Famous department stores decorated in festive bling, twinkling lights draped above the streets as bright red double-decker buses pass by and sparkling Christmas trees of every size are plentiful. Wine is mulling, chestnuts are roasting and a rosy-cheeked, white-bearded Santa seems to be everywhere at once, there really is no place like London at Christmas. Yes, the shops are crowded and yes, it is overly commercialized but there’s a buzz in the air, smiles beam at the sight of so many fairy lights and ripples of laughter ring out from the pop-up ice rinks that appear each year around the city. The excitement grows as the countdown to Christmas begins. Don’t be a Scrooge, pop on your Christmas jumper and enjoy my top ten things to do at Christmas in London.
Window Shop at Luxury Department Stores
London is home to a number of well-loved high-end department stores, most notably Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges. All of them look fabulous decorated in their Christmas bling. It’s worth visiting them just to see their festive window displays. Be sure to pop inside too, even if it’s just to window shop. Harrods is one of my favourites to explore. You can marvel at the gifts you might be buying for someone who has everything, but you may also spot a bargain or two.
Enjoy Covent Garden
I love visiting Covent Garden any time of year, with its colourful street performances and a mix of independent shops and quirky stalls, as well as a few well-known high street stores. At Christmas, however, with over-sized silver baubles and gigantic mistletoe hanging from the ceiling, it’s particularly enchanting. There’s such a festive atmosphere here. The smell of roasting chestnuts and mulled wine drifts through the air and the giant Christmas tree always looks splendid. It’s a great place for picking up unique Christmas gifts too. And I still love these giant red baubles from a few years ago, I hope they bring them back again one year. The Christmas lights are turning on in Covent Garden on 12th November.
Explore Winter Wonderland
I’ve visited Winter Wonderland in London’s Hyde Park a number of times and always enjoy it. Each year it seems to get bigger and bigger. Every year it opens from 21 November and ends on 5 January 2020, from 10 am to 10 pm.
In the Bavarian Village, there’s a fabulous range of gifts, crafts, food and drink in traditional wooden cabins. There are live shows, over 100 funfair rides, and the biggest outdoor ice rink in the UK. Entry to Hyde Park and Winter Wonderland is free. However, a number of events and attractions are ticketed and pre-booking is advisable for these.
Discover Kew Gardens at Christmas
The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew after-dark festival, when the Gardens are lit up with thousands of lights and laser beams, runs from Wednesday 20 November 2019 to Sunday 5 January 2020. This year the winter trail through the Gardens is bigger than ever. With spiced cider, hot chocolate, toasted marshmallows and more, you’re sure not to go hungry or thirsty!
Visit the Winter Festival at Southbank Centre
Throughout the year the Southbank Centre hosts a huge range of music and arts events. Whatever time of year you visit, it’s worth checking what’s going on. From Friday 8 November 2019 to Sunday 5 January 2020, twinkling lights will line the south bank of the Thames. You will find a huge Christmas tree outside the centre, as well as wooden chalets selling Christmas gifts and crafts, German sausages and other festive treats. With a view of the city skyline, it’s also a lovely spot for a romantic walk along the River Thames.
Take a Spin on the Ice
As Christmas in London draws near, ice rinks pop up all over the city. The one pictured below is in Winter Wonderland but it’s grown a lot in size since then!
See the Giant Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square
Each year, a spectacular 25-metre (82-foot) Christmas tree is donated by the city of Oslo to the people of Britain in thanks for their assistance to Norway during World War II. The tree is erected in the centre of Trafalgar Square and decorated by hundreds of lights. This year the lights will be turned on at 6 pm on Thursday 5th December 2019. In the lead-up to Christmas in London, numerous choirs sing carols around the tree from 9th to 24th December. Performances take place from 4 to 9 pm on weekdays, and from 2 to 7 pm at weekends.
Visit Hogwarts in the Snow
Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter, is some way out of London but it’s well worth the effort to get there. Harry Potter fans will love it at any time of year. But at Christmas, it’s even more magical, with the giant model of Hogwarts (the actual model used in the filming) covered in snow and the Great Hall laid out for a Christmas Feast. See Hogwarts in the Snow from 16th November to 26th January.
Catch a Christmas Show
Christmas in London’s theatreland isn’t limited to the great British tradition of pantomime. There are comic adult-only shows, seasonal ballets (most notably two productions of The Nutcracker), musicals, plays and extravaganzas. The most popular shows, such as The Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker get sold out well in advance with tickets going on sale early in the new year.
See the Christmas Lights
There are numerous streets with fabulous Christmas displays. A good way to discover the best of them is through a walking tour. See the route I took, along with more of my pictures, here; Where to find the best Christmas lights in London. If you don’t have time to see them all, make sure you don’t miss Regents Street (from 14th November 2019) and Oxford Street (from 21st November).
This year, have yourselves a merry little Christmas in London!