become decidedly less popular over the last few years – largely due to the rise of online shopping – this street is still alive with festive cheer from November onwards.
Here, you’ll find one of the country’s largest Primarks, and multiple other huge stores.
It’s the perfect place to pick up Christmas presents!
Explore the gingerbread city
The gingerbread city is one of the best festive attractions in London.
A mini edible village, it depicts a festive scene made entirely out of delectable gingerbread.
You can’t eat it though! It’s on display from the start of December to the start of January.
There are even gingerbread house making workshops!
It costs £14 for adults to visit the gingerbread city and £8.50 for children. Proceeds raise money for the Museum of Architecture.
Hogwarts in the Snow
This is a must-do for any Harry Potter fans!
The Warner Brothers studio tour London is where the Harry Potter series was filmed.
In the festive season, the studios get a makeover.
The Great Hall is decked out for the season, along with the Gryffindor Common Room – resembling festive scenes in the movies.
And if you venture into the Forbidden Forest, you’ll find a layer of fake snow everywhere!
Tickets for Hogwarts in the Snow sell out very early on, so it’s advisable to book as soon as possible.
Go to some of London’s best ice rinks
There are lots of places for ice skating in London during the cooler months, many of which are in beautiful settings.
The Natural History Museum used to be one of the best ice skating rinks in the capital, but it sadly had its last year in 2021.
Somerset House is another popular ice rink, which is a huge rink enclosed within the house’s grounds.
There’s also a popular ice rink at Canary Wharf and Hampton Court Palace, and various other places around the city!
Take a look at some of the best Christmassy storefronts
Some of London’s shops have stunning festive displays out the front. If you’re looking for Christmassy attractions around the city, make sure you walk past some of these places!
- Annabel’s: This shop looks like a gingerbread house from the front!
- Fortnum and Mason: This store has a variety of themes, often opting to resemble an advent calendar.
- Cartier: This shop goes for another festive theme, this time looking like a ribbon tied around a gift.
- Harvey Nichols: This storefront always impresses in the festive season, with bright lights and more.
- Peggy Porschen: This is a popular shop throughout the year for its beautiful front, but it’s even more eye-catching at Christmas, with fake snow and nutcracker decorations.
Go toy shopping
If you’re visiting London with kids, make sure you take them to some of the best toy shops in London!
Hamleys is the most obvious, and at Christmas, this is a kid’s heaven with toys galore and the opportunity to have dinner with Santa.
And of course, whether you’re with kids or want to buy other products, there’s always Harrods!
There are lots of places to see Santa in London around Christmas. If you are on holiday with kids, this is one of the best things to do in London at Christmas!
Some of the best places to visit to see Santa are Hamleys, Harrods, Selfridges and The Strand Palace.
You’ll usually need to book these tickets in advance, so decide where you’d like to go a few months before Christmas and reserve your spot.
Three-course Christmas dinner
Lots of London’s best restaurants offer three-course Christmas dinners in the run-up to the big day.
These generally consist of a range of festive food, including roast dinners and Christmas puddings.
You’ll also get crackers – these are tubes stuffed with jokes, a paper crown and a small toy!
There are loads of places to enjoy Christmas dinner over the festive period.
Some restaurants which offer a particular type of cuisine often provide their normal fare with a festive twist.
For example, Hoppers provides their delicious Sri Lankan hoppers with cranberry sauce!
What to eat in London at Christmas
- Christmas dinner: Of course, you must try a traditionally British Christmas dinner if you’re in London for the holiday season! In the UK, Christmas dinner typically consists of turkey, roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, red cabbage, roasted parsnip, mashed swede, and pigs in blankets (small sausages wrapped in bacon). Don’t worry if you’re veggie – I am and I have either a mushroom wellington or nut roast instead of the turkey, and you can easily find veggie/ vegan pigs in blankets.
- Mince pies: These are small sweet pies filled with mincemeat, but mincemeat isn’t what you think! It’s diced fruit served with sugar, and it’s completely vegetarian. You can find these in restaurants and cafes all over the city, or you can buy a box of them at any shop.
