15 things to do in the UK in December (2023 guide)

Explosive fireworks display fills the sky around Big Ben. New Year's Eve celebration background

Thinking about a trip to the UK in December?

As winter sets in, the air grows crisp and landscapes turn frosty.

But don’t let the cold deter you; December’s one of the best times to visit Britain!

I’ve travelled all over the world, but I always come back home in December, because there’s nowhere that does Christmas like the UK.

Cities like London and Edinburgh positively twinkle, thanks to the festive lights and Christmas markets.

Plus, there’s something for everyone—whether you’re drawn to the theatrics of a classic British pantomime or a chilled-out carol concert.

The year-end holidays mean an array of special events and festivities you won’t find at any other time.

From Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park to Hogmanay in Scotland, there’s so much going on!

December is a little busier than other winter months, but it’s unmatched in atmosphere and charm.

So here are my top things to do in the UK this December!

Best things to do in the UK in December

Here’s my list of the top things to do in the UK in December, featuring ice skating, the UK’s best Christmas markets, New Year’s celebrations and even Northern Lights chasing!

1. Ice Skating at Somerset House, London

If you’re visiting London in the winter season, don’t miss ice skating at Somerset House! 

Once the courtyard of a grand neoclassical building, this space transforms into a magical ice rink come December. 

As the sun sets, architectural illuminations cast an ethereal glow on the ice. 

With curated music playlists and special Club Nights featuring live DJs, the rink becomes a dance floor on ice. 

If you’re visiting with children, daytime sessions are more relaxed, often accompanied by storytelling and workshops.

Adjacent to the rink, you’ll find the Skate Lounge where you can sip on hot chocolate or mulled wine to warm up after your session. 

If you fancy a bite, food stalls serve an array of winter treats. 

And if you’re in the mood for shopping, the pop-up Christmas Arcade boasts exclusive gifts and artisan products, making it a perfect stop for holiday shopping.

2. Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London

London winter wonderland rides

When winter arrives, Hyde Park transforms into Winter Wonderland

This sprawling green oasis becomes a hub of winter activity and celebration. 

The moment you enter, your senses will be greeted by the aroma of mulled wine, the melodies of holiday classics, and the visual feast of twinkling lights.

Navigate through Christmas markets featuring an array of unique gifts that outshine any generic mall finds. 

From handcrafted jewellery to speciality food items, your holiday shopping gets a significant upgrade here!

Then there are the rides. Tailored to all ages and thrill levels, you can go from gravity-defying roller coasters to child-friendly merry-go-rounds in a heartbeat.

Hungry? Winter Wonderland has plenty in the way of food, featuring everything from sizzling German bratwurst to sweet Spanish churros.

To unwind, visit one of the themed bars and lounges dotting the landscape. 

Sip spiced rum in an alpine-themed cabin or enjoy handcrafted cocktails in a revolving bar.

There’s also an ice-skating rink and an Ice Sculpture Garden, along with an ice bar! 

It’s definitely one of the best places to visit in London at Christmas.

3. Celebrate Hogmanay in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Cityscape with fireworks over The Castle and Balmoral Clock Tower

In Edinburgh, ringing in the New Year is an event known as Hogmanay that spans multiple days. 

This is a Scottish tradition that pulls out all the stops! 

The festivities kick off with the Torchlight Procession, where thousands of torchbearers wind their way through the city streets, culminating in a spectacular bonfire and fireworks display. 

At the Street Party, Royal Mile and Princes Street transform.

Dance to live music, enjoy street performances, and get a taste of authentic Scottish food and drink, all while being surrounded by historic architecture. 

It’s a blend of cultures and ages, all united in celebration and anticipation for the New Year!

Hogmanay curates a diverse lineup with something for everyone. 

Whether you’re into traditional Scottish tunes or contemporary hits, stages scattered throughout the city feature something for everyone. 

And as midnight approaches, the iconic Edinburgh Castle serves as the backdrop for a fireworks extravaganza!

Staying in the capital for January 1st? Take part in (or just watch!) the Loony Dook, a tradition where participants plunge into the freezing waters of the River Forth, often in quirky costumes. It’s a bracing start to the New Year, to say the least!

4. Bath Christmas Market

Bath Christmas Market, festive stalls in front of the Abbey

December in Bath signals the arrival of the city’s Christmas Market, one of the UK’s most-loved.

Bath Christmas Market is a Somerset holiday tradition that animates its Georgian streets. 

Cobblestone pathways framed by wooden chalets, each glowing with soft fairy lights.

The air is filled with both winter’s chill and the energetic hum of shoppers and the scent of spiced treats.

Start with shopping. Each chalet is a repository of handcrafted treasures. 

From custom leather goods to artisanal soaps, you’ll discover personalized gifts that stand out. 

The market focuses on local craftsmanship, ensuring that every purchase directly benefits small businesses and independent artisans.

Hungry? Try steaming hot mince pies or diversify your palette with French crepes. 

Complement your meal with mulled wine or apple cider, each sip a warming embrace against the cold.

Specialized drink stalls pepper the market, offering everything from locally produced gin to seasonal ales. 

Street musicians and carolers offer a melodic backdrop that enriches the holiday atmosphere. 

If you’re visiting with kids, the market offers activities such as Santa meet-and-greets and ornament-making workshops. 

5. Northern Lights in Scotland

Northern Lights on the isle of Skye over the Old Man of Storr

As December nights in Scotland are long and dark, your chance to witness one of Earth’s most incredible natural phenomena – the Northern Lights – increases. 

Remote areas like the Shetland Islands or the northern Highlands boast the darkest skies, and thus, the most vivid displays. 

Popular tourist destinations like Orkney or the Isle of Skye are ideal. 

So, pack some warm clothing and head for an area far removed from city lights!

While there’s no guarantee you’ll see the Northern Lights (especially as even the north of Scotland is south compared to places like Tromsø and Reykjavik) some planning can maximize your odds. 

Stay updated on solar activity forecasts and local weather conditions. Cloud cover is your main adversary here, so make sure to choose a night with a clear sky.

Capturing the Northern Lights requires some specific settings on your camera, including a slow shutter speed and a high ISO. 

6. Harry Potter Studio Tour at Christmas

If December finds you in the UK, visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour

Located in Leavesden, just a short train ride from London, the studio undergoes a festive transformation that you won’t want to miss!

Think the Great Hall decked in holiday ornaments, complete with a replica of the Yule Ball.

From snow-draped rooftops in the Gryffindor common room to a holiday feast that fills the long tables of the Great Hall, the details are staggering. 

Even the towering Christmas trees are adorned with genuine props from the films.

There’s also exclusive behind-the-scenes access, where you’ll learn about how filmmakers created falling snow or conjured magical feasts.

At the studio’s cafe, you can indulge in seasonal treats like treacle tart or themed cupcakes. And of course, hot Butterbeer is available, served in a souvenir mug that you can take home as a memento.

You’ll also find exclusive merchandise that’s only available during the Christmas season. 

From ornaments inspired by magical creatures to holiday-themed stationery, this is the place to find unique gifts for the Potterheads in your life!

7. Street Lights in London

Don't miss the street lights in London in UK in December! A red bus infront of angel lights on Regent Street

While the lights tend to start illuminating streets early November, London’s street lights are definitely among the best things to do in the UK in December!

Oxford Street sets the bar high. 

Hundreds of thousands of LED lights envelop the entire street, often featuring unique, annual themes. 

Whether it’s a sea of twinkling snowflakes or an intricate design involving mistletoe and holly, this street is the epitome of holiday grandeur. 

Not to be outdone, Regent Street offers its own spectacle. 

Renowned for its angelic installations, the lights illuminate the sky.

Covent Garden is renowned for its market and performances and it becomes particularly magical during the holiday season. 

Giant mistletoes, oversized ornaments, and chandeliers made of lights elevate the shopping and dining district into a scene straight from a postcard.

The South Bank also joins the festivities with installations that often reflect the River Thames. 

There’s also Leicester Square. This area bursts to life with a Christmas market, live performances, and food stalls.

8. Kew Christmas Lights

Situated in Richmond, Kew Gardens take on a new identity as December approaches.

From the moment you enter, you’re greeted with a choreographed light display that paints the Gardens in a wash of colour. 

Pathways become lit runways, leading to places like the Tunnel of Light. 

Here, thousands of twinkling lights, synchronized to seasonal music, envelop you. 

Then there’s the Fire Garden, an exhibit that contrasts the cool December air with controlled flames. 

Sculptures burst into fire, accompanied by a low, resonant hum. 

If you’re into flora, pay a visit to the Palm House Pond, which transforms into a liquid stage for a light show. 

Reflecting against the water surface, the display is an immersive 360-degree spectacle, highlighting the architecture of the iconic Palm House in the backdrop.

9. Catch a pantomime

If you only do one thing in the UK in November, it has to be a pantomime!

Originating from a blend of British music hall traditions and Italian commedia dell’arte, modern pantomimes are seasonal theatrical productions that offer a family-friendly mix of slapstick comedy, song, and dance.

The genre thrives on audience participation—so don’t be surprised when you find yourself shouting, “He’s behind you!” along with the crowd.

In December, pantomimes come to life across the UK, from historic West End theaters in London to local stages in small towns.

Each production typically puts a comedic twist on a well-known fairy tale or classic story, such as “Cinderella” or “Aladdin.”

Expect flamboyant costumes, exaggerated characters, and topical jokes that keep both kids and adults entertained.

You’ll leave not just entertained but also with a deeper connection to a quintessentially British tradition.

10. The Nutcracker Ballet

Ballerinas at The Nutcracker, a popular ballet in Europe

The arrival of December heralds the season of “The Nutcracker,” a timeless ballet that has become synonymous with the holiday spirit. 