- Christmas pudding: Traditional Christmas pudding is made from dried fruit, and has been historically consumed during the festive period. Nowadays, less and less people eat it – it’s never on the table at my family Christmas dinner – but you might want to try it while you’re here!
- Chocolate log: Chocolate log is a popular dessert alternative for people who don’t like fruit cakes. We used to have this after Christmas dinner every year. It’s a chocolate cake that is rolled around itself, with cream in the middle.
- Mulled wine: Called gluhwein on the continent, mulled wine is really popular in the UK as well. It’s basically red wine with lots of spices and sugar, served steaming hot in a mug. You can buy it from many pubs and restaurants or Christmas markets.
- Baileys hot chocolate: Another popular drink is Baileys hot chocolate. Baileys is a creamy, chocolatey liquer, and you can enjoy this with more hot chocolate! Like mulled wine, you can purchase it at cafes or pubs or at the various Christmas markets dotted around London.
Where to stay in London at Christmas
There are countless hotels to stay at in London. Here are some of the best where you might like to spend Christmas:
Hostel: The reliable Wombats chain own Wombats City Hostel London. This hostel is close to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. With a bar, a courtyard and a chill out area, it’s the perfect place for meeting other travellers. Dorms have comfy beds and private bathrooms. Click here for rates and to book.
Budget Hotel: There are a few Z Hotels in London. Thier rooms are no-frills and quite small, but they are very clean and have a modern design. The rates are fantastic, too. Click here to see them for the Soho branch and to book today.
Mid Range: The Fielding Hotel is close to the festive Covent Garden. With free wifi, clean rooms and friendly hosts, it’s a fantastic mid-range place to stay. Click here for rates and book today.
Luxury: For festive chic, look no further than The Dorchester. This is one of the fanciest hotels to stay at in London and every year it is perfectly made up for Christmas!
What is the weather like in London at Christmas?
December is England’s winter, so it’s usually quite chilly in London at Christmas.
However, a lot of the Christmassy films that you might have seen about London in the festive period usually feature the city coated in a blanket of snow.
This is very, very rare – in fact, I think I’ve only ever had one white Christmas in London, and that was when I was three years old!
It’s usually about 5-10 degrees in London at the end of December. Because of global warming, the temperatures are increasing too – we had a day that was 15 degrees in 2021.
You might notice that most of these photos are in the dark. We have short days in London in December. The sun rises around 8:00 am and starts to set at about 3:30 pm.
This shouldn’t affect your Christmassy plans, as all of the best London winter attractions are set up to enjoy in darkness. The lights are best at night, after all!
What is open on Christmas day?
On Christmas day itself, most shops are closed.
Some smaller stores, especially corner shops, might remain open, but it depends on the specific shop. I’d recommend checking with a specific shop before the day.
Some pubs open over Christmas, and you can have your Christmas dinner here. Book in advance (like, months in advance) as these spaces sell out quickly.
As London is such an international place, there are plenty of restaurants owned by people who don’t celebrate Christmas, so they may stay open.
However, some restaurant owners will still take this time off, so again check with individual restaurants before going anywhere. Alternatively, you could take a walk around an area like Chinatown and see what you find!
If you are stuck and don’t have anywhere to go, head to a large hotel with a restaurant. This restaurant will likely be open to serve the guests staying there.
What is Boxing Day?
If you’re not a local of the UK, you might be wondering ‘what is boxing day’?
Boxing day is celebrated on 26th December. Beginning in the medieval period was traditionally a time to give gifts to the poor; it’s believed that money was collected in churches on this date to offer to the poor.
It is celebrated in the UK and Commonwealth countries, as well as others throughout the world.
In recent years, it has been a popular shopping day, with many people flocking out to make the most of ‘Boxing Day sales’.
However, in the last few years, with so much shopping being done online, the shops have been increasingly less popular!
Many families have another Christmas day on boxing day, seeing extended family members.
Are you ready for Christmas in London?
From visiting attractions like the London Eye and the Tower of London to seeing some of the best Christmassy squares and lights and going on fair rides, there’s so much to do in London at Christmas!
Hopefully, this guide has inspired you to enjoy England’s capital in the festive season.