From grand stages in London to local theatres in small towns, this Tchaikovsky masterpiece comes alive in various forms across the UK.

The curtain rises to reveal a meticulously crafted set that echoes the grandeur of 19th-century Europe. 

Elaborate costumes—complete with ornate headpieces and meticulous embroidery—fill the stage as dancers prepare to retell E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story through ballet.

In London, the Royal Opera House presents an unparalleled rendition of this classic. 

From the graceful pirouettes to the intense emotional expressions, every movement is a spectacle.

In regional theatres, the atmosphere is more intimate but no less enchanting. Local talent often shines, lending a unique flavour to the performance. 

It’s an opportunity to witness rising stars in the world of ballet, performers who bring their own interpretations to iconic roles like Clara, the Nutcracker Prince, and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

11. Christmas at Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House is one of the grandest places to visit in the UK – and you can bet that it comes alive in December!

Step into 24 rooms, each exuding the season’s sights, sounds, and scents.

From archways embellished with candy canes and mistletoe to a shimmering forest of Christmas tree brooches, Chatsworth House transforms into the Palace of Advent. 

A boisterous ‘Host of Advent’ greets you upon entry, setting the tone for your visit. His affinity for mince pies and holiday cheer is contagious. Further enhancing the magical setting are Wish Trees, where you can hang your holiday hopes. 

Stir a giant pudding pot or snap photos with loved ones at designated spots scattered throughout the house.

The centre stage in this yuletide transformation is Father Christmas’ workshop.

Beyond the house, the festivities spill into the garden and farmyard, both accessible with your Chatsworth ticket. 

An interactive light and sound trail winds past iconic locations like the Cascade and Rock Garden, culminating in an animated light show that turns the house into a colossal advent calendar.

12. Christmas at Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury cathedral in sunset rays, England

Canterbury Cathedral is an architectural and historical marvel, a beacon that has drawn pilgrims, tourists, and scholars for over a millennium. 

Built in 597 AD, the cathedral resonates with intricate Gothic architecture, visible in its nave, cloisters, and the awe-inspiring Bell Harry Tower. 

The Cathedral’s testament to human endeavour and spirituality. 

Home to the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England, the cathedral holds an unparalleled position in British religious life.

The cathedral truly comes to life during the festive season. 

Events such as the Advent Carol Service, St. Nicholas Service, and Canterbury Choral Society Family Carols fill the hallowed halls with celestial melodies. 

Children can revel in the Family Crib Service or take on Gregory Gargoyle’s Cathedral Christmas Trail.

13. Learn about Hanukkah at the Jewish Museum in London

While Christmas is the main celebration in the UK in December, it’s such a diverse country that you’ll find there are plenty of other seasonal celebrations too!

If you’re intrigued by Jewish culture and history, the Jewish Museum in London is worth visiting to learn more about Hanukkah. 

Located in Camden Town, the museum features exhibits that delve into the origins, history, and customs of this eight-day Festival of Lights. 

You’ll encounter artefacts like antique menorahs and can take part in workshops that elucidate the significance of the dreidel and other Hanukkah traditions. 

Interactive displays and family-friendly activities offer something for every age group.

14. Boxing Day Sales in Major Cities

For the savvy shopper, Boxing Day is a bonanza of sales and discounts in big cities such as London, Manchester, and Birmingham. 

High-end stores on London’s Oxford Street, trendy boutiques in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, and shopping centres like the Bullring in Birmingham bustle with activity. 

Keen to stock up on essentials or luxuries? This is your ideal opportunity – or you could treat yourself for the upcoming new year! 

15. Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

Sunset at Stonehenge

Stonehenge is famous for its summer solstice event, but did you know you can visit it (for free) at winter solstice too? 

Located in Wiltshire, England, this prehistoric monument aligns with the sun in a way that has fascinated scholars and visitors alike for centuries. 

During the winter solstice, you’ll see the sun set perfectly in between the stone pillars – it’s a breathtaking spectacle that unites sky and earth. 

While the exact reason behind Stonehenge’s construction remains a mystery, its alignment with celestial events like the winter solstice offers a fascinating glimpse into the beliefs or astronomical knowledge of those who built it.

Stonehenge is normally quite expensive to visit, but it’s free on winter solstice. 

16. New Year’s Eve fireworks in London

Explosive fireworks display fills the sky around Big Ben. New Year's Eve celebration background

Ringing in the New Year in London? Make sure you don’t miss the city’s highly anticipated New Year’s Eve Fireworks display. 

Situated along the River Thames, this pyrotechnic extravaganza is visible from numerous vantage points throughout the city, including spots near the iconic London Eye and Big Ben. 

What sets this event apart is its scale and synchronization with music, making it one of the most elaborate displays in the world. 

It gets very busy and does cost to attend these days – but if you’re looking for an iconic way to say goodbye to the year, there’s nothing better. 

So, are you ready for December in the UK?

There are so many things to do in December in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – can you see why I always try and stay here rather than jet off abroad?

However, I also love November in the UK – check out my guide here!

